Tag Archives: Chris Dodd

Thanks for Changing the Climate, Here’s Your Reward

Congress, worried that the war on Iraq might actually end one day, has turned its attention to funding the war on the environment. This week the House acquiescently passed the auto companies’ bailout — or as we are supposed to call it, “bridge loan” – memories already dimmed of the auto execs’ flying to D.C. in private jets last month. http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/11/… The only reason the auto giants are not getting a check on Monday is that the Republicans in the Senate have since voted against the bill.

But, like the unpleasant memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Democrats’ memories seem to have been erased, and we heard nary a peep about all the times the car companies have sued and testified and spent a lot of energy to defeat any government limits on their planetary destruction. California has been especially affected by their litigiousness, as the state has tried to lead the way with progressive standards to curb auto emissions. In fact, the auto companies are in litigation against California right now. State Attorney General Jerry Brown asked Congress to place a very reasonable restriction on the bridge loan: that California and other states be ensured the authority to set auto emissions standards at the California level, which would make the lawsuit against the California government groundless. http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/re…

This is not a minor lawsuit that the attorney general’s office doesn’t have to devote many resources to — it’s a monster lawsuit in which 21 car companies have joined forces, and that definitely includes the Big Three who have had their hands out: GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler. (And don’t rest too easy on the Prius good vibes; Toyota is part of it, too.) It sure seems that if car companies are going broke  after years of Machiavellian scheming to stave off fuel efficiency — as depicted in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? — then the very least their sugar daddy should require is that they don’t waste millions on a lawsuit to avoid having to follow the law. If the bailout is altruistic and intended to help the ‘little people’, then the California government should not be having to spend money to defend the right to enforce its own laws when clinics and schools are hurting for funds and people are losing their homes.

GM is one of the companies claiming to be on the verge of bankruptcy right now, and they figure prominently in Who Killed the Electric Car, as they aggressively remove their own electric cars from the road, hide them, and then physically crush the vehicles for fear that people might actually buy them. After finalizing auto bailout legislation for the Senate on Weds., Senator Chris Dodd (the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs) issued a public statement: “I wish that these companies had not gotten themselves into this situation.” Yes, and we also wish that they had not gotten us and the planet into this situation, Senator. http://banking.senate.gov/publ…  Is that the best you can do? Reward them for it?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can never remember that she herself actually is a California representative, under the impression instead that she’s Head Chauffeur at the ranch in Crawford, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that she came out in the forefront announcing the need for this particular handout. It wasn’t Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Bush didn’t have to pre-empt prime time; she was the mouthpiece. Since the White House has threatened to nix the auto bailout if there’s any tough love in it, and Pelosi seems to think the White House is doing us a favor, she decided not to rock the boat. Now that the Republicans in the Senate have refused to fall in line, she’s whining to Politico.com about the Senate vote: “To have just 32 Republicans, you think, ‘Why don’t we write our own bill?'” In short, she’s disappointed that Democrats’ sacrifices weren’t appreciated.

I think we’re all scratching our heads wondering why you didn’t write your own bill, Congresswoman, instead of passing a bill for the White House’s tastes. This is the White House which, amidst so many other offences it’s almost impossible to keep track, directed the EPA to oppose California’s emissions law in the first place. Because California was proposing tougher restrictions than the feds, the state needed a waiver to bypass the federal law, and the EPA refused, even though 17 other states wanted to follow the same standards. The Bush White House’s environmental policy, in short, is to actively violate states’ rights in order to aid the oil and auto companies in their quest to pollute. (One would think the purpose of the waiver requirement was to grant some allowances to states having trouble meeting strict environmental standards, not to stop them from protecting the environment.) Bush’s EPA has strenuously fought to do everything possible to enhance global warming, even against a Supreme Court ruling that put the P back in EPA. With all of this back and forth motored, if you will, by the auto companies, you would think Pelosi would be concerned, especially since fellow Northern Californian Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, publicly demanded that EPA head Stephen Johnson resign back in July, and also requested U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey begin a Dept. of Justice perjury investigation against him. http://epw.senate.gov/public/i…

Instead, Pelosi’s complaint to Politico about the Republicans’ obstruction of the auto bailout bill highlighted how she tried to accommodate the White House. It’s Dec. 12, 2008, and she’s still under the impression that bending over backwards for the least popular president anyone can recall is a virtue! Will somebody please tell her there’s a Democratic majority in both houses? About to be replaced after the holidays by an even larger Democratic majority in both houses? Oh yes, and I think the new president is a Democrat, too?

But it gets better. The other anti-environment White House proviso to which Pelosi buckled under is that the auto company rescue be paid for from a fund to build greener cars.

I’m not kidding.

Not only was Pelosi fine with giving money to an industry that considers one of its business expenses a protracted lawsuit against California taxpayers, but she is actually letting the White House plead poverty now (though they never did when demanding that Congress fund the war, reward reckless Wall Street operatives, or cut rich people’s taxes). But now all of a sudden it’s necessary to raid the fund set aside to produce cars that are more environmentally friendly. Granted, Pelosi initially “resisted using” the green fund, ABC News reports,


and I’m sure she’ll be the first to mention that when asked about it (unless she’s able to avoid answering the question.) https://calitics.com/showDi…

However, afraid that she wouldn’t get the job as Silverware Burnisher at Bush’s new home in “whites-only” Dallas suburb Preston Hollow, she “changed her mind under White House pressure.” http://cbs11tv.com/local/bush….

