Article 43

 

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Republican Redux

The Dwindling Republican Business Base: It’s the Economy, Stupid

By John W Dean.
January 25, 2008

As the stock market gyrated wildly this week, given the precarious state of the American economy, the New York Times published a table relating to ANTI-RECESSION EFFORTS IN TIMES PAST. In scanning it, I could not help but notice that among the last eight recessions, all but the first, in 1948, occurred during Republican presidencies. (The first occurred when Republicans controlled Congress.)

Here are the recessions and their Republican presidents: August 1957 to April 1958 (Eisenhower), April 1960 to February 1961 (Eisenhower), December 1969 to November 1970 (Nixon), November 1973 to March 1975 (Nixon and Ford), July 1981 to November 1982 (Reagan), July 1990 to March 1991 (Reagan), and March 2001 to November 2001 (Bush II).

As we all have watched the stock market this week, thoughts of past major crashes have no doubt popped into the minds of many. Republican presidents oversaw them. Herbert Hoover, of course, was president when the great crash of 1929 occurred, and Ronald Reagan was president with the most recent serious crash - Black Monday in 1987.

The Republican Party has long been the favorite of the business world. But when one steps back to look at the facts objectively - as business leaders who want to remain in business must do, and now seem to be doing - the question must be asked: Is a Republican bias actually good business?

Which Political Party Is Better For Business?

Which political party is actually best for business? To pose the question is easy. However, to answer it objectively and honestly is not possible, for all business is not the same and the answer depends upon what kind of business one might be addressing.

For example, hedge fund managers, who have walked away with billions in untaxed profits under Republican tax policies unavailable to other people, love the GOP. CEOs with humongous salaries and endless stock options also love the current Republican attitude of demanding tax breaks for the very rich. Big businesses with high- powered lobbyists in Washington on their payrolls to protect their interests find Republicans far friendlier to their concerns than they do Democrats. These people, of course, are among that less than one percent of Americans who have profited so gloriously under the Bush-Cheney economic policies.

Mid-sized and small businesses - which are the overwhelming majority of businesses in the United States - have, until lately, thought that they were better off under Republicans, but they are wrong. They are just now remembering that when recessions come, they are easily wiped out, while big businesses merely make less money and often take advantage of the downturn. These people are the upper middle class and middle class of America - the people that the Republicans are slowly bleeding into non-existence, until there will be no middle class, only rich and poor.

Fortunately, increasing numbers of all levels of business people are realizing the economic incompetence of Republicans, and their protection of the super-rich is, in the long term, bad business for everyone. Accordingly, growing numbers of voters have come to the conclusion that Republicans are not good for business. “GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote,” an above-the-fold HEADLINE OF THE WALL STREEY JOURNAL screamed last fall.

Some Specific Reasons Businesspeople Are Leaving the GOP

According to a number of business publication, there are several reasons for the “elephant stampede” - to use the Wall Street Journal’s term. Broadly described, the disenchantment of business leaders with the GOP falls into several categories, which I have set forth without trying to rank them:

The War In Iraq. Just as many other Americans find the war in Iraq an unqualified disaster, businesspeople tell reporters that they do not like the lies Bush and Cheney told, to take us into a war that will likely only create more terrorists hating America. Like many others, they see this as dangerous folly. In addition, the war has been a fiscal disaster, with billions thrown away and no accounting whatsoever. As a retired Westinghouse manager and lifelong Republican told the Wall Street Journal, “‘We’ve lost control of spending,’ and the administration’s execution of the Iraq war has been ‘incompetent.’” Businesspeople have little tolerance for incompetence; only true ideologues can over look it.

Excessive Deficit Spending. Former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan is a very high-profile Republican in the business and finance communities. Greenspan told the Journal, “The Republican Party, which ruled the House, the Senate and the presidency, I no longer recognize.” Similarly, New York City Mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg recently left the GOP, complaining - as reported by the Journal - that “conservative politicians in the U.S. [are] guilty of ‘lunacy’ for running up deficits for future taxpayers to pay.” The GOP’s gigantic deficits have also weakened the dollar, making business for many much more expensive.

Focus On Social Issues. Countless businessmen I know tell me they are exhausted with the Republicans’ focus on abortion, gay marriage, and the host of social issues the party insists on putting on the front burner. Business journals have similar reports. This is not surprising, for all polls show that for most Americans, these are not the centrally important issues.

Immigration Policy. Business Week HAS REPORTED that as the Republican presidential candidates have increased their who-can-talk-the-toughest-on-immigration efforts, they are also losing support in the business community. Business Week pointed out that “in industries like agriculture, construction, landscaping, and restaurants, most employers want comprehensive immigration reform that allows undocumented workers to join a guest worker program or pursue a path to citizenship, as well as an effective way for new immigrants to work in the U.S.” With the exception of John McCain, all the GOP presidential candidates start their day with a hefty dose of xenophobia.

Health Care Policy. Many industries want the federal and state governments to address the soaring cost of health care. Not only do they need healthy workers, but health care costs are narrowing profits. Few savvy businesspeople think well of the Republican health care plans, which make health care providers and insurance companies richer at the expense of everyone else.

Environmental Responsibility. American business is the leading polluter in America, and for years business has rebelled against efforts to regulate the damage it causes to the environment. Even now the pre-Enlightenment attitude of certain conservative Republicans toward science has enabled them to actually believe that global warming is merely a hoax. Yet more sophisticated businesspeople understand they must clean up their acts. Many know that short-term gains are leading to long-term and potential irreversible damage. Accordingly, outside the auto and fossil-fuel-related industries, businesspeople are increasingly disgusted with the failure of recent Republican Administrations (Reagan, Bush I and Bush II) to develop a realistic, responsible and comprehensive environmental policy.

Republicans Have Proven Themselves Bad For a Good Economy

Business, however, is only part of a broader picture for it operates - as do we all - within the American economy. Thus, there is an more fundamental question: Which political party is best for the American economy, and why?

SOURCE

Republican Redux
[1] - [2] - [3] - [4] - [5] - [6] - [7] - [8] - [9] - [10] - [11] - [12] - [13] - [14]

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Alacatel-Lucent Loss Increases

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By Dial Zero>
April 30, 2008

Telecommunications-equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent said Wednesday it expects revenue to fall 2% to 5% in 2008 due to the weak dollar and potential lower spending by operators, as the company reported a wider net loss in the first quarter. For the quarter ended March 31, the company reported a net loss of $282 million, compared with an $12.45 million loss a year earlier when there was a capital gain from a sale.

Revenue dropped slightly to about $6 billion, hurt by the dollar’s weakness against the euro. More than half of Alcatel-Lucent’s revenue is generated in dollars or dollar-denominated currencies, but the company reports in euros, so the dollar’s weakness against the euro translates into lower revenue figures.

The company said it expects revenue to fall in 2008 “due primarily to the significant deterioration in the [euro-dollar] exchange rate and, to a much lesser extent, the potential for lower capital spending by a few customers.”

Alcatel-Lucent wrestled with internal and external problems last year, its first full year as a merged company. Sluggish spending on network gear from operators and fierce price competition from rivals dragged down revenue as management struggled to mesh staff and product lines.

The company maintained its 2008 forecast of an adjusted operating margin in the mid single-digit range and said it expects an adjusted gross operating margin “in the mid thirties.” Revenue is expected to increase sequentially in the second quarter by 4% to 6%, below the former Alcatel’s historical growth rate of 5% to 10%, Pesquidoux said.

The company was more cautious about growth for the overall telecom-equipment and services market in 2008, saying it should be flat, compared with a previous forecast of “flat to slightly up.”

Excluding the capital gain, operating profit was barely better than expectations, said WestLB analyst Thomas Langer, who has a “reduce” rating on Alcatel-Lucent stock. Langer said the only positive number in the report was the gross margin, which rose to 36.2% from 34.4% a year earlier.

