The Sky Didn't Fall

By Al Giordano

What Russ Feingold Said:


"Having a Democratic president and particularly Barack Obama should allow us to change this mistake. Barack Obama believes in the Constitution. He's a constitutional scholar. I believe that he will have a better chance to look at these powers that have been given to the executive branch and even though that he will be running the executive branch, I think he will understand and help take the lead in fixing some of the worst provisions. So this is a huge setback and it would have been much better for Democrats to stand together and not let it happen in the first place ‘cause it's much harder to change it after the fact. But I do believe that Barack Obama is well positioned both in terms of his knowledge and his background, and his beliefs, to correct this. And so I do think that people have a right to be disappointed but I also think they have the right to hope for change on this issue in particular starting in January."



So, the FISA bill passed. And today began just as any other day. The sun came up. We drank a cup of coffee. Some of us lit a cigarette - or did any number of things that others do not approve of - and we were not locked up for it. To note the obvious, that the sky did not fall, is not akin to saying that a bill inoculating telecommunications companies against civil lawsuits (and retroactively so) for following invasive government orders, was a good thing. It's just to say that it is what it is, and life goes on, and so does the daily struggle to defend our personal and collective freedom on so many fronts.

Only in America do a significant number of people equate expressions of outrage and indignation du jour as somehow being akin to the hard work of political activism or participation. And I hate to say it, but this delusion is worse, much worse, on the left side of the dial where reaction is the standard operating procedure in place of authentic action. I speak, therefore I act is the great American illusion of politics. Sorry, but no. Only when our speech effectively causes others to act does it rise to the level of poetry (which, as Vaneigem wrote, "seldom exists in poems"). Have you ever had to sit through a poetry reading by a particularly bad poet? That's what I feel like when I find myself to trying to listen to what too many people consider activism. They're blathering on and my eyes are drooping as I'm eyeing the wall clock and the exit sign, twirling my cigarette lighter as if a rosary bead necklace.

The phenomenon of "outrage activism" in the United States - something I just haven't experienced to that degree in other lands - is understandable on a certain level: Since 1980, the United States has been plagued by presidents that routinely did outrageous things and did insufficient good things to make up for it. One could even say that with the exception of a few expressions of basic human decency by Jimmy Carter, that this perpetual disappointment has recycled itself since 1963, or even since 1945, and has wrought a permanent character trait that has calcified around the US body politic and most pointedly among those with liberal or progressive tendencies. Most Americans don't even know what real change could look like, and probably won't recognize it, or even find it scary, at first, when it does come.

I return to what Senator Obama actually said about what he will do after the FISA vote, should he get to the White House, because, well, we are now in that time and space:


Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I've chosen to support the current compromise. I do so with the firm intention -- once I'm sworn in as President -- to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.


Now, I understand why some of you feel differently about the current bill, and I'm happy to take my lumps on this side and elsewhere. For the truth is that your organizing, your activism and your passion is an important reason why this bill is better than previous versions. No tool has been more important in focusing peoples' attention on the abuses of executive power in this Administration than the active and sustained engagement of American citizens. That holds true -- not just on wiretapping, but on a range of issues where Washington has let the American people down.

I learned long ago, when working as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago, that when citizens join their voices together, they can hold their leaders accountable. I'm not exempt from that. I'm certainly not perfect, and expect to be held accountable too. I cannot promise to agree with you on every issue. But I do promise to listen to your concerns, take them seriously, and seek to earn your ongoing support to change the country...


There's an interesting paradox here: We don't want the president to eavesdrop, but we do want him to listen. I particularly liked these words in that statement:


And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That's ok.


In other words, the veteran community organizer has heard it all before: the declaratory politics of "do exactly what I say or I'm getting off the bus!" Okay, well those people are off the bus now. Or are they? My own organizing experience tells me that the same people (and in the age of anonymous Internet handles there's so little accountability to track it numerically) will move on to the next outrage-of-the-day and declare, all over again, that if the nominee doesn't do as they say on their next ultimatum issue, they will be getting off the bus all over again. And we scratch our heads wondering, didn't that guy loudly announce his exit weeks ago? Sadly, a lot of such "activism" is driven by folks that have a hard time commanding or holding on to our attention in other aspects of daily life, and see such proclamations errantly as a way to accomplish that.

As the saying goes: How can I miss you if you never go away?

Or another of my favorite fortune-cookie axioms: He who says a thousand goodbyes never leaves.

It's the only dance move that some people know. Their miscalculation is thinking that the rest of us worry ourselves or lose sleep over whether they're on or off the bus. Part of the American experience - indeed, a key chapter of every Campbellian "hero's journey" - is the act of wandering out into the wilderness from time to time, learning a few new tricks, and coming back better armed to fight the battles that matter.

When I got off the bus for so many years and wandered around the outskirts, those experiences from that vantage point allowed me to see, more clearly, the United States of America, its culture and its politics, more truly as it is. It's a big part of how I've been able to, this year, predict some major events before they happened. I've concluded that a much bigger problem in the USA than any piece of legislation passed by Congress is the petrified manner in which so many Americans define and limit their participation in current events.

For those that feel their own participation is stuck in an ineffective rut, and cry out in frustration about deal breakers and and "getting off the bus" and such, as one who's been there, I highly recommend the voyage. And the fact that nobody really cared about - and few even noticed - my disappearance turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because the lessons are better learned with both feet out, and not merely by straddling the exit door, hanging halfway off of the proverbial bus while warning the other passengers over and over again that one is about to step off, as that's when the chances of getting hit by a truck, and tumbling underneath, are far greater. And that can make one's head hurt.


The "right to hijack"

Mainer - Thanks for the excellent report from that corner of the woods. What I think upsets some folks like "CharlesF" is that the task of hijacking conversations to get everyone screaming "the sky is falling," so easy on other parts of the Internet, is so much more difficult (and so far impossible) here. It's not that those opinions don't appear here regularly. It's that folks just look at it, move on, and talk about things they consider to be bigger priorities.

I also sense that some don't like my penchant for ridicule (which Abbie Hoffman taught me is a change-agent's greatest weapon). That's the flip side of humorlessness in general. But like I said to Charlie, if it's not somebody's cup 'o tea, it's a big Internet out there and I'm sure he can find what he's looking for elsewhere if this brew is not to his taste. (However, it's like what Laura said, above, about working Tech Support: the ones that complain most frequently and threaten to leave are the ones that keep calling again and again. Funny how that works out.)

