Anniversary on the Eve of an Election

October 25, 2016

Today is an important anniversary: 15 years ago on October 25, Senator Russ Feingold was the lone senator to vote against the so-called PATRIOT Act. GetFISARight was not yet a group then; the FISA vote that sparked our formation was far in the future. Now, we are little more than a WordPress site and a Twitter account—and Russ is running to take back his seat. When Sen. Feingold ran for reëlection in 2010 at the height of the Tea Party movement, this group actively supported him; we and many others were disapointed when his principled refusal to take DNC or SuperPAC money resulted in a loss. (Remember, with John McCain in earlier days [2002], he cowrote the McCain-Feingold Act [a.k.a. the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act]; holding true to his principles was certainly a factor in, if not solely responsible for, costing him his reëlection).

Now, Sen. Feingold is looking to return to Washington, and despite what we have learned about the abuse and misuse of a bill rushed through just weeks after the shock of “9/11”, as that horrible series of events has come to be called, he is still being criticized for refusing his vote on that day. Despite improvements in the originally-proposed text, he stood by his defense of the need for proper process even, maybe especially, in dangerous times.

So, here we are approaching Election Day 2016; standing by our previous endorsement (without consultation with my colleagues on this page, as we are rarely in touch, but with trust that they agree), I encourage all to celebrate this anniversary by doing something to support Russ Feingold’s campaign—send an e-mail, make a call, post a Tweet, send a dollar to Russ’s campaign, make a profile picture honoring his integrity—your choice!
Here is a link to an article about his electoral race: http://tinyurl.com/zl7by8p

For those Bernie Sanders fans among us, here is a quotation from that article:

On Oct. 5, during a speech in Madison, Sanders said “Russ and I have worked together for years and I can not wait, believe me, to see him back at my side in the U.S. Senate. And when we talk about issues you, what you know, and what Russ know’s is this movement towards oligarchy. There are too many billionaires controlling this country. The Koch brothers and others have bought the United States Government.” Sanders continued, “Maybe I’m old fashioned but I kind of believe democracy is one person one vote, not billionaires electing their candidates.”

I remain on Senator Feingold’s e-mail list to this day; unable to find this text elsewhere in order to link to it, I reproduce it here:

On this day 1‌5 yea‌rs ago, I was the sole member of the United States Senate to vote against the Patriot Act. And, 1‌5 years later, I am still being attacked for my vote.

When I cast that vote, only si‌x we‌eks had passed since the horrendous attacks on 9‌/‌11. Initially, I wanted to vote for an early version of the bill, which I believed protected individuals civil liberties while also updating our laws to account for new technologies.

But then, the Bush administration held secret meetings, took shortcuts, and introduced a new version of the Patriot Act that couldn’t be changed. This isn’t how our democracy should operate: Behind closed doors and without transparency. It was outrageous.

The final version of the Patriot Act gave the federal government far too much power to spy on the American people. Congress held its breath and crossed its fingers that this power wouldn’t get abused, and the bill was passed.

When I voted no, I voted my conscience, and I voted to do right by the people of Wisconsin and the people of America. I voted no because national security and civil liberties should not be mutually exclusive — and should be beyond partisan politics.

Now, 1‌5 ye‌ars later, Senator Ron Johnson and his allies are still attacking my vote against the Patriot Act. If Senator Johnson and his super PACs were listening to the people of Wisconsin, they would know one thing: their attacks won’t work.

There are just over tw‌o wee‌ks left in this campaign. It’s going to take the full force of this grassroots team to combat all these outrageous right-wing attacks and win this race.

I did not include the donation link, but Sen. Feingold’s campaign site is russfeingold.com

My penultimate item is a link to the text of Sen. Feingold’s speech 15 years ago: http://tinyurl.com/zl7by8p

Then, I close with a section of Sen. Feingold’s speech—the section on the specific cause that brought this group together, getting FISA right:

I am also very troubled by the broad expansion of government power under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA. When Congress passed FISA in 1978 it granted to the executive branch the power to conduct surveillance in foreign intelligence investigations without meeting the rigorous probable cause standard under the Fourth Amendment that is required for criminal investigations. There is a lower threshold for obtaining a wiretap order from the FISA court because the FBI is not investigating a crime, it is investigating foreign intelligence activities. But the law currently requires that intelligence gathering be the primary purpose of the investigation in order for this lower standard to apply.