The news wiped out the majority of recent gains made by Alcatel-Lucent shares on better-than-expected results Friday from Swedish rival Telefon AB LM Ericsson. Shares of Alcatel-Lucent shares fell 7.4% in Wednesday morning trading on a slightly lower Paris market. Having tumbled 55% during 2007 on a string of profit warnings, Alcatel-Lucent’s share price had slipped about 9% between the start of the year and Wednesday’s results.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/30/08 •
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Friday, April 25, 2008

A State Constitutional Right To Privacy

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Federal Fourth Amendment protection of non-content information online DOESN’T EXIST in the U.S. The idea is that because you’ve given that information to your ISP (a third party) in order to “complete the call” (in telephone terms), you dont have any reasonable expectation of PRIVACY in it.  The STORED COMMUNICATIONS ACT allows ISPs serving the public to give that non-content information voluntarily to any private person, and it doesn’t take much process for the government to compel its disclosure.
- Susan Crawford

N.J. justices call e-privacy surfers’ right
Ruling on warrant trumps top U.S. court’s decisions

By Tom Hester
New Jersey Star-Ledger

The Supreme Court of New Jersey became the first court in the nation yesterday to rule that people have an expectation of privacy when they are online, and law enforcement officials need a grand jury warrant to have access to their private information. 

In state proceedings, the ruling will take precedence over what attorneys describe as weaker U.S. Supreme Court decisions that hold there is no right to privacy on the internet.

“The New Jersey Supreme Court is the first in the nation to recognize a reasonable expectation of privacy when using the internet anonymously,” said Trenton-based attorney Grayson Barber, who represented six privacy rights organizations as a friend of the court. “‘I think this reflects the reality that most people do expect a measure of privacy when they are using the internet anonymously.”

The unanimous seven-member court held that police do have the right to seek a user’s private information when investigating a crime involving a computer, but must follow legal procedures. The court said authorities do not have to warn a suspect that they have a grand jury subpoena to obtain the information.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said: “We now hold that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy protected by Article I ... of the New Jersey Constitution, in the subscriber information they provide to Internet service providers—just as New Jersey citizens have a privacy interest in their bank records stored by banks and telephone billing records kept by phone companies.”
Barber said most people use the internet like a phone, making personal—sometimes sensitive—transactions that they don’t believe the police will be able to access.

“This decision reflects the reality of how ordinary people normally use the internet,” he said. “‘It’s very nice to have the court recognize that expectation is reasonable.”

The court ruled in the case of Shirley Reid of Lower Township, Cape May County, who was charged with second-degree computer theft for hacking into her employer’s computer system from her home computer. Township police obtained her identity from Comcast by using a municipal court subpoena. The Supreme Court held that law enforcement had the right to investigate her but should have used a grand jury subpoena.

A state Superior Court in Cape May Court House suppressed the evidence based on the use of the wrong subpoena, and a state appeals court upheld the action when the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office appealed.

Reid was investigated after her employer, Jersey Diesel of Lower Township, was notified by a business supplier in 2004 that someone had accessed and changed both the multi-digit numbers that make up the company’s IP address and password and had created a non-existent shipping address. When the owner, Timothy Wilson, asked Comcast for the IP address of the person who made the changes, the internet provider declined to comply without a subpoena.

Wilson suspected that Reid, an employee who had been on disability leave, could have made the changes. On the day the changes were made, Reid had returned to work, argued with Wilson and left.

When the police obtained a municipal court subpoena and served it on Comcast, the internet provider identified Reid, her address and telephone number, type of service provided, e-mail address, IP numbers, account number and method of payment. In 2005, a Cape May grand jury returned an indictment charging Reid with computer theft.

Lee Tien, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the decision is an important ruling on the state constitution.

“Obviously, the federal law is terribly weak in this area because of bad decisions in recent years,” Tien said. “The federal Fourth Amendment is inadequate for modern privacy issues. New Jersey interprets its constitution to be along the line that ordinary people have a fundamental expectation of privacy.”