Not to criticize ABC News (not about this story, anyway), but they could have just borrowed their reporting from any report filed about Congress during the last two years: Isn’t “Pelosi resisted but changed her mind under White House pressure” always the theme? I think we could add a word to the dictionary: PELOSI, v.: “to initially resist and then change one’s mind under White House pressure.” We could install a Commemorative Barometer at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and name it “the Pelosi”, so its reading can change with White House pressure in perpetuity. In years to come, any political history scholar who is able to find a single instance during the Bush Administration when Pelosi did not “change her mind under White House pressure” will automatically become famous.

By contrast, Jerry Brown showed what bold, creative leadership actually looks like shortly after being elected state attorney general by launching a lawsuit against the car companies for contributing to global warming. A judge dismissed the suit, but you don’t have to win every struggle to make the attempt worthwhile. The pro-war crowd certainly believes in the nobility of fighting to the finish on the battlefield. (The Democratic ‘leaders’ in Congress, whose arguments against the Iraq War were based on what they thought would make the smoothest sound bites, argued only that we were losing, not that the war is immoral or illegal, thus allowing the ‘fighting against the odds’ mentality to perpetuate the war.) And now the Republicans in the Senate have just shown an astonishing ability to make a stand — only 10 of them voting for the auto bailout – even against their own President.

It seems as if, were it not for the Republicans, the next thing we’ll see is Big Tobacco asking for a handout, complaining that the cost of damaging public health has really put a crimp in their style.


If you don’t want to leave the environment up to another Republican filibuster, I suggest contacting your representatives and telling them the lawsuit against California law and the use of the green cars fund are deal-breakers.



Had enough of Dianne Feinstein?

Disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

“A Heavy Heart.” That was the subject of the email I received today from Senator Chris Dodd. After fighting tooth and nail for many months, with a coalition cobbled together on the fly, brought together by a fundamental drive to protect the Constitution, the Senate was finally able to force through a new FISA bill including retroactive immunity for telecom companies.

It’s been an educational road for netroots activists in particular and Democratic activists in general. Developing effective methods of demanding and receiving accountability from out elected officials is still a work in progress. But in a number of very encouraging ways, the FISA fight over these many months has helped uncover what ideas held promise and afforded the chance to refine them. We may not have won this one, but we sure as hell made it a lot harder along the way.

A number of Democrats abandoned the Fourth Amendment to vote for immunity, including Senator Dianne Feinstein. It’s been a relatively tough year for the Constitution when Feinstein’s been faced with challenging votes, and this sadly was no exception. But it’s important to hear Senator Dodd’s words today:

…let us stand tall, knowing that by working together we were able to make wiretapping and retroactive immunity part of the national discourse these last number of months.

We came together – all of you, Senator Feingold, bloggers like Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald, organizations like the EFF and ACLU, and untold hundreds of thousands of Americans who simply wanted to make sure that this one, last insult did not happen with ease.

I’m sorry we weren’t successful.

And so Rick Jacobs put the accountability challenge to Courage Campaign supporters today via email. What are we going to do about it? His email is on the flip.

“If we do not change course and stand up for our Constitution, for what is best in America, for what we know is right and just, then history will most certainly decide that that it was those of us in this body who bare equal responsibility for the President’s decisions — for it was us who looked the other way, time and time again.”

   — Senator Christopher Dodd, July 8, 2008, on the Senate floor during debate on yesterday’s re-authorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein failed Californians. Again.

The big question is: What are you going to do about it?

In 2007, Sen. Feinstein failed us by providing the deciding Judiciary Committee swing votes that paved the way for the appointments of Michael Mukasey, President Bush’s torture-condoning nominee for Attorney General, and Leslie Southwick, a racist and homophobic judge.

And now, she has failed us on the Constitution itself, concealing a crime perpetrated by the Bush Administration and telecom companies against the American people.

Despite thousands of calls from concerned citizens, virtually shutting down her phone lines for the last week, Sen. Feinstein failed to vote for the pivotal Dodd/Feingold amendment to the re-authorization of FISA that would have denied retroactive immunity to telecom companies for illegally wiretapping the phones of Americans. Sen. Feinstein then voted for the FISA bill itself, effectively pardoning George W. Bush.

We’ve tried everything to get Sen. Feinstein’s attention. Phone calls. Emails. Faxes. Petitions. Protests. Smoke signals. We even launched an online petition supporting a proposed California Democratic Party censure resolution of Sen. Feinstein last November that spread like wildfire across the grassroots, with 35,039 Californians signing on in support.

The censure movement also catalyzed national media attention, fueled by endorsements from MoveOn.org, Progressive Democrats of America, the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus and Progressive Caucus, as well as 38 chartered Democratic Clubs across California.