This bill changes that requirement. The government now will only have to show that intelligence is a “significant purpose” of the investigation. So even if the primary purpose is a criminal investigation, the heightened protections of the Fourth Amendment won’t apply.

It seems obvious that with this lower standard, the FBI will try to use FISA as much as it can. And of course, with terrorism investigations that won’t be difficult, because the terrorists are apparently sponsored or at least supported by foreign governments. This means that the fourth amendment rights will be significantly curtailed in many investigations of terrorist acts.

The significance of the breakdown of the distinction between intelligence and criminal investigations becomes apparent when you see the other expansions of government power under FISA in this bill. One provision that troubles me a great deal is a provision that permits the government under FISA to compel the production of records from any business regarding any person, if that information is sought in connection with an investigation of terrorism or espionage.

Now we’re not talking here about travel records pertaining to a terrorist suspect, which we all can see can be highly relevant to an investigation of a terrorist plot. FISA already gives the FBI the power to get airline, train, hotel, car rental and other records of a suspect.

But under this bill, the government can compel the disclosure of the personal records of anyone – perhaps someone who worked with, or lived next door to, or went to school with, or sat on an airplane with, or has been seen in the company of, or whose phone number was called by — the target of the investigation.

And under this new provisions all business records can be compelled, including those containing sensitive personal information like medical records from hospitals or doctors, or educational records, or records of what books someone has taken out of the library. This is an enormous expansion of authority, under a law that provides only minimal judicial supervision.

Under this provision, the government can apparently go on a fishing expedition and collect information on virtually anyone. All it has to allege in order to get an order for these records from the court is that the information is sought for an investigation of international terrorism or clandestine intelligence gathering. That’s it. On that minimal showing in an ex parte application to a secret court, with no showing even that the information is relevant to the investigation, the government can lawfully compel a doctor or hospital to release medical records, or a library to release circulation records. This is a truly breathtaking expansion of police power.

Onward together!


Well, here we are.

May 26, 2011

Down to the wire.  I am as guilty, or guiltier, than anyone reading this.  Yes, I have been active on some issues.  Yes, others have fallen through the cracks.  When the final vote is taken, if it is not over as I write this, it will in part be my fault.  If there is still time,   CALL! WRITE! E-MAIL!  I will be doing so later tonight.

We had three months.  It is virtually gone.  Support Russ FEiongold for senator or governor, should there be a recall election, support Al Franken on virtually everything he does, and even thank Rand Paul for being a holdout on this.  There are some things that Libertarians have absolutely right.


We can be proud

November 3, 2010

By: Thomas Nephew

Obviously, it’s not a happy day: Feingold lost the Wisconsin Senate race, by a 52-47 margin. I’m not a Wisconsinite — maybe Harry can tell us more — but it looks like a standard issue urban-rural divide on the map at the linked CNN page.   If the map were set up to do so, I imagine the reds might be a little redder and the blues a little paler than in previous years.

What can I say?  I think the people of Wisconsin made a mistake yesterday — but I’m sure we did not.   We needn’t be sad – it’s understandable, I feel it, too, but it does no good if we indulge it for too long.

Instead, we can be proud.  Proud of the best Senator in the Senate, proud of standing by him, proud of knowing we did what we could when a tsunami of anonymous cash and propaganda came crashing in; proud of each other.  I know I am. Thanks very much for reading, for contributing to the “Get FISA Right With Russ Feingold” campaign — 63 donations! $3,351 dollars!! in just over a month!!! — and thanks for everything else all of you have done in so many other ways.

Let’s take stock, figure out what to do next, and do it.  Please consider this an invitation to think out loud about that with the rest of us.


