Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lest We Forget Who Our Current President Is, a Telecom Press Conference (JM)

I know we’re all wrapped up in choosing who our next president will be that sometimes it’s easy to forget who our current president is… And he was out today giving a delightful press conference on how we’re all going to die if the Democrats don’t pass FISA with telecom immunity. Let’s take a look, shall we?

QUESTION: ... if you can get the Congress to protect telecom companies from lawsuits then there's no recourse for Americans who feel that they've been caught up in this.

QUESTION: I know it's unintended to spy on Americans, but in the collection process information about everybody gets swept up and then it gets sorted. So if Americans don't have any recourse, are you just telling them when it comes to their privacy to suck it up?

Wow, this is seriously one of the best questions I have ever seen from a presidential press conference. Are you telling the American public to “suck it up”? Great stuff, given that this is precisely what the Bush administration has been advocating the American people do for years (though I have to admit, I’d be more entertained if the questioner had went Fonzie on us and used “sit on it” instead of “suck it up”.

BUSH: I wouldn't put it that way, if I were you -- in public. You've been around long enough.
Anyway, people who analyze the program fully understand that America's civil liberties are well protected.

There is a constant check to make sure that our civil liberties of our citizens aren't -- you know, are treated with respect.

“I wouldn’t put it that way, if I were you – in public…” Seriously, this is something the President of the United States just said. How creepy and Goodfellasesque does that sound? Also when “people who analyze the program” are members of the Bush/Cheney administration I am not so sure I am going to be happy with the definition of “respect”. Also I like that Bush’s standard for appropriate treatment of civil liberties is the nebulous concept of “respect”, not say some sort of constitutional standard or something.

BUSH: And that's what I want, and that's what most Americans -- all Americans want.
Now, let me talk about the phone companies. You cannot expect phone companies to participate if they feel like they're going to be sued. I mean, it is -- these people are responsible for shareholders. They're private companies.

Telecom companies would never be sued if we had a reasonable, constitutionally-viable FISA law.

The government said to those who have alleged to have helped us that it is in our national interests and it's legal. It's in our national interest because we want to know who's calling who from overseas into America. We need to know in order to protect the people.

It was legal. And now all of a sudden plaintiffs attorneys, class-action plaintiffs attorneys, you know -- I don't want to try to get inside their head; I suspect they see, you know, a financial gravy train -- are trying to sue these companies. It's unfair. It is patently unfair.

Gee… yes, it must be those damned plaintiffs attorneys. Always trying to scam companies with their frivolous lawsuits about massive rights violations. Also just because you’re the Decider, doesn’t mean you get to determine what is and is not legal. In fact, for all the complaints about the Bush administration, it seems clear to me that the bizarre use of executive power to interpret the legality and constitutionality of particular laws and regulations is absolutely the worst. The creeping spread of executive authority during his administration is downright frightening. What’s worse is, that no matter who we elect next, it’s hard to imagine them ceding many of these so-called authorities Bush and Cheney cooked up for themselves.

And, secondly, these lawsuits create doubts amongst those who will -- whose help we need.

BUSH: I guess you could be relaxed about all this if you didn't think there was a true threat to the country. I know there's a threat to the country. And the American people expect our Congress to give the professionals the tools they need to listen to foreigners who may be calling in to the United States with information that could cause us great harm.

We have perfectly reasonable legislation on the books that allows for foreign surveillance. There has not been one hindrance in foreign intelligence collecting since FISA expired. This is just a flat out, disgusting lie.

So on the one hand the civil liberties of our citizens are guaranteed by a lot of checks in the system, scrutinized by the United States Congress.

You cannot count that hand if you want them to sign a bill giving away those powers. It’s not a check if the check decides not to check… you see what I am saying?

And, secondly, I cannot emphasize to you how important it is that the Congress solve this problem.
The Senate has solved the problem. And people say, "Would you ever compromise on the issue?" The Senate bill is a compromise. And there's enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass the Senate bill. It's a bipartisan bill. And the House leaders need to put it on the floor and let the will of the housework.
My judgment happens to be the will of the people, to give the professionals the tools they need to protect the country....

Congress tried! The Democrats offered to extend FISA again. You and the GOP kept it from happening because you want your precious telecom immunity and provisions in the bill to give the executive branch absolute authority and no transparency. Your position of this is nearly farcical.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on FISA, do you worry that perhaps some House Democratic leaders are playing a high-stakes game of wait-and- see in terms of if we get attacked, we all lose, if we don't get attacked, then maybe that makes the case that you don't need all the powers in FISA?

Who asked this. Is that Dick Cheney sitting in the back wearing a fake nose and glasses set?

BUSH: No, I don't think so.

I mean, I think that's -- that would be ascribing, you know, motives that are just -- I just don't think they're the motives of the House leaders to do that.

I think -- look, I think they're really wrestling with providing liability protection to phone companies. I don't think they're that cynical or devious. That's -- it's just too risky. A lot of these leaders understand that there's an enemy that wants to attack.

The caucus, evidently, in the House is -- the Democratic caucus, is -- you know, is concerned about exactly Plante's question, you know. And I just can't tell you how important it is to not alienate or not discourage these phone companies.

We must never alienate or discourage phone companies. Sigh… if the FISA law you wanted didn’t have so many clearly rights violations there would never be any concern. Phone companies turn over information all the time in criminal investigations. They are not held harmless from liability, instead they know such charges would never stand up in court because of appropriate procedures to protect the rights of individuals. There are so many ways this could be done, it’s patently absurd.

BUSH: How can you listen to the enemy if the phone companies aren't going to participate with you? And they're not going to participate if they get sued.

Let me rephrase it: less likely to participate.

And they're facing billions of dollars of lawsuits. And they have a responsibility to their shareholders. And yet they were told what they were going do is legal.

Doesn’t that say something? Really and truly it does. Corporations just simply do not trust the word of the Bush administration that their actions are legal. Trust me, if these actions were totally legitimate there would be no problem. But these companies are terrified that they are going to lose in court and that’s because they know there is a legitimate possibility that the administration lied and these actions were totally illegal.

And, anyway, I'm going to keep talking about the issue. This is an important issue for the American people to understand, and it's important for them to understand that no renewal of the Patriot Act -- I mean, the Protect America Act -- is dangerous for the security of the country. Just dangerous.

I'm sure people, if they really pay attention to the details of this debate, wonder why it was OK to pass the Protect America Act last summer, late last summer, and all of a sudden it's not OK to pass it now.
And so I will keep -- keep talking about the issue and talking about the issue.

It was never okay. The Democrats, especially red-staters are just totally fearful and it is painful to watch. I want telecom companies to be afraid to act unless they are sure their actions are lawful. I want the presumption of any major corporation that controls private information to be that giving said information to the government is probably not okay unless they are compelled to do so. I want a system of warrants, checks and balances to guide this sort of data collection. Not just the say so of GWB. It’s sad that this is even a battle. I am baffled that the Democrats are not just throwing this right back in the face of the administration. Here’s the truth, the Democrats will never wrest power from the hands of the GOP until they are unafraid to challenge the politics of fear. They need to start talking about the core of our values and not trading them away because shadows and bogeymen, because in the end that is a battle the GOP will always win. Let’s go back to being a party of real values, instead of being weak-kneed at the idea of appearing week-kneed.

(Hat tip: Paul Kiel at TPM for the transcript)

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