Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Profiles in learned helplessness

The regime's Lucy-with-the-football trick appears to be working its mesmerizing spell on the Charlie Brown Democratic leadership once again.

Sure, the Cheney-led government's been flouting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without warrants for more than five years -- openly and defiantly since the NY Times editors finally saw fit to print the story they'd been sitting on since before the 2004 elections. And sure, the regime's refusing to tell Congress what the surveillance actually involves, and lying and stonewalling about the even more illegal interception program that preceded the current lawlessness. The contempt with which the regime views Congress was made so vivid by Attorney General Gonzales' "I'm not even trying to pretend I'm testifying" performance last week that even Republicans wouldn't step up to defend him.

Normal people wouldn't see this as the ideal moment to push for further loosening of warrant restrictions on surveillance. But we're not ruled by normal people, we're ruled by a small imperial court, confident in their ability to cow the people, the supine media, and the increasingly symbolic Congress with the incantation of "heightened threat."

If Democratic leaders had learned anything from the way in which they were stampeded into approving in advance the ruinous Iraq war, or the disgraceful, cowed way in which they went along with "legalizing" torture and indefinite detention last summer and fall, they'd be telling the executive branch to back off and cool their jets. They'd point out that they'd made plenty of changes to FISA already to accommodate the regime's supposed needs, and that they wouldn't even consider further discussion until they were satisfied about what has already gone on.

But no, once again they step eagerly in the trap, still apparently so afraid of being labeled "soft on terror" that they're prepared to give more unchecked power to an already out-of-control executive. This is a level of inability to break out of a losing pattern that, if it happened in a sporting event, would raise suspicions that the fix is in.

When I read this morning that the Congressional leaders actually want to pass FISA "reform" before the August recess, I just lost it. At this point, trying to lobby the leadership feels like a sucker's game. Which is too bad, because the ACLU's produced an excellent lobbying tool, Myths and Facts about FISA that counter every one of the regime's talking points.

Posts by Steve Benen, Jeralyn Merritt, and mcjoan have more detail.

Update: 5:50 pm 2 August - Insight into the weeds of FISA "reform" from TPM Muckraker. Meanwhile, the atmospherics surrounding the negotiations (Roll Call via Talking Points Memo):
Capitol Police officials have stepped up the department’s security presence on Capitol Hill in response to intelligence indicating the increased possibility of an al-Qaida terrorist attack on Congress sometime between now and Sept. 11.

The August-to-Sept. 11 time frame was confirmed by a Capitol Police source who said Congressional security officials were recently made aware of the potential threat by federal anti-terrorism authorities. The Capitol Police department has a liaison from the Homeland Security Department working in its Capitol Hill command center.

On Thursday afternoon, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who currently serves as chairman of the Capitol Police Board, acknowledged the noticeable increase in Capitol Police presence on the Hill but declined to discuss any specific threat or dates.
Beautifully played, Mr. Cheney.

Update: 12:45 pm 4 Aug - The endgame: Wash Post front page: "Senate Votes To Expand Warrantless Surveillance - White House Applauds; Changes Are Temporary"

Analysis from Marty Lederman, the indispensible.

Webb voted with Bush. I'm leaving the party, and electoral work, for good. Also the country, if I can arrange it. The Military Commissions Act was passed the day before the Webb fundraiser for which I was a major organizer last year. The county chair had to talk me back from the edge that morning. I used up all my hopes and rationalizations then; the well is dry.

"Changes are temporary"? I'm not that much of a fool.

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At 4:19 AM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

Leave the party -- OK. Leave electoral work -- well, OK. Leave the country -- please don't do it, we need you!

What do you think of this Matt Stoller item about the alleged "walking the pitcher" screwup with the 'suspension bill'? Is that just grasping at straws, to paraphrase Mick Arran's comments at my post, or is that a valid excuse, however pitiful?

At 12:30 PM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Nell said...

Hey, the intertubes are everywhere. And I'd only be going to Canada.

Have to think about the Stoller bit for a while. My basic response is: They're not that stupid. They felt they needed to get some bill more than they needed to get the right bill.

Which means that the fix was in from the beginning.

Also, since when do caucus leaders and whips who have a commitment to their own bill let cabinet members personally lobby 25 or 30 senators? (A WashPost story on Thursday or Friday said that he'd spent hours lobbying, and talked to about 50 senators. I'm assuming more than half were Dems -- there didn't seem to be much danger of the Republicans bolting.)