A number of people have asked if the Courage Campaign would support holding Senator Feinstein accountable for caving on warrantless wiretapping by re-launching the censure resolution inside the California Democratic Party. It’s an important question but, frankly, a censure resolution is merely a piece of paper unless there’s a people-powered movement behind it.

That’s why we’re putting this decision in your hands today. If grassroots and netroots activists across California support a new censure resolution of Senator Feinstein, we will launch a censure campaign leading up to the California Democratic Party’s next Executive Board meeting.

You have the power. Should we re-launch the censure resolution holding Sen. Feinstein accountable for her failures on FISA as well as her swing votes last year in favor of appointing Michael Mukasey and Leslie Southwick? Or should we drop the censure?

It’s up to you. Please vote now “for” or “against” censuring Sen. Feinstein. And ask your friends to vote by forwarding this message to them. One person, one vote. DEADLINE: Tuesday, 5 p.m.:


California’s other Senator, Barbara Boxer, stood strong against retroactive immunity for telecoms and the Bush Administration, voting the right way twice — against the FISA bill and for the Dodd/Feingold amendment. She also had this to say on the floor of the Senate:

“The Bush warrantless surveillance program did not have the consent of the governed, and it was certainly not just.

Truth is the centerpiece of justice. The immunity provision in this bill effectively sweeps the warrantless program under the carpet, along with the rights and civil liberties of those whom we are sworn to protect — the American people.

The immunity provision hides the truth from the American people. They deserve better from us.”

We appreciate the courage and conviction of Barbara Boxer. On issue after issue, she is a shining light representing our progressive state.

Which is why it is all the more galling that Senator Feinstein, representing the same deep blue state, continues to give political cover to a President who views the Constitution as a disposable document.

As Californians, we do deserve better. That’s why we’re placing this important decision in your hands. Should we hold Sen. Feinstein accountable by using a process for public censure provided by the California Democratic Party? Please click here to vote “for” or “against” censuring the Senator. And please ask your friends to vote as well. DEADLINE: Tuesday, 5 p.m.:


You are at ground zero in this decision. While this vote will not reverse what happened yesterday on FISA, that doesn’t mean we can’t use the process provided by the California Democratic Party to express, as the previous censure resolution stated, the “disappointment at, and censure of, Senator Feinstein for ignoring Democratic principles and falling so far below the standard of what we expect of our elected officials.”

No matter whether you support censure or not, please vote and ask your friends and family to vote by forwarding this message to them. To make this a people-powered decision, we need as many people as possible to participate.

Thank you for holding our elected officials accountable and making 2008 a new era for progressive politics in California.

Rick Jacobs


P.S. If Senator Feinstein cares about nothing else, she cares about her legacy. At this moment, whether she knows it or not, Senator Feinstein’s place in history has been soiled by a decision that she will likely later regret, if only because it may have catalyzed concerned Californians to hold her accountable.

Your decision could be crucial to holding Sen. Feinstein’s accountable now and defining her legacy later. Please vote now and forward this message to your friends before 5 p.m. on Tuesday:


My latest FISA letter to Senator Feinstein

Here is the text of my latest letter to Senator Feinstein on FISA and telecom immunity.  It appears that we have been corresponding for so long that I now have a pretty good record to go by to understand her position.  To see where she was, and where she’s gone on this issue is not pretty.

Please note that I did take one last thing out of this letter before I faxed it, but I left it in for the readers here to understand just how I feel.

June 29, 2008

Senator Diane Feinstein

United States Senate

331 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510 Via Facsimile (202) 228-3954

Re: FISA Telecom Immunity

Dear Senator Feinstein:

For over two years, I have been writing to you about my outrage over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.  You have somehow found it possible, given your busy schedule selling out our civil rights, to respond to my communications from time to time, and I thank you for it.  I would like to both review your positions on the issue, and respond to them, now that the Senate is considering a bill that would give the telecommunications companies that colluded with the administration immunity for their undisputed wrongdoing.

I first wrote to you about my concerns in early 2006.  On April 12, 2006, you responded via email as follows:

I have carefully reviewed the Constitution and the laws relating to this domestic intelligence activity, along with the President’s statements and those of the Attorney General and other Administration officials.  I believe that the electronic surveillance program was not conducted in accordance with U.S. law.  The program, as described, violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires a court order for surveillance of Americans.  

Congress has updated FISA many times since 9/11 in order to provide our nation with all the necessary tools to fight terrorism.  The Administration has never asked for the authority to conduct this program.

I believe the Administration also violated the National Security Act, which requires all members of the Intelligence Committee to be fully and currently informed of all significant intelligence activities other than covert actions.  I am a member of the Intelligence Committee, and yet I was not told about this program until it was made public.  