Writing for the court, Rabner said: “Law enforcement officials can satisfy that constitutional protection and obtain subscriber information by serving a grand jury subpoena on an ISP without notice to the subscriber.” Cape May Prosecutor Robert Taylor said he expects to take the case to a new grand jury and seek a new indictment against Reid.

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US Court Says IP Addresses Are Private
Outlaw News
April 24, 2008

A US COURT HAS RULED that users have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their internet surfing records and that police must obtain warrants from higher than usual courts in order to force ISPs to hand over records.

The Supreme Court of the state of New Jersey said that information about a person’s use of the internet was so private that police there cannot order ISPs to release surfing details of suspects with a municipal court subpoena. They must receive a grand jury subpoena, it said.

“The court holds that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the subscriber information they provide to internet service providers,’’ said the Court’s ruling. “Law enforcement officials can obtain subscriber information by serving a grand jury subpoena on an Internet service provider without notice to the subscriber.”

“Individuals need an ISP address in order to access the internet,” said Chief Justice Rabner in his ruling. “However, when users surf the web from the privacy of their homes, they have reason to expect that their actions are confidential. Many are unaware that a numerical IP address can be captured by the websites they visit. More sophisticated users understand that that unique string of numbers, standing alone, reveals little if anything to the outside world. Only an internet service provider can translate an IP address into a users name.”

The case involved Shirley Reid, who was accused of hacking into her employer’s computer system.

After Reid’s ISP, Comcast, handed over details of her account, including the IP address from which she accessed the internet, she was found guilty of computer theft in connection with the hacking incident.

Reid overturned that decision on appeal and at the Supreme Court of New Jersey stage, arguing that the evidence should be suppressed.

Reid’s lawyers had argued that a person should be informed when a subpoena is issued permitting the release of their telecommunications subscription details so that they can oppose the move. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, though, said that as long as the subpoena is from a grand jury the information can be released without the knowledge or consent of the user.

“Modern technology has raised a number of questions that are intertwined in this case: to what extent can private individuals ‘surf’ the ‘Web’ anonymously? Do internet subscribers have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their identity while accessing internet websites? And under what circumstances may the State learn the actual identity of internet users?” said Chief Justice Rabner in his ruling.

“We decline to adopt a requirement that notice be provided to account holders whose information is subpoenaed,” he said. “For obvious reasons, notice could impede and possibly defeat the grand jury’s investigation. Particularly in the case of computers, unscrupulous individuals aware of a subpoena could delete or damage files on their home computer and thereby effectively shield them from a legitimate investigation.”

The Court said that although Reid was successful in having the municipal warrant-obtained evidence suppressed, the police were not barred from approaching Comcast again and obtaining the records using an appropriate warrant.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 04/25/08 •
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New Iron Curtain

New Iron Curtain May Be draped Over Russian Internet

By Jacqui Cheng
ARS Technica
April 24, 2008

Russian Internet users may soon need to learn from those living in China if they want to continue having access to all the Internet has to offer. The Russian government is looking into expanding its laws against extremism to cover the Internet, and the result could be that websites and ISPs will be required adhere to the same strict rules currently in place for print media in the country. Unsurprisingly, the proposal has sparked criticism from rights activists who have concerns about widespread censorship of the Internet inside Russia.

The change would come in the form of a legal amendment to the country’s current laws against extremism. An official at the Russian prosecutor’s general office, Vyacheslav Sizov, told the Russian-language newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that any web site that is determined to host what he terms “extremist material” would be blocked from being accessible from within the Russian Federation. Given the Putin government’s history with the media, “extremist material” may be very broadly interpreted as any content unfriendly to the interests of the Russian government.

Print (and television) media in Russia is already under either official or unofficial government control, leaving the Internet as the last frontier free of government scrutiny. “It is difficult to find anyone who is not against extremism but it depends on how the law is used,” Center of Journalism in Extreme Situations director Oleg Panfilov told the AFP in response to the news. Panfilov noted that the government has used the law “selectively” in the past, but that it’s still worrisome when the government tries to expand the law into new areas.