So it turns out there are four Harmony, Wisconsins: phonebanking for Russ

October 27, 2010
Building votes for Russ
A good evening’s work done

By: Thomas Nephew

I went through a phonebank orientation for Russ Feingold remote phonebankers yesterday, and did four hours of remote location phonebanking tonight.

Tell you what: I’ll do four more on Thursday — but maybe you can make an hourly pledge in the comments and then go straight to the Get FISA Right with Russ Feingold fundraising page and make your contribution.

The orientation was attended by at least twenty(!!) people from around the country on a conference call. To get signed up for an orientation, call (414) 727-5682. You’ll get an 800 number and an access code to join the conference call.

Our orientation guy was very good: concise, enthusiastic, organized. He sent materials by email so we had an agenda is and a handout describing the online data entry system to look at.   Obviously, with a week to go before the election, I think it’s safe to say the campaign is thinking about getting out the vote (GOTV) — i.e., Lincoln’s old line “find out who your friends are and get them out to vote.”

And that proved remarkably easy in the phone calls I made.  When I actually reached someone — as ever, maybe 40 percent of the time — it was almost always “Oh yes!” “Straight Democratic ticket!”... “I’ve always voted for Russ!”“We’ll be there!” Some said they’d vote early or absentee, some said they’d vote on Election Day — a sentiment I understand, since I kind of like voting that day too.

Needless to say, some people hung up on me or weren’t thrilled about calls later in the evening. Also, a small fraction turned out to be wavering or undecided voters. Occasionally, people would need to know where to vote early — almost always City Hall or “Village Hall” — and I’d go to one of the votenowwisconsin.com tabs I’d set up for the locales I seemed to be calling — Edgerton, Evansville, Milton, some others.  One of them was from Harmony, WI — and to my befuddlement, four of those showed up.  Wisconsin is clearly a very harmonious state!

Goal Thermometer

The “VoteBuilder” online data entry software works superbly and the data are well maintained — meaning there were never times where the number was wrong, though (again, as ever) there were often times where it was disconnected or not in service. Once one call was over, you entered the “not home” or “support”/”early vote” information, saved, and got a new person to call. Nice features: (1) sometimes other persons in the household were listed, so you could switch gears and ask for Joe instead of Betty Smith; (2) a “note” field let you describe what happened in the call if need be — wants a yard sign, etc.

Folks, I promise this $3,000 goal is the final one — and we’re very, very close.  Could we push it over the top sooner rather than later, so the Feingold campaign has just a little more to work with between now and Election Day?  Let’s support Feingold one more time.    Thanks!


“Seems odd”: the final Feingold-Johnson debate

October 24, 2010

By: Thomas Nephew

The third and final debate between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson was held on Friday night at Marquette University; moderator Mike Gousha posed some questions himself, and citizens from around the state added those of their own. The roughly ninety minute debate can be seen online in two parts provided by television station WISN. As the Associated Press report relayed by WISN noted, Feingold’s primary tactic was to suggest his opponent remained an unknown quantity:

Feingold accused his opponent at least half a dozen times of ducking questions by resorting to vague cliches instead of offering specific arguments. “I’ve never seen a larger gap between questions and what’s said in response than any debate I’ve ever been in,” he said. Feingold said he himself offered specifics, for example a 41-point plan to help control federal spending. Johnson said the plan would cut $25 billion per year at a time when the deficit is $1,400 billion. That “doesn’t cut it,” he said. Feingold shot back that at least he’s providing a plan, whereas his opponent hadn’t done even that.

The debate was also characterized by an almost exclusive focus on the economy and the federal budget. In fact, foreign policy only barely made it into the debate, as moderator Rousha’s final questions: “How long should American troops remain in Afghanistan?” , and “besides the terrorist threat represented by Al Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups, what concerns you most in foreign policy, what keeps you up at night?”

I’ve appended these exchanges to the transcripts of the two prior debates — but both candidates gave essentially the same answers they did in those debates: Johnson felt the war in Afghanistan should continue as long as required to deny it as a haven to Al Qaeda, while Feingold urged a timetable for withdrawal. Likewise, both candidates agreed that Iran was a threat — and Feingold once again made clear he had no qualms even about supporting a military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Johnson added North Korea — and then added, “That’s one of the reasons we should not have moved the missile shield from the Czech Republic and Poland. That was a real mistake.”