I will give you the

I will give you the "Campellian Journey".  There is not an ounce of exaggeration in it.  My question is regarding the thing that you brought back.  Given the present context, would that thing be that the Zapatistas should have supported Lopez Obrador?

reply to Jesus

Jesus - When reporting on political movements, be they non-electoral (like the indigenous movement in Mexico) or electoral (including the present one), I don't tell the protagonists what they should or shouldn't be doing. I may offer an opinion from time to time, but never phrased as a demand. In the specific case you mention, I don't think that it would have helped that candidate in the 2006 Mexican elections had they supported him, and probably would have hurt him (he did win, after all, only to be robbed by electoral fraud).

Every circumstance in every country is different. Mexico has vibrant non-electoral movements that have won important victories. Nothing of the sort yet exists in the United States. It would be apples and oranges to compare the situations in two different countries.

I think there is a time and season for almost every kind of tactic and strategy when it comes to making change. I wouldn't apply what's best in one land in one year to determining what's best in another in a different year.

I think the discussion on

I think the discussion on FISA hasn't been sufficiently nuanced.  It's pretty much been two camps shouting at each other, without the recognition that it's possible for us to be supportive of Obama's campaign while also being fiercely critical of his vote on FISA.  We can walk and chew gum at the same time, can't we? 

I am very concerned and disappointed about Obama's position on FISA--   It isn't just that he voted the wrong way on the issue; the larger problem for me is that he made a lot of noise about opposing the legislation if it contained retroactive immunity for the telecoms, yet in the end Obama voted to approve it anyway.  So that leaves us wondering if he can be trusted to follow through and live up to his word.  Can we believe that he means what he says the next time he speaks to an issue?  Is he just another politician with jelly for a spine?  Is he stuck in the same fearful, defensive posture that the Democratic Party has been in during the Bush years?  These questions didn't arise for me until he rolled over on FISA.

If Obama thinks this lousy FISA bill is worthy of his support on its merits, then I have a problem with his thinking and his judgement.  And if he cast the vote for craven political reasons, then I've got an even bigger problem with him.  From my point of view, Obama made a serious error on this one, not because the new FISA legislation is going to impact our lives very much, but because Obama has opened the crack of doubt about who he is.  He squandered some of his political capital on this one, and got nothing in return.  I'm not one of those who are going nuclear about it, because the alternative is McCain, and he is not acceptable.  But I've got to be honest and say that for me, some of the lustre has come off Obama's campaign.  I worked very hard and gave a decent amount of $$ to help him win the primary, and I'll continue to be supportive, but I can't overlook the reality of what just happened; the Bush administration and the telecoms broke the law and dishonored our Constitution, and the response from a Democratic Congress was to give the culprits a free pass on their crimes, and give the Executive branch even more surveillance powers in the bargain. 

I appreciate Al's effort at providing some perspective and balance, but I don't think we ought to sugar coat this thing-- yesterday was a very dark day for our democracy, and our Presidential nominee signed off on the deal.  Why?

For Basil

Basil - All these "problems for you" come from your own expectations which I think were unrealistic given the state of US politics and media. You ask "Why?" Well, it's already been explained. You can either accept the nominee's explanation or reject it. But the vote happened yesterday. Nothing will change it now.

I actually have a grudging respect for those that just walk away over those that keep harping on something they cannot change, because it is already in the past. When we're disillusioned in somebody, it's partly our responsibility for allowing those illusions in the first place.

I think it's also an exaggeration to claim this is rightfully a "trust" issue or that anybody "rolled over." It was not the same legislation as was voted on earlier in the year. Concessions were won for more oversight. You can legitimately feel that the concessions were not enough, but you really can't fairly describe it as a change in position because that's the legislative process on virtually all legislation: When a bill can't get the votes, the sponsors compromise with those that hold differing views, and they hammer out something that probably neither side is thrilled with, but concessions were, in this case, made.

So if "trust" is the issue one must really also learn to distrust one's own presumptions in politics when it comes to legislation. What I find unpersuasive is when people, even knowing all that, even having seen the same arguments made over and over again and seeing that they didn't work, they then go repeating those arguments. It's like a broken record. It's boring. It solves nothing, because nobody's invented a time machine yet to go back in time and change the outcome.

And to say something like "well, he hurt himself politically because some other people will see him as capitulating" out of supposed "concern" for the nominee's electoral chances, and then to repeat, ad nauseum, the arguments that were already made and that did not work, you end up doing the very thing you claim to be worrying could happen. I find it selfish, frankly: it's still all about "you" and the perfection you insist on from somebody else.

Still, your dissent is well stated and sticks to the issues, and I appreciate that.

Refreshing post

After hearing how Markos Moulitsas is so vewwy vewwy upset about FISA he is not going to give his $2300 to Obama, and similar self-absorbed tantrums. It's refreshing to come to a site with perspective. Here in Oregon no one knows much about FISA, those who do, vast majority are for some resolution like the one that passed. Obama has taken the right tact here by standing with Pelosi on this and getting this issue over with before the GE. It's done. When he's president he can fix it. The blogosphere has just marginalized itself and is carrying water for John McCain. A disgusting lot.


Bill R - Markos did not decide not to max-out because of FISA. His stated reason was in what he felt was the nominee's undercutting of Wes Clark. One can disagree with that, too, but I think it's important to not confuse the two matters, particularly because I think Kos and his center-column crew have provided a good example of how to campaign against the FISA bill without making it all about just one senator among 100. I think, when it comes to FISA, not only did the Daily Kos leadership engage in what I call "smart dissent," but, frankly, FISA was only an issue, and concessions were only won on it, because Markos, for many months now, made a big issue of it.

Funny how the details are so very important. On this thread I've criticized some FISA opponents, while now defending others! But that's my point. Congress is about Congress. And the Executive Branch is about the Executive Branch. And I think if folks went back to what they learned in grade school about separation of powers, and checks and balances and all that, there wouldn't be so much confusion between the two.

Oona nails it.