On October 20, 2007, I again wrote to you, via facsimile, when it became clear that you had backed away from your original position, as set forth above, because you were “undecided” as to whether to grant immunity to those telecommunications companies that had done what the administration wanted, in spite of the manifest illegality of doing so.  I laid out a timeline of what I considered relevant events concerning warrantless wiretapping.  I believe that timeline is as trenchant now as it was then, and I will again impart it to you:

1) On October 13, 2007, The Washington Post reported that based on documents released from the trial of Joseph Nacchio, former CEO of Qwest Communications, that the government had enlisted the telecommunications companies’ assistance with its warrantless wiretapping program (the program) on February 27, 2001, fully six months prior to the attack on the World Trade Center (9/11);

2) While Quest refused, maintaining the program was illegal, other companies did participate;

3) At least one telecommunications company, Verizon, not only participated, but also demanded and received payment of $1,000 each time it provided information pursuant to the program;

4) Verizon was paid for its participation over 700 times;

5) The program, and telecommunications companies’ illegal acts in support of it, failed to prevent 9/11;

6) According to fully corroborated testimony by James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee (upon which you sit), on March 11, 2004, although it had previously done so, the Department of Justice (DOJ) refused to affirm the legality of the program, but the President allowed the program to continue, despite DOJ’s refusal;

7) The President, on April 20, 2004, publicly denied such warrantless wiretapping was taking place;

8) In December 2005, the existence of the program was disclosed by The New York Times;

9) In response to the disclosure, the President admitted to the existence of the program, but claimed that it (a) began after 9/11, and (b) prevented an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles (which the President called the “Liberty Tower”);

10) Subsequent investigation revealed there was probably no imminent or even credible threat to the Library Tower;

11) In the ensuing months and years, the Administration has claimed that such warrantless wiretapping has been conducted very rarely, and only in extreme circumstances;

12) Subsequent investigation by the FBI’s Inspector General revealed that such a claim is patently false; the FBI has abused its ability to issue National Security Letters and obtain private communications without warrants on hundreds of occasions, and many if not most of those letters were issued in connection with investigations wholly unrelated to terrorism;

13) On August 3, 2007, 60 Senators, including you, voted for the Protect America Act (PAA), which gives the Administration increased ability to engage in warrantless wiretapping;

14) After the PAA became law, several members of Congress indicated the Administration had warned them of an imminent threat of a terrorist attack upon Congress, which bore upon their votes;

15) Subsequent investigation reveals there was no such imminent threat;

16) In the ensuing weeks since the passage of the PAA, the President has claimed that the members of the “Gang of Eight” in Congress had been fully briefed on the warrantless wiretapping program;

17) At least three members of the “Gang of Eight” have indicated that they were not so briefed;

18) The President continues to claim that the warrantless wiretapping program was undertaken in response to 9/11.

Your response from January 22, 2008, via email, was remarkable, not only for the time it took to reach me (a mere six months), but for the amazing turnaround in your position on the matter:

I introduced an amendment on the Senate floor that would limit this grant of immunity. Under my amendment, cases against the telecommunications companies would go to the FISA Court for judicial review. The Court would only provide immunity if it finds that the alleged assistance was not provided, that assistance met legal requirements, or that a company had a good faith, reasonable belief that assistance was legal.

I believe that this approach strikes the correct balance: it maintains court review and a judicial determination of whether companies provided assistance that they should have known violated the law.

I have also filed an amendment to restore FISA’s exclusivity, to ensure that no surveillance program can proceed outside the law in the way that the Terrorist Surveillance Program did for more than five years.

After reading your response, I responded the next day, with a facsimile that repeated the timeline, and included an additional point:

19) On January 10, 2008, it became publicly known that telecommunications companies had cut off FBI wiretaps because the bills had not been paid quickly enough to suit the companies.

I then received a letter via U.S. Mail that appeared to me to be a word-for-word repeat of your email.  I am unsure whether you responded to my second facsimile at all, but suffice it to say that I was then clear about your position: you favored your judicial review that would grant immunity to telecommunications companies for a “good faith” belief in the legality something that they knew was illegal for over 30 years.

And so now the Senate is on the verge of voting on a bill that would go so much further than your pathetic “balanced” approach, in that the question of illegality of the wiretapping would never enter into the judicial review at all; rather, the review would be limited to deciding whether the companies were told they would somehow be protected by the Administration for breaking the law, and if they were, they become immune.

One has to wonder how we could have fallen so far into this Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole where “they told me I could” becomes the justification for excusing unlawful conduct.  I think it is rather clear than when an important decision maker in the process moves from “I believe that the electronic surveillance program was not conducted in accordance with U.S. law” to “I introduced an amendment on the Senate floor that would limit this grant of immunity” that the responsibility lies, to a significant degree, with that decision maker, namely you.

From a negotiation standpoint, what you did makes no sense at all.  Your amendment was a virtual capitulation from the beginning of the process that already gave the Administration more than it should have ever expected.  There is no precedent in American law that would give intentional actors retroactive civil immunity for their acts, until you made such a notion possible.  So, when Representative Hoyer began the negotiations that led to this bill, his side had already conceded a point that should not have been part of the calculus at all.

Further, I see no reason at all why the right of the American people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, was ever a negotiable point in the first place.  That such a notion would have occurred to you makes me doubt your commitment to the Constitution and the People of the State of California, whom, I would like to remind you, you were elected to serve.  We value our personal rights, as set forth in the very first provision of our State’s constitution:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights.  Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

Finally, any notion that these companies acted in anything that would approach “good faith” is completely undermined by their eagerness to shut off the wiretaps for slow payment (and there has never been any suggestion that the government would not pay eventually) even if these taps were of great importance to ongoing investigations.  The companies were not concerned with any notions of patriotism; they were only in it for the money.  For you or anyone to maintain that telecom immunity must be passed in order to keep us from “being attacked by terrorists,” is simply an insult.  As I noted above, the illegal program was instituted before September 11, 2001, and it did not protect us then.  This was an illegal, ineffective program that has produced nothing good in the short term, and promises to produce nothing but bad for our civil liberties in the long term.

Fortunately for the People of California, we have at least one Senator who still respects us, the things that make us strong, and our Constitution.  She and a dedicated group of her colleagues have managed to put the brakes on what has felt like a runaway train that would destroy our civil liberties.  With what now seems like the luxury of time (a scant two weeks), perhaps you can reflect upon the fiasco that that you would create by supporting the FISA bill, and finally come to understand that it does no good and much harm.

Moreover, even if you were to decide that ultimately this compromise is somehow the right thing to do, there is simply no need to do it hastily.  We still do not know exactly what the telecommunications companies did, upon whom it was done, and we have no idea whether it produced anything at all that would make anyone safer.  I feel that as to the last point, it did not, or else this Administration, which has little or no regard for the protection of state secrets, except when it feels such secrecy is politically advantageous, would have already disclosed it publicly.

I know that there is a political calculation going on here, but I would like to suggest to you that what appears to be the conventional wisdom on national security is no longer reflective of how the American people (and certainly the people of California) truly feel.  We are not ready to cower at the first sign of a threat on our soil, and we are ready to respond not in fear, but with the strength born of our principles of justice and liberty.

There is no doubt that a significant cadre of politicians will try to make an issue out of the failure to pass this bad bill, but their efforts will not succeed as they may have if this were 2003.  This Administration is the most unpopular in history, and the political difficulties that would inure to you and those on the side of liberty is not worth avoiding when compared to the massive unearned benefit the Administration and its supporters in Congress would gain from the bill’s passage.

Finally, if this is indeed such an important decision to make, there is no reason why it cannot be made by the next Congress, and a new President.  There is every reason to believe that the next President will be someone who understands and appreciates the U.S. Constitution, rather than referring to it as a “g*******d piece of paper,” and I would much prefer that he make the final decision before signing any bill of this importance.   Any investigation that is in place has not been, and will not be affected by not enacting the bill, and if there is a need to collect new information, the Administration can do what it always could have done: GET A WARRANT.

You should be grateful to Senators Boxer, Feingold, Dodd, and the others who have held back this dangerous juggernaut of a bill that would help only a privileged few and cause irreparable harm to this country, its people, and its reason for existence.  They have given you what you, for no good reason, have declined to get for yourself: time to come to the right decision, and the only decision you can make with a good conscience (assuming you have one).  NOTE: I omitted the italicized parenthetical from the final letter, as I decided it might be a little “over the top.”

I urge you to take a cue from your constituents and act from strength and not from fear.  Please oppose any FISA legislation that includes telecommunications company immunity, and please support the Constitution and an American system of justice that does not reward those who break the law.

Very Truly Yours,


After trying for so long to make the good Senator understand my position, and in that time seeing her position move further away from mine, I am left with the distinct impression that Senator Feinstein really does not care what people like me (that would be Californians and Democrats) think.  I sincerely hope that within the limited time we have before this legislation gets back on the Senate floor, I, and others like me, can make an impression on her.

Sen. Boxer On FISA

If you’re following the FISA battle, you may know that Sen. Feingold and Dodd have vowed to filibuster the full bill when it comes to the floor for a vote.  That’s slightly less promising than it sounds.  The motion to proceed has already been filed by Sen. Reid, and so without the votes on the Dodd-Feingold filibuster, it will be broken.  They can stretch out the bill, hopefully to the July 4 recess, but in order to stop it in its tracks you would need less than 60 votes for cloture.

One of those votes may be Sen. Boxer, who just delivered this statement on the floor of the Senate:

One of the most basic tenets of our freedom is justice, and at the heart of justice lies the search for truth.

Throughout history, whenever the United States government has violated the trust of the American people, we have always worked to regain that trust by seeking the truth and allowing for a full examination of the abuses of government power.

In 1975, the Church Committee-which would later become the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence-looked into allegations of covert and illegal spying by the federal government on Americans.

What did the Committee find?  The Committee found that the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, and the CIA had engaged in spying on the political activities of American citizens.

As a result, Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978, setting up a new court with authority to approve electronic surveillance on a case by case basis.

But in late 2005, we learned that the U.S. government had again violated the trust of the American people when the New York Times published a story exposing a warrantless  surveillance program authorized by President Bush shortly after 9/11.

Since that time, Congress and the American people have been grappling with the disclosure, and working, with absolutely no help from the Bush Administration, to find out exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, what we have before us today is a bill that would not only deny the Court the ability to finally make a judicial determination as to the legality of the NSA program, but would effectively guarantee immunity for the telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Administration and violated the privacy of their customers.

Now, I would support granting the telecom companies indemnification, but this immunity provision blocks us from finding the truth.

