Hold your elected officials accountable for their vote on the FISA amendment

As you undoubtedly know, late last week Congress rolled over and played dead, passing the horrible amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act with the Orwellian name “Protecting America Act of 2007.” (I guess we need protection from those pesky constitutional rights.)

The amendment broadly expands the government’s authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants. It takes oversight away from the FISA court and gives it to the attorney general (that well-known protector of constitutional rights) and the director of national intelligence. (For a longer explanation of why this bill is so bad, click here.)

Senator Arlen Specter choose to vote for this atrocious bill. At several stops on the town hall tour he’s been taking around Pennsylvania this week, he’s been asked to explain his vote. His answer? He respects the director of national intelligence; he plans to get rid of Attorney General Gonzales, so it doesn’t matter that this act gives him incredible powers; and it’s up for renewal in six months so it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Call me crazy, but passing laws based on the personalities involved (or on your belief you’ll be able to get rid of one of said personalities) seems kind of counter to that whole “checks and balances” thing.

The only bright spot in this bill is that, as Specter points out, it’s up for renewal in six months. We need to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen with this as happened with the PATRIOT Act (another bill people passed with the assurance of “hey, it’s only temporary!”). Tell your senators and representatives how you feel about their vote on this important issue! Click here to see how your representative voted.

You can also sign the national ACLU’s petition to Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi, telling them we will not tolerate their continued abandonment of their responsibility to hold the Executive Branch in check.

Sara in Philly

US Citizen Wrongly Deported to Mexico Found

Back in June we wrote about the plight of Pedro Guzman, a developmentally disabled US citizen who was illegally deported on May 11 from a California jail, where he was serving time for trespassing, a misdemeanor offense. His frantic family has been searching for him for the past three months.

Thankfully, he was reunited with his family Tuesday.

According to the ACLU of Southern California, who represented Mr. Guzman’s family:

“Little is known about Mr. Guzman’s time in Mexico. He told his family today that he attempted to cross the border several times but was turned away. He said he walked from Tijuana to Mexicali, a distance of more than 100 miles, and ate out of trash cans as he looked for a way back into the U.S. His family says he was nearly unrecognizable, and that they are seeking immediate medical attention for him.

Border agents detained Mr. Guzman as he attempted to cross into the U.S. near Calexico early Sunday morning. County officials had issued a warrant for his failure to appear at probation hearings, despite attempts by the family and ACLU/SC to explain to probation officials that he had been wrongfully deported. The government had promised to immediately notify the family and their attorneys if it found Mr. Guzman. Instead, it took 36 hours for the family to be notified.”

Sara in Philly

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Anti-immigrant strategy: Lie as much as possible

Woe, the Republic. We already knew that the anti-immigrant zealots are so successful because they are incredibly vocal. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they are also successful because they lie.

There’s no disputing it. Mayor Barletta rode stereotypes about immigrants and crime all the way to his ordinance, now to the 3rd Circuit of Appeals, and maybe even to a run for Congress. Of course, never mind that we blew up his crime argument in court by presenting- get this- the facts.

Now there’s word that the anti-immigrant crowd is gearing up to use blatant nativism- factual inaccuracies be damned- to paint their political opponents. This today from the WaPo’s Ruth Marcus:

Bashing Democrats on immigration — accusing them of doing everything but carrying illegals’ luggage across the border — is a GOP mainstay. But the accusations that Republicans started to peddle last week reached a new low in dishonest nativism.

The first salvo involved the House version of the measure to extend the children’s health insurance plan, SCHIP.

“What we do is take, at the cost of seniors who get . . . choices of their own health-care plans, we take it away,” former speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) claimed during the House debate. “We wipe it out, and we give it to people who are illegal aliens.”

“That bill, if it becomes law, would take $197 billion out of the Medicare trust fund, from our seniors, to give to illegal aliens,” charged Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.).

Leave aside the inflated numbers. Leave aside the scare talk about “our seniors.” (AARP, the seniors’ lobby, supports the bill.)

The provision at issue would repeal a 2006 requirement that everyone applying for Medicaid provide proof of citizenship — passports or original birth certificates. That might sound sensible, but it has been a cumbersome, expensive solution to a non-problem.

In 2005, when he was overseeing the Medicaid program for the Bush administration, Mark McClellan noted that an inspector general’s investigation did “not find particular problems regarding false allegations of citizenship, nor are we aware of any.”

Because many Medicaid applicants don’t have such papers easily at hand — they’re not the passport-carrying types — the requirement has resulted in tens of thousands of eligible children being denied coverage or kicked off the rolls and has cost states millions of dollars to administer.

The ACLU, of course, has no position on SCHIP. But we do have a big problem with people using nativism, xenophobia, and racism- all neatly tied up into a package of lies- to advance their causes. It’s wrong.