These are the best words I have seen on my computer screen this month: I have recently decided, or come to my senses, that the most effective use of my energy is to do less blog-reading and more voter registration.

The single most important work to be done this summer by most anyone concerned with getting Republican fingers off of the levers of power is registering more voters. Registering voters means extending the Democratic registration advantage in Pennsylvania. It means creating a Democratic registration advantage in Nevada (a state Bush narrowly won in 2004). Registering voters in Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado, New Mexico, and, yes, Arizona, makes the hill that much steeper for McCain, Ensign, and Cole to climb this November.

Any frustration to be gained by reading the web this month can be more than offset by going out into the sunshine and engaging more people in the process. Registering voters is a way of keeping our eyes on the prize, and it gets us to meet people we might otherwise never know. It's one way to feel better and do better during the dog days of summer. I've spent less time online and more time registering voters in Ohio since spring turned to summer. Can't say I regret the choice.

Gail Collins in the NY Times

I don't normally read Gail Collins but came upon this piece (linked to from Sullivan, I think) that sums up why it's tough for some of us to get worked up over FISA, faith-based programs, etc. Sample quote:

Think back. Why, exactly, did you prefer Obama over Hillary Clinton in the first place? Their policies were almost identical — except his health care proposal was more conservative. You liked Barack because you thought he could get us past the old brain-dead politics, right? He talked — and talked and talked — about how there were going to be no more red states and blue states, how he was going to bring Americans together, including Republicans and Democrats.

Exactly where did everybody think this gathering was going to take place? Left field?

When an extremely intelligent politician tells you over and over and over that he is tired of the take-no-prisoners politics of the last several decades, that he is going to get things done and build a “new consensus,” he is trying to explain that he is all about compromise. Even if he says it in that great Baracky way.

Read the whole thing.

The Polls-- when should I be concerned?

Obama's lead over McCain in the national polls isn't growing.

When should I be conerned?

Good diary by Kos taking on McCain on "pyschological"

Nepat - great article by Gail Collins - made me smile.

This is a good diary by Kos today with lots of examples of McCain talking about our pyschological problem with the economy.  This should be a campaign ad.


@ yellow re: polls

Dear yellow, it's way too soon to be concerned about Obama's lead in the national polls.

If you want to invest a lot of energy in polls, you need to drill down much deeper and look at the race from a state-by-state and demographic slice-and-dice perspective.  Follow Al's handy dandy link at the above right to Poblano's 538 site and you will feel much much better.

Yellow, you should be

Yellow, you should be concerned every day through to the election.

Getting the 'big head' and letting down our guard is what must not happen.

Obama should campaign as though the race is dead even--and he should work one day per week more than McCain.

Look, don't totally hang your hat on polling.  It is probably a good thing that Obama isn't ten points or more over McCain at this juncture.  The corporate media have an interest in making this an exciting horse race that people obsess over.

Obama is doing the right thing.  No major gaffs, and his campaign is holding steady.

In my biased opinion, McCain appears like a dead-man-walking--his message is stale, and his delivery is even worse.  He hasn't landed any solid punches on Obama yet, not one.

I am interested in how this will play out, and I just can't see how McCain is ever going to get the upper-hand and develop the "big mo", momentum.

Obama will likely peak after the convention---and then the played-out, moribound Republicans will have their convention, where they will pull out the dead body of Ronald Reagan yet again, and wax nostalgic about the good old days.  Anything they can do to take the public's eyes off of the horrible economy and being bogged down in Iraq they will try.

But, who knows, maybe they will try to make this election exciting and pull a disgruntled old lefty associated of Obama's out of their ass.

If you start to really fret over the polls, then get out and register some voters.


Odds and Ends

Nepat- The Gail Collins article was fantastic. Nice reminder that Obama has not, is not and will never be the left wing Jesus.

Al - You made an interesting point about the distinction between the center column folks and the diarists. I have to admit that although some of the comments and diaries have made me apoplectic at times, the center columns have been fairly balanced. As far as Kos not donating, he stated that his decision not to give to Obama at this point is largely irrelevant, and I agree with him. I don't see many people being so enamored of Kos that they would hold back contributions just because he did.

yellow - After primary season, I have a hard time paying attention to polls period. But just to ease your mind: a large number of people aren't even really paying attention yet; and I have to wonder if Obama can get all of these newly registered Democrats to the polls how accurate they will turn out to be anyway.


Disappointed, but not outraged

I'm disappointed that Obama did not do the bare minimum to defend the Constitution in this matter (voting nay).

However, I am not outraged. I never thought much of Obama as a Senator. I mean, he's okay and everything, crafted a nice ethics bill, but he was not the kind of rebel and independent thinker in the mold of Feingold, whom we need to lead and stand up against Bush. Of course, Clinton and especially Edwards were/are even worse.

But we're not electing a Senator; we're electing a President. People tend to forget that JFK was also a pretty unremarkable Senator. I've been an Obama supporter since the day he announced because I think he could make a great president. He is intelligent, taught Constitutional law and actively seeks dissent, so he can view matters from all perspectives. He is a great speaker and incredibly inspirational (and I find it vitally important that politics becomes 'cool' again and more people are involved in the process, which is happening already). His background as a community organizer creates an opportunity for a truly revolutionary grassroots movement. As Obama always says, it's not about him, it's about us.

The magnificent way he has run his campaign has convinced be that he would be much better as head of the executive branch than as one of 535 legislators.

The Cost

The people that are most worked up about the immunity think Obama has made a "stupid, stupid, stupid" political move. This is another example of their inward thinking - yeah, it's a stupid political move if everyone thought just like you. I guess they can't see beyond their giant, pouting lip that 95% of America could care less about this issue, and during a time when Obama is attempting to define himself and his campaign to the entire nation, the last thing he wants to do is grandstand and make a public spectacle of himself over an issue that most voters don't care about, that isn't part of his core policy message and, most importantly, that he can't do anything about anyway.

For Obama to make any headway into shifting the vote towards a favorable outcome (even though it was literally impossible in the current Senate), he would have had to devote considerable time and energy - time and energy better spent presenting himself to an American public that cares about the economy and their more immediate personal securities.

