On Tuesday, February 12, the United States Senate passed the Protect American Act with telecom amnesty. You can get a more in depth analysis thanks to the invaluable Glenn Greenwald, here.
Since the last time I wrote the Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats struck a deal on all of the pending amendments. The amendments either needed the usual fifty votes to pass or in special occasions they required sixty votes to pass. So, for example, the Dodd amendment that would strip the bill of telecom amnesty only required fifty votes, since the Republicans figured they could get enough Democrats to go against the rule of law, but another amendment by Diane Feinstein that would have review of any illegal activity conducted by the FISA courts themselves behind closed doors, required sixty votes because Democrats might actually vote for it. Sure enough, the Feinstein amendment received over fifty but less than sixty votes. In other words, the Democrats agreed to a deal where they increased the number of necessary votes for certain amendments to make sure the bill passed the Senate in the shape the president wanted it.
Well, is that it, have the telephone companies gotten away with breaking the law? Not quite, thanks to a bicameral legislature it still has to pass the House.
Luckily, the House actually has a spine and allowed the Protect America Act to expire rather than pass a permanent law that included telecom amnesty. This means the U.S. can still gather intelligence under FISA and despite what the fear mongers in Washington like to say, we can still listen in on potential enemies even if we have to go through the pesky "judicial branch" and respect "separation of power."
If you are listening to the Republicans then you might think that Osama Bin Laden can waltz right across our boarders and steal the secret Bush's Baked Bean recipe (yes, that's right, Duke is a part of Al Qaeda). This is obvious fear mongering and it's a wonder it has not been called out as obvious fear mongering more often. Maybe this small amount of defiance from the House will teach other Democrats that all they have to do is make their case to the American people, and when they do the world will not explode. Maybe other Democrats will realize that you don't have to do everything Bush tells you to in order to look "tough on terror." Maybe? Or maybe it's too much to ask.