As a disaffected Minnesota Democrat, I feel the strong need to take our new senator, Amy Klobuchar, to task for an incredibly disappointing vote: her recent vote on the renewal of FISA — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
How and why a purported liberal senator could vote for this outrageous abrogation of power to a disgraced, untrustworthy former attorney general, a president whose history shows spying on Americans is OK and an administration that frequently demonstrated a lack of ethics is way beyond me!
FISA was initially enacted in 1978. At that time, various congressional committees uncovered serious and dangerous civil rights abuses by the FBI, CIA and other government agencies. Many lives and reputations were callously damaged. Thus, a Special Court was created at that time to regulate spying requests. And it has worked for several decades (and been upgraded frequently) without compromising our nation’s security, and even more importantly, protecting the rights and privacy of American citizens. Rights and privacy clearly and specifically protected by our great Constitution.
Now comes Amy Klobuchar, who joins only 15 other weak-kneed Democrats to revise this vital protection, and give Bush the power to spy on international telephone calls and emails of Americans (that’s you and I, folks) in a manner that dangerously intrudes on our privacy. In simple terms, that involves the ability to eavesdrop without warrants under loosely defined rules and limits.
Worse yet, Bush has in the past admitted breaking FISA rules and has acted irresponsibly in the observance of civil rights; prompting ongoing concern to virtually all civil liberties groups who monitor these activities. Why Klobuchar and the other 15 Democrats voted for this FISA abomination will be described later; but for now, their only explanation is that there is a “sunset” rule on this vote, which requires another approval in six months.
That is little comfort to me, and others, who have seen the Bush Administration abuse rules, rights and laws consistently in the past. Witness the current flap with Bush trying to gain retroactive immunity for the telecom companies that did the spying. Beyond that, we can be sure that Bush will employ the same fear-mongering for renewal, which got the revisions passed this time, by suggesting that “Democrats who vote against this spying activity are soft on terrorism.”
Indeed, we do live in dangerous times; the threats are real. But it is in times like these that protection of the Constitution and rule of law needs greatest protection. Noting Ben Franklin’s oft-quoted admonishment: “Those who give up liberty for short-term security end up with neither liberty nor security.”
My greatest hope is that Klobuchar will use greater care and thought about the ramifications of her previous vote when this issue comes up in a few months.
On a positive note, two critical court decisions were handed down recently on the FISA renewal. A federal judge in New York struck down the amended Patriot Act’s National Security Letter provision. The law has permitted the FBI to demand private information about people within the United States without court approval. It also allowed the government to gag those who receive NSLs from discussing these letters with anyone.
U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero found this gag power unconstitutional and, because the statute that authorized it prevented courts from engaging in meaningful judicial review of the gags, it violated the First Amendment and the principle of separation of powers. Furthermore, because the gag provisions could not be separated from the entire amended statute, the court struck down the statute in its entirety.
In a second legal victory, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., rejected the government’s broad claims of secrecy that the government made when it refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that demanded the release of documents involving the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. This ruling strikes a blow to the administration’s sweeping and often unfounded secrecy claims.
Which brings me to my assumed reason for her vote: fear. In my opinion that is the basis of Klobuchar’s votes, and the votes of other Democrats on this crucial FISA issue. Yes, there has been some positive change in Washington — but the fear factor clouds much of this good and does not portend well for the future.
Fear of being soft on terrorism — fear that right-wing commentators will take them to task for “unpatriotic” votes — are all playing into a de facto support of an administration that these people were elected to oppose and depose. The fact that Klobuchar, along with other newly elected legislators, has capitulated to fear is incredibly disappointing.
Let me add, these critiques really should not be directed at Klobuchar alone (I like her; she is smart and honest, and she could evolve into a fine senator if she gets some spine). It is, moreover, directed at the factors that seemed to have paralyzed the new Democratic Congress as a whole; and that is reflected in a recent Gallup Poll that showed just 18 percent of Americans approving of the job Congress is doing and 76 percent disapproving.
Dissecting this, it is clear the conservatives and Republicans likely will not approve of the Congress, and now the left is rebelling as well.
To me, Minnesotans (indeed, the American people) voted for change. We voted to rein in an administration that was ineffective and highly unpopular. We elected legislators who we felt would stand up to the Bush/Cheney regime with new policies, clean government, more transparency.
We hoped we were electing leaders in the mold of Paul Wellstone — bold, honest and trustworthy. We elected officials we believed were strong and could effect change by controlling the legislative branch. And now, with another FISA vote coming up, as a disaffected Democrat, I believe it is time to see that change happen.
Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his entire business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.
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