Well he could have at least voted against the bill, right? Yeah, I suppose he could have (and he did vote for the immunity-removal proposals), but so could have two dozen other Democratic senators. Why single him out if it's obvious he couldn't personally change the outcome? If the bill is really that important to them, the hotheads should have been sticking every senator that voted for that bill on a kabob; instead they made an Obama corn-dog.

Lastly, by voting for the bill, it's quite possible he's just gained some important political capital from across (or from the middle) of the aisle in Washington. By going along with a measure he has no power in changing, he can appear more compromising and later use that leverage for when he does have the power to make change.

Steven Hunt, my

Steven Hunt, my understanding is that McCain takes weekends off - so arguably Obama is two days ahead on the average week already!


Overall, on the subject of this column, I have to disagree with Al when he excuses the failure by Kos to donate. I am sorry, I know people get worked up about issues and are terribly passionately selfrighteous about them, but Kos really should be more mature than to allow one issue to upset him this way. He's an adult, with an influential, if not always very helpful site.  It doesn't benefit liberals when a leader of liberal opinion sets this sort of negative example.  What he is doing is no different, qualitatively, from the PUMAs, and really should not be indulged.  Temper tantrums and foot-stamping ain't leadership, even if they sound briefly impressive on a bright orange website.


I greatly respect your work, Al and read whatever you write that I can, but I really think you are wrong on the FISA situation and Obama's vote.

I will not foolishly withdraw my vote from Obama for obvious reasons, but I am profoundly disappointed in his behavior on this vote, which directly contradicts his promises.

Having a cavalier attitude about a vote that is clearly in conflict with the Constitution sinks beneath the character that I sincerely thought he had.

Your blase' reaction is just as puzzling to me -- and wrong imo.

I dearly hope that when he is elected he goes after this whole repugnant mess to right this outrageous "compromise" and prosecute the wrong-doers, but frankly I am not holding my breath.

I find the attitude toward

I find the attitude toward the FISA thing here pretty obnoxious--the reaction is as strong as it is because of parallels to the Iraq war vote in the 2002 election cycle, the Military Commissions Act in 2006, etc. etc. & Obama got an awful lot of support from people based on his LACK of association with those past failures. The netroots actually gets ridiculously poorly served by the Democratic party in D.C. on its key issues; it's remarkable that they've stayed on the bus as long as they have. And Al's defenses of Obama's position are pretty much totally unconvincing to me, & remind me intensely of excuses people made for other candidates' bad votes in the primary. But I think the basic point here: don't stand in the doorway of the bus threatening to get off, just get off & disengage from the D.C. zoo for a while if that's what you need to do--is totally sound. I actually figured this OUT, all through 2005-2007, & unfortunately got swept off my feet & caught up in the moment & forgot what I knew about the trustworthiness of Democratic politicians in January, on account of this one candidate who was so very charismatic & was trying so successfully to get primary voters to project their hopes onto him. (I should've known better, but Obama totally set up the negative reaction he's getting--it was all so, so predictable.)


I think it might be useful to talk about "getting off the bus" , recharging & acquiring useful skills for future battles in more concrete terms--in my case, I know what to do, because I've done it before. But people focus so heavily on donating & volunteering to D.C. Democratic campaigns as a means of involvement in part because it's obvious how to get involved, & other avenues for real activism are unfortunately a lot less visible.  

Thanks Allan & Steve.

I admit that I don't pick apart poll numbers, I rely on others to do the analyzing. I'm concerned but it seems like hardly anyone else is concerned when I read the blogs. So I'm trying to understand why that is...

I just find it strange that McCain, who is running an awful campaign in a year when the Democrats are supposed to have a huge advantage, is basically keeping things even.

I don't know what he's doing, but it is pure magic.

Poetry vs back and forth

Auden said he felt he had failed as a poet because they had failed in the Spanish Civil War. Yet in that war Pablo Neruda wrote poems that were printed on the front lines from type hand set by the soldiers fighting for freedom, on paper made from the rags of the clothes of the dead. In retreat the soldiers carried these books and read from them, tossing aside other things they could have carried in their packs.

The French government made one of the fees for sanctuary surrender of these books. There are only three that survive. There was poetry in those times and words had powerful meaninig.

The tit for tat that passes for dialog and debate on some blogs, so called "grassroots" blogs have no roots and they have no grass. All that shouting for no good purpose will never achieve a single movement towards the desired result.

Like the brave printers with their single shot rifles facing the machine guns and tanks of the Spanish Fascists, it is time to organize and get to work. To elect the one person who actually can and will change this error. The alternative is to fail entirely, and perhaps like Auden bemoan our failure.

I want to place myself beside those who make the poetry. It's not on the blog screens but it's out in the neighborhoods and communities that the poetry comes alive when we find ourselves in others unlike us and they find themselves in us. Those are the honest debates.


To substantiate your comment, everyone should check their local papers for coverage on this. In mine it was on something like page 7 and the headline was very vague. This was soooo not a big deal to most folks. You'd never know it in the echo chambers though.


Nevertheless, I've been sad about it all day. It helps to do what I can for the campaign though.


Love your comment, Dan.  Good stuff.

Obama - FISA

Al wrote:

"Basil - All these "problems for you" come from your own expectations which I think were unrealistic given the state of US politics and media."




Thanks for the response.  You're right--  the sky didn't fall, but shouldn't we speak out forcefully against the incremental erosion of the principles embedded in our Constitution?  I'm sure you know the parable of the frog and the boiling pot of water...

I don't think that I'm being unrealistic in hoping that our nominee for President would actually follow through on his pledge to oppose FISA if the bill contained immunity for the telecoms.  Obama's failure to honor his own words doesn't only cause concern among his supporters-- it's also not in his best interest as a candidate for the Presidency.  On multiple occasions Obama expressed his intention to support a filibuster against the proposed legislation.  Any reasonable interpretation of his words leads to the expectation that he was opposed to the FISA bill in its final form, and would stand against it.   The late changes to the bill may have improved it some, but Bush and the telecoms got nearly everything they hoped for-- they are dancing in the streets over this outcome.  And McCain is already accusing Obama of flip-flopping on the issue.

