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Last week I opened my email to find a communication from my friend John Hall, a Congressman from New York who is representing a portion of the state just down the road from where I live.  I respect, admire and intend to emulate Congressman's Hall's openness and communication as he explains what he did and why.  Below is the note that he sent to his email list:

Dear Friends,

Today the House of Representatives voted on H.R. 6304, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

I have consistently supported modernizing the existing FISA law to give our intelligence community the tools it needs to identify and defeat terrorists in today's high-tech world, while at the same time preserving the freedoms and rights that define America. Three times I voted to pass legislation that would strengthen and modernize FISA and reaffirm the rule of law. Although today's bill made some improvements over previous attempts to update FISA, H.R. 6304 regrettably fell short of achieving that critical balance. The rule of law lies at the core of America's founding principles, and the language in this bill was too weak to ensure that any breach of our laws that may have occurred under the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program will be fully addressed. It is wrong to deny Americans the right to pursue these matters in court, or to short-circuit the judicial review that lies at the heart of our system of checks and balances, the bedrock of our Constitution. Accordingly, I voted against this bill.

I will continue to support real protection of our country from terrorist threats, while at the same time fighting for robust oversight by the Legislative and Judicial branches of our government.

Your Representative,

John Hall

At the heart of the debate is the truncation of the Fourth Amendment, which outlines the right of the people to be secure in their persons and belongings.  That right, which many would consider a bedrock of basic liberties in the Nation, is altered to allow the Federal Government to conduct searches and seizures of personal property without a warrant from a court of law. Here is the actual language:

Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Under FISA, the Federal Government has the ability to enter a domicile and seize terrorists - without a warrant - it must just then go back and justify and ask for the warrant based on its actions.  Another fundamental injustice is the current and new ability of the government to wiretap, eavesdrop and record private conversations on cell phones, traditional phones, email and posted traditional mail.  They can do this without a warrant because again they claim that that government ability is needed to be able to catch potential terrorists in the act before they strike.  But, again this is just not true.  The government already has that ability but under previous pre-Bush Administration law the enforcement agencies must seek a warrant within days of the action.  

Though I do not entirely approve of the version that recently passed the House of Representatives, the new rules would at least restore a role for the courts (link):

The deal, expanding the government’s powers in some key respects, would allow intelligence officials to use broad warrants to eavesdrop on foreign targets and conduct emergency wiretaps without court orders on American targets for a week if it is determined important national security information would be lost otherwise.

My main concern with warrantless searches and seizures themselves is the potential for abuse.  For example, citizens who are involved in a  car crash may one day see their homes searched for evidence of substance abuse that would then allow for medical evidence to be extracted in the course of an investigation.  After all, privacy - in its most intimate form- is the security of blood samples, breathalyzer tests and DNA.  But, if the government can search and seize any and all information based on the undisclosed justifications of field officers where will it stop?

But the bigger problem here is the immunity that would be given if it is found that the government and cooperating officials acted without due justification.  Under current law, those involved can be held accountable and the individual on whom the actions were perpetrated can seek redress before the government.  This right to seek redress is another fundamental individual liberty that the Revolutionary War was fought to gain for all Americans.  This current bill takes away the right of citizens to seek redress (link):

The agreement would settle one of the thorniest issues in dispute by providing immunity to the phone companies in the Sept. 11 program as long as a federal district court determines that they received legitimate requests from the government directing their participation in the warrantless wiretapping operation.

This is what Congressman John Hall was referring to when he wrote "It is wrong to deny Americans the right to pursue these matters in court."  Even Republican Senator Arlen Specter said "I am opposed to the proposed legislation because it does not require a judicial determination that what the telephone companies have done in the past is constitutional." (Sorry no link for this one)  In my opinion, this is the biggest shortcoming of the new FISA bill, a failure to ensure the constitutional right of citizens to seek redress for violations of privacy.  Senators Feingold and Dodd, among others have similar reservations about the legislation.  My understanding is that Senator Harry Reid is considering a separate vote on retroactive immunity  to give dissenters a chance to vocalize why they are opposed to this portion of the bill.

