S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's the matter with California?

California is often at the center of technological progress. But that can be risky business as the burst of the dot-com bubble illustrates. California is also the home of a number of Democratic women legislators to whom we look for progressive national leadership. Today's post focuses on the risks posed by two of these lawmakers' blurring the lines of demarcation between the nation's interest and special interests.
The big western state is also a center for defense contracting. That turned out to be risky business for a leading defense contractor, Boeing, despite the fact that the corporation resides in U.S. Democratic Representative Jane Harman's California district. The New York Times recently published a lengthy investigative article about the birth and death of a very expensive proposed new family of spy satellites. To quote:
It took two more years, several more review panels and billions more dollars before the government finally killed the project — perhaps the most spectacular and expensive failure in the 50-year history of American spy satellite projects. The story behind that failure has remained largely hidden, like much of the workings of the nation’s intelligence establishment.

But an investigation by The New York Times found that the collapse of the project, at a loss of at least $4 billion, was all but inevitable — the result of a troubled partnership between a government seeking to maintain the supremacy of its intelligence technology, but on a constrained budget, and a contractor all too willing to make promises it ultimately could not keep.

. . . the panel genuinely thought the project could be saved. Several members, though, said the group should have called for ending the program but stopped short because of its powerful supporters in Congress and the Bush administration. Among the most influential was Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, whose Southern California district includes the Boeing complex where the satellites were being assembled.

The death sentence for F.I.A. was finally written in 2005. Another review board pronounced the program deeply flawed and said propping it up would require another $5 billion — raising the ante to $18 billion — and five more years. And even with that life support, Mr. Fitzgerald recalled, the panel was not confident that Boeing could come through.
Self-evaluation? One of the most damaging developments in the world of privatization has been the practice of leaving the evaluation of a military project's progress to the corporation doing the work. To quote further from the NYT story:
Despite its relative inexperience, Boeing was given responsibility for monitoring its own work, under a new government policy of shifting control of big military projects to contractors. At the same time, the satellite agency, hobbled by budget cuts and the loss of seasoned staff members, lacked the expertise to make sound engineering evaluations of its own.
We look to Congressional oversight and program evaluation as a crucial part of the protection we expect will keep us safe and maintain government solvency. Congress has another primary responsibility, that of guarding our Fourth Amendment civil liberties protections. So far it is in danger of failing at that responsibility. Now we are being told that we may need to redefine privacy. This morning's My Way News headline reads, "Government seeks to redefine privacy." To quote:
A top intelligence official says it is time people in the United States changed their definition of privacy. Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, a deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguards people's private communications and financial information.

Kerr's comments come as Congress is taking a second look at the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act. . . The most contentious issue in the new legislation is whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly giving the government access to people's private e-mails and phone calls without a court order between 2001 and 2007.

Some lawmakers, including members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appear reluctant to grant immunity. Suits might be the only way to determine how far the government has burrowed into people's privacy without court permission.

. . . The central witness in a California lawsuit against AT&T says the government is vacuuming up billions of e-mails and phone calls as they pass through an AT&T switching station in San Francisco. Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, helped connect a device in 2003 that he says diverted and copied onto a government supercomputer every call, e-mail, and Internet site access on AT&T lines.
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) serves on two of the key committees wrestling with fixing the flawed Protect America Act's amendment of the FISA law. Her vote on granting immunity to telecom companies who assisted the government to spy on its citizens is a huge disappointment. Glenn Greenwald at has put up an interesting post that sheds much light on Feinstein's possible conflict of interest. To quote Greenwald:
And now, Feinstein is using her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee -- simultaneously -- to single-handedly ensure fulfillment of Bush's telecom amnesty demands.

. . . I wrote about Feinstein at length a month ago here, including all the ways her administration-coddling and courting of intelligence officials benefits her defense-contractor-husband. But still, this recent behavior is really amazing.

Feinstein is not merely voting reliably for the most extremist Bush policies, though she is doing that. Far more than that, she has become, time and again, the linchpin of Bush's ability to have his most radical policies approved by the Senate.

. . . UPDATE: Feinstein herself spent inordinate sums of money from corporate donors in 2006 to ensure she was re-elected, so she is not up for re-election until 2012 (when she'll be 80). Hopefully, though, the ethics process relating to her highly questionable behavior in directing multi-billion-dollar defense contracts to her husband's companies will proceed in earnest.
What's the matter with California? Not a thing! It is one of my favorite states in the union. I would live there if I could afford it. I love its vibrancy, its gorgeous geography, its expansiveness and its modernity. But I have not always loved the way these, some of my favorite lawmakers, have behaved. I did not love it when Speaker Pelosi "took impeachment off the table" regarding our current president. I sort of understand that Boeing was one of Jane Harman's constituents, because its spy satellite rival, Lockheed Martin, resides in my district. But it really matters to me that Senator Feinstein has abandoned her unique opportunity to stand firm for the Constitution for us. Her justifications for recent votes do not hold up, as Glenn Greenwald so clearly points out.
Recent S/SW posts related to these interconnected subjects of intelligence, technology, war and the Democratic women upon whom we depend.
(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)
Technorati tags:

No comments: