Firedoglake: The FISA bill passed by the Senate is a disgrace. By legalizing warrantless spying on Americans and granting retroactive amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, the Senate seeks to ensure that the Bush administration’s illegal spying programs are never investigated or subjected to the rule of law. The Senate bill is a profound betrayal of the votes of millions of Americans who voted in 2006 to put Democrats in control of Congress in order to increase, not eliminate, checks and oversight on this administration, and to restore the rule of law to our country.

The above link goes to an online petition that you will want to look at, and perhaps sign.

It is frightening to watch our elected officials systematically shred the Bill of Rights. Now they’ve given a free pass to a president and his lapdog telecommunications companies that deliberately, knowingly broke the law to vastly expand government surveillance of U.S. citizens in their own homes and businesses — we still don’t have a clue how widespread this practice was, or remains — without even the pretense of a warrant or honoring explicit legal prohibitions against such acts.

Glenn Greenwald summed it up well:

What were the consequences for the President for having broken the law so deliberately and transparently? Absolutely nothing. To the contrary, the Senate is about to enact a bill which has two simple purposes: (1) to render retroactively legal the President’s illegal spying program by legalizing its crux: warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, and (2) to stifle forever the sole remaining avenue for finding out what the Government did and obtaining a judicial ruling as to its legality: namely, the lawsuits brought against the co-conspiring telecoms. In other words, the only steps taken by our political class upon exposure by the NYT of this profound lawbreaking is to endorse it all and then suppress any and all efforts to investigate it and subject it to the rule of law.

No one who cares about national security — and that includes people who oppose this abdication of duty by the senators — has ever opposed surveillance on actual terrorists or suspects. A system in place for several decades has ensured timely surveillance, and after the fact approval by a special court (a rubber stamp, for the most part). But it has at least ensured that Americans aren’t spied upon by their government without any oversight by anyone.

Yesterday’s majority comprises people who no longer believe that liberty matters. They do believe that power is all, and they and their friends hold it at the moment. They are people who believe that the rest of us answer to increasingly draconian laws and the people at the top answer to no one but themselves. This line of thinking appears to apply almost universally in the Republican party, and widely among elected Democrats.

Not a single Republican — what bogus “conservatism” they practice — voted to hold these companies, never mind the lawless administration, responsible for their lawbreaking; instead Republican senators, and a crew of Democrats who followed like the political cowards they have become, voted to make the criminal behavior legal. John McCain voted against an amendment that would have taken away this retroactive immunity for criminal corporations. Obama voted for the amendment but didn’t vote on the final bill. Clinton was entirely absent; she has little credibility on civil liberties in any case.

I wonder if people who call themselves conservatives are comfortable about having given this kind of power to a President Obama. Possibly, because they probably believe his actual honor will prevent him from abusing it against them. Do they rely on the same notions regarding a President Hillary Clinton, who may soon enough be wielding this power in a brutal fashion against her many enemies, not just terrorism suspects? She is at least as ruthless, I suspect, as Bush, Cheney and their collaborators. For all the wrong reasons, they may come to regret their lockstep dismantling of civil liberties during the current administration.

There are few heroes in this sad tale. One semi-heroic organization is the New York Times, which broke the story about this lawbreaking but held it, at the fervent request of the Bush administration, for more than a year — a story it knew about during the 2004 campaign but kept under wraps until after Bush had won another term in office. For all that, right-wing critics called for the newspaper’s prosecution.

The other hero is Connecticut’s Democratic senator, Chris Dodd, who made restoring presidential lawfulness a centerpiece of his failed campaign for the nomination and who fought this bill, hard. He is a champion of liberty, a true one.

Now it’s up to the House of Representatives to hold firm on at least keeping corporate America halfway honest. It’s too likely that the Democrats there will fold as well, but let’s hope for the best.

The first step toward a police state is to create a surveillance state, and to let the powerful collaborators in this practice break laws with impunity. We are now moving down a path that should make true patriots fear for the future of the republic.

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