Protecting Shareholders First, Citizens Second
Guess which sensible piece of legislation President Bush intends to veto next? A measure promoted by House Democrats that would ensure more judicial oversight over the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program but still hold telecommunications companies potentially liable for secretly cooperating with the government in trawling through records. Apparently it's more important to the White House to protect stockholders than to protect citizens.
President Bush said Wednesday that he would veto the legislation -- designed primarily to curtail the abuse of executive branch power -- not only because it takes away some of his power but because it does not contain a "retroactive immunity" clause that would reach back and protect those telecom companies for the actions they took (or did not take) when the feds first came calling for help in culling through personal phone records.
In other words, the president wants to make nice and legal conduct that may not have been nice and legal when it was conducted. It's a great idea if you are trying to go back and protect rescuers who rush into a burning building. It's a little less great when you are trying to go back and protect huge, sophisticated companies from being held accountable for premeditated and well-thought out legal and financial decisions they've made. And it's not even remotely great when its considered as a reason for preventing vital changes to a dismal law.
It's possible, of course, that the legislation won't make it to the president's desk to be vetoed. And if that occurs it will be because of congressional Republicans. Here's how the Associated Press's Pamela Hess wrote it: "[Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and other GOP lawmakers said the bill gives too much power to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to oversee intelligence activities and will bog down intelligence agencies with administrative burdens. They charged that the measure extends constitutional protection to phone calls by terrorists overseas, takes rights away from telecommunications companies, and prohibits legitimate surveillance of other countries." Other than that, they love it.
For his part, the president offered this chestnut: "Congress must make a choice.... Will they keep the intelligence gap closed by making this law permanent? Or will they limit our ability to collect this intelligence and keep us safe, staying a step ahead of the terrorists who want to attack us?"
Unfortunately, the White House did not explain how protecting telecoms from liability keeps us safe from terrorism. But the president's remarks did generate this memorable response from Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), one of the most respected members of the House intelligence panel. Harman, reports The Post, accused the president of playing the "fear card" and added: "Time for a deep breath, Mr. President. The point is not whether to conduct surveillance but to do it right, without throwing out the Fourth Amendment."
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