(Last updated: Sunday March 12 @ 2:02 pm Penna. time)
The Roots ProjectThe Roots Project is a coordinated effort by national and local bloggers to develop the netroots in each state, and convert them into what I call "netboots" -- local citizen advocates who are informed and empowered by the Internet but doing their work in an old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground, "analog" way by writing letters to the editor, calling and emailing their own representatives, etc. You can get more of a sense of what the Roots Project is about by reading this post and following the links it contains for the other organizers' thoughts.
Today, the Roots Project bloggers are rolling out a new effort: Roots Project Pennsylvania. The immediate goal: to encourage Pennsylvanians, and people with roots in Pennsylvania, to sound off about the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearings concerning the NSA's unconstitutional, invasive, warrantless surveillance program.
The Senate Intelligence Committee just caved in to White House pressure to whitewash the program. Now the fight to protect our rights and privacy moves to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Arlen Specter (R-PA), who also is the author of proposed legislation to establish a minimal amount of judicial oversight over the NSA program, legislation which I consider to be a whitewash and an abdication of the Congress' Constitutional oversight responsibilities. Sen. Specter is in the key position to either whitewash the issue, or take decisive action to impose some needed oversight on a White House that sincerely believes -- and has, albeit in legalistic lingo, actually said -- that it's above the law.
The IssuesThere are several issues Sen. Specter's constituents might be concerned about:
-- His proposed legislation would ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") secret judges (yes, in America we have secret judges) to oversee the NSA program. But FISA already requires the NSA to submit such programs to those judges; what does Specter's legislation add? And the White House has already stated its view that the President is not obliged to follow laws, or submit to Congressional oversight, if he thinks that an intelligence operation is needed for national security, and has instructed the NSA to IGNORE the FISA Court in conducting surveillance; what guarantees that the White House would abide by Specter's proposed law any more than it abided by FISA in the first place?
-- His proposed legislation does nothing to learn whether there are other, similar programs in place; what does he intend to do to investigate that possibility (which has been hinted at by everyone from whistleblowers to the Attorney General)?
-- His proposed legislation helps protect suspected terrorists by giving their surveillance judicial review (after a while!), but does little to protect innocent Americans' privacy from government intrustion.
-- His proposed legislation does nothing to learn what the NSA program actually entails, and the White House's witnesses about it have been evasive and inconsistent. How can he write legislation without holding hearings to learn what the activity is he's trying to regulate? Although the White House claims the NSA only eavesdrops on communications where one of the parties is a suspected terrorist, there are reports of eavesdropping on purely domestic conversations, such as ones between American organizations and their American lawyers. Aren't hearings, with witnesses under oath, needed to determine which story is true?
-- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the Judiciary Committee in January, then sent a letter of "clarification" that contradicted much of his testimony and reopened the possibility that there are several surveillance programs that are spying on American citizens without warrants. Will the Attorney General be recalled before the Committee? Will he be PLACED UNDER OATH this time? (The Republicans on the Committee keep voting not to require witnesses they consider friendly, whether they be government officials or business executives, to be placed under oath. That favoritism should stop, especially when the witness' testimony concerns national security and Americans' civil rights.)
More Info and Other BlogsYou can read more about the Judiciary Committee's role in this drama, and the issues at stake, at Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory, Jane Hamsher and ReddHedd's firedoglake, John Amato's Crooks & Liars, and several fine Pennsylvania blogs, including Dan Schultz' Street Prophets, PSoTD's eponymous blog PSoTD, Smintheus, and Rowhouse Logic. Other blogs participating in the Pennsylvania Roots Project include The Left Coaster and Lambert at Corrente. Update: more blogs on RP-PA, and a link to the recent Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, can be found here.
The PlanWhat are we asking you to do? Easy stuff:
1. Read some more about the issues, using the links above.
2. Tell anyone you know who has roots in Pennsylvania about our effort, and send them here.
3. If you live in Pennsylvania or have roots there, submit letters to the editor to Pennsylvania newspapers giving your views of the NSA matter and saying how you'd like Senator Specter to handle it, including holding thorough hearings, placing witnesses under oath for a change, including Congress in any future oversight instead of just a secret court, and anything else you think is important. Use your own thoughts, use your own words.
4. If you live in Pennsylvania or have roots there, tell Sen. Specter how you feel directly, by contacting both his D.C. and Pennsylvania district offices. (If you don't think constituent calls make a difference, please read this.)
5. If you don't have any connections with Pennsylvania, call your own Senators (Senate switchboard 888-355-3588) and write to your own newspapers, to tell them what you think. That won't pressure Sen. Specter directly, but it will influence the direction Congress takes, and it lays the groundwork for when the Roots Project makes it to your state -- which, over the next few weeks or months, it definitely will.
A list of Pennsylvania newspapers, compiled by diligent Pennsylvanians Dan Schultz and rkrider, can be found here.
Senator Specter's contact information follows:
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate switchboard: 888-355-3588
Sen. Specter's D.C. office direct line: 202-224-4254
Allentown office telephone: 610-434-1444
Erie office telephone: 814-453-3010
Harrisburg office telephone: 717-782-3951
Philadelphia office telephone: 215-597-7200
Pittsburgh office telephone: 412-644-3400
Scranton office telephone: 570-346-2006
Wilkes-Barre office telephone: 570-826-6265
Sen. Specter's D.C. office fax: 202-228-1229
Allentown office fax: 610-434-1844
Erie office fax: 814-455-9925
Harrisburg office fax: 717-782-4920
Philadelphia office fax: 215-597-0406
Pittsburgh office fax: 412-644-4871
Scranton office fax: 570-346-8499
Wilkes-Barre office fax: 570-826-6266
Email Sen. Specter (Webmail link)
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Give Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel a piece of your mind for voting against NSA hearings.
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