When Congress passed the antiterrorism bill known as the USA Patriot Act in the fall of 2001, greatly expanding the government's investigative powers, a single senator, Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, voted against it. With the nation reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks, opposing the bill seemed an act of political suicide, especially for a Democrat.
Today, more than 40 Democrats and four Republicans stand with Mr. Feingold as he helps lead a filibuster blocking the act's renewal. They are betting that the politics of terrorism have shifted from fear of another attack to wariness of "Big Brother" intrusions on personal privacy.
"If we stand up and say, as we are doing now, that we are absolutely committed to fighting terrorism, and that we are absolutely committed to the civil liberties of the American people, then that's a winning position," Mr. Feingold said in a recent interview. "For us to show weakness on civil liberties at this point would be another sign to people that the Democratic Party is not standing up for what it believes in."
The above, noted by Brad, is from Sheryl Gay Stolberg's "Once-Lone Foe of Patriot Act Has Company" in this morning's New York Times. (Click here to read Russ Feingold's remarks on the Patriot Act.)
Also on the Patriot Act, we'll note this from James Risen and Eric Lichtblau's "Rice Defends Domestic Eavesdropping:"
The USA Patriot Act made it easier for the government to get warrants from the court for wiretaps and physical searches, changing the standards in some critical areas.
But the law is specific in banning any searches without warrants on Americans except in extraordinary circumstances, like within 15 days of a formal declaration of war, said David D. Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who specializes in national security law.
The Bush administration has not cited any of those exemptions for the domestic eavesdropping program. The White House and other defenders of the program maintain that the president has the authority to allow such searches in the interests of national security.
Kelly notes Philip Shenon's "In Congress, a Lobbyist's Legal Troubles Turn His Generosity Into a Burden:"
Mr. Abramoff, a major Republican Party fund-raiser who is the focus of a federal corruption investigation in Washington involving gifts to lawmakers, was long among the most generous lobbyists in the capital in directing political contributions to lawmakers who could help his clients.
The money, most of it from Mr. Abramoff's Indian tribe clients and their lucrative casino operations, was eagerly accepted by members of Congress until this year.
But no more. Political strategists working for likely challengers in several 2006 Congressional races have said they intend to publicize the donations, arguing for the ouster of incumbents tied to Mr. Abramoff and his clients.
In announcing last week that they would return money from Mr. Abramoff's clients and his lobbying partners, Senators Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, and Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, made clear that they were trying to distance themselves from accusations that they had done favors for Mr. Abramoff in exchange for the donations.
Kelly suggests that next time constituents attempt to visit the offices of Olympia Snowe or Kay Bailey Hutchison, they waive cash.
Sam notes Tom Hayden's "The Coming Exit Strategy" (Common Dreams):
There are three options for the Administration. First, escalation to Syria and/or Iran, which seems doubtful if only because of the limited resources available. Second, a persistent quagmire lasting through 2006, roiling both Iraq and US politics. Third, an exit strategy including direct or indirect political negotions with the insurgents, de-escalation of the US presence in Sunni areas, and the beginning of military withdrawal.
The third option seems the most likely, if one can read through the false paradigms of the media. I almost lost my grip when the NY Times on December 15 described the Iraqi election as “participatory democracy.” That foolishness aside, the more important distortion is the Times’ description of the current election as a beginning to “draw ordinary Sunnis away from the insurgency and encourage them to support democracy.” [dec. 16] The truth is the opposite, that most supporters of the insurgency are adopting a dual, or two-track, strategy of both armed and political struggle [which Danny Morrison once described in Belfast as fighting with an Armalite in one hand and a ballot in the other]. This shift is made possible in part by a US concession that has been little reported, allowing elections to be district-based instead of nationwide – which assures Sunnis electoral victories in at least twenty percent of the newly-designed Iraqi parliamentary districts, and important minority numbers in many others.
If over one hundred members of the outgoing parliament signed a letter demanding the “departure of the occupation” last July, one can be sure that those anti-war numbers will rise after the new parliament is seated.
The relative peace during the current elections is a clear sign that the insurgency supports a large turnout in Sunni areas.
On the topics of Bully Boy spying, Russ Feingold, the Patriot Act, the media and more, Tracey notes Katrina vanden Heuvel's "Spying and Lying" (Editor's Cut, The Nation):
As reported by the New York Times on Friday, "Months after the September 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying."
A senior intelligence officer says Bush personally and repeatedly gave the NSA permission for these taps--more than three dozen times since October 2001. Each time, the White House counsel and the Attorney General--whose job it is to guard and defend our civil liberties and freedoms--certified the lawfulness of the program. (It is useful here to note "The Yoo Factor": The domestic spying program was justified by a "classified legal opinion" written by former Justice Department official John Yoo, the same official who wrote a memo arguing that interrogation techniques only constitute torture if they are "equivalent in intensity to...organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.")
Illegally spying on Americans is chilling--even for this Administration. Moreover, as Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, told the Times, "the secret order may amount to the president authorizing criminal activity." Some officials at the NSA agree. According to the Times, "Some agency officials wanted nothing to do with the program, apparently fearful of participating in an illegal operation." Others were "worried that the program might come under scrutiny by Congressional or criminal investigators if Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was elected President."
It's always a fight to find out what the government doesn't want us to know, and this Administration and its footsoldiers have used every means available to undermine journalists' ability to exercise their First Amendment function of holding power accountable. But compounding the Administration's double-dealing, the media has been largely complicit in the face of White House mendacity. David Sirota puts it more bluntly in a recent entry from his blog: "We are watching the media being used as a tool of state power in overriding the very laws that are supposed to confine state power and protect American citizens."
Tracey provides transition. I'm running short of time so I won't be able to repost Ruth's entry (Ruth is Tracey's grandmother) this morning. I will repost it this week. And be sure to listen, watch or read Democracy Now! today.
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