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House Speaker John Boehner calls Edward Snowden a “traitor.” The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, labels his brave whistleblowing “an act of treason.” What about the leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus?

As the largest caucus of Democrats on Capitol Hill, the Progressive Caucus could supply a principled counterweight to the bombast coming from the likes of Boehner and Feinstein. But for that to happen, leaders of the 75-member caucus would need to set a good example by putting up a real fight.

Right now, even when we hear some promising words, the extent of the political resolve behind them is hazy.

“This indiscriminate data collection undermines Americans’ basic freedoms,” Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison said about NSA spying on phone records. He added: “Our citizens’ right to privacy is fundamental and non-negotiable. . . . The program we’re hearing about today seems not to respect that boundary. It, and any other programs the NSA is running with other telecom companies, should end.”

The other co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, Raul Grijalva, was blunt. “A secretive intelligence agency gathering millions of phone records and using them as it sees fit is the kind of excess many of us warned about after the Patriot Act became law,” he said. “Continuing this program indefinitely gives the impression of being under constant siege and needing to know everything at all times to keep us safe, which I find a very troubling view of American security policy.”

And Grijalva said pointedly: “We’re being assured that this is limited, supervised and no big deal. When we heard the same under President Bush, we weren’t comfortable taking his word for it and moving on. I feel the same today.”

The five vice chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are a mixed civil-liberties bag.

Judy Chu of California put out a vapid statement, calling for “release of unclassified reports by the administration on how FISA powers are used” and offering the bromide “need to strike a balance between clandestine efforts and transparency.”

Rhode Island’s David Cicilline called the NSA spying on phone records and the Internet “very disturbing.” But he went on to merely state that “the federal government has a responsibility to both ensure our national security and maintain every citizen's essential right to privacy.”

Michael Honda, who faces a corporate challenger next year in his digital tech-heavy district in the San Jose area, had this to say: “I am deeply disturbed by the National Security Agency's wholesale surveillance of phone and online activity of Americans without just cause. . . . I believe all Americans should be extremely wary of this type of large-scale data gathering of personal, private online data.”

Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, who sits on the Homeland Security Committee in the House, displayed her proficiency at national-security babble while sidestepping huge violations of civil liberties. She touted a need to reduce use of private contractors and “repair deficiencies in the security clearance system.”

Jan Schakowsky, a representative from Chicago who’s a member of the House Intelligence Committee, put out a statement saying: “I have had longstanding concerns with the broad surveillance powers Congress has given intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency.”

But nice-sounding statements don’t cause big changes in policies.

If the past is any guide, leaders and other members of the Progressive Caucus will periodically say things that appeal to progressive constituencies back home -- without throwing down the gauntlet and battling an administration that has made clear its contempt for essential civil liberties.

The potential and the problem are perhaps best symbolized by the Progressive Caucus whip, Barbara Lee of California, arguably the strongest progressive in the House.

Lee provided a good statement to a local newspaper, saying: “The right to privacy in this country is non-negotiable. We have a system of checks and balances in place to protect our most basic civil liberties, and while I believe that national security is paramount, we must move forward in a way that does not sacrifice our American values and freedoms.”

Yet a full week after the NSA surveillance story broke, there wasn’t any news release on the subject to be found on Congresswoman Lee’s official website. She had not issued any other statement on the scandal.

If the most progressive members of Congress aren’t willing to go to the mat against fellow-Democrat Obama over an issue as profound as the Bill of Rights, the result will be a tragic failure of leadership -- as well as an irreparable disaster for the United States of America.

And how about speaking up for Edward Snowden while some in both parties on Capitol Hill are calling him a traitor and pronouncing him guilty of treason? Public mention of the virtues of his courageous whistleblowing seems to be a congressional bridge way too far.

So, as in countless other moments of history, “when the people lead, the leaders will follow” -- and only then. You can help lead if you sign the petition “Thank NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden” by clicking here.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Nancy Pelosi today on Snowden Affair (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shahryar
    “How on earth can we have a situation where we are so vulnerable, so exposed … by one person walking out the door with access to so much information?” she added. “That's a question that Congress has to ask.”
    http://thehill.com/...
    •  Wrong question Nancy (3+ / 0-)

      How about:

      How on earth can we have a situation where we are so oppressed, so abused...that we depend on one person walking out the door to liberate us from the secrets and lies of our own government?  

