Archive for March, 2008

Democrats grow temporary spine…

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Kudos to the House for blocking retroactive immunity to the telecoms for being complicit in the wiretapping of Americans. I considered this issue important enough to write Denny Rehberg about, and I got a response — straight along party lines. I don’t have the original letter I wrote, but I essentially took the standpoint that Montanans have been steamrolled by large corporations enough as it is, so as a Montanan Rehberg should realize that giving any sort of immunity to a corporation for any reason is a bad idea. His response?

The Protect America Act brings the outdated Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 into line with current technological capabilities while adding appropriate liability protections for patriotic third parties who have helped defend our country.

The House of Representatives must pass this critical legislation without delay to ensure that Americans are protected from those who want to do us harm. I will do everything I can to ensure that these important protections are reinstated.

Sorry, Dave, the national agenda of the Republican Party trumps any obligation you may think I have to my constituents.

He lost in the end, as the house passed a bill refusing such retroactive immunity. This is actually a good, good thing. Bush and his cronies are trying to play the fear card. In the NY Times article, Bush is quoted as saying, “Companies that may have helped us save lives should be thanked for their patriotic service, not subjected to billion-dollar lawsuits that will make them less willing to help in the future. The House bill may be good for class action trial lawyers, but it would be terrible for the United States.”

This is bad logic, and it’s not very difficult to see why. I’m not surprised that you have no grasp of how our government works, Mr. President, but the scenario you described is not sufficient to change it. We have these things called checks and balances to prevent any one branch of the government (there are three, by the way) from overstepping its bounds. It’s also why you can’t declare war any time you want… oh, wait, scratch that one.

Anyway, the decision to take away Americans’ right to file suit against the telecoms for breaching their civil liberties is not Congress’s to make. All companies should be subject to “billion-dollar lawsuits” all the time because, let’s be frank, corporations don’t really care about the people they may hurt. The decision about whether the telecoms were complicit in violating Americans’ rights belongs to the judicial branch alone, and should be decided on a case-by-case basis. The legislative branch should never, ever preempt the courts’ ability to provide a path to justice for American citizens.

Taking away our ability to defend our rights and seek justice is a bad, bad idea. It essentially sends the telecoms the message that it’s okay to allow this kind of paranoid eavesdropping, and to go ahead and continue doing so, without fear of reprisal. Retroactive immunity is never a good idea. When you grant it, you acknowledge that those given immunity did in fact do something wrong, while at the same time declaring that nothing should be done about it.

Of course, Bush will veto any bill that attempts to seek justice the moment it arrives at his desk. But he’s on his way out. And there may be someone else in the White House soon enough to undo a lot of damage done by the president. That’s a good thing to think of (actually, there is more than one person who would probably do that, but I’m talking about the guy who will actually make it to the White House).