Of course, Russia isn’t the first to decide that “extreme” information should be kept away from the eyes of citizenslast November, the EU unveiled a proposal that would allow European courts to sentence individuals for “inciting terrorism” over the web. Sites that encourage violence, bomb-making instructions, or disseminate “terrorist propaganda” would all face shut down by ISPs hosting them. Again, critics were uneasy about the balance between free speech and public security, and questioned how effective such a law would be. Given the vagueness of “extremism,” some worry that Russia could easily use it as an excuse to ban any topic that government officials aren’t fond of, like China does with topics related to Tibetan protesters and Tiananmen Square

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Related
INTERNET CENSORSHIP REVEALED
CHINA’S BATTLE TO POLICE THE WEB
AT&T CENSORS LOLLAPALOOZA
IRREPRESSIBLE

Posted by Elvis on 04/25/08 •
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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Subsidizing Corporate Crime and Rewarding Constitutional Abuses

By Shahid Buttar
Huffington Post
April 22, 2008

Government handouts to corporations might seem untenable at a time when more and more AMERICANS SUFFER MORE AND MORE EVERY DAY FROM THE IMPACT OF A MOUNTING ECONOMIC CRISIS. Yet efforts to bolster the economy have largely taken the form of corporate welfare—much like an appalling effort, in the closing days of the Bush administration, to subsidize corporate violations of the rule of law and individual liberties.

After the Federal Reserve’s $30 billion BAILOUT for investment bank Bear Stearns last month came the Senate’s recent decision to SET ASIDE $25 BILLION IN TAX BREAKS FOR CORPORATE HOMEBUILDERS, and then last week’s revelation of “a HISTORIC COLLAPSE IN AUDITS OF MAJOR CORPORATIONS BY THE IRS. All three stories prompted OUTRAGE FROM OBSERVERS noting the implications for American workers.

But even these insults pale next to another round of corporate welfare currently considered by Congress for the telecom industry—a handout that, despite a smaller price tag, even more thoroughly degrades the public interest by both undermining national security and offending our nation’s fundamental interests in transparency and the rule of law.

Subsidy Via Amnesty

Both houses of Congress recently authorized a constitutionally suspect domestic spying program that violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. THE SENATE ALSO APPROVED, although the House patriotically rejected, a further give-away to telecom companies.

Unlike loan guarantees for Bear Stearns or tax subsidies for condo developers, the Senate’s handout to telecom companies including AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon takes the form of an amnesty: retroactive immunity from nearly 40 pending lawsuits alleging that their participation in the Administration’s surveillance activities illegally (and possibly unconstitutionally) invaded the privacy of millions of law-abiding Americans.

Given the pervasive secrecy surrounding government surveillance, concerned citizens across the country initiated the litigation largely to learn more about the government’s activities. But even the limited information known to the public suggests that the Senate bill effectively subsidizes corporate crime, encourages secrecy, denigrates transparency, offends the rule of law, rewards constitutional subversion—and also undermines national security.

Secret Government and Censorship

First and foremost, the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP) is the mere tip of an iceberg that remains mostly secret.

Enacted over the dramatic objections of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the TSP is the only domestic surveillance program confirmed by government sources. Other programs—for which potential challenges could loom in the future—continue to operate in secret, including a data-mining scheme run by the National Security Agency (NSA) that reportedly duplicates the “Total Information Awareness” program affirmatively rejected by Congress.

In late 2005, The New York Times exposed the TSP in an investigative report that the White House stonewalled for over a year and attempted to censor. Like the revelation of the Nixon administration’s (far less ambitious) surveillance operations, the story deeply shook the Washington establishment. However, in sharp contrast to the Watergate era, the contemporary abuses have only grown worse since their revelation.

The Watergate scandal led to the formation of the Church Committee, the FISA statute (for whose violations telecom companies now seek a public subsidy), and the threatened impeachment and resignation of the President. In contrast, the revelation of today’s domestic spying scandal culminated in congressional permission for previously illegal acts committed by executive officials.