      Congress has to ask why it is lying to the American people and keeping from them information that any free person in a free society has the right to know.

      •  No it's not.What if next time it's the nuke codes? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        New Dawning, FG

        This guy walked out with multiple laptops capable of accessing classified material. How does that happen?

        The reason it is relevant is because next time it could be an enemy.

        Please stopped pretending that we are oppressed. It is an insult to those that are truly oppressed and invites others not to take your good point seriously.

        The politicians may be bought, and the system corrupt, but it is our duty to fix these things.

        by sebastianguy99 on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 12:14:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Securing the nuke codes and securing (2+ / 0-)

          the private personal data on 300 million Americans and everyone they associate with is not the same thing.  The fact that you can no longer distinguish between keeping the nuke codes secure and secretly compiling data on every aspect of every American's personal life is a pretty good example of how we have jumped the shark.  

          They have made ALL of us the enemy.  

          You may not feel oppressed but when I hear that members of Congress believe that they are complicit in violating the 4th amendment right of every single American but they cannot tell us this because some secret interpretation of laws on government secrets is being used to deny even Congress the right to discuss 4th amendment issues with their constituents, I feel oppressed because there is NO ONE I can vote for who is FREE to tell me the TRUTH.  

          You don't have the right to know.  You don't have the right to consent.  If you can't know and you can't consent then you are not free.

          •  You can speak for yourself, not "all of us". (0+ / 0-)

            I'm sorry, but you sound like the militia people. I guess I'll just go down and buy myself and arsenal and prep for the coming war.

            Frankly, I question if there is any real difference between self-proclaimed Left and Right? Seems both want to force you into believing they know what is best for you and to remind you that to dissent from their view is dangerous to your life.

            Wow.

            Thanks for you time.

            The politicians may be bought, and the system corrupt, but it is our duty to fix these things.

            by sebastianguy99 on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 01:51:42 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  And if they are going to outsource the nuke codes (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          One Pissed Off Liberal

          to some war profiteering global corporation who hands them over to an IT system admin with no more than a GED then don't blame the IT system admin for the nuclear winter.  Put the blame where it belongs on the corruption and cowardice in Congress.

  •  And once-progressive Nancy Pelosi.... (5+ / 0-)

    Pelosi said that she is going to create a "fact sheet" to instruct people on why the Obama-NSA is different from the Bush-NSA.  I call bull on that.  The best you could say is that what was once illegal is now legal, but legal and right--or constitutional--need not be the same.

    http://thehill.com/...

    Let's look at Pelosi back in 2006:

    "I would not want any president — Democrat or Republican — to have the expanded power the administration is claiming in this case."

    http://www.nbcnews.com/...

    But she seems to believe the FISA court--which makes military sexual assault courts look objective and legitimate--is a sufficient check.  No court that is not public can count as a check, IMHO.

    Just like she's done with austerity and SS cuts, Pelosi's playing the role of enabler to the administration's most reactionary tendencies

  •  Snowden is providing info (5+ / 0-)

    now to the Chinese. I guess his anti-totalitarianism does not extend to Communist states.

  •  Yeah,well traitor or hero, some want to know more. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG

    They just are willing to take Snowden or Greenwald at face value. Also, there has been some walkback from and "clarification"  of what was initially reported.They are also mindful that Democrats have been effectively accused of soft on national defense effectively for decades and don't want t get caught on the wrong side of a seemingly good story gone bad. So in time, they may indeed say more and posture less.

    It is also time to stop making this a proxy fight for other issues. The NSA is not going to be dismantled. In fact, given Snowden's behavior, I bet they double-down on secrecy.

    Let's have a conversation about the regulation of private data. That is something that does not require drawing battlelines and presents a smart way to bring everyone to the table. As long as our data is out there in private hands, there will be someone after it. Let's stop mindlessly amassing and storing personal data in the first place.

    The politicians may be bought, and the system corrupt, but it is our duty to fix these things.

    by sebastianguy99 on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 12:07:42 PM PDT

  •  When you're talking to China and telling them how (0+ / 0-)

    we're hacking them, you're moving WAY beyond disclosing the size and scope of a metadata collecting operation.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Jun 13, 2013 at 04:15:45 PM PDT

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