Friday, February 15, 2008

The dumb is always with us

It's embarassing criticizing GDub now. He's technically the president, but even his dad probably doesn't think of him as presidential. It's like when a guy hangs out at a bar, hitting on all the women and striking out every time. Then he's still there fifteen minutes past closing, yapping at the bartender about how he knew this girl was really into him, but he cut her loose because her ass was too big.

But it's also embarassing to have him over you, and while he's a useless loudmouth, he's still on that barstool and he's still got that power. And further, his brand of idiocy will stay potent in the Beltway long after he goes back to Crawford to "work" on his "ranch."

Case in point.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President George W. Bush Wednesday urged the Congress to pass a controversial wire-tapping law, warning he would not accept any new delays as lives depended on intercepting key communications.

"Time for debate is over. I will not accept any temporary extension. House members have had plenty of time to pass a good bill," Bush said in a statement delivered in the Oval Office.

The Senate on Tuesday bowed to pressure from the Bush administration and passed a controversial measure authorizing security agencies to tap foreign telephone calls and emails in the US "war on terror."

But the bill now moves to the House of Representatives where it faces stiff opposition from some Democrats, particularly over moves to offer legal immunity to telecommunications companies if they participate in the measures.

Bush charged that the goal of the militants was "to bring destruction to our shores that will make September 11 pale by comparison.

"To carry out their plans, they must communicate with each other. They must recruit operatives. And they must share information. The lives of countless Americans depend on our ability to monitor these communications.

"It is time for Congress to ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. It is time for Congress to pass a law that provides a long-term foundation to protect our country. They must do so immediately."

After heated debate, the Senate Tuesday authorized the new measure offering blanket immunity to telecommunications companies for potential violations of US laws requiring warrants to spy on US citizens.

But such a blanket immunity has been resisted by some lawmakers in the House, with the pressure now on to agree a measure as the existing legislation expires on Friday.

Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) needs to be permanently updated before the key modification runs out.

The 30-year-old FISA was amended by Congress last year to make clear the National Security Agency and other intelligence operations were legally empowered to tap into electronic communications when one or more of the targets is in a foreign location, without first obtaining permission from a FISA court.

But Congress set a February 1, 2008 expiration date on that legislation, called the Protect America Act, which was temporarily extended to February 15.

The Bush administration insists the once-secret surveillance program is necessary to monitor communications between suspected terrorists overseas and extremists inside the United States.

But the House version of the draft legislation, which Bush has threatened to veto, offers no protection for the telecommunications industry and has more restrictions on the government's power.

"In order to be able to discover the enemy's plans, we need the collaboration of telecommunication companies," Bush said Wednesday.

"If these companies are subjected to lawsuits that could cost them billions of dollars, they will not participate. They will not help protect America. Liability protection is critical to securing the private sector's cooperation with our intelligence efforts."

However, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd has described the bill as a "travesty," while his colleague Russell Feingold called the measure "dangerous."

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop, without court warrants, on calls and emails between the United States and abroad in cases deemed to have a terror link.

The program, revealed in 2005, caused public outcry and human rights experts have argued that US privacy guarantees mean the intelligence agencies should seek court warrants to conduct such spying inside the country.

First of all "Time for debate is over?" What authority is behind this pronouncement, aside from Bush's own credibility, which is the size of that micron of toothpaste still in the tube when you throw it out? Are there "Spy on us now!" demonstrations in the street that I'm missing?

And how about the questions he's forcefully evading. Like, what's in this program? Will it do what you're saying it will do? Are we just throwing money (and in this case, chunks of the Constitution) down a bottomless pit? Is the government creating a Frankenstein we'll never be able to kill.

When tax dollars are being spent and the government is asking for more and more latitude, conservatives are supposed to care about this stuff. With a few exceptions they don't seem to now.

Again, this will not end with the overdue close of the Bush admin. McCain may object to torture--and there's question of how much he'd do about it--but hasn't quibbled about FISA. Obama or (less likely) HR Clinton may have objections, but I'm not sure either as president would want to get into this fight. The national security establishment isn't a lobby. It's several lobbies feeding off each other. The watchmen will need a whole lot of watching.

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