Even before evading accountability for secret programs violating the rights of millions of Americans, Administration officials threatened to prosecute the journalists who exposed their abuses to the public. The reporters pursued both ends and means at the core of the First Amendment, and even delayed publication of their story for over a year based on objections fabricated by the administration. Yet they were framed as criminals, rather than guardians of the public interest.

Transparency and Checks & Balances

Among the principles protected by the Constitution, few compare with the transparency sought by the First Amendment. The reason is simple: government secrecy impedes democracy.

Controversial government programs are theoretically restrained by checks and balances, like legislative oversight and judicial review. But neither Congress nor the courts have a way to check a secret program.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) faced this problem when reviewing the TSP in a closed 2003 briefing. After the meeting, he wrote to Vice President Dick Cheney to “reiterate [his] concerns,” noting that “the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues,” but that, because he is “neither a technician nor an attorney,” his “inability to consult staff or counsel on [his] own” rendered him “unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities.”

Nor is Congress the only branch stymied by secrecy. Domestic spying faced no legal challenges in court until 2006 only because, until then, the TSP had been secret. And the Senate’s bill effectively forces courts to dismiss the numerous suits filed after the program was revealed.

As Sixth Circuit Judge Damon Keith wrote in another context, it is because “[d]emocracies die behind closed doors....[that] the Framers of the First Amendment....protected the people against secret government.” But secrecy pervades the TSP’s history, animates the Administration’s threat to prosecute the journalists who courageously exposed it, and continues to hide from scrutiny the government’s other unconfirmed—but ongoing—surveillance programs.

Each obstruction violates bedrock democratic principles by denying the opportunity for either a legislative or judicial check. Put another way, executive secrecy leaves the President unrestrained by precluding other branches of government, as well as civil society, from pursuing checks and balances.

Secret programs recall those of former Soviet bloc countries during the era of totalitarian rule. The Constitution—and our Republic—has been turned on its head.

Executive Aggrandizement vs. The Rule of Law

Setting aside how secrecy offends democracy, domestic spying also assaults the rule of law on multiple fronts and aggrandizes executive power.

At the outset, the Senate’s immunity provision effectively declares the FISA law void—but only after the fact of violation, and only as it pertains to specific violators. Such procedural arbitrariness makes a mockery of the Rule of Law, even setting aside the substantive illegitimacy of rewarding criminal behavior.

In addition, the TSP shares the same legal pedigree as the infamous “torture memo” recently repudiated by Attorney General Mukasey. Its concoction roiled the executive branch, inspired resistance culminating in threats by senior officials to resign, and bears the fingerprints of the same arch-conservatives whose view of executive power bears no limit. The program embodies a deeply controversial theory attacked from across the ideological spectrum.

The only court to publicly examine the program on its merits declared the TSP unconstitutional, and a separate ruling by a secret court struck down portions of the program, although its precise contours remain unknown. A conservative appellate court dismissed the first ruling on a legal technicality, and since the Supreme Court rejected a petition to appeal the case, the TSP has been effectively insulated from judicial review despite grave concerns about its legal basis.

The TSP stood on thin legal ice—until Congress lay itself (and the American people) at the President’s feet.

Thus, a scheme invading the privacy of millions of law-abiding Americans continues unchecked, despite the constitutional abuses implicit in warrantless surveillance. Private suits pending against the program’s telecom enablers present the only remaining opportunity through which to check the administration’s surveillance activities, especially now that Congress has authorized them to continue.

Moreover, unless suits against the telecom companies are allowed to proceed, the full scope of warrantless surveillance—and the extent to which it may have been abused by an administration already known for politicizing various institutions, including the Justice Department and even the Centers for Disease Control—may never be known.

Finally, the Bush administration’s other surveillance programs stand effectively immune from judicial review or congressional oversight as long as they, too, remain secret. Regarding unconfirmed secret data-mining by the NSA, Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden (D-OR) recently argued, “There’s not been as much discussion in the Congress as there ought to be.”

