June 25, 2008 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Why are the Democrats granting the telcoms immunity from civil lawsuits in the new FISA bill? What is their angle?

Sure, if the yokels understood telcom immunity, one can sell this as "defending America", without giving Cheney's palls another few billion dollars. But do the yokels care? Isn't anyone who cares a safe vote? So doesn't this move alienates & discourages the Democrat's base. Is it just about telcom campaign contributions for the upcoming election? Or are the more specific strategical reasons?
posted by jeffburdges to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
They've decided the only way to avoid looking weak on terror is to be weak on terror.
posted by null terminated at 8:25 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, I think this analysis is mainly correct:
But that tactic isn't as innovative as Hoyer tries to suggest. That was exactly the mentality that led huge numbers of Democrats in 2002 to vote to authorize Bush's attack on Iraq: "Let's give the Republicans everything they want on national security and then they can't criticize us any more. That'll show them." Aside from being the very definition of cravenness -- "let's comply with all the GOP's orders and then they won't be mad and that will be good for us!" -- ask Max Cleland, who voted for the AUMF and then had commercials run against him with video of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, how well that strategy works.
posted by null terminated at 8:27 AM on June 25, 2008

For the MOO-LAA
posted by milarepa at 8:43 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

If only there was a document or something that would outline how our law makers/judges/executive officers were supposed to act...

I don't know why they are doing it, but I can tell you they are traitors to the constitution and failures at their sworn oaths to uphold and protect it.

The U.S. Constitution's Article 1 Section 9, C.3 states: No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

Simple, no?
posted by Hugh2d2 at 8:49 AM on June 25, 2008 [8 favorites]

I'd give the telcos immunity in a heartbeat if those that asked them to break the law were prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
posted by zeoslap at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

from a employee in the halls of congress, i offer the following:

- telcos wanted immunity from law suits
- poloticos need money for campaigns and hookers

I think it is easy to see why congress has voted to give them immunity...
posted by photodegas at 9:15 AM on June 25, 2008

My understanding is that the democrats yielded some ground on immunity in exchange for budgetary concessions in another bill (I think a defense bill, but I'm not sure). The compromise was that immunity could only be granted if the telco had written authorization from the administration justifying the legality of the effort.
I'll try to dig up links if I can find them.
posted by forforf at 9:39 AM on June 25, 2008

Fear, greed and power.

The prevailing understanding seems to be what Null Terminated mentioned-- mostly I think because there's a hope that the alternatives aren't true. "Look, I know they voted for it but it's because they want to win the election, not because they actually support it!"

The truth might be far more uglier then that however--

Some of the congressmen were obviously bribed, the ones who pushed this bill were directly rewarded by large campaign donations from the telecoms, that's par for course in American politics from what I gather. McCain from what I recall has had to let a few of his campaign managers go because of even greater conflicts of interest.
Hoyer and his cohorts put the bill together in secret, then pushed it out with twenty four hours to read, comprehend and choose a course of action. Obama's lack of voice at that point seems to indicate that they had already chosen their course of action, since he was pretty vocal the first time around.

The sadest perspective though, is they want the power. Yes the greed for money might allow them to more easily sway their opinions, the lack of time to read the bill might allow falsehoods to be inserted in their minds about what the bill really allows.
But really-- everyone knew this bill was a big deal. Perhaps they want the telecoms and media on their side, perhaps they want the ability to spy on their country because they *know* they're getting into power the next time round, so why should they give up some power they could use to their benefit.

Everyone seems to think the democrats a party that is entirely different then the republicans, but since they've taken power in Congress, nothing, NOTHING, has changed-- compared to a GOP controlled congress-- so why do you think the democrats are any different really? Obama, Pelosi, Hoyer and the other higher-ups are calling this amnesty bill a great compromise, but it's all just marketing-- it's nothing with actual substance.

The only small light of hope is that not *every* democrat voted for it. The majority of democrats via fear, greed or quest for power allowed this to pass, none of those reasons should be part of this process.

Go and donate money to the actblue fisa campaign-- they're targetting some of the major supporters of this bill. They're spending the money on campaigns to educate the voters of their districts, to show what their representatives support and with the hope of getting a better representative to replace them. Unless your politicians understand that there is a consequence for going so far off course, they'll just continue pissing on your rights.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:40 AM on June 25, 2008

...and then written authorization gives you a paper trail to hang someone with? Oh, how I wish....
posted by pjern at 9:41 AM on June 25, 2008

Their reasoning, such as it is (I agree with most posters upthread, but... trying to answer the question asked):

1. There will be some (admittedly forgone) judicial review. In other words, a FISA court judge will rule that yes, the telcos were promised that what they were doing was legal. So then it's kosher.

