10 Days Left to Stop the Dems from Caving on FISA

Two strategic-minded bloggers, Matt Stoller of Open Left, and Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, have important posts about the fast-moving train wreck of the Democrats in Congress acting in the next week or so to make permanent the warrantless eavesdropping they passed in early August, but this, time, even worse. There may be potential new loopholes allowing even greater invasions of privacy of American citizens, and a sweeping granting of immunity to lavishly-donating telecommunication companies.

Of course, the progress of this bill through Congress will be slowed down past 10 days if committees in both houses give it due deliberation in extensive hearings, but the template for any final legislation could be set as early next week when the Senate Intelligence Committee begins mark-up of a bill that seems likely to give the Bush administration -- and telecom companies -- much of what they want. That's why activists and citizens need to make their voices heard as soon as possible to derail a permanent FISA "fix" that could be worse than the six-month temporary legislation passed in August.

A grim sign is the way the ACLU, normally an ally of progressive Democrats, is being kept in the dark by the Democratic leadership about their plans to "compromise" with the administration, and copies of proposed bills are being kept hidden, at this point, from progressive advocacy groups -- so we will all have too little time to react and demand constitutional protection. It's the same recipe for constitutional disaster I described last month in The American Prospect in "Behind the Fisa Flop."
I wrote at the time:

The Democrats may have shown too much trust in the Bush administration after being stampeded into negotiations over the shape of the FISA bill, but the experienced activist groups and sophisticated bloggers largely were, in turn, blindsided by the Democrats' willingness to give the administration virtually unlimited power to seize records and eavesdrop on Americans communicating with foreigners. Caroline Fredrickson, the legislative director of the ACLU, is still fuming over the way Democrats reneged on reassurances she says they offered in late July to liberal groups -- particularly at a key meeting on July 20 -- that they wouldn't move any major revisions to the current FISA law before getting the answers they sought about the current warrantless wiretapping program.

"They turned around and screwed us over -- and the Constitution -- all at once," she says of the fast-moving FISA legislation that left the ACLU and other groups scrambling to stop it.

An eerie replay of last August's progresive collapse is underway, as Matt Stoller describes:

I just got off the phone with Caroline Fredrickson from the ACLU, and the news is about what you'd expect if you have witnessed Democratic House behavior over the past six months. The bottom line is that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are disorganized and giving no signals to members on the FISA wiretapping expansion and retroactive immunity to telecom companies, which is going to result in horrific legislation. In the Senate, Jay Rockefeller is once again inviting Mike McConnell into closed hearings on how to fix the FISA law, and the markup is next week. There are no drafts of legislation around, which is a bad sign.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is hamstrung by Dianne Feinstein, who prevents a majority, and by the instincts of Democrat leaders who, in a conflicts between Judiciary and Intelligence, will go with Intelligence because of a perceived fear of national security weakness.

Rockefeller, in order to get something 'bipartisan' that can pass the Senate, is working with Kit Bond to draft something that can get to 60 votes. Bond of course is close to McConnell, and so it's likely that the bill coming out of the Senate Judiciary is going to contain retroactive immunity for telecom companies (thank you lobbyist Jamie Gorelick) and a permanent fix to FISA that expands executive power. Reid and Pelosi, ironically, by ordering Democrats to move quickly so as to fix the problem they caused in July, are just accelerating the process of crafting this horrendous bill. This is complicated of course by the millions that telecom companies give to members on the Hill to prevent things like net neutrality from passing, though of course here too there's no logic since much of that money goes to Republicans.

My basic suggestion, made in a reply on Open Left, is that the progressive blogosphere needs to work closely, and quickly, with the Congressional contact and lobbying efforts of the ACLU to strengthen this civil liberties group's hand in pressuring Congress to avoid a permanent destruction of our Constitutional rights under this pending bill -- all buttressed by a deluge of citizen outrage.

Here's a recent email alert by executive director Anthony Romero of the ACLU, with the phrase "Don't Wait for '08" in the headline:

It's time for Congress to stop caving in and start standing up to the Bush Administration.

Our "leaders" in Washington keep telling us to wait for a more politically expedient time to restore our freedoms. Well, I have a message for them: Don't Wait for '08! That's going to be the ACLU's rallying cry during our critical 100-day campaign demanding immediate action from Congress to restore our constitutional rights.

With your help, we are going to put all 535 members of Congress on the record by asking a simple question -- Will you defend the Constitution? And will you defend it now? Answering yes means standing up on four critical issues: ending warrantless wiretapping, shutting down Guantánamo Bay, restoring habeas corpus, and stopping torture.

Ask your member of Congress: Will you defend the Constitution?

Over the next 100 days, we'll bring the full force of the ACLU's membership and activist base to bear on targeted members of Congress who fail to defend freedom. This includes local newspaper and radio ads, billboards and online strategies, and grassroots pressure both online and offline with millions of Americans coming together to demand action on these fundamental freedoms.

Our legislative advocates will work behind the scenes to press members of Congress to commit to key legislation to restore habeas corpus, close Guantánamo Bay, reverse the Military Commissions Act and fix the so-called "Protect America Act" that allows warrantless searches of innocent Americans. And, every time Congress acts - or fails to act - we'll mobilize our more than half-million ACLU members to take action.

So, please, ask your member of Congress: Will you defend the Constitution?

Here's the link to ACLU's write-your-congressperson page, asking for action to protect civil liberties. To learn more about the danger this FISA expansion poses, check out this resource page at the ACLU's website.

Unfortunately, we don't even have 100 days, let alone even perhaps two weeks, to prevent another horrific FISA bill from being railroaded through Congress. There's no time to lose, and keep checking Greenwald, Open Left , the www.aclu.org website and the knowledgeable, academic bloggers at Balkinzation to keep up-to-date. Remember, this time, we can't afford to be caught by surprise when our civil liberties are taken from us again.

UPDATE: The ACLU has added a "myths and facts" fact sheet about extending FISA permanently, and a link to a letter their coalition wrote to Congressional leadership about rushing into passing a permanent law without knowing the administration's current abuses of the law -- and the constitutional principles they need to adhere to.