Especially given this lack of oversight, private interests should be discouraged from compromising individual liberty interests. The Senate bill instead invites them to disregard their customers’ privacy with impunity.

Immunizing telecom companies for enabling the TSP thus sends the wrong message to other companies that, through other secret programs, continue to help authorities spy on Americans—as well as those, like Qwest, that tried to protect their customers from prying government eyes.

Dragnets vs. Real Security

Transparency, democratic checks & balances, and the rule of law are not the only values undermined by domestic spying. The TSP also hinders counterterrorism efforts. Put simply, sweeping domestic surveillance undermines security by inundating analysts with false leads.

Throughout the debate about re-authorizing FISA, Administration apologists have falsely claimed that domestic spying is necessary to protect the country from a future terrorist attack. Intelligence analysts have repeatedly rejected such red herrings.

Earlier this month, senior counter-terrorism officials and intelligence analysts from agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the National Counterterrorism Center hosted a briefing on their assessments of domestic terrorism. One analyst captured a point of consensus by explaining that “having too much data is as much a problem as having too little.”

According to The Washington Post, “Even with 38,000 employees, the NSA is incapable of translating, transcribing and analyzing more than a fraction of the conversations it intercepts.” The New York Times confirms that, in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, “F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the [NSA], which was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans’ international communications and conducting computer searches...that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators.”

Domestic surveillance not only violates several constitutional principles and tears at the very fabric of our constitutional Republic, but also fails to achieve its purported ends.

Government Handouts to Repeat Recipients

By granting immunity for participating in this ineffective and potentially illegal scheme, the Senate offered the telecom industry—which is no stranger to government largess—yet another corporate handout.

In 2004, Philadelphia announced a municipal wireless plan enabling wi-fi service for its residents at a fraction of the retail cost. The plan enhances efficiency by leveraging economies of scale and encouraging economic development, while also seeking equality by diminishing the digital divide.

But, lobbied by telecom companies, the Pennsylvania state legislature banned other cities from following Philadelphia’s lead. The ensuing state-by-state march against municipal wireless began shortly after Congress passed the 2003 Medicare legislation, which similarly maximized health care costs by prohibiting collective bargaining by government purchasers. Each measure represented an enormous—though politically covert—give-away to corporate interests.

The TSP itself entails corporate handouts to telecom companies. As security analysts monitor, review and track the telephone calls of millions of Americans, they incur millions of dollars in fees. Beyond those charges known to the rogue authorities who oversee the program, companies also have at least sometimes overcharged the government, and some law enforcement authorities have embezzled funds.

Congressional Co-optation

After enabling the most secret and intrusive government program since COINTELPRO, running roughshod over the Fourth Amendment, expanding Presidential power without congressional or judicial authorization, and reaping immense profits while doing so, telecom companies now demand immunity from law-abiding Americans seeking to vindicate their rights.

And instead of responding assertively to defend the Constitution—or even simply maintaining the statutory protections erected by the Watergate-era Church Committee—Congress instead perversely debates whether retroactive immunity is necessary to encourage such corporate crime and constitutional subversion in the future.

Corporate welfare may be offensive in the abstract, but it is even more galling when supporting chronic recipients, and downright odious when used to reward constitutional subversion.

The House bill is the lesser of two evils. Like its Senate counterpart, it abdicates Congress’ responsibility to check the executive and sacrifices constitutional liberties violated by warrantless surveillance. But by allowing in camera (i.e., sealed) judicial review of classified evidence, it at least leaves the courthouse doors open, while allowing corporate defendants to challenge their accusers without violating the Administration’s secrecy.

Policymakers have already abandoned the freedom sought by the framers of the First Amendment, and their successors who passed FISA, by authorizing domestic surveillance in the first instance. But the suits against telecom companies enabling surveillance should proceed. With corporate welfare having already richly padded the telecom industry’s pockets, it should not receive from Congress yet another subsidy for abusing Americans and the Constitution.

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Posted by Elvis on 04/24/08 •
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