2. The bill does sunset. Though I guess that that the retroactive immunity doesn't.

3. Looking tough against terrorists means doing theatrical BS. CF the uniforms that the TSA is rolling out.
posted by zpousman at 9:44 AM on June 25, 2008

Democrats have a long-standing problem with looking like pussies. They're trying to signal that they're not.

The way these sorts of signaling games fall out, it takes a whole damn lot of signal to overcome an initial bias against whatever you're trying to signal. Technically, if you have a prior that's strongly tilted and you hear cheap-talk in the other direction, the signal is heavily discounted and you probably get an uninformative pooling equilibrium where the hearer doesn't actually update at all. In the political world, though, you can be inoffensive enough to not be worth bothering to vote against.

At the same time, any signal that agrees with the prior will receive high weight and you'll get an inadvertant separating equilibrium (or a separating disequilibrium that's nonetheless achieved).

Even more technically, you can drink all the beer you want, but if the bully's prior is that almost everyone is a wimp, you're gonna get beat up. But if you eat that quiche, you'll get beat up with literal certainty.

So doesn't this move alienates & discourages the Democrat's base.

The Democratic base isn't "liberals." It includes large numbers of union and other blue-collar workers who can be quite conservative socially and hawkish on defense, and large numbers of black voters who are not uniformly dovish or ACLU-loving.

Likewise, it doesn't particularly matter that the yokels aren't paying attention and don't care. Political operatives for the Republicans are paying attention, the issues can be publicized in November, and the yokels can probably be made to care when what they're being told only reinforces their prior beliefs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:07 AM on June 25, 2008


s/you're gonna get beat up/you might well still get beat up/
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:08 AM on June 25, 2008

Oh one other compromise point was that the bill requires wiretapping requests to go through the FISA court, so the admin can no longer bypass FISA.

I found this summary from the AP
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendment bill also would:

_Require FISA court permission to wiretap Americans who are overseas.

_Prohibit targeting a foreigner to secretly eavesdrop on an American's calls or e-mails without court approval.

_Allow the FISA court 30 days to review existing but expiring surveillance orders before renewing them.

_Allow eavesdropping in emergencies without court approval, provided the government files required papers within a week.

_Prohibit the government from invoking war powers or other authorities to supersede surveillance rules in the future.

I couldn't find any reference to the budgetary concessions I alluded to in my earlier post, so take that bit with a grain of salt, though I swore I heard that as one of the reasons on the radio (I live in the dc area).
posted by forforf at 10:09 AM on June 25, 2008

Prohibit the government from invoking war powers or other authorities to supersede surveillance rules in the future.


QUESTION FOUR: How important is the "exclusivity" provision as a check on even broader executive surveillance practices?

Not very important, I think -- not for several years, anyway. It'll probably be surplusage come January, because Senator Obama has virtually pledged that he would not assert a constitutional authority to disregard the law, and Senator McCain has suggested likewise. Even for President Bush in the next few months, it'll be a non-issue, but for a different reason -- namely, that the new law itself will allow him to do everything he wants, and therefore there will be no need for him to assert any constitutional authority to disregard. This passage from George Terwilliger on the News Hour the other night made the point quite well:
[The exclusivity provision is] very important. And it's important to understand the balance that was struck as to that provision itself. The reason the president had to resort to the [alleged constitutional] authorities that he used before this legislation was because what needed to be done couldn't be done under the old law. Now the procedures have been changed, and the authorization that's been given has been broadened sufficiently to make it possible to do what the intelligence professionals say we need to do, but to do it under these FISA proceedings.
In other words: The President will only violate the law when he thinks it's too restrictive, and this law is not restrictive at all, so there's nothing to worry about. The "balance that was struck," to which Terwilliger refers, is that the White House acceded to the exclusivity provision, in exchange for substantive standards so permissive as to ensure that the exclusivity provision will never be pertinent.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:29 AM on June 25, 2008

Some have argued that the Democrats are attempting to cover up the extent to which they were aware of the surveillance programs. I'm inclined to believe this argument, because I'm having trouble coming up with a better explanation.
posted by Galvatron at 11:55 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Money...it always comes down to money...
posted by photodegas at 12:26 PM on June 25, 2008

The way I heard it, it's because Nancy Pelosi had foreknowledge of the violations, and as such, could be considered an accessory. Therefore, she can't stand the light of an investigation. It is suggested she knew about a lot of questionable activities about which her silence could be problematic.

On the other hand: Things have gone so totally contrary to expectations, as regards the behavior of Democrats, I always wonder who's bought, who's blackmailed, and who's under what kind of threat. Let's not forget the Patriot Act, which was pushed through Congress while Congress was upside down due to anthrax in the mail.
posted by Goofyy at 2:13 AM on June 26, 2008

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