Perhaps it is easier for me than for some others to oppose immunity for telecom operatives because I don’t money from any corporate PACs.  While it is impossible to fully understand the motivation of some who voted for the renewed FISA Bill, many have written that the vote was taken out of fear that they could be painted as being soft on defense.  This "soft on defense" worry is a perennial concern for Democrats who carry in traditional baggage vis-a-vis the Republicans, who have mastered the false argument that bigger defense budgets and more troops in Iraq somehow makes us more safe in the world.  It's a shame that this reality is what it is.  But ignoring what I believe to be a fundamental duty to defend the constitution, just to ensure a better public position in an election, is not motivation enough for myself - nor for John Hall.

Congressman John Hall, a friend of mine, took a very principled stance.  My opponent in the current congressional campaign in the 29th Congressional district did not.  Like so many other votes Rubber stamp Randy voted with George Bush instead of taking the time to fully understand the issue, the importance of defending the Constitution and the future unintended consequences of his actions.  

I am running for Congress not to defend the White House, or the House of Representatives but rather to fulfill the oath of office that see to it that I Protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  If I fail in my votes to protect the Constitution then I will have not only failed the people who sent me to Washington but I have also failed the many generations of Americans who sacrificed to give us a Constitution that should guide each and every vote in the House of Representatives.

Thank you John Hall - and all those who stood with you.

Please visit my website,

Originally posted to Eric Massa on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 05:37 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I promise to read all the comments even though (18+ / 0-)

    I am very busy campaigning and may not get to them until much later in the day.

  •  Thanks Eric (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ellicatt, MBNYC, mrchumchum, Mariken

    Now go get yourself elected!

    Pragmatic progressivism is the future.

    by Pragmaticus on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 05:38:24 AM PDT

  •  I'm grateful my Rep voted against it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dallasdoc, Ellicatt

    saves me the trouble of trying to get her unseated. I also followed Moveon's suggestion and called Obama's campaign urging him to vote no. I do feel when it comes to signing off on our civil rights there can be no compromise. Unlike changing his mind on public financing, this is truly important.

  •  OT: (0+ / 0-)

    off topic: do you think Bushite/Cheney neocons will be taking US into a war with Iran or war by proxy thru Israel before 1/20/2009 (to take their PNAC war plans in the Middle East next level and to dump the conflict on the Dems )

    Campaign slogan "Nandemo Alifornia" - Arnold Schwarzenegger

    by pollwatch on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 05:48:40 AM PDT

  •  Good. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rolet, Randgrithr

    The New York delegation has been something of a disappointment on FISA, so it's good to see our challengers stepping up.

    "How eager you are to be slaves." - Emperor Tiberius to the Senate of Rome, in response to their offer to pass any legislation he wished.

    by MBNYC on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 05:51:36 AM PDT

    •  You and Adam Sullivan should join forces (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      As a matter of fact perhaps there should be the formation of a PAC for progressive Democratic challengers across the board. A

      Adam Sullivan, in case you don't know, is running against Nadler in NY-8 because he refuses to move forward with impeachment.

      Anyone who fails to see the historical parallels between Blackwater & the Nazi SS, or the DHS & the Gestapo, needs a serious reality check.

      by Randgrithr on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 06:22:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Heh. (0+ / 0-)

        So that's the guy; I'd heard rumors that Nadler was going to be challenged.

        I'm broadly somewhat unhappy with the NY delegation, but I'd suggest that Nadler is far from the worst; in fact, after Velasquez (my Congresswoman, who rocks) and Slaughter, he's probably the best. Given the retention rate of New York legislators and his overall record, honestly, I question whether challenging Nadler is the best possible course of action. I disagree with Jerry on impeachment, but throwing one of our most reliable votes under the bus because of one issue that doesn't even have the support of the party leadership strikes me as less than productive.

        Progressives in New York aren't all that good at winning battles over the establishment. In part, that's because we pick unwinnable battles, and this is one of them.

        "How eager you are to be slaves." - Emperor Tiberius to the Senate of Rome, in response to their offer to pass any legislation he wished.

        by MBNYC on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 06:34:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Your sig line (0+ / 0-)

          is unfortunately quite appropriate when applied to the rest of your post.