I know that many of my colleagues in the Senate think we know enough about this program.

But we do not know enough.  The Bush Administration trampled on the Constitution, and we are not doing anything in this bill to provide accountability.

This bill goes along with the premise that we hold up the constitution when it suits us, and we set it aside when it hinders what we want to do.

Simply put, this bill is a fig leaf that attempts to hide the truth about the warrantless surveillance program at the expense of the rights of our citizens.

And if we vote for it today, we are perpetuating a cover-up.

However, she has not said whether or not she supports the filibuster.  You can call her right now:

Barbara Boxer

(202) 224-3553

It’s important to note that our hope here is to DELAY.  The odds of limiting cloture to 61 people are remote.  But if Dodd and Feingold take up all their time on the floor, and enough Senators are there to help and ask questions, we can stretch this thing out.  DFA has some sample text for Sen. Boxer:

“I calling to demand Senator (Boxer or Feinstein) support a filibuster of any bill that will ultimately grant immunity to telecommunications companies who spied on innocent Americans. Can I count on the Senator to stand up to President Bush and his fear mongering?”

DFA, True Majority, and MoveOn are working on this.

State of FISA

Full disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

Update: Everything failed cloture.  McConnell’s bad amendment failed and so did Reid’s good-ish 30-day extension.  Which means that nothing has changed and we’re back to where everything was last week. Except that now President Bush has some nice fodder for his speech.  Updated update: Senators Boxer and Feinstein voted against cloture on McConnell’s and for cloture on Reid’s extension.  Good votes all.

All sorts of interesting developments on the FISA debate over the weekend as we swing into the next phase of the showdown.  First, the New York Times blasted leading Senate Democrats in an editorial for even considering an extension of Bush’s protections.  It also went ahead to say what so many of us know already: the notion that amnesty for telecom companies is anything but an attempt to cover up what this administration has been up to is…well…crazy.  The President contends that amnesty is necessary to get cooperation in the future, but it just doesn’t pass the smell test.  If the law is followed, it’s not a problem.  And if there’s any question about legality, the time to sort it all out isn’t well after the fact.  That’s the whole point of having a FISA court in the first place.

Senator Feinstein holds one of the votes that could be vacillating this week as FISA winds through vote after vote.  Call her and speak your mind about the ugly notion of providing amnesty to the telecoms.  She has many phone numbers:

202-224-3841 (Washington, DC)

310-914-7300 (Los Angeles)

415-393-0707 (San Francisco)

619-231-9712 (San Diego)

559-485-7430 (Fresno)

Either way, here we find ourselves.  Tim Tagaris noted over at OpenLeft that President Bush will veto any temporary extension of FISA.  Which means a lot of things, but the major one is that we can expect some theatrics.  There’s a State of the Union address coming soon, and as a result there’s a full chamber of Senators in town.  Including the ones with names like Clinton, McCain, and Obama.  Senators like that bring cameras, and Senators like cameras.

So here are the benchmarks to be watching for.  Senators Clinton and Obama will be joining with most (hopefully all) Democrats against cloture on Mitch McConnell’s odious offering on FISA.  That’s at 4:30pm eastern and is a good start.  Reid will be looking to pass a 30-day extension (the one Bush would apparently veto).  For now, this is the big one.

Rubber hits the road AFTER the State of the Union when there’s no fodder for the speech to be had.  The President is likely to establish the framework for the rest of the week during his speech, and it’s later in the week that Dodd’s filibuster will likely come to a head.  As a result, it will be when we get the real test of who stands where and who is willing to lead on this issue.

And yes, I’ll be keeping at least one eye on Senator Feinstein there.  She’s been pretty willing to buy the line of crap about telecom amnesty being important, which quite frankly it isn’t.  When it really comes down to it, where will she be? We’re gonna find out.

The Courage Campaign is one of many organizations fighting to make sure our Democratic Senators hang tough and beat Bush on this issue.  Help out with a call to Senator Feinstein and remind her we’re paying attention.

Inevitable Is as Inevitable Does

Wabooom. Kabbbam. Iowa cauces…couple of thoughts:

  • John Edwards’ number rounds up to 30, Hillary Clinton’s rounds down to 29 (by 3/100ths of a point – ouch). There is a reason why $29.99 appears far less than $30.00
  • With same day registration, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden calling no joy, and fierce Baracketting, New Hampshire looks like another upset win for Barack Obama on Tuesday
  • This means Nevada will become Hillary’s first potential win. This puts California boots in play with the ease of traveling to Vegas/Henderson or Reno
  • Expect this to put a f-ton of small dollar money heading to Anyone But Clinton — I think Obama could best $12 million by New Hampshire
  • Clinton isn’t in the top 3 on the huge facebook poll by the League of Young Voters, Moveon, et al.
  • The San Francisco Obama party at Tosca was packed and emotionally loud. Crowd included Paul Hogarth and Frank Russo and Jared Huffman

Housing Crises hitting California hardest- Dems and Bush screwing us further

Californians are suffering through high levels of predatory loans and some of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates because of it. I’ve got to say that Bush and the Democratic Presidential candidates are pulling the wool over our eyes on the housing crises.

On freezing interest rates for subprime loans, Bush’s plan today is a total crock. The NY Times reports his plan would “exclude many – if not most – subprime borrowers” including those who are delinquent on their payments. In a nutshell it’s a sham.

But what’s worse: a President no one trusts making promises no one believes or the Democratic candidates trying to replace him covertly aiding and abetting his policies?

Jesse Jackson spelled out the problem recently, noting nearly every single Democratic candidate lacks an agenda to promote African American issues while condescendingly expecting votes from that community. Presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd is a key example. While loudly denouncing Bush for allowing the housing crises to precipitate, as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, he has been helping Bush’s HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson to close the last remaining resource for helping homebuyers avoid predatory loans.

Senator Dodd is siding with Senate Republicans to oppose Maxine Water’s and Barney Frank’s bill in the House to save downpayment assistance programs, which allow nonprofits to help working families with the 3% downpayment necessary for Federally insured home loans.

The posturing on this is reaching new heights….but where is the press in uncovering the double talk? Absent as usual.  

Tough On Crime? Not So Much.

I was rendered almost ill by John Edwards’ stance in the debate against the decriminalization of marijuana because “it would send the wrong signal to young people.”  Chris Dodd made a strong response that cut to the heart of our failed prison policy.

DODD: Can I respond, I mean just why I think it ought to be? We’re locking up too many people in our system here today. We’ve got mandatory minimum sentences that are filling our jails with people who don’t belong there. My idea is to decriminalize this, reduce that problem here. We’ve gone from 800,000 to 2 million people in our penal institutions in this country. We’ve go to get a lot smarter about this issue than we are, and as president, I’d try and achieve that.

This, of course, is most acute in California, where we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop on a federal court order that could potentially force the release of thousands of prisoners due to overcrowding.  State Sen. Gloria Romero held her ground and didn’t allow the usual spate of tougher sentencing bills to pass the Legislature this year.  So once again, George and Sharon Runner will go to the ballot with a punitive measure designed to make themselves look tough while further battering a crippled prison system.

A year after bringing to California Jessica’s Law, the crackdown on sex offenders, the husband-and-wife team of state Sen. George Runner and Assemblywoman Sharon Runner announced Monday a new initiative that would target gang members for tougher prosecution and dedicate nearly $1 billion annually to enforcement and intervention.

The Republican legislators from Lancaster hope to collect enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2008 ballot, and they have the backing of the father of the state’s three-strikes law as well as law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

The Legislature has already rejected this bill, and it would again constrain the state budget with another walled-off mandate while doing nothing to address the major crisis in overcrowding.  It’s feel-good nonsense for “tough-on-crime” advocates.

By the way, let’s see how the last initiative the Runners promoted, Jessica’s Law, is working out:

Hundreds of California sex offenders who face tough new restrictions on where they can live are declaring themselves homeless, making it difficult for the state to track them.

Jessica’s Law, approved by 70 percent of California voters a year ago, bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children gather. That leaves few places where offenders can live legally.

Some who have had trouble finding a place to live are avoiding re-arrest by reporting that they are homeless – falsely, in some cases.

Experts say it is hard to monitor sex offenders when they lie about their address or are living day-to-day in cheap hotels, homeless shelters or on the street. It also means they may not be getting the treatment they need.

“We could potentially be making the world more dangerous rather than less dangerous,” said therapist Gerry Blasingame, past chairman of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending.

I agree with all of that except the word “potentially.”  We felt good about “getting tough” on sex offenders, and now we have them living under bridges and untrackable.  How do you think “getting tough” on gang violence is going to work out?

Bill Richardson: Vote “No” on Torture and Mukasey

Water-boarding is term that describes strapping an individual to a board, with a towel pulled tightly across his face, and pouring water on him or her to cut off air and simulate drowning. 

When asked directly last week whether he thought waterboarding is constitutional, Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey was evasive.  As noted by NPR, Mukasey “danced around the issue of whether waterboarding actually is torture and stopped short of saying that it is.” “If it amounts to torture,” Mukasey said carefully, “then it is not constitutional.”

As stated by Bill Richardson,

Waterboarding is torture, and anyone who is unwilling to identify it as such is not qualified to be the chief legal officer of the United States of America. If I were in the U.S. Senate, I would vote against Mukasey unless he denounces such specific forms of torture.

What about the Democrats in the U.S. Senate and other Democratic Presidential candidates?  Will they oppose Mukasey unless he denounces the use of torture by our government?

John Hutson, former judge advocate general of the Navy said last week after Judge Mukasey’s confirmation hearing , “Waterboarding was devised in the Spanish Inquisition. Next to the rack and thumbscrews, it’s the most iconic example of torture.”

The Bush Administration seems to believe that when anyone else does it, it’s torture, but when the U.S. does it, waterboarding  is acceptable.  Rudy Giuliani holds the same view

During his confirmation hearings, when asked about waterboarding, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, wrote:

Michael Mukasey suddenly seemed to morph into his predecessor, Alberto R. Gonzales — beginning with a series of openly evasive answers that ultimately led to what appeared to be a lie. At first, he repeatedly stated that he does not support torture, which violates the U.S. Constitution. This is precisely the answer given so often by President Bush like a mantra. The problem is that Bush defines torture to exclude things like water-boarding. It is like saying you do not rob banks, but then defining bank robbery in such a way that it does not include walking in with a gun and demanding money from the cashier.

