Fiscal Cliff? “Freedom Cliff” Gives OK to a Little New Year’s Eavesdropping


So how does anyone really understand the GOP’s side on the Fiscal Cliff talks?

I wouldn’t get too wrapped up with it, if I were you.

Imagine John Boehner as Grandmaster Flash rapping, “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge.”

And then maybe, because you know he’s really doing some form of political karaoke, you realize it’s OK to give him the push he says he doesn’t want.

It’s called “calling his bluff,” and if you want to read the strategy behind giving the GOP a hard shove, Robert Reich has an excellent explanation of the game theory behind it all, and why it might not be so bad to start the New Year with a plunge.

As the scenario plays out, the Republicans have no Plan B, except to try to extract more concessions and delay compromise. President Obama shouldn’t have to give in any more than he already has. Putting seniors and the poor at risk is not a winning strategy for either party.

But at some point in 2013 (if not sooner), the GOP intransigence will be untenable, and a compromise will be reached with fiscal fixes retroactive back to the start of all the nonsense.

Retroactivity is the magic do-over when you do nothing. And that looks like where we’re heading.

Of course, December 31st also means other deadlines are at hand. And while the fiscal cliff has dominated media space not preserved for celebrities named Kardashian, the obsession presumes as a citizenry we’re more sensitive to having less money.

What about less freedom?


While the Fiscal Cliff “debate” takes place over the weekend, it’s interesting to see how few people are paying attention to what I call the “Freedom Cliff” debate.

Maybe it’s because we’re already over that cliff and have been free-falling since 2008 when Congress passed what were known as the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments of 2008– the laws that enabled the Bush National Security Agency to conduct warrantless wiretaps.

Warrantless wiretaps?

Wait a minute, isn’t there a law–the Fourth Amendment comes to mind–that specifically states you need a warrant for that kind of invasive action? Of course, there is. But in the name of fighting terrorism, we dispense with such details, first during the Bush-Cheney years, and now under President Obama.

If you recall the debate in 2008, Democrats reluctantly went along with the FISA Amendments at the time, saying that the law was limited and that when it came to an end in four years, we could easily rectify things by simply ending it.

Here’s what Senator Obama had to say about the law back then, as reported by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian (UK) :

“I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn’t have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush’s abuse of executive power… .

I do so [vote for the FISA bill] with the firm intention – once I’m sworn in as president – to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”

Well, now Obama is in charge, the Republicans are gone, and the discussion is not about ending it, but extending it–without any changes.

Civil liberties? According to TIME‘s Man of the Year, everything is A-OK.

Still, a few liberal Democrats led by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden are asking for some new amendments to the amendments that would make the government’s actions more transparent. Specifically, Wyden’s asking for the government to say exactly how many Americans are under surveillance. And he’d like the government at least to acknowledge that there is a Fourth Amendment requirement for a warrant for any search on U.S. soil.

Minor points, really. But it’s funny how the Bush-Cheney spirit continues to dominate. Only now it’s in Democratic drag. This week, there was California Senator Dianne Feinstein, doing her best Cheney impression, attacking any changes as ones that would cause “another 9/11.”

The Obama Administration has already given its blessing to a House version to renew FISA without any changes. And the hawkish Obama Democrats in the Senate along with GOP conservatives were ready to follow suit. Remember, we’re already over the Freedom Cliff.

You see, there’s more agreement on the Hill than anyone thinks. The Democrats and the GOP work together just fine–when it suits them.

And that’s really our signal to go party come Monday. Don’t worry about that Fiscal Cliff or any other cliffs we face.

Drink your best champagne. Use the nice dishes. Ultimately, the fix will be in.

But be careful what you say, because the tap will be in too.

The government will still be very capable of a little New Year’s eavesdropping.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
read Emil's bio