The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

At the New America Foundation today, Russ Feingold got to the heart of the real problem with granting immunity to telecommunications companies (via Beutler):

"[Immunity] doesn't simply have the impact of potentially allowing telephone companies to break the law," Feingold said. "It may well prevent us from getting to the core issue, that I've challenged since December 2005, which is the president ran an illegal program I think that was essentially an impeachable offense."

This is exactly right. It's too bad so much of the messaging around immunity centered on corporate accountability.

While that point is relevant, the real issue is governmental accountability. If lawsuits went forward against the telecom companies involved in the domestic spying scandal, those companies would then have to provide evidence that they were asked to comply with Bush administration demands. And then the public would find out exactly what the government did.

Feingold has little tolerance for those in support of the cave:

"Anybody who claims this is an okay bill, I really question if they've even read it."

"Democrats enabled [this]," Feingold went on. "Some of the rank and file Democrats in the Senate who were elected on this reform platform unfortunately voted with Kit Bond who's just giggling he's so happy with what he got. We caved in."

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., is the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and has been the Bush administration's chief congressional point man in its attempt to secure both retroactive immunity for telephone companies and much wider authority to conduct surveillance on both foreign and domestic targets.

The final Senate vote will likely be Wednesday.

Tags: FISA, Russ Feingold (all tags)

Comments

35 Comments

Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

Yes. and this is why i strongly suggest Russ Feingold to be our VP nominee. With him, we can be sure that we progressive have a very strong voice in governance. Even if Obama were to stray to the right, Feingold will ensure that our priorities come first.

by stevent 2008-06-23 06:02PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

I don't think Feingold can join a ticket that has rejected public financing.

by OrangeFur 2008-06-23 06:04PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

Why not, eveyone doesn't have to agree on everything:)

by Dog Chains 2008-06-24 06:46AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

Yes, but election finance reform is one of Feingold's signature issues.

by dMarx 2008-06-24 10:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

this aint about picking the flavor of the week that looks good to be his VP.

week 1 webb
week 2 richardson
week3... so and so forth

It's about  Feingold and what he is trying to get us to see. Its about the NSA program , which most have no clue what this FISA debate stems from.

by aliveandkickin 2008-06-23 06:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

Is Feingold saying what I think he's saying about Democrats who won't fight this bill?

by OrangeFur 2008-06-23 06:03PM | 0 recs
Is it dark at night?

by usedmeat 2008-06-24 05:57AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

This is the same Senator Feingold who said when asked last year why he was against Impeachment that it would be, 'Too trying....'

That guy?

Face it; apart from Donna Edwards and The Hill there is no one in Congress with a set of balls.

No one.
.

by Pericles 2008-06-23 06:05PM | 0 recs
"The Hill"

Were those the  balls that allowed her to vote 'yea' on the IWR and Kyl-Lieberman?

No fucking thanks.

At least Feingold had the good sense to vote against BOTH of those crappy bills.

by lojasmo 2008-06-23 07:13PM | 0 recs
Re: "The Hill"

Don't get into a fight with this one.  How s/he wasn't banned the other day for "lil' mutt Barky" (the Darky) is beyond me.  The person does not represent anyone but him- or herself.

by rfahey22 2008-06-23 07:24PM | 0 recs
Red State Dems

The sad fact of having a coalition of red state dems is deals like this.

If we want the 60 person majority, we are going to have to deal with such compromises.

by gil44 2008-06-23 06:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Red State Dems

This is not a compromise, it is capitulation (again) by the dems. Someone on another site referred to the "Vichy Congress". If the shoe fits...

by bird52 2008-06-23 07:03PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

reason 83 why I wished Russ had run for President.

sigh.

by colebiancardi 2008-06-23 06:27PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

Me too.

by rfahey22 2008-06-23 06:50PM | 0 recs
We could only be so lucky

I don't think he wants office higher than he has, though.

Too loyal to Wisconsin.

by Dracomicron 2008-06-24 05:13AM | 0 recs
Didn't Feingold

vote for John Roberts because he went to Harvard Law with the guy?

by Blazers Edge 2008-06-23 06:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Didn't Feingold

Feingold isn't pure but he is much purer than any democrat I know of.

by colebiancardi 2008-06-23 06:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Didn't Feingold

by Reaper0Bot0 2008-06-23 07:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Didn't Feingold

I'm sorry gang, but attacking people for voting for Roberts is just silly.  An exquisitely well-credentialed conservative replaced an exquisitely well-credentialed conservative.  Roberts is fine.  He didn't do a damned thing to move the court to the right.  He's also a damned fine jurist.

You can complain about Alito for a host of reasons.  It's just absurd to hammer people for voting for Roberts.

by Reaper0Bot0 2008-06-23 07:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Didn't Feingold

You've got to be kidding.

by Josh Orton 2008-06-23 10:39PM | 0 recs
Yes!

Finally, someone who gets it!

I wished for a Fiengold/Bayh ticket, but I sure hope at least he fillibusters this bill, and get's it killed, and this will do.

by TxDem08 2008-06-23 06:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Yes!

I wished for a Gore/Feingold ticket....

by colebiancardi 2008-06-23 06:38PM | 0 recs
I am so sick

of seeing people here and across the blogs saying they are OK with the FISA crap or they don't see it as important.

Most of these I am going to chalk up to be ignorant on the issue and on our Constitution others are most likely rightie trolls!

but... people really need to WAKE UP!

by kevin22262 2008-06-23 06:41PM | 0 recs
Re: I am so sick

ITA.

FISA and the stomping over the constitution has been a big issue for me.  

by colebiancardi 2008-06-23 06:43PM | 0 recs
Feingold has also

surrendered on the filibuster option according to this article:

http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080623/GPG0101 80623141/1978/GPGnews

by Blazers Edge 2008-06-23 07:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Feingold has also

If so, then they must be well below filibuster level.  This is what happens when people wait until the House passes a bill to get up in arms about it.  

by rfahey22 2008-06-23 07:09PM | 0 recs
"Democrats enabled [this]"

That's why he was my first hope to be the nominee. I don't always agree with Feinglod, but I always know he's upfront.

by Beren 2008-06-23 08:02PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

Have you sent an e-mail to our senators yet telling them how you feel about this? This is very important. Please do so... quickly. Wednesday's vote looms.

by weltec2 2008-06-23 09:52PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

Senator Feingolds posturing on this is just funny really.  If he wanted to stop it, he could.  The first words out of his mouth at each session would be "I object".  Then a lack of quorum call.  Then a motion to adjourn.  Then "I object".  Then another lack of quorum call.  On and on.  He doesn't have to do a real filibuster, he just needs to slow things down so much that nothing can get done.  Any senator that wants to can bring Senate proceedings to a screeching crawl if they really want.  Its the beauty of the Senate rules, they allow for infinite delay.  We just have any senators with guts enough to pull this.  

by Demo Dan in Dayton 2008-06-24 04:12AM | 0 recs
Why should Feingold put his head on
the chopping block? None of the other Dems will get his back.
by usedmeat 2008-06-24 06:01AM | 0 recs
The End of Liberty

The US congress has been updating its surveillance policies again and has finally succeeded in removing the last shred of civil liberties based upon prior law. There are a few groups which understand the importance of ensuring the privacy of the average person and have been objecting to the wholesale intrusion on this privacy, but I think this is not the most important violation.

For example, there is some concern about getting a court-issued warrant before surveillance can take place. This is based upon the provision in the fourth amendment:

Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

However, in practice this is a sham requirement. The FISA court set up to "protect" the rights of those being spied upon has approved all but a handful of such requests, so whether a warrant is "required" these days makes no difference in practice.

Similarly, the liberal blogosphere has been upset about the willingness of several telecom companies to provide wiretap facilities to the government without proper legal procedures. They feel that this "transgression" should be punishable, by taking the firms to court. This is also irrelevant. In the real world it is extremely remote that these firms would be sanctioned when they can claim that they were following directives from the president in a time of heightened national security. In fact with a bit of paperwork the president could have exempted them from possible liability from the start. It was only his arrogance that prevented him from providing this cover.

The real issue is that one of the four fundamental axioms of democratic governance has been broken. This time in a very public and inexcusable way. I have written about this before, in an essay based upon the work of legal philosopher Franz Neumann.

Here is one version of his basic principles:

1. All men are equal before the law.

  1. Laws must be general, not specific (this rules out bills of attainder).
  2. Retroactive laws are illegitimate.
  3. Enforcement must be separate from the decision-making agencies.

[My essay discussing these in detail: Saving Democracy ]

I want to focus on #3. The law voted on today grants retroactive immunity to the telecom companies for providing data to the government without a proper warrant.

A democratic society cannot exist if retroactive laws are permitted. Let's make up a simple example. Tomorrow there is a law passed which says blogging about legislation in against the law and anyone who has done it since the beginning of the year is now subject to arrest. Or perhaps, drinking coffee will be made illegal retroactively. The point is that there is no longer any basis for rational behavior. You can be punished for things in the past arbitrarily. That's a police state, not a democracy.

However, congress was willing to destroy one of the pillars of democracy just so a few wealthy firms could avoid some embarrassing court appearances. There was no chance that these firms would ever suffer any punishment from their actions in any case. The courts are just too cowed by claims of "national security" these days.

That's how freedom disappears, one step at a time, all done "legally". For those in Europe who may be feeling a bit smug, I suggest looking at some of the recent policies that have been enacted there as well. Mass hysteria and totalitarian tendencies are not just an American disease.

by rdf 2008-06-24 05:00AM | 0 recs
Where is Obama on all this?
by usedmeat 2008-06-24 06:02AM | 0 recs
I don't really buy

the argument that civil discovery in these telecom lawsuits is vital to finding out what the government did.  The scope of discovery in the cases would be subject to the whims of a federal judge.  Further, while communications between the government and the telecoms would be discoverable, communications within the government would not be.

It seems to me that the best way to get this information is:

(1) File a Bivens action against the government directly and issue third-party subpoenas against the telecoms.  The government, however, might prevail on a defense.  But if that happened then

(2) Congress should hold hearings about the NSA program and use its subpoena power to obtain whatever documents might exist.  It seems to me that if the goal is to find out what exactly the government was doing, a Congressional hearing is a much more straightforward and comprehensive means than civil litigation against third parties.

Of course, telecom immunity is bad on the merits and should be opposed simply because companies that break the law and violate their customers' privacy should be held to account.

by JJE 2008-06-24 06:32AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity
Well duh.  The whole point of the immunity is to insulate bushco.  The telecoms weren't worried about lawsuits, they have a figleaf.  It is about conspiracy and criminal behavior inside the WH itself.
  The only mystery to me is the sheepishness of the democrats and the stubborn refusal of the press to pick up this story and run with it.  Disgusting.
by moondancer 2008-06-24 07:38AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real Problem With Telecom Immunity

My guess is that there may have been a behind-the-door deal done that covers for the WH/industry in exchange for...?  

Or else the Dems are being pragmatic, trying to look strong on terror and security, and counting/praying on a big win in Nov to set them up to clean up the mess "retroactively".

Probably the biggest problem is that with the huge problem people have with their economics, they just can't wrap their heads around this issue.  I have no doubt this will blow up in the face of some admin/congress in the future, once people are less distracted, but it does reflect poorly on the population right now.

by Hammer1001 2008-06-24 12:51PM | 0 recs

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