          Anyone who fails to see the historical parallels between Blackwater & the Nazi SS, or the DHS & the Gestapo, needs a serious reality check.

          by Randgrithr on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 06:46:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Please. (0+ / 0-)

            I've supported impeachment since Bush v. Gore. Can we maybe agree to disagree about the likelihood of its happening without going directly to the "ooh you're so impure" line of yammering?

            Thanks for your understanding.

            "How eager you are to be slaves." - Emperor Tiberius to the Senate of Rome, in response to their offer to pass any legislation he wished.

            by MBNYC on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 06:54:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Why go for impeachment when... (0+ / 0-)

        Neither Massa nor Sullivan would be in office concurrently with Bush? That's like campaigning on ending the war in Vietnam

  •  I'm very excited (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    To have you as out next congressman here in the 29th. Each time I've spoken with you I've gotten more and more enthusiastic about the prospect of having a representative that actually listens to his constituents. Great point of view on the FISA bill and I hope you continue to be on the right side of these progressive issues.

  •  How do you think (0+ / 0-)

    Hillary would have/will vote.

    Do you think she would have voted differently if she were the nominee as opposed to her current status as a Senator?

    Overthrow the Government ~Vote~

    by missliberties on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 06:00:53 AM PDT

  •  Thanks For Posting This (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rolet, mrchumchum

    This is a good, common sense reason to oppose the FISA bill as it was passed.

    Here's something I've wondered about.

    While our current Supreme Court tends a bit on the "constructionist" side, they have shown occasional bouts of wisdom ( Re: Recent Gitmo decision ).  It is clear that the court truly believes (at least in a 5-4 sort of way) that this administration has gone beyond its constitutional authority in prosecuting the "War On Terror."

    Do you suppose there's any hope there?  I have heard numerous folks justifying their opposition to FISA on the grounds that it violates the spirit (if not the letter, and maybe even the letter) of the Fourth Amendment.  Perhaps someone could challenge the provision that allows the courts to throw out the civil suits on those grounds re: Congress cannot empower courts to waive people's fourth amendment rights?

    I know it's a longshot, but most of the FISA articles we're reading are about the past.  The reality is this thing passed and it's going to be law.  Apart from electing more constitutionally minded people to congress, where do we go from here?

    ---- now they sit and rattle their bones and think of their bloodstone days...

    by TooFolkGR on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 06:08:15 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for all the work you are doing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rolet, testvet6778

    to take our country back from the neofascists. Best wishes.

    Anyone who fails to see the historical parallels between Blackwater & the Nazi SS, or the DHS & the Gestapo, needs a serious reality check.

    by Randgrithr on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 06:18:30 AM PDT

  •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

    for writing this. I have spent days reading the bill, reading others positions and reading the original FISA.  I wanted to try and educate myself, and you have written in great laymans terms...

    Please clarify for me if possible, that the bill is bad (EXCLUDING IMMUNITY), with some problems that really need to be addressed, and some of those problems were in the original FISA...correct?

    And, even though the bill is bad it sounds the biggest problem (excluding immunity) is the possibility of abuse of power, Correct?

    That, as bad as this bill is it is NOT a wholesale "gutting of the constitution" as so many here are insisting, it instead has the "slippery slope" possibility...correct?

    I want really bad to clarify this to myself, so I can defend or object properly to some of the more viterol statements that are making the rounds here these last few days on this topic.

  •  "Principled" votes aren't cutting it anymore (4+ / 0-)

    First off, thanks for the diary, Mr. Massa.  It is always nice to hear from candidates.

    But let me cut to the chase.  Grassroots Dems are getting tired of FAILURE.  We want representatives who do more than hold the right positions and make "principled" votes in defeat.

    John Hall is my Rep.  I'm glad that he was on the right side of this vote and I am not here to attack him.  But, at the end of the day, his vote was meaningless.  It doesn't matter if the bill passed by one vote or unanimously.

    This FISA disaster was engineered by the leadership of the party.  Harry Reid.  Steny Hoyer.  Nancy Pelosi.  And yes, with his approval if not encouragement, Barack Obama.

    I can't vote for the Congressional leadership.  So I expect my representatives to exercise their votes wisely.  It isn't enough for Hall to oppose this bill.  He better well vote for new leadership at the next opportunity.

    And if you are elected, I expect the same.

