Where is the beef?

Something is missing beyond the spine of some Democrats in the rush to legalize warrantless wiretaps, end privacy, and reward corporations for betraying the public trust. Let’s call it the beef (or nicely textured soy protein for the vegetarians among us).

I am an empiricist at heart. I want proof in the form of sound evidence before I am willing to believe something is true. I am also deeply cynical and suspicious of politicians because too few decisions favor the common good. That cynicism has grown after our elected officials ‘misrepresented’ the threat posed by Iraq. In the uproar over the FISA revisions, now is a good time to point out there are some glaring gaps in the evidence at hand.  

Leaving aside the issue of amnesty for the telecom companies, the premise being pushed at us is that the existing FISA laws must be revised to be able to handle emerging threats. The FISA law permitted warrantless surveillance for up to 72 hours without judicial oversight, but then required the government to demonstrate reasonable grounds for suspicion to continue the process. The Bush administration found that law not to its liking and basically ignored it in the name of “national security.” Whether due to cowardice or collusion, some Democrats in the House and Senate are joining with the party of Bush, Cheney, Exxon, AT&T, and Lieberman in supporting electronic invasion of privacy.

Even the statement from Senator Obama, likely to be the next president of the United States, repeats the basic premise that revising the FISA laws is necessary to handle threats to our security as a nation. It also promotes the premise that unfettered access to all electronic communication, banking, and internet traffic is necessary to protect that security.

“But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives — and the liberty — of the American people.”

Although I want to see Obama sworn in as the next president, I trust he will understand why I remain deeply skeptical about the need for an unprecedented invasion of privacy. What is sorely lacking are several key pieces to the puzzle – the proof in the pudding, so to speak.

1. Why is warrantless surveillance beyond 72 hours necessary to “handle threats to our security as a nation” and save lives?

Electronic surveillance will not stop terrorism. It is ludicrous to suggest that it might. The few terrorist threats rounded up by the Bush administration after 9/11 are not criminal masterminds tripped up by an electronic colonoscopy performed by an MIT graduate. Hardly. The feds have rounded up a few buffoons that might as well have been staring in a Three Stooges episode called Jihadi Hijinks.

I want the supporters and enablers of the atrocious compromise Protect America Act to provide evidence that the existing FISA law disrupted an investigation into a serious threat by terrorists or a foreign government. Better yet, give us ONE, just ONE instance that the Bush administration violation of the FISA law lead to disrupting a significant terrorist threat. If you cannot prove the value of revising the existing law, then our government officials should stop telling us that increased surveillance will pay off in any tangible way and save lives.

I refuse to buy the handwaving by policitians that warrantless surveillance is for our own good. If that is true, then there must be a virtual mountain of evidence to support the contention that it is necessary. And don’t give me the dodge that it cannot be shared with us because it would jeopardize national security. Bullshit. If the violations of the FISA law were as necessary as our glorious leaders would have us believe, there must be five year old cases that no longer jeopardize anything sensitive (unlike revealing the name of covert CIA operative to silence a high profile critic of the Bush-Cheney Iraq policy). Where is the beef, Representatives and Senators? Show us how the FISA law jeopardized our national security by requiring judicial oversight after 72 hours or how the Bush administration violations of the FISA law paid remarkable dividends in national security. Prove up or shut up.

2. Have there been any misuses of electronic surveillance by the Bush administration?

The Bush administration has politicized prosecutions and operation of the Department of Justice. In fact, the Bush administration has politicized every agency and action of the federal government to push its agenda and thwart opposition. The Bush administration has smeared its critics, even if it meant violating national security in outing a covert operative engaged in stopping nuclear proliferation. The Bush administration has twisted and cherry-picked intelligence to get us bogged down in an unnecessary and gallingly expensive war. I am not inclined to take their word that they ignored FISA laws only to protect us from national security threats. They should not be trusted to respect and honor the spirit of the law when they cannot abide the letter of the law.

There is ample precedent of domestic spying gone awry in our not too distant past. The Joseph McCarthy inspired abuses destroyed careers and lives in an ideological purity witch hunt in the 1950s. The civil liberties of Martin Luther King, Jr., and every other prominent member of the civil rights and antiwar movements were violated in the name of national security during the 1960s and 1970s.

Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, please show us that you have done your jobs in oversight by conducting a thorough investigation into the use of the domestic spying information by the Bush administration. If you have not had the time, inclination, or courage to make sure the Bush administration is not violating domestic surveillance laws to foster its political agenda, then your rush to legalize this intrusion into our privacy is difficult to understand in any positive light.

Senator Obama, please forgive me if I question the value of the presidential honor system when it comes to monitoring domestic surveillance.

…with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress…

There will always be conscienceless, arrogant, and vindictive individuals in the Oval Office like Nixon and Bush. Anyone here want Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Rudi Guiliani, or Condi Rice monitoring the warrantless wiretap program to make sure it is being conducted within appropriate legal parameters?

3. Why is this threat to our security so urgent when other clear threats are being ignored?

We live in country where our critical infrastructure is in decay from neglect. Bridges have collapsed, killing hundreds. Dikes and levees have failed, killing thousands. We live in a country where inspection of food, medicine, and products is so lax that hundreds die and thousands are sickened every year. We live in country where access to quality medical care requires health insurance, something nearly 50 million Americans do not have. This lack of care is associated with the untimely deaths of tens of thousands every year. We live in a country that spends less on biomedical research in a year than it spends in a few weeks of defense spending. We live in a country that has gutted the public health system’s ability to protect us from pandemics, threatening hundreds of thousands.

I do not see how the new, improved, compromised, and colluded Protect America Act will accomplish nearly as much as repairing our infrastructure, protecting us against tainted products, providing access to medical care, getting out of Iraq, fighting chronic disease, and preventing epidemics.  Maybe you know something we don’t, but I sincerely doubt it. Ignoring real threats while fighting hypothetical threats smells more like politics than valuable public policy.

Show us the beef, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, or shut up. There is no reason for these bills to have come up for a vote now unless you were hoping to stab us in the back during the summer vacation season when fewer people are paying attention to politics. (P.S. If you have evidence that the Bush administration ordered the violation of the FISA laws, you are obligated to investigate and indict unless you intend to amend the Constitution to make the president above the law.)


    • DWG on June 26, 2008 at 21:51

    Thanks for reading.

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