Obama sold himself as an agent of C-H-A-N-G-E.  That word was the mantra of his campaign, and I took him seriously, so it's especially disappointing to see him cave on the first significant challenge as the presumptive nominee.  I realize that his votes won't align with my wishes in every case, and I understand that politics is a complicated business that sometimes requires a bit of compromise.  My disappointment with Obama on this issue is that he lost a great opportunity to take a position in defense of the rule of law and the Constitution.  He could have reinforced his brand as a man of integrity who promised us that "things would be different this time."  A look at the Senate roll call reveals that Obama aligned himself with the Republicans and the most regressive Democrats on this issue.  IMHO, there was no political downside for Obama if he stood firm on this one.  The Republicans are going to accuse him of being weak on national  security in any case; this vote will not insulate him from those charges. 

Some of the comments upthread note that FISA is an obscure and arcane matter that most people don't care about, and that the vast majority of the citizenry is worried about the price of gas and putting food on the table for their families.  If that is the case, then Obama had the liberty to vote with courageous Senators like Dodd and Feingold without fear of the political consequences.

Yes, the FISA bill was tweaked a bit and the final version provides for better oversight of the intelligence gathering process.  But that is not much consolation when we consider what was given away in this legislation.  Letting Bush administration officials and the telecoms off the hook for past crimes creates a couple of problems.  First, it leaves us wondering when the law is the law?  If illegal acts committed by high government officials conspiring with corporations can be retroactively excused, then the force and legitimacy of our legal system is diminished.  Which laws are we supposed to take seriously in the future?  Second, we can expect that Bush already has an platoon of lawyers drafting the vast number of pardons that will be issued by him on Jan. 19, 2009.  Giving the administration and the telecoms a retroactive pass on their violations of law makes the Democrats in Congress a party to this abuse of the public trust.  I would like to think that by now Obama and the Democrats would have realized that they would be more successful if they demonstrated that they are different than the Republicans.

I realize that it's all water over the dam now, and we have to move on, and it's not worth expending a lot of our energy on beating a dead horse.  And yes, I'll be voting for Obama even if somebody produces a videotape of him having an affair with Pastor Wright in the choir loft.  And I fully agree that a lot of people have reacted foolishly to Obama's vote on FISA by threatening to withdraw their support for his bid for the White House.  But there is no getting around the fact that Obama and a good number of his fellow Democrats just voted to give Bush and the telecoms a sweetheart deal, and what are blogs for if not to raise some hell and express ourselves, especially on bedrock Constitutional issues?  I'm convinced that the reason our country has fallen so far is that we don't demand enough of our political leadership.  Our political culture is cynical, and even here on a progressive blog we're counseled not to set expectations too high.  Bush has run a corrupt, rogue administration that will probably go down as the worst in our national history.  Given the horror show in Washington that we have witnessed over the past eight years, I don't think we are setting the bar too high by expecting that the Democratic nominee for President should do something as basically American as stand up for the rule of law. I want to see Obama win in November, so part of what I'm trying to accomplish in this conversation is to make the point that standing on principle is not just some abstract moral posture-- it's smart politics as well.


Que Onda Al?!

Love the new blog. I have been a fan of Narconews since 2003 and its nice to have you back home. I have been busy working on the Obama Organizing Fellowship in WA State. Un abrazo fuerte desde Seattle!

Blue Demon

Markos and FISA

Al, sorry I conflated the Wes Clark issue with the FISA issue. Equally stupid and petty for Markos to make his pathetic gesture. I would disagree about Daily Kos and their "smart dissent." It's been one hit piece after another against Obama on FISA, including today. I'm sick of the place since they seem intent spending more time bashing Obama than John McCain. The Netroots gathering looks to me to be more of an embarassment than a rally as they spend their energies ganging up on Obama and professing their purity in the great progressive cause.

Field Fights

I'm from Minnesota. I organize for social justice. Minnesota has this problem - other places do too, but here we have a name for it, "Minnesota Nice."

One of the things that is a problem about that is that people don't like to differ about things. Disagreement - particularly emotional disagreement - is just Not Nice.

So maybe I'm internalizing that. I generally try to motivate people past Minnesota Nice. This is the second thread here that I think has way crappy attitude in the posting. I'm also a "FISA vote mattered, pissed at Obama" person. This may also be influencing me. But some people here do it well, some don't. In My Humble Opinion.

Here's some examples.

"they can't see beyond their giant, pouting lip"

"Markos Moulitsas is so vewwy vewwy upset about FISA he is not going to give his $2300 to Obama, and similar self-absorbed tantrums."

"dKos is unbearable these days with all the faux outrage, and the threats to abandon the Obama campaign."

"the myopia of the FISA trolls, stewing in dark corners with furrowed brows and cartoon frowns, CAPS LOCK keys perpetually turned on, angrily ripping their Obama bumper stickers from their cars"

Reviewing this thread, it's actually better than the last, when I didn't look for quotes. And now that I've quoted these people, they'll likely be all upset at me. (Although the last of them is a very witty portrait of the worst of the FISA folks.)

At the same time I'm trying to influence our community standard of functional behavior, there's tons of people doing direct, wonderful work of voter registration, of actual building. So hats off to them.

The Greenwalds aside, I think the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are pretty cool organizations, and they and I represent a legitimite sector of society. We ARE a voting base. We are not as large as Catholics, or union voters, or once-a-week church goers. Feingold and Dodd are representing us in the Senate (although Dodd's crappy sold-out bankruptcy reform shows he doesn't represent me on other fronts.)

I won't pull my support from Obama over this. I suspect that some who said they would are concern trolls - participants in John McCain's internet thug squad. I object to the characterization that ALL of us who thought Obama's vote sucked are 'purity trolls' because that's a lie.

For those of you who read to the end of this - thanks. I indulge myself here somewhat. It was a long day, from the staff meeting to the chapter meeting. We have appointments with three churches, and people agreeing to contact 15 more, to talk about how the light rail will or will not help the people in the poor neighborhoods it runs through. And I sent an email yesterday to help coordinate access to video streaming for activist journalists at the RNC. Which is to say - don't point that 'keyboard activist' finger at me!

how do I want to feel about myself on Nov 5th?

@Dan Carr, that's beautiful.

@Nuisance Industry, yeah:

do I want to wake up on Nov 5th feeling regret about what I could have done?

It's uncomfortable to realize that we have power AND (and only if we also take) responsibilty. It's so much easier to blame.

