Olbermann: Bush push for telco immunity 'textbook example of fascism'
In a blistering condemnation of President Bush's willingness to go to the wall for corporations he relies on to spy on Americans, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann says the president's message in his State of the Union address calling for immunity of telecommunications companies is a "textbook example of fascism."
Bush and Congressional Democrats are in a pitched fight over whether to free telecoms from legal liability as part of an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The president says the companies should be rewarded for their cooperation in the war on terror; critics say legal immunity would preclude any oversight of Bush's warrantless wiretapping program that ensnared US citizens.
Olbermann accused Bush's threat to veto any bill without immunity of aiding the terrorists, when coupled with his threat that failing to act on a permanent FISA expansion would weaken US national security.
"You told Congress, if you do not act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened, and our citizens would be in greater danger," Olbermann said. "Yet you you are willing to weaken that ability. You will subject us, your citizens, to that greater danger. This is simple enough for you to understand. If Congress approves a new FISA act without telecom immunity, and sends it to your desk, and you veto it, you, by your own terms and your own definitions, you will have just sided with the terrorists."
The host further excoriated Bush for refusing to even acknowledge corporate assistance, always couching his calls for immunity by describing companies "believed" or "alleged" to have assisted his still-classified program.
"If you, sir, are asking Congress and us to join you in this shameless, breathless, literal textbook example of fascism, the merged efforts of government and corporations who answer to no government, you still don't have the guts to say the telecom companies did assist you in your efforts?" Olbermann asked. "Will you and the equivocators who surround you like a cocoon never go on the record about anything? Even the stuff you claim to believe in?"
Ironically, Olbermann notes, that Vice President Dick Cheney did go on the record about telecom involvement, when he spoke to conservative talker Rush Limbaugh Wednesday.
"The Vice President probably shouldn’t have phoned in to the Rush Limbaugh Propaganda-Festival yesterday. Sixth sentence out of Mr. Cheney’s mouth: The FISA bill is about, quote, 'retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States,'" Olbermann said. "Oops. Mr. Cheney is something of a loose cannon, of course. But he kind of let the wrong cat out of the bag there."
Some critics dismissed Olbermann as a hyberbolic ranter who relies on over-the-top rhetoric.
"The MSNBC host, who once scolded public figures who use Nazi references, made his own latest invocation of Nazi Germany, as he compared the telecoms to the Krupp family who were convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg," wrote conservative media critic Brad Wilmouth. "Olbermann: 'It begins to look like the bureaucrats of the Third Reich trying to protect the Krupp family industrial giants by literally rewriting the laws of Germany for their benefit. And we know how that turned out. Alfred Krupp and 11 of his directors were convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg.'"
Unable to reach a final agreement on how to update FISA and whether to give immunity to the telecoms, Congress this week passed a 15-day extension to the Protect America Act, a temporary FISA extension forced through Congress just before its August recess.
On Monday, the Senate will resume debate on the FISA expansion, after Republicans backed off their demands that all proposed amendments be subjected to a 60-vote majority, according to Congressional Quarterly. The subscription-only Capitol Hill journal reports:
Three amendments to be voted on next week will address retroactive immunity for companies being sued for allegedly assisting the National Security Agency in its warrantless surveillance program.
One, by Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, would simply remove the immunity provisions, which are a priority for the Bush administration.
Another, by Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would substitute the federal government as the defendant in the lawsuits. Both would only need a simple majority for adoption.
A third, by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would require the companies to justify their actions before the secret FISA court, which would then decide whether immunity was warranted. It would require 60 votes to be adopted.
Some critics see the move as just another GOP gambit to block immunity from passing.
"It seems rather clear what happened here. There are certain amendments that are not going to get even 50 votes -- including the Dodd/Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity out of the bill -- and, for that reason, Republicans were more than willing to agree to a 50-vote threshold, since they know those amendments won't pass even in a simple up-or-down vote," writes Glenn Greenwald, a prominent blogger covering the FISA fight.
"But then, there are other amendments which might be able to get 50 votes, but cannot get 60 votes -- such as Feinstein's amendment to transfer the telecom cases to the FISA court and her other amendment providing that FISA is the "exclusive means" for eavesdropping -- and, thus, those are the amendments for which the GOP insisted upon a 60-vote requirement."
During his comment, Olbermann reiterated the revelation from former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who blew the whistle on his former company's collusion with the National Security Agency, that he connected a "Big Brother machine" to funnel every piece of communication crossing AT&T's wires into an NSA database.
"This isn't about finding that kind of needle in a haystack, this isn't even about finding that haystack" Olbermann said. "This is about scooping up every piece of hay there ever was."
This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast January 31, 2008.