TELECOM IMMUNITY: The Cover-Up Is Complete

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NEW YORK TIMES: WASHINGTON — More than two and a half years after the disclosure of President’s Bush’s domestic eavesdropping program set off a furious national debate, the Senate gave final approval on Wednesday afternoon to broadening the government’s spy powers and providing legal immunity for the phone companies that took part in the wiretapping program.

The plan, approved by a vote of 69 to 28, marked one of Mr. Bush’s most hard-won legislative victories in a Democratic-led Congress where he has had little success of late. And it represented a stinging defeat for opponents on the left who had urged Democratic leaders to stand firm against the White House after a months-long impasse. “I urge my colleagues to stand up for the rule of law and defeat this bill,” Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said in closing arguments. But Senator Christopher S. Bond, the Missouri Republican who is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there was nothing to fear in the bill “unless you have Al Qaeda on your speed dial.”silence2.jpg

Supporters of the plan, which revised the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, said that the final vote reflected both political reality and legal practicality. Wiretapping orders approved by a secret court under the previous version of the surveillance law were set to begin expiring in August unless Congress acted, and many Democrats were wary of going into their political convention in Denver next month with the issue hanging over them—handing the Republicans a potent political weapon. So instead, Congress approved what amounted to the biggest restructuring of federal surveillance law in 30 years, giving the government more latitude to eavesdrop on targets abroad and at home who are suspected of links to terrorism.

The issue put Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in a particularly precarious spot. After long opposing the idea of immunity for the phone companies in the wiretapping operation, he voted for the plan on Wednesday. His reversal last month angered many of his most ardent supporters, who organized an unsuccessful drive to get him to reverse his position once again. And it came to symbolize what civil liberties advocates saw as “capitulation” by Democratic leaders to political pressure from the White House in an election year. MORE

THE EVIL DOER: I know this physical equipment. It copies everything. There’s no selection of anything, at all — the splitter copies entire data streams from the internet, phone conversations, e-mail, web-browsing. Everything.

BREAKING: S&P ENTERS BEAR MARKET AS STOCKS PLUNGE

bearhead-for-bumper-sticker.thumbnail.jpgHalf an hour was all it took for a dreary day on Wall Street to turn dire. The Dow Jones industrials fell 75 points in the last minutes of trading on Wednesday, sending the blue-chip index to its lowest close of the year. It finished down 236.77 points, or 2.1 percent, at 11,147.44. The sell-off marked the third consecutive day of volatility in the stock markets and reflected the continuing anxiety among investors about recent troubles at mortgage lenders. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 29.01 points, or 2.3 percent, to 1,244.69, entering its first official bear market since 2002. Freddie Mac, the big buyer of home mortgages, was the worst performing stock in the S.& P. 500. Its shares lost 23.8 percent, or $3.20, to hit $10.26 a share. Freddie’s stock has lost a quarter of its total value over the last week alone. Fannie Mae, Freddie’s sister company, tumbled 13.1 percent, or $2.31, to $15.31 a share. Its stock is down 16 percent since last Thursday. These numbers were nearly unimaginable just weeks ago. [via NEW YORK TIMES]

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