At 2:18 PM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

The way I read the account, they thought they had an OK bill with buy-in from MikeMcC. They just didn't have a plan B once McC/Bush doublecrossed them and said plan A wouldn't do.

However, despite your post, I didn't follow it all closely enough to judge whether "plan A" was bad too, I just know this one is really, really bad. Stoller's story doesn't disprove your "fix was in" interpretation, of course. Not sure what could. Not sure why I'm grasping for straws, for that matter. Hoyer et al punked, stampeded, or complicit -- not much comfort either way, though I guess my level of bitterness is affected.

Re your last para, I'm not clear on what rule or by what method you think that kind of personal lobbying could be prevented. These are members of Congress, no one tells them who to talk to, do they?

At 4:01 PM, August 08, 2007, Blogger Nell said...

Re the McConnell lobbying -- you have a point, especially as these are Senators. But that just gets back to the problem: letting the administration set the agenda, not being prepared for bad faith (after all this time! It's one thing for Webb, it's quite another for Reid and Durbin and Hoyer and Pelosi, who've been through this again and again).

It isn't that McConnell was allowed to do the lobbying, it's that he did more of it than the Dem leadership.

At 3:05 AM, August 10, 2007, Blogger RossK said...


We have very good intertubes up here.

However, please be warned.... we are currently in the grips of a very scary (mostly because they are actually pretty smart) group of neo-Straussians.


At 10:29 PM, August 14, 2007, Blogger Gary Farber said...

Nell, how familiar are you with Canadian politics and history?

It's a fine country, and I can't say the thought of trying to move (which really wouldn't be practical for me -- they're pretty fussy about whom they'll take as a landed immigrant, and you need to prove that you have a necessary skill and a guaranteed job, last I looked) hadn't crossed my own mind of late, but it should be emphasised that Canada is hardly a perfect bastion of civil liberties and liberal politics: now, recently, or ever.

I'd suggest particularly looking into the history of RCMP abuses of civil liberties.

Not to say that the idea isn't perfectly defensible, either, of course.

At 4:48 PM, August 15, 2007, Blogger Nell said...

Gazetteer and Gary,
Canada'd be the choice not primarily because of politics but for conceivable feasibility (my s.o. grew up and has family there) and I speak the language.

Very familiar with the history and politics. The RCMP's role in the Maher Arar kidnaping is only the latest in a long line of shameful practices.

I was in a white-hot rage when I wrote the end of the post; we'll see how things go. But the sad reality is that powers ceded to the executive are almost never clawed back. FISA reeked even when the government was following the existing law (secret courts? no thanks). The Patriot Act was expanded, not rolled back, and now there's no sunset. There's absolutely no political momentum even for restoring habeas corpus, much less repealing the detention and torture provisions of the Military Commissions Act. Maybe the Supreme Court will move things forward.

I'd probably never be able to vote in Canada, but if I could the parliamentary system gives much more scope for reflection of my views and interests than this two-party, winner-take-all, electoral college straightjacket. I've had it with being stuck under the thumb of the bipartisan corporate, permanent war, and imperial foreign policy consensus in order to be "practical" and "serious."

At 12:50 AM, August 17, 2007, Blogger hapa said...

about a third of canadian biz is "selling things to the USA", you know. you can't REALLY get away.

At 11:18 AM, November 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I saw a citizen throw up
His hands and with disgust
Feebly declare: "What can I do?
The world is so unjust."

Quoth he: "This unjust war as waged
In my name is a sin,
But I can hardly influence
That fear to lose my skin;

Besides I am so much in debt,
You´d understand it too:
They would retaliate, and so
There´s nothing I can do.

I am a lowly peon, with
No power in the slightest,
So passive I but wait and hope,
My finances the tightest."

So he went on about how he,
A solitary person,
Could hardly act, "while all of us
But watch the matters worsen.

What one might do, I fear," he said,
"Would not have an effect,
Save we, so many as aligned
In umbrage, wills collect.

Together, if we all uprose
So we might influence,
But singly, it is difficult,
So nothing dare commence."

I said: "It is not what you do
Though it be large or small
In its effect--what matters is
You do something at all."


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