No Comment — August 17, 2007, 5:32 pm

The FISA Court Strikes Again

More important evidence of judicial backbone this afternoon. In response to a motion by the ACLU challenging the Bush Administration’s insistence on keeping all dealings surrounding the FISA Court in secret, including its orders, the Court has entered an order directing the Bush Administration to explain its abnormal demands for secrecy.

Only 48 hours ago, a panel of judges of the Ninth Circuit subjected a Justice Department lawyer arguing similarly absurd secrecy claims to questioning which was tantamount to public ridicule.

The FISA Court’s order seems to rest on an equally skeptical attitude towards the government’s melodramatic and very improbable secrecy claims.

In an unprecedented order, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has required the U.S. government to respond to a request it received last week by the American Civil Liberties Union for orders and legal papers discussing the scope of the government’s authority to engage in the secret wiretapping of Americans. According to the FISC’s order, the ACLU’s request “warrants further briefing,” and the government must respond to it by August 31. The court has said that any reply by the ACLU must be filed by September 14.

“Disclosure of these court orders and legal papers is essential to the ongoing debate about government surveillance,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “We desperately need greater transparency and public scrutiny. We’re extremely encouraged by today’s development because it means that, at long last, the government will be required to defend its contention that the orders should not be released.”

When national security is at stake, the government may have completely legitimate secrecy concerns. However, the Gonzales Justice Department’s track record shows that this is very rarely the case. When matters finally bubble to the surface, as we witnessed recently with the drive for FISA amendments, the Bush Administration’s secrecy demands usually turn out to have been driven by a blatantly political calculus—the desire to avoid being embarrassed in public debate, or even to avoid exposing its unlawful conduct, which the court has flagged and attempted to stop.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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