@ Oona

Nov 5th happens to be my b'day.

Obama better not  upset me!!!


Not all purity trolls

John Slade, I don't think that anybody here thinks that anybody who objects to Obama's vote is a purity troll.  In fact, you said, once you got beyond your misperception o things, to the very point of the matter.


One can be upset with Obama's vote (as many of us are if you read all the comments) and also object to the reaction of some people.  You obviously are not one of those people.  To quote you, "I won't pull my support from Obama over this."


The problem, as a lot of us see it, is the people who are OMGing and saying they won't put up with this, and yes, do pout.  So I don't think anybody disagrees with the main thrust of your statement, as you are actually representative of the way many here think.

The sky should be falling for McCains campaign

 This week FISA was all over the blogospere(sp?) while McCain was getting a series of free passes on all the gaffes and outright stupid statements. HuffPo has an article posting 10 things this week that should have ended McCains chances, yet Mark Halperin actually has McCain winning the week, WTF? Is this because of all the extremist left screaming about FISA?

I hate to say it but I really believe they might not even nominate him in September. Either way, I see a big loss for the Repubs in November. I sure hope this Iran situation dies down instead of heating up.

We had our annual get-together with my husband's long long time Dr. friend & his family from MI yesterday, when they arrived, of course they would have to notice my signs and bumper sticker on my car. I am always a little nervous when we see friends we have not seen in awhile because you never know how they will react about my politics. After lots of regular socializing, politics came up, they knew nothing of FISA, didn't care and asked me many questions about Obama. When they were leaving late last night, they hugged me and thanked me for working for Barack, and yes, they are Republicans.

The field is a cool refuge

Thank you, your site is a welcome relief from the hysteria of the Left. I have been doing voter registration/Obama campaigning in Asbury Park and Princeton, NJ. Thankfully,the subject of FISA never comes up. It's another welcome relief.

Wisdom and poetry

@ Al: I continue to marvel at your grasp of personal and group dynamics. How did you become so wise?

@Dan: Thanks for the poetry of your comment.

The polls

Yellow, Obama is stil comfortably ahead (5.5% according to RCP) in the polls, despite the media desperately trying to make this election close (and even part of the left is now pitching in).

I think what you'll see is that things will remain about the same up until the conventions. At which point you may start panicking or jubilating.

Anyhow, at this point what you need to do is donate, donate, donate. Obama is in need of money badly, as the Republicans are on their way to raise $400 million dollars for McCain.

Blogosphere Spite

Al, with all the trashing of Obama by the lefty blogs this past two weeks, I'm wondering how the Netroots Nation conference can be any kind of success at all, coming on the bitter divisions of the primary. There's a lot of hate out on the left for Obama, with hit pieces continuing to be manufactured on a daily basis. Amongst the wider electorate I don't think anyone has paid much attention, but doesn't this really have the effect of marginalizing the left blogosphere when there is diary after diary of people advocating withholding their money and hoping Obama loses out of spite. At this point I don't know why any reputable candidate would seek out support on the blogs when the loyalty seems to turn on a dime and one week you're a hero and the next week they trash you. If you have some perspective on this, it would be appreciated. I can't see much good coming out of all this anger and self-importance. Seems like these people love self-destruction and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. War with Iran is not important, health care is not important, social security is not important, torture is not important, corruption is not important, global warming is not important. But FISA is all that matters.


Christi, the comment you made could probably be said by a lot of people who have friends who are life-long Republicans but just can't stomach what the party has turned into.


Regarding McCain, and this relates to the question by Yellow above, the only reason why McCain has not fallen off the radar yet in the polls is that the media has done such a crappy job of pointing out his flip-flops and other gaffes.  I have actually been mildly amused that they are reporting on Gramm's comments about how we are a nation of whiners at all.


And I don't think we can count on the media to do it.  It will depend on the folks at the grassroots level to get out there and make sure the public knows about McCain's inconsistencies, lack of knowledge, plans to destrot SS, etc.  Whether this be going door-to-door, creating mailers or handouts or phonebanking, it will have to be done.


And keep in mind, the American public really hasn't started paying attention to the campaign yet.  They are concentrating more on gas prices, vacations, etc.  As Al, has pointed out, the real race begins post convention.  I have little doubt Obama will come out of the Dem convention with a major bounce.  The problem for McCain is that where he will have the biggest single event audience, he will be in an environment where he does the worse, prepared speechmaking.  It would not surprise me if Obama doesn't actually get a bounce from the Republican convention as well.


But, as someone else mentioned above, and as the Obama campaign has always said (which the Clinton campaign should have emulated) always act as if you are down several points and work accordingly.

Purity Trolls

John Slade said: "I object to the characterization that ALL of us who thought Obama's vote sucked are 'purity trolls' because that's a lie."

john in Illinois already mentioned this, but I'd like to reiterate, since I was one of the ones quoted. Those quotes all refer to the ones who feel FISA is not only disappointing, but an "unforgivable betrayal" (I think either Greenwald or Joan Walsh used that term) - those who would rather spend all of their energy cursing him to hell instead of trying to change public opinion about FISA while getting a candidate who disagrees with the immunity elected.

You mentioned all of the work you are doing, so clearly you are not one of those people, and you shouldn't feel the need to defend yourself against those comments.


while the sky isn't falling, the folks at DKos are reporting that Obama's figures for June have fallen way short of their expectations. Obama has apparently raised $30 million instead of $50 million.

To be sure, these were self-imposed expectations and money is getting tight as a result of rising gas and other costs).   Personally, I think that this is a limbo period...the quiescence before the Convention...kind of a mini silly season.  Still...a smidge disquieting.

Living in a largely

Living in a largely Republican county, I was fed up reading about how a President Obama would take away your guns, allow gay marriage, etc. so I wrote a letter to the editor expressing what  President Obama would mean to me.  Long story short, co-workers of my daughter told her they liked my letter and my mail lady delivered a package to me and told me she read the letter also.  Her parting comment to me was "I'm with ya honey!"  So far I've heard mostly positive comments about my letter and the people commenting are from a broad spectrum of professions and ethnicity.  Unfortunately you don't see alot of that type of coverage in the MSM.  I'm with you guys, how does McCain get by with these gaffes?  What can the Obama campaign do to counteract it?