The senators pushed Mukasey to go beyond the Bush administration mantra. He refused and then said something that made many of us who were listening gasp: “I don’t know what is involved in the technique,” he said.

In an editorial published this week, the Los Angeles Times states:

Michael B. Mukasey, who once seemed headed to confirmation as attorney general by acclamation, may now be facing a narrower and more contentious vote. That’s the price the retired federal judge from New York will have to pay unless he reconsiders some evasive testimony about torture.

. . .As the 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee noted in a letter to the nominee, water-boarding “has been the subject of much public discussion.” What isn’t clear is whether the CIA reserves the right to resort to that appalling practice to elicit information, reliable or otherwise, from suspected terrorists.

. . .Mukasey owes the Senate, and the country, an unambiguous commitment to upholding the Geneva Convention’s ban on “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” The question to him is whether Americans — in any service, for any reason — should be allowed to engage in water-boarding. The only acceptable answer is no.

As noted by Professor Turley, there are only two explanations for Mukasey’s evasion:  either Mukasey is the most ill-informed nominee in the history of this republic or, the more likely explanation: Mukasey is lying.

Where do our Senate Democrats and Presidential candidates stand on torture?  That is what the vote on Mukasey has become.

The candidate I’m supporting for President, Bill Richardson, stated on October 19th:

“Waterboarding is torture, and anyone who is unwilling to identify it as such is not qualified to be the chief legal officer of the United States of America. If I were in the U.S. Senate, I would vote against Mukasey unless he denounces such specific forms of torture.

“Torture does not work. Mistreatment backfires and destroys our international leadership, as we saw with Abu Ghraib. Torture also endangers our own troops. The standards we adopt may well be what our own troops are subjected to.

“Anytime one makes a person think he or she is being executed, the very nature of waterboarding, it obviously is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, international law, and basic human decency.

“ABC News has described waterboarding as follows: ‘The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face, and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in, and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.’

“If another nation engaged in waterboarding against American citizens, we would denounce that country and call the practice barbaric, and rightly so.

“We must stand against torture without equivocation, without compromise, and without exception. Torture is a violation of everything we stand for as Americans and as human beings.”

Supporters of Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Dodd, Biden and other the candidates – where does your candidate stand on the confirmation of Mukasey?

Let’s rally together and call on all Democrats in the Senate to vote “no” on torture and Mukasey.

Presidentials on the California Wildfires

Gov. Richardson, Sen. Dodd, and Sen. Edwards have offered both statements and resources for those suffering in our state this week.

John Edwards: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the more than 300,000 families who have been forced to flee their homes to escape the wildfires spreading across southern California. Those affected by this tragedy should take comfort in the fact that their fellow Americans are standing with them and will do whatever it takes to fight the fires and rebuild the homes and businesses that were destroyed.”

Edwards is calling on his One Corps volunteers to assist in local projects in and around San Diego.  You can sign up here.

Bill Richardson: “Today, we all extend our sympathies and prayers to those devastated by the wildfires in California.  Millions of Americans are impacted by this natural disaster.

Neighbors should help neighbors in their time of need.  As Governor of New Mexico,  I ordered two fire crews (strike teams, with 5 engines and 21 crew members each) to California. As a candidate for President, I donated to the American Red Cross ($10,000 -ed.) and I encourage you to do so as well, click here to do so.

But as someone who believes the war in Iraq is a complete disaster and that we need to get our troops out now (www.getourtroopsout.com), I look at the natural disaster in California and feel compelled to also ask President Bush and every candidate who thinks it is okay for our troops to remain in Iraq until 2013 or longer – where is our National Guard?

It is a sad irony that yesterday, the very day I sent fire crews to California, 300 more New Mexico National Guard members were sent to Iraq.  Just when we need them most at home, more of our brave men and women, true public servants, are sent away to a war we cannot win.”

Chris Dodd:  “As you know, Governor Schwarzenegger has had to ask other states for help because so many of California’s National Guard, who provide critical support to the citizens while you are fighting the fires, were deployed to Iraq. In a Dodd Administration, never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq. Never again will our first responders be left without the support they need because our President failed to do what it took to keep our communities safe. That is why in 2008, nothing will be more important than leadership that can get results that make us stronger and more secure. That’s the first responsibility of an American President.”

And, he’s asking for volunteers at California Volunteers.com.

How are the Republicans handling this, you ask?  On the flip…

In case you were wondering:

Rudy Giuliani: Nothing.
John McCain: Nothing.
Mitt Romney: Nothing.
Fred Thompson: Nothing.
Mike Huckabee: Nothing.  A 30-minute interview with Glenn Beck on his front page.
Duncan Hunter: It’s his frickin’ district and it’s hard to find anything outside of this news article.
Tom Tancredo: Nothing.
Ron Paul: Nothing.  And he’s doing a “Hollywood fundraiser” tonight.

They just don’t care.