Liberty and Justice for all

Greetings, and welcome to the East Valley Democratic Club’s blog. Here, we fight for our basic rights and liberties in the face of an increasingly authoritarian administration in Washington and the vapid Governator here at home.

Fighting words? You bet. We are your father’s Democrats — two-fisted, passionate, and ready to stand up for what we believe in. Formed around a core of activists united by the Dean candidacy, we have taken his call to the “Democratic wing of the Democratic party” (originally coined by Paul Wellstone) to heart. Setting triangulation and appeasement aside, we intend to let America know what we stand for and what we believe in, no apologies, no regrets. It’s time to stop giving plum government positions to corporate lobbyists and incompetent cronies. It’s time to end unilateral wars that distract us from America’s real enemies and put the focus back on the murderers who want us dead. It’s time to return our attention to a badly abused environment before it turns against us. It’s time to stop shoveling money at the obscenely rich and restore hope to the people who do the work in this country. It’s time to put an end to torture and illegal spying — violations of the fundamental principles America was founded on — and restore our republic’s good name. In short, it’s time to restore liberty and justice for all.

There are so many scandals and outrages to keep track of with the Bush administration and the state machines that emulate him, it can be hard to keep track of them all. To that end, I’m posting the first in what I hope is the beginning of a long series — the Daily Google. Google has become the activist’s best friend, allowing any ordinary citizen to find what politicians would rather shove down the memory hole with incredible ease. For the first Daily Google, I’m covering the major topic of the hour: FISA, and what Bush has done with it. (Note: Wikipedia is also a wonderful source of information, but it is a free Internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Thus, its information — while almost always reliable, in my experience — should be viewed in that context.)

Recently, the New York Times revealed an NSA program that was eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant — a clear violation of FISA if true, and very possibly a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. One whistleblower claims that the breadth of the spying could go far beyond President Bush’s claim that his so-called terrorist surveillance program only monitors chats with al-Qaeda. A FISA judge quit over the scandal. Bush, clearly on the defensive, continues to claim he did nothing wrong:

“These are not phone calls within the United States,” Bush said. “This is a phone call of an al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect, making a phone call into the United States.

The problem is, the otherwise-secret FISA court is well-known for its deference to the executive branch, or rather it was until Bush came into office:

The judges modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications that were approved over the first 22 years of the court’s operation. In 20 of the first 21 annual reports on the court’s activities up to 1999, the Justice Department told Congress that “no orders were entered (by the FISA court) which modified or denied the requested authority” submitted by the government.

But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for court-ordered surveillance by the Bush administration. A total of 173 of those court-ordered “substantive modifications” took place in 2003 and 2004 — the most recent years for which public records are available.

The judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years — the first outright rejection in the court’s history.

Some argue that the administration had to act quickly, but even if the violations are not systemic — and they certainly appear to be — there is an enormous hole in that rationale…the NSA can get warrants retroactively:

It turns out that FISA specifically empowers the Attorney General or his designee to start wiretapping on an emergency basis even without a warrant so long as a retroactive application is made for one “as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance.” (see specific citation, here).

So the question remains: why did the FISA court, which had been almost uniformly accommodating to previous presidents (including Bush’s own father), start modifying and even rejecting this administration’s requests, especially after 9/11?

There are plenty of theories out there, ranging from lack of probable cause to the usual neocon suspects, “activist judges,” but the most likely answer seems to me to be that the administration wants to keep an eye on its critics. Of course, we’ll never know the truth — unless Rove can find some political advantage in revealing it, that is.

But that’s another Daily Google.

Until next time,

The Blue Phoenix
It’s time to rise

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