But I said, “Woe, the Republic,” at the top because people will buy it. The nativists wouldn’t use this line of attack if it didn’t work. We and our allies have to answer the misinformation and answer it with fervor and strength.

Andy in Harrisburg

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More blogging from the ACLU

National ACLU has had a blog for some time. For a while, their posts were sporadic, but I just noticed that over the last few months that they’ve been blogging regularly. Check it out at this link and check in regularly. National has a great capacity for getting information up on a regular basis, and it looks like their plan is to do just that. Now there is another place for people named anonymous to troll.

Andy in Harrisburg

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What they’re saying about the warrantless surveillance bill

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI):

Our constitutional rights should not be sacrificed to scare tactics. Congress must stand up to the president. The sooner that Democrats realize that standing tough on national security doesn’t mean giving into the administration, the better off they – and the country – will be.

The Washington Post, which is not exactly an editorial board of liberals:

Instead of having the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court ensure that surveillance is being done properly, with monitoring of Americans minimized, that job would be up to the attorney general and the director of national intelligence. The court’s role is reduced to that of rubber stamp.

This is as reckless as it was unnecessary. Democrats had presented a compromise plan that would have permitted surveillance to proceed, but with court review and an audit by the Justice Department’s inspector general, to be provided to Congress, about how many Americans had been surveilled. Democrats could have stuck to their guns and insisted on their version. Instead, nervous about being blamed for any terrorist attack and eager to get out of town, they accepted the unacceptable.

There is one small saving grace here: These sweeping new powers expire after six months. Of course, having dropped the audit requirement, lawmakers won’t have a good way of knowing how many Americans had their communications intercepted. The administration will no doubt again play the national security card. Democratic leaders say they want to move quickly to fix the damage. If only we could be more confident that they won’t get rolled again.

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, before the bill passed:

That this Democratic Congress is even considering Director McConnell’s proposed changes is, for lack of a better word, a disgrace. Just this week we discovered that even the secret intelligence court has rebuffed the administration’s request to scoop up unidentified foreign to U.S. calls through some still-secret dragnet. Congress, ostensibly a level-headed check on executive overreaching, got rolled on the Patriot Act and now is about to get rolled on a brave new world of warrantless wiretapping.

Even worse, it is about to get rolled by a White House and intelligence community that does not enjoy the trust of the American people.

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks on Monday:

Here we go again. I was going to write a nice, fun piece about Matt Damon on a lovely Sunday afternoon when the Democrats went and ruined everything, as usual. From time to time, I am told that I am too hard on the Democrats. It is not possible to be too hard on these vacillating, spineless, rudderless, clueless clowns.

Meteor Blades at Daily Kos, addressing the 57 iDiotcrats who voted for the bill, including PA’s own Senator Casey:

Frankly, you epitomize weak. Your every pore exudes feebleness. You are surrender monkeys. And you’ve just casually tossed away a basic protection as if it were a banana peel.

Pressed, I suspect that over the next month some of you will defend this pitiful capitulation with the argument that it’s only for six months, and that you’ll have a chance to amend the amendment, to rewrite the law more properly. You’ll pretend that you won’t kiss the President’s ass half a year from now when he comes back and says exactly what he said this time: Give me what I want or I’ll blame you the next time terrorists kill Americans. Weak is bad enough. Must you be simpletons as well? How many times has he marketed this crap? How many times have you bought it? Do you also fall for those late-night $19.95 television deals for a double-set of knives that never need sharpening?

Cenk Uygur later on Monday:

The Democratic capitulation on the FISA law is one of those things that make you grow even angrier as time passes by. As one of our listeners said this morning, “I am growing sick and tired of growing sick and tired.”

If you say it’s not possible to fight back, I have two words for you: Russ Feingold.

This is not some futile effort to get Feingold to run or anything. I’m just using him as an example because apparently he’s the only one left in the Senate with a sack. The rest of them have the grand, brilliant strategy of waiting Bush out. How very brave!

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of these Democrats. Is anyone going to pay a price for voting the wrong way on this FISA bill? Are Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi going to hold them to account? I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing.

These are the Pretendocrats (another listener suggestion) – they pretend to fight the Bush administration, while actually doing squat.

The New York Times:

But the problem with Congress last week was that Democrats were afraid to explain to Americans why the White House bill was so bad and so unnecessary — despite what the White House was claiming. There are good answers, if Democrats are willing to address voters as adults. To start, they should explain that — even if it were a good idea, and it’s not — the government does not have the capability to sort through billions of bits of electronic communication. And the larger question: why, six years after 9/11, is this sort of fishing expedition the supposed first line of defense in the war on terrorism?

While serving little purpose, the new law has real dangers. It would allow the government to intercept, without a warrant, every communication into or out of any country, including the United States. Instead of explaining all this to American voters — the minimal benefits and the enormous risks — the Democrats have allowed Mr. Bush and his fear-mongering to dominate all discussions on terrorism and national security.

