Warehouse E

FISA Again

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Obama’s Strange Flip On FISA

By James Donahue

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama has just done something that supporters and fellow Democrats never expected after months of his unwavering campaigning against the Clintons. He flip-flopped on the controversial FISA issue.

FISA, for anyone who isn’t staying on top of the complex world of the Bush political system, is a proposed bill that will, if passed, legalize all of the illegal spying on Americans committed by the Bush Administration and the participating telecommunication industries. The original version would have given the president unprecedented powers to continue violating our Fourth Amendment rights by tapping into our private telephone, Internet and other electronic communications without seeking court approval.

Obama stood firmly opposed to FISA during the long hard debates ripping through Congress in past months. But a so-called “compromise” deal seems to have drawn enough Democrats into the fold, including Mr. Obama, that the new FISA bill appears to be sliding through the legislative process like a greased pig at the county fair.

When the bill was passed by the House last week, Obama announced that he now supported FISA, although he said he would try to strip a provision granting immunity to the telecommunication companies when it comes to a Senate vote.

Since we already have had a FISA bill in place since 1978, critics are asking why an updated version is necessary at all, except to cover up for all of the illegal activities going on in the White House since 9-11. It seems the government has been secretly eavesdropping on American phone and computer lines ever since, and never bothering to ask permission from the FISA Court.

The bill is designed to head off some 40 lawsuits filed against the telecommunications companies.

Obama told reporters this week his stand on FISA “is a close call for me,” but he said compromised changes in the original bill keeps the power in the hands of the FISA Court, and not the president, and adds a new inspector general role and other oversight conditions “met my basic concerns.”

His stand on the issue has angered many liberals, including columnist Glenn Greenwald who blasted MSNBC Commentator Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Alter, senior editor of Newsweek Magazine, for giving Obama the benefit of the doubt when discussing the issue on June 25.

The real danger is that those who defend Obama the Candidate no matter what he does are likely to defend Obama the President no matter what he does, too,” Greenwald wrote.

What Alter said about the Obama FISA stance was somewhat profound, and it is obvious this man understands the workings of politicians in those smoke-filled back rooms. He said people need to understand that Obama has “always been a politician, he’ll always be a politician, and politics is the art of the possible. And he’s a legislator. He knows that you can’t always get everything that you want in a bill, even if he personally believes that the immunity for Telcoms is a bad idea.”

Some years back, while working as a county bureau reporter for a Gannett newspaper, I was covering a county Republican convention during a presidential election year, and was asked if I wanted to attend the state convention as an alternate delegate. While I knew it threatened to compromise my objectivity as a reporter, I also saw it as a great opportunity to get in on the inner chambers of state level politics in a way few other reporters could ever hope. I called my editor, discussed the idea, and got the ok.

That convention was a real eye-opener. Hundreds of delegates representing every county were gathered in one giant convention center where they came with separate political agendas, and all trying to be heard. The trick was to get certain candidates on the ballot for state level jobs, but also to get agreement on important resolutions calling for party-approved legislation in the year ahead. I was with our county team, not voting as an alternate, but allowed to stand back and watch the “deal making” in those back rooms as our guys agreed to compromise one issue if they could get the other guys to vote for another we considered more important

As a result of that experience, I think I understand Obama, perhaps in a better way than Greenwald, and certainly most citizens. It is obvious that he is walking a tightrope on the FISA issue, but it seems as if some kind of a deal was cut so that he is going to get something better out of the issue in the long run.

Obama has shown his girth during his long campaign against the Clintons, and if he appears to have flip-flopped on this issue, we have to believe there was a damned good reason.