That gave Feingold the chance to observe — with a priceless, puzzled expression — “If your concern is North Korea and Iran, I don’t know how a missile shield relating to Russia is the answer. Seems odd.”

Not if you’re Ron Johnson — who seems to specialize in non sequitur answers to every issue of the day: tax cuts for the wealthy as part of a plan to return budgets to balance; opposing the stimulus bill to return America to prosperity, scrapping health care reforms and starting from scratch because health care is that important.

Goal Thermometer
Support Russ Feingold now!

The good news is that Feingold has pulled into a statistical tie with Johnson according to a recent Wisconsin poll. The bad news, of course, is that the political climate is such that Feingold has needed to come back at all to get to this point, and that the election remains a toss-up, given the vastly unequal resources being spent on it.

But for those of us who value Feingold as a consistent voice for civil liberties and for a rational foreign policy, this debate and those before it should also be troubling in other ways.

First, it’s telling that not a single citizen question focused on either of those issues. While an economy that remains frail at best is undoubtedly going to be uppermost in people’s minds, the side effect is to relegate fundamental questions of war and peace, liberty and security to the back burner at best — or to some forgotten jar in the cupboard at worst.

Second, should Johnson win, he has given ample signals (e.g., repeated, Cheney-esque emphases on missile defense and “very strong intelligence capability”) of being a nearly 180 degree turnaround from Feingold’s positions. Johnson stands for a return (to the extent we’ve even managed to leave it behind) to the Bush-Cheney vision of America as a kind of militant Stratofortress, intervening and bombing wherever there’s even the prospect of enemies finding a haven. Not only that, but with his view that Senators should discuss such matters in private, rather than take public stands, Johnson affirmatively believes in permanently relegating such issues to “back burner” or “forgotten” status.


Still the right symbol for
“Get FISA Right”?

Finally — and this is simply my personal opinion, not one that should unduly influence allied groups like “Get FISA Right” or others — we should recognize that we need not always fully agree with even a Senator we esteem as highly as we do Russ Feingold, just as we don’t always agree (to put it mildly) with President Barack Obama’s decisions before and after assuming office. If the past ten years have shown anything, it’s that peace, security, and civil liberties are closely connected issues. It may be time to put our own allegiances to to civil liberties and to peace ahead of those to parties, men, and campaign slogans or insignia when the situation calls for that.

To get to the point, as scary as Iran could be with nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union was scary too — and we emerged from that era with our planet intact and our hands clean of beginning at least that war. There is little we could do that would more certainly guarantee Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons than attacking their enrichment facilities; those facilities are dual-use, to be sure — but one of those uses is legitimate. Nuances get lost in debates, but Feingold’s repeated insistence that “nothing is off the table” with respect to Iran are words he may want to have back some day, just as many of us wish we hadn’t supported the Iraq War at any juncture. Let’s hope we don’t have to repeat the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan — with the people of yet another country paying the fullest price for it, but ourselves paying ever higher prices in fear and curtailed liberties as well.

All that said, I have no doubt whatsoever which man I’d rather have in the Senate if this issue is debated. We need Senators like Russ Feingold who aren’t just willing to say “seems odd” about the non sequiturs of men like Johnson now or Bush and Cheney in the past, but to speak out against and vote against their plans. I continue to be proud to support the most independent, principled, liberty-defending man in the Senate: Russ Feingold. Let’s continue to stand by him in every way we can.


Stand By Me

October 17, 2010

OVER TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS raised for Senator Russ Feingold — and counting! We are standing with our friends. We are standing with Senator Feingold. And we are standing tall for civil liberties, the rule of law, and for real democracy.

To all the good people who make up “Get FISA Right” — give yourselves a huge round of applause.


$1,550 and counting!

October 14, 2010

Jim Morrison of the Doors celebrates reaching our $1500 goal with a little song he wrote: