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The Salazar Brothers (one in the House, the other in the Senate) Vote for the `Protect America Act’

August 5, 2007

Things are sometimes not what they seem, particularly when it comes to bills enacted by Congress under the Bush Administration. So it is with the `Protect America Act’, which would be more aptly labeled `Extend Domestic Spying and Surveillance Act’ which passed both houses of Congress just the past Friday before the Congressional summer break. It is an indication of weakness of the Democratic Party to deliver on the 2006 elections with its emphasis on ending the war in Iraq as soon as possible, restoring civil rights, etc.

The bill updates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, expanding the Bush Administration’s already unprecedented powers – previously granted by bi-partisan consent in the Patriot Act and other legislation – to eavesdrop without warrants on `foreign suspects whose communications pass through the US’ and on Americans suspected of having foreign contacts with terrorists. Since there are no Congressional guidellines to define these terms, their definition is left up to the most undemocratic administration in US history to decide.

Besides expanding the scope of surveillance to include US citizens through the loophole of monitoring calls to foreigners, the bill frees the attorney general’s office and the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans without getting a court order from FISA courts, this despite the fact that until now, the FISA judges almost always granted such requests.

The act is valid only for six months and then must be renewed. That said, its passage shows that the Bush Administration still has enough power and influence, at least in the halls of Congress, to pass repressive legislation and to do so with at least some Democratic support. The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 227-183 and the Senate by an even wider 60-28 margin. Colorado Congress people voting against the legislation included Diana De Gette, Mark Udall and Ed Perlmutter.

The Salazar brothers, John in the House and Ken in the Senate supported the legislation as did ultra-conservative Republican Marilyn Musgrave. Tom Tancredo, Colorado’s contribution to the Congressional looney bin, interestingly enough did not vote. On the national level, Diane Feinstein of California showed her true colors by supporting the bill (and making a rather unconvincing explanation of protecting America from the terrorist threat).

The Salazar brothers votes come as no surprise in a state where the hidden lobby is a powerful military presence both in terms of weapons producers (the most obvious and by no means the only exampe being Lockheed Martin) and a string of military bases and missile sites (in the north east) of one kind or another. Both have – despite trying to position themselves as moderates – supported every piece of legislation aimed at ratcheting up the arms race and eroding civil rights in this country that President Bush and the neo-cons have thrown at Congress.

Tancredo’s non vote is interesting. It might be because some of his supporters on the ultra-right are the anti-government fanatic types who, whatever else, also oppose the erosion of civil rights in their attempts to `get government out of their lives’. That usually translates into the libertarian type attempts to erode government controls on Corporate America, which of course need no monitoring because they are so honest, and keep the public interest at heart.

Thanks to Jewish Voice For Peace and Ron Forthofer for providing the detailed information on the vote.

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