See me, feel me, touch me, wiretap me

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

As you're probably aware, the House of Representatives passed legislation on Friday granting the government sweeping wiretap abilities with, practically speaking, no judicial oversight, and which also will likely result in the dismissal of all pending cases against telecommunications companies that may have aided in illegal wiretapping to date. If you head over to the ACLU site, you can read all about the bill:

  • It permits the government to conduct mass, untargeted surveillance of all communications coming into and out of the United States, without any individualized review, and without any finding of wrongdoing.
  • It permits only minimal court oversight. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) only reviews general procedures for targeting and minimizing the use of information that is collected. The court may not know who, what or where will actually be tapped.

Unfortunately, the website of the ACLU is probably the best place one could get information on the bill these past few days, as media coverage has been remarkably void of any real discussion of the constitutional matters at stake. Too often, as with many domestic and world issues, it was shoehorned into context of the upcoming election, as it was, for example, by Ed Henry on CNN Friday morning, following President Bush's statement on the bill:

HENRY: So again, I think the big picture here is that on both pieces of the legislation you've got the president and the Democrats claiming some victory because let's face it, there are not going to be a lot of victories for both of them in an election year.

That's the big picture here, according to Henry, not, say, the Fourth Amendment thing.

Note also that Henry paints the matter as a compromise between two sides, with both able to claim some victory. In a narrow Democrat-vs.-Republican leadership sense, perhaps that's true. But on the substance of the bill, President Bush got virtually everything he wanted, and perhaps more, and civil libertarians got nothing. Glenn Greenwald has done an expert job hacking apart this "compromise" idea, here, using a similar statement from Time magazine's Massimo Calabresi. He notes that one Republican proponent of expanded wiretapping powers and telecom immunity boasted to the New York Times that "I think the White House got a better deal than they even had hoped to get." He adds this compromise to his list of Great Bipartisan Compromises of the Bush Era, noting "in almost every significant case, what 'bipartisanship' means in Washington is that enough Democrats join with all of the Republicans to endorse and enact into law Republican policies, with which most Democratic voters disagree. That's how so-called 'bipartisanship' manifests in almost every case." As always, head to Greenwald's place for continuing coverage of the issue sadly absent in much of the press.

From The New York Times:

According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been "massively scaled back this year." Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The "CBS Evening News" has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC's "World News" and 74 minutes on "NBC Nightly News." (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.

For more, you can also see our recent Think Again column, "Iraq Disappears from View," here.

Quote of the Day: "The whole problem with this idea of obscenity and indecency, and all of these things - bad language and whatever- it's all caused by one basic thing, and that is: religious superstition. There's an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. ... It's reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have." -- George Carlin, 2004.

From TomDispatch:

"More than five years after the invasion of Iraq -- just in case you were still waiting -- the oil giants finally hit the front page ... " So begins Tom Engelhardt's latest post, this time on the miraculous reappearance of the missing Iraqi oil story in the mainstream media. Here was the Times' remarkable headline last Thursday announcing that the same four oil giants, including ExxonMobil, that lost their petroleum concessions in Iraq in 1972 when that country's oil was nationalized, were back on the scene in a big way: "Rare No-bid Contracts, A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards."

"You'd think," Engelhardt comments, that "the Times might have slapped some kind of 'we wuz wrong' label on the piece. I mean, remember when the mainstream media, the Times included, seconded the idea that Bush's invasion, whatever it was about -- weapons of mass destruction or terrorism or liberation or democracy or bad dictators or... well, no matter -- you could be sure of one thing: it wasn't about oil. 'Oil' wasn't even a word worth including in serious reporting on the invasion and its aftermath, not even after it turned out that American troops entering Baghdad guarded only the Oil and Interior Ministries, while the rest of the city was looted. Even then -- and ever after -- the idea that the Bush administration might have the slightest urge to control Iraqi oil (or the flow of Middle Eastern oil via a well-garrisoned Iraq) wasn't worth spending a few paragraphs of valuable newsprint on."

After reminding readers of the energy-based nature of the Bush administration (including the double-hulled oil tanker Chevron named after its board member, Condoleezza Rice, back in the oh-so-innocent 1990s), Engelhardt considers all those naive protestors, in their millions, before the invasion of 2003 -- myself among them -- who were foolish enough and naive enough and reductionist enough to wave placards saying things like "No Blood for Oil" and "How did USA's oil get under Iraq's sand?" -- and were subsequently erased from the mainstream media's blackboard of history. They were only returned last Thursday in the Times piece in this single sentence: "There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract."

He concludes: "And now, here we are. Sure, it's kinda thoughtless, kinda embarrassing, and yet so typical of ExxonMobil and Co. not to care about making all those pundits and knowledgeable observers look really, really bad. What an unfortunate coincidence, this story breaking just now, don't you think? I mean, after all that blood, American and Iraqi, has been spilled, here comes the oil.

"It's the sort of thing that could make suspicious Arabs even more so and give a new life to some really dumb slogans in the U.S. But you know, sometimes, if you're an oil giant, you just have to bite the bullet. After all, there's still one heck of a lot of that patrimonial oil in Iraq's ground. At more than $130 a barrel, someone has to get it out -- and why not, as [Times reporter Andrew] Kramer puts it, 'western companies with experience managing large projects'? I mean, after all these years, why not?"

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan

Hometown: Charlottesville, VA

Re: The evidence that Jimmy Carter preferred to be called Jimmy Carter.

When Jimmy Carter took the oath of office as president in January 1977, he said "I, Jimmy Carter." Case closed.

Name: Dr. T
Hometown: Denton, TX

First up, Eric, THANK YOU for writing "New Orleans After the Storm" and attempting to keep Bush Administration incompetence and murderous partisan politics following Hurricane Katrina in our collective consciousness. In addition to the deaths from extraordinary rendition and unconstitutional detention, countless Gulf Coast residents will continue to die for years to come because the Bushies' cronyism and mismanagement has placed them in not-so-temporary toxic FEMA trailers. Perhaps the citizens of New Orleans should have been more white and Republican?

Name: Joel Rosenberg
Hometown: Watertown, Mass.

I always enjoy Charles Pierce's witty and impassioned missives, and I can well understand his disappointment over Keith Olbermann's soft-pedaling of criticism toward his MSNBC colleagues over sexism in the primary coverage. But to claim that (for this and a small handful of other grievances) "Countdown" is presently "well-nigh unwatchable"? Charles, have you seen the competition? Olbermann's got his quirks and he does very bad imitations, among other lame attempts at humor. But in the context of a news media wasteland that has been in a 40-year state of decline, "Countdown" may be as good as it gets. I, for one, owe him a great deal for keeping me sane over the past several years.

Name: scott d.
Hometown: Dover

Regarding Keith Olbermann becoming a "house man," according to Charles Pierce:

Olbermann has more or less become the face of MSNBC. It's very hard to be both an iconoclast and an icon.

Name: Moe Zilla
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

"If you think the weather is getting more extreme, you're right," the AP just reported, citing a new report from 10 government organizations which included NASA, the Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation.

It's not getting as cold at night as it did in earlier decades, there are fewer nights with frosts, and there's more extreme rain and heat, with an increasing frequency of tropical storms (leading to more and stronger hurricanes).

I think this is something we all know already. Yesterday it was 116 in Palm Springs, while the heavy rainfall in Iowa used to happen just once every 500 years (and now happen every 15). And if we haven't figured it out yet, we'll have more opportunities. "Droughts will get dryer, storms will get stormier and floods will get deeper with the changing climate," reads another AP report.

"Events that have seemed relatively rare will become commonplace, said the latest report...a joint effort of more than a dozen government agencies."

Name: Michael Rapoport
Hometown:

The WSJ weighs in on the greatest-athlete question, currently-active division. And Tiger Woods isn't even in their top 10.

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