"This shocking revelation ought to send a chill down the spine of every American."
Senator Russell Feingold, December 17, 2005
As reported by the New York Times on Friday, "Months after the September 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying."
A senior intelligence officer says Bush personally and repeatedly gave the NSA permission for these taps--more than three dozen times since October 2001. Each time, the White House counsel and the Attorney General--whose job it is to guard and defend our civil liberties and freedoms--certified the lawfulness of the program. (It is useful here to note "The Yoo Factor": The domestic spying program was justified by a "classified legal opinion" written by former Justice Department official John Yoo, the same official who wrote a memo arguing that interrogation techniques only constitute torture if they are "equivalent in intensity to...organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.")
Illegally spying on Americans is chilling--even for this Administration. Moreover, as Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, told the Times, "the secret order may amount to the president authorizing criminal activity." Some officials at the NSA agree. According to the Times, "Some agency officials wanted nothing to do with the program, apparently fearful of participating in an illegal operation." Others were "worried that the program might come under scrutiny by Congressional or criminal investigators if Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was elected President."
Four years ago, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold distinguished himself as the Senate's premier defender of the Constitution, when he cast the chamber's sole vote against enactment of the Patriot Act. As a time when every other senator â€“ even liberal Democrats with long records of championing the Bill of Rights -- joined the post-September 11 rush to curtail basic liberties, Feingold stood alone in defense of the principle that it was possible to combat terrorism
But Feingold no longer stands alone. On Friday, he led a bipartisan group of senators that successfully blocked the administration's concerted effort to renew the Patriot Act in a form that maintains its most abusive components. A move by Republican leaders of the Senate to prevent Feingold from mounting a filibuster fell seven votes short of the number needed.A remarkable 47 senators â€“ including Democrats and Republicans â€“ backed the Wisconsin Democrat's stance. That's far more than the 40 needed to prevent a filibuster, and it means that Feingold now heads a coalition that should be able to force significant changes in the Patriot Act before the December 31 deadline for its renewal.
The Senate coalition that the maverick senator has assembled is made up of members from across the political spectrum â€“ from Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, the dean of Senate liberals, to Idaho Republican Larry Craig, one of the chamber's most right-wing members â€“ who have joined Feingold in calling for reform of the Patriot Act.
In the gloom of post-election 2004 few people, if any, could have
anticipated the wild surprises of 2005. Focusing on three unforeseen
developments of the past year, a meditation on
how life has changed in unexpected ways.
George W. Bush has a new favorite senator: Joe Lieberman.
As part of his "I've-Got-a-Secret-Plan-That's-Just-As-Good-As-Nixon's" stump tour to shore up sagging support for his war in Iraq, the president has been talking up the Connecticut Democrat as just about the only official outside the administration who "gets it."
In his December 7 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Bush was quoting Lieberman -- a Vietnam war foe who eluded military service every bit as efficiently as did Vice President Dick Cheney -- as if the senator was a modern-day Carl von Clausewitz. Recalling Lieberman's most recent pro-war outburst -- "What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will, and, in a famous phrase, 'to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory'" -- the president declared: "Senator Lieberman is right."
The GOP is an object of popular loathing, yet prospects seem dim for ousting it from power. Three new books explain why: Off Center explores the GOP's genius for subverting the mechanisms of accountability, and Death by a Thousand Cuts and Stand Up Fight Back examine how the Republican machine dominates issues from tax cuts to energy conservation. Plus, the Clinton biography The Survivor looks at the man who once made liberals feel like winners, yet whose legacy holds them back.
Among the sweetest victories of 2005: Social Security reform has been blocked, pressure to withdraw from Iraq is growing and progressive activists are making progress on local, state and national issues.
As Justice Department investigators follow the cash flow from lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling scandal, the evidence mounts against Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney. Who's next?
If New Orleans is to reclaim its greatness, the scope of the solution must match the scope of the problem. The city could become the nation's classroom by re-engineering levees, responsibly building neighborhoods and schools and repairing the environment, but time is running out.
The Iraq debate will be a central issue of the 2006 Congressional elections, and there is reason to believe antiwar candidates will prevail. The first step in that process is to encourage support for such candidates.
The 9/11 Commission's startling follow-up report that savages the Bush Administration's inadequate efforts to protect the country from terrorism was met by the media with a collective yawn. And so we remain vulnerable, amazed and, if sensate, terrified.