Good Morning

Blue Demon - zap me an email please.

Edwina - The hysteria really isn't mostly on "the left." Probably half of the anonymous Chicken-Littling over FISA comes from a basement sweatshop at Republican National Committee headquarters; Operation Chaos marches on. You wouldn't believe a few comments that I haven't let through the hijacker detector. How do I know they're sock-puppets? Because sincere folks usually drop me an email to lobby for their comment's approval if it doesn't appear right away. Those flying monkeys are doing everything they can to stir up malaise on those blogs that let them do it. That said, as you can see, a lot of sincere criticism has also made the grade here, and is much appreciated.

Christi Dumuth - Why pop the balloon on McCain before the convention, when party insiders that don't like him much anyway will have their last chance to stage a palace coup and replace him with a real supervillain?

Bill R - For the same reasons I just explained to Edwina, Netroots Nation is going to be great. Most people there will have name tags and real names. They're not the ones (well, most of them, anyway) seeking to spread havoc and hysteria. And you can bet they'll be tossed a bone or two by the nominee as it convenes.

Steven - I'll wait and see what the DNC fundraising numbers look like for June. My sources on the Obama finance committee have been steering donations over there, where the limit is $28,500 as opposed to $2,600. For the general election one has to look at the aggregate total of the candidate's committee + the national party + the senate and house campaign committees to get a clear picture of which side has the dough it needs. We'll have to wait until July 20 to see those numbers.



Low June Fundraising Numbers???

The rumor is Obama only raised 30 million in June....I guess alot of chicken littles kept their little money in their pockets.....

This should be a concern

on the fundraising

I seem to recall that in March (I think), there was a story that Obama had raised $30 million, then the campaign said coyly that it "starts with a 3", but then they managed to pull in $40 million that month when they counted everything.

I am hoping for $35 million to $40 million. I think this period is similar to how 2007 was for the primaries. After the convention, things will pick up a LOT. So that is the period to compare to the $55 million in February, rather than comparing the current situation to February.

My impression is that the campaign is continuing to work hard on fundraising but there is no sense of urgency about it. They have what they need.

Also, FWIW, the campaign has denied the WSJ report.

I disagree thoroughly

Obama reversed course on an item very important to the base that got him through the primaries. The idea that they're just whining and won't go anywhere is the kind of "they won't really leave" attitude that cost Gore the 2000 election.

I'm not saying that Obama has to listen to everything from the far left, but he should be aware that renegging on campaign promises 5 months before the general election is a good way to get poeple looking at other options.

Shadow Boxing Ghosts from the Past

Philip Shade - I don't see how your analogy adds up in 2008. When I think of the fight against the FISA bill, the first person I think of - and the one most responsible for making it a big issue of the netroots overall - is Markos. He's not Chicken-Littling over this or threatening to look elsewhere. Neither are a great many people that took on that issue.

In fact, I have only seen one person with a real first and last name say that it was a deal-breaker, and that was on this blog. I think people are looking at the sock-puppets and their comments and drawing errant conclusions.

As for what Al Gore or John Kerry did, this is a different candidate and a different year with its own unique circumstances. What you seem to be doing is fighting the ghosts of the past.

People will always look at "other options." Nader is as high as six points in the polls. Cynthia McKinney will be a factor in Georgia. But as Mark Blumenthal of pointed out this week, support for third party alternatives is always at its peak in the summer and historically declines by at least half by November.

That said, I don't tell people how to vote or whether to vote or particularly worry about it. There are other factors that will be far more outcome determinative in the 2008 elections than this dust-up. That's just reality as I see it anyway.

Commenting as a form of energy

I spend maybe an hour a day, more when I'm sick (lupus) reading blogs and commenting, starting about six months ago. It appears to generate energy among commenters, kind of a gateway drug for more active activism, like what's happening here. Reading, researching and writing informed sentences helps people become more persuasive in person. I get this sweet, swept up feeling from the blogs sometimes like stepping into the collective unconscious, all of the words like little drops of water and wind whooshing and gathering in an inevitably more democratic way (water seeking its own level).  Except for the trolls.

Al's comments about how many Republican "sock puppets" he has to reject is interesting. Trolls think of monkey-wrenching blogs as political activism and really spend hours at it. Honestly, it has an effect on barely moderated blogs like Huffington Post..

I've been an activist in the past without getting a single candidate elected, and I'm talking about rural county commisioners that lost by 15 votes to business as usual, or a single ballot issue passed. Stepped back, wanting something to work.



dodging flying objects

I always look forward to coming here for the clinical sanity..or should I say clarity and focus? I must admit some of the other political blogs are just driving me crazy right now with the arguing and negativity. I want to take constructive actions and have a thorough plan of action. I'll be at NetRoots next week and am really looking forward to meeting some of my favorite bloggers. I have more reservations about the Obama campaign than I realized...but I've never questioned whether I'd rather have him, Clinton or McCain in office. I'm going to make another donation as I have not maxed out yet.

Al, thanks

Thanks for not being a flame-thrower. I have been searching--and I mean SEARCHING--for a place I could go to where it isn't FISA-this or FISA-that 24/7. A place where common sense tends to rule. Alas, I have found that place.

dkos, Openleft, Talking Points Memo, The Huffington Post, Glenn there an echo in the blogosphere? Everyone is raging about the same thing. It's like how Fox News leads all the other cable news organizations by the gonads. If Fox says we should make a topic an escalated news story, then everyone else will follow suit. That's what seems to have happened with the blogs on this FISA issue.

Frankly, the manner by which several people have conducted themselves about this situation has disappointed me. Sometimes I wonder if some of these bloggers are as enlightened as actual everyday crises as they project themselves to be. If FISA is an issue sure enough to turn you away from Obama, then I am left wondering if your priorities are skewed. I am left querying whether your goal to make America "progressive" is one that includes everyone or just yourself.

Watching this whole thing unfold, I couldn't help but to marvel at how much the left looked far too much like the right. I know that no one likes to be compared to the far right, but sometimes that comparision is not all that difficult to make. The hysteria. The demand for purity. How exactly is this any different than what we have seen unfold before us with those currently in power? I don't want that again if that is what my leftist pals are offering.

Some original ideas, please. Some perspective would have been nice on the matter as well. At least I am able to find that here. I thank you again, Al.