  •  McGovern Effect (0+ / 0-)

    While it is impossible to fully understand the motivation of some who voted for the renewed FISA Bill, many have written that the vote was taken out of fear that they could be painted as being soft on defense.

    Fear of being painted as "soft on defense" is probably why so many with presidential ambitions voted for the war in Iraq. Gephardt, Kerry, Edwards, Clinton all voted for the war.

    Even though the war is now seen by the American public as a huge mistake, the Dems do not seem to be able to shake the fear of being painted as "soft on defense". Fear that this may affect their electibility has made Dems too weak to vote for a sane foreign policy. Better to destroy another nation and ours in that process than to risk saying no to the war mongering.

    This is the supreme moment for Obama to bring CHANGE to Wahington, but fear he would be painted as soft on defense pragmatism got in the way.

    Good on you Eric for standing up for that silly ol' constitution.

    •  you ascribe (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      your neighbor

      motives to Obama you have no way of knowing he holds; you perceive his statement/psition about FISA bill as 'fear of being painted as soft on defense' but I would describe it as strategy to lay out policy he can work to expand should we/he have the great fortune of being elected as our president; he tends to lean towards civil liberties not away from them or don't you agree?

      Campaign slogan "Nandemo Alifornia" - Arnold Schwarzenegger

      by pollwatch on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 07:01:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It Doesn't Make Sense (0+ / 0-)

        I'm all for electing Obama, considering the other options, he is my choice.

        But I do not get the wait until Obama is president and THEN he will do this or that to make it all better. We already have these rights now. For Congress to legislate them away and for us to expect Obama to get them back after the election does not make sense.

        •  well (0+ / 0-)

          I can't make sense of politics at all but I do think that anything that is to have lasting value has to be built step by firm step, a lesson I learned by watching the advances of Clinton/Gore administration be wiped out in the blink of an eye by Bush/neocons and conservative/libertarians; I haven't made it my business to track the professional political engineering of political levee, bridges, and earthquake-secure structures and I don't have the answer to 'what he will do next' to support the argument why it is better to say/do what he proposes now then tack-against the prevailing weight of House and Congress as we see FISA bill shaping up and go full throttle;  

          he seems greatly skilled at politics I'm supporting him though I am disappointed with FISA bill -

          the GOP has succeeded in controlled the executive branch for long long time I think for progressives nothing should stand in way of getting the work done to achieve a Dem-win in November;

          Campaign slogan "Nandemo Alifornia" - Arnold Schwarzenegger

          by pollwatch on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 07:43:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  excuse the (0+ / 0-)

    multiple/gang of comments but your diary raised some questions in my mind on several topics; the principle of privacy has been nearly demised by advanced technology-without-accountability and by infringement of the Constitution in civil life in the name of national security;

    I would give the significant weight to modern technologies that stand in place of 'liberty'  as  more egregious because they involve greater parts of the collective culture than civil liberties infringements, that make moot the principle of 'freedom' from unjust prosecution and incarceration, that involve smaller potential aggregate of individuals; so my point is I would like to see protection of privacy debate to be joined in the area of science-technology natural human rights, and civil-rights bestowed by Constitution;

    sidebar: I have always felt that the attack on women's reproductive rights was made much less significant by pinning it to the GOPconservative frame of judicial legislative powers that argue whether 'her' privacy is or is-not found in the Constitution; her privacy exists along the same lines as freedom did or did not around issue of slavery - - does a slave own their body if it is an economic commodity we concluded obviously not and adapted our constitutional principle of freedom to include owning one's body for people of color and everybody else; if government can impose government regulations on reproductive rights for women it makes the issue one of women sovereignty thru loss of control by degrees over natural reproductive rights that strip women of the ownership of their bodies;

    these issues which government debate under the principle of privacy should be joined not wedged into separate baskets as political add-on value issues;

    Campaign slogan "Nandemo Alifornia" - Arnold Schwarzenegger

    by pollwatch on Mon Jun 23, 2008 at 06:55:01 AM PDT

    •  edit: (0+ / 0-)

      (well it needs more editing than the following)

      the issues of freedom and privacy that governments debate should be joined not wedged into separate baskets as political add-on value issues;

      What makes us one is standing up and fighting for each other's dreams. - Sen. Barack Obama

      by pollwatch on Tue Jun 24, 2008 at 03:42:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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