Wiretap Reflections

Two or three blog posts ago, I asked progressive Obamanists if they had any boundaries of rightward drift Barack Obama could not trangress without losing their vote.  No substantive answers were forthcoming – hardly surprising since the whole "Progressives for Obama" thing is shockingly devoid of real content, as Glen Ford recently argued.   Two of the reader comments (to which I spent a bit of time responding) have been deleted (not by me), leading me to suspend attention to the comments section of this blog unless and until ZNet rescinds the practice of letting people alter or remove their comments. 

I’ve never been a progressive Obamanist as as is well known.  I have however been a left critiic of the Obama phenomenon who was willing to proclaim readiness to vote "Obama" to block McCain in a  contested state.

However when I’ve said that I have always assumed the "former civil rights lawyer" Obama was safe on Big Brother wiretapping.  He said he was. Well, so what? He lied and flipped yet again (imagine that), so now I can’t even promise to do the tactical thing anymore.

He is one of a large number of Democratic Senators who joined Republicans to vote yesterday to approve George W. Bush’s bill to broaden the executive branch’s wiretapping powers and to offer retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies against lawsuits for past collaboration with Bush in violating citizens’ constitutional rights against electornic surveillance.

I’d already decided to offer (very modest) financial support to McKinney and Nader (not a dime for Barack Goldman Sachs Obama) but now one of those two (probably McKinney, in part to stave off accusations of racism) will likely get my vote (for what that’s worth) in November (assuming one or both of them are on the ballot in my state).

I don’t know if the FISA bill revamp was the one boundary he couldn’t go past without losing my tactical vote or if his latest rightward lurch is just the last straw. Whatever, this electonic surveillance is very serious stuff..it is part and parcel of the contuining onset of a bipartisan corporate-imperial totalitarian or "Fascist Lite" (Charles Derber’s term) state.

I need to add an an important point about why it is so significant that the telecommunications companies are going to get retroactive immunity. It isn’t just that they wil save money by no longer having to worry about lawsuits.  The other thing – and this is not getting much if any discussion – is that civil trials against the telecommunications giants would have brought out evidence of just exactly how much snooping Uncle Sam has been doing on ordinary American citizens. Such litigation would have made it clear that government spying powers are being badly abused in relation to everyday Americans.

In the New York Times today there was an interesting comment:

"The vote came two and a half years after public disclosure of the wiretapping program set off a fierce national debate over the balance between protecting the country from another terrorist strike and ensuring civil liberties. The final outcome in Congress, which opponents of the surveillance measure had conceded for weeks, seemed almost anticlimactic in contrast."

The Times left something out there.  It  failed to mention that it knew about the illegal wiretapping program in October 2004.  In fact, it was ready to run a story about it and caved into pressure by the Bush administration not to report on the policy untiil the following year and after the 2004 presidential election. 

It is likely that disclosure of the wiretapping in October 2004 would have cost Bush II the election; in that sense you could argue that the New York Times gave us a second proto-fascistic Bush term – at Bush’s behest.  

Accordintg to the Times today," Even as his political stature has waned, Mr. Bush has managed to maintain his dominance on national security issues in a Democratic-led Congress. He has beat back efforts to cut troops and financing in Iraq, and he has won important victories on issues like interrogation tactics and military tribunals in the fight against terrorism. "


Further: "The issue put Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, in a particularly precarious spot. He had long opposed giving legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in the N.S.A.’s wiretapping program, even threatening a filibuster during his run for the nomination. But on Wednesday, he ended up voting for what he called ‘an improved but imperfect bill’ after backing a failed attempt earlier in the day to strip the immunity provision from the bill through an amendment. "

Get this: the "improved but imperfect bill" (Obama)… "expands the government’s power to invoke emergency wiretapping procedures. While the N.S.A. would be allowed to seek court orders for broad groups of foreign targets, the law creates a new seven-day period for directing wiretaps at foreigners without a court order in ‘exigent’ circumstances if government officials assert that important national security information would be lost. The law also expands to seven days, from three, the period for emergency wiretaps on Americans without a court order if the attorney general certifies there is probable cause to believe the target is linked to terrorism" (Eric Lichtblau, "Senate Approves Bill to Broaden Wiretap Powers," New York Times, July 10, 2008, p. A1.


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