The Times did say something that I want to take issue with:

Many of the 16 Democrats in the Senate and 41 in the House who voted for the bill said that they had acted in the name of national security, but the only security at play was their job security.

Wrong. Stop buying this frame that members of Congress had to choose between standing up for the Constitution and getting re-elected. That is a false choice. As Glenn Greenwald reminded us yesterday morning and yesterday afternoon, the GOP failed miserably in 2006 while running on the “Dems are weak on terrorism” card. Jon Tester won a Senate seat last year in Montana advocating repeal of the PATRIOT Act. In 2004, when Feingold’s opponent ran ads filleting him for his vote against the PATRIOT Act, Feingold’s poll numbers went up, not down.

There are Democrats and Republicans, including Senators Casey and Specter, who have yet to receive the memo that the American people believe in the Constitution. Now, it would be nice if they actually upheld their oath of office and defended it, rather than shredding it.

Andy in Harrisburg

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"My grandparents came here legally…."

…which is real easy to do since there were no immigration laws in those days. Unless you happened to be Chinese.

Brian Donohue of the Newark Star Ledger lays out everything that’s wrong with the “my ancestors did it the legal way” talking point in an op-ed that was prominent in Sunday’s Patriot News.

There’s one problem with the argument. It’s utter hogwash.

First of all, for hundreds of years, as immigrants poured in by the hundreds of thousands from the 1600s to the early 1900s, there were simply no federal immigration laws to break.

Unless you were a criminal or insane (or after 1882, Chinese), once you landed here, you were legal.

Crediting yesteryear’s immigrants with following the laws is like calling someone a good driver because they never got caught speeding on the Autobahn.

“Only 1 percent of people who showed up at Ellis Island were turned away,” said Mae Ngai, author of “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America.”

“What that statement is ignorant of is that we didn’t always have restrictions. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon.”

Level the playing field hypothetically, and the argument becomes even more preposterous.

Imagine today’s immigration laws, which make it impossible for most poor foreign farmers to immigrate legally, in effect in, say, 1849.

Somewhere in Ireland, a starving farmer turns to his family, their mouths green from eating grass in the midst of the potato famine.

“We could escape to America and have food to eat,” the farmer says. “But I’d never do that without a visa. That would be a violation of U.S. immigration law.”

Ridiculous, of course. That farmer would have done exactly what today’s Mexicans, Chinese and Guatemalans are doing by the millions — get to the United States so they can feed their families, and worry about getting papers later.

I love it when others say these things so that we don’t have to.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Democrats suck

Back from vacation and ready to rant.

Democrats suck. They just happen to suck less than the Republicans.

The ACLU is often tagged as being a partisan Democrat group. We are not since we are a non-partisan non-profit organization. It’s an insult when people say that we’re a Democrat group. Why would we want to be associated with this crew of weak-kneed losers? Yes, I’m all tuned up about the passing of the Gut FISA and Capitulate to the President Act, passed by Congress and signed into law yesterday by El Presidente.

Glenn Greenwald summarizes well:

Prior to the November, 2006 elections, the Bush administration tried desperately to force the Congress to enact new FISA legislation to legalize warrantless eavesdropping. The Democrats resisted just enough to prevent its enactment. Karl Rove and Republicans generally then ran around the country exploiting that obstructionism in order to accuse Democrats of being “soft on terror” and “wanting to prevent the President from listening in when Osama calls,” the Republicans were crushed in that election, and Democrats obtained an historic victory. In the not-blue state of Montana, Jon Tester defeated an incumbant GOP Senator by running on a platform of repealing the Patriot Act in its entirety. Wouldn’t the most basic rationality compel Democrats to draw the conclusion that this rank Terrorism fear-mongering does not actually work?

Yet here they are, after refusing to legalize warrantless eavesdropping prior to their midterm victory, allowing this legislation to pass now that they are in the majority.

This is why I’m registered “no affiliation.”

Andy in Harrisburg

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Who’s your daddy?

If you heard spluttering and yelling coming from the direction of Center City Philadelphia around 1:00 pm today, that would have been me after reading about a truly horrific bill that a state representative in Ohio introduced last month.

The bill, sponsored by Ohio State Representative John Adams, would require a woman seeking an abortion to obtain the written informed consent of the fetus’s father. According the law, not knowing the identity of the father is not an excuse. A list of potential fathers would need to be submitted, and paternity tests on the fetus would need to be performed.

The Record Courier quotes Adams as saying, “This is important because there are always two parents and fathers should have a say in the birth or the destruction of that child. I didn’t bring it up to draw attention to myself or to be controversial.”

The oh-so-enlightened bill does allow for exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. In those cases, the woman merely needs to present a police report.

Thankfully, the bill seems to have little chance of passing, but just the fact that the bill has eight co-sponsors in addition to Adams is chilling.

Sara in Philly

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