FISA, RICO and a little musing

I don't want to belabor the FISA bill saga, but I thought this would be interesting fodder for thought given the new law does not carry an explicit immunity provision for criminal prosecution.

First, outside of the FISA law itself, illegal wiretapping might well be a violation of the RICO [Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations] statute if it can be shown that the crime was carried out as part of a "criminal enterprise."

A criminal enterprise must have a distinct structure, defined under the statute as:

 . . . [A] distinct structure might be demonstrated by proof that the group engaged in a diverse pattern of crimes or that it has an organizational pattern or system of authority beyond what was necessary to perpetrate the predicate crimes. The command system of a Mafia family is an example of this type of structure as is the hierarchy, planning, and division of profits within a prostitution ring.

The participation of telecom company officials in the Bush-ordered illegal wiretapping, it can be argued, seems to fit that "structure definition."

And as evidence that wiretapping falls under the RICO statute, we have this recent Department of Justice indictment against a former L.A. private investigatory.

From the DOJ press release:

 Former private investigator Anthony Pellicano and two associates were found guilty today of federal racketeering charges for participating in a criminal enterprise in which Pellicano paid tens of thousands of dollars to police officers in exchange for confidential law enforcement information on numerous individuals who were being investigated by Pellicano.

 A federal jury today also found that Pellicano and others were involved in the installation of wiretaps on the phones of numerous individuals whom Pellicano had been hired to investigate.

From all I understand, agents of the Bush administration did pay telecom officials (or promise to pay) for the services rendered under the illegal wiretapping program. So, in a strictly process sense, the telecom officials, a prosecutor might argue, were compensated (or acted in expectation of compensation) for performing criminal activities (the illegal wiretaps), setting up the conditions for a racketeering operation.

Bush did sign the FISA bill [HR 6304] into law this week. In prior comments, I had raised the speculation that Bush might not sign the bill due to its failure to exempt criminal actions against prior illegal wiretapping.

However, in that speculation, obviously proven wrong, I failed to consider that outside of a presidential pardon (a seemingly extreme out) there is the much more legally grounded option of sovereign immunity, rooted in common law and which generally makes very difficult pursuing civil and criminal actions against the U.S. government. So it appears the Bush administration itself would likely never have been a target of civil or criminal action under FISA absent a waiver of that common law defense.

So the telecoms would likely be the only targets for such litigation. And now civil immunity has been extended to them - assuring that no action will be brought during the balance of the Bush administration, since the Bush White House also controls the only avenue for a criminal prosecution.

A criminal RICO indictment has to be brought by a U.S. attorney - all of whom are now under the thumb of the Bush administration's DOJ.

However, the statute of limitations on a criminal RICO action is five years, potentially leaving the entire upcoming presidential administration in position to pursue such a criminal case via one of its appointed U.S. Attorneys.

... It is generally held that a prosecution is timely so long as the defendant has committed one predicate act (that forms part of the pattern for which he is being prosecuted) within five years or less of the indictment.

So if any of this illegal wiretapping continued from 2004 onward, the clock would still be ticking with the arrival of the new administration.

And according to the recently passed FISA bill, the period covered by the civil immunity runs from 2001 to 2007:

... In the case of a covered civil action, the assistance alleged to have been provided by the electronic communication service provider was-

 ‘‘(A) in connection with an intelligence activity involving communications that was-

‘‘(i) authorized by the President during the period beginning on September 11, 24 2001, and ending on January 17, 2007 ...

That would seem to imply that the illegal wiretapping was carried out through at least January of 2007 (why ask for the immunity over that time period otherwise?), meaning the statute of limitations on any RICO action would extend through 2012 - well into the next administration.

The cloak of sovereign immunity in a RICO case might be stripped away by the fact that it could be argued by a prosecutor that any Bush administration officials who ordered the illegal wiretapping activity were operating outside the mantel of legal government activities.

A government official who murders his wife, for example, could not reasonably invoke sovereign immunity. Likewise, a prosecutor might argue that the individual government officials who ordered the illegal wiretapping (a crime) cannot be protected under sovereign immunity. In essence, they would be considered part of the "criminal enterprise" as defined by RICO — along with the individual telecom officials who carried out those orders.

Even if the telecom companies are never indicted, the threat by the next administration of such an action against individuals in those companies and within the Bush Executive Branch (acting as part of a "criminal enterprise" as defined by RICO) might be all it takes to assure that all the details of the illegal wiretapping are surfaced. It would provide the legal leverage necessary to get at the truth.

I'm just saying ... there may yet be a winding path to an inconvenient justice in all of this in the end.



Al,  there is severe

Al,  there is severe outrage evident in the blogs.   Where else can anyone go to vent?    It's especially scary to me,  since we don't have a plan B!   Obama is our candidate!   I trust him completely,  and I honestly believe he weighed his "aye" vote before making it.   John McCain couldn't bother to even show up!   If we were to have a terrorist threat or attack,  and Obama had voted "no",  voters would flee the democratic party is droves and run scared to death to McCain.   Now we have the upper hand.  If a threat or attack happens now,  McCain would have a hell of a time  trying to make Obama look weak,  when he didn't seem to believe that the country either needed FISA  or that FISA could help prevent a threat or attack.   The vote was supposedly so damn important for our security,  it's sure amazing that it just wasn't important enough for John McCain to show up and cast a vote for it!   I sure wish we could get  everyone to read your posting!   It's a heart breaking loss,  but it's not the end of the world.   We've got to keep our heads on straight,  and make sure the sun comes up Jan 20, 2009!  

Aanya, the bloggies aren't

Aanya, the bloggies aren't that powerful.  If they were, John Edwards would be the nominee.  What you're hearing in the blogs are purity trolls being whipped into a frenzy by Hillary/McCain fans who don't want to admit that their candidates are actually worse on FISA.  Rank-and-file Dems are more worried about their jobs (or lack of same) and whether we can get Obama in soon enough to start reversing global warming before it's too late.

If the chicken-little bloggies bother you, I suggest starting your own blog or looking for people like Jeff Fecke (who runs a blog called Blog of the Moderate Left and who also writes for Shakesville).  Not everyone in the blogosphere dances to Glenn Greenwald's tune.



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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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