Congress is poised to temporarily divert its partisan bickering over healthcare reform to partisan bickering over provisions of the ironically named "USA Patriot Act" set to expire at the end of the year.
It seems Congressional Republicans aren't satisfied with the current level of Bush/Cheney/Ashcroft/Gonzales obliteration of our lost personal liberties and Constitutional rights. They want more. Innocent Americans haven't been sufficiently illegally wiretapped, or had our library records monitored, or credit card purchases tracked, or medical records examined by all the Bush-era creepy Peeping Toms. In the chaos and confusion following the attacks of 9/11/2001, Americans were willing to forfeit nearly all their rights for the sake of some semblance of security. This was just the kind of irrational fear-state the Bush Crime Family needed to begin its systematic dismantling of the US Constitution.
Bush did indeed "hit the trifecta" with 9-11 as he famously stated. It was the perfect opportunity to force this legislation -- which many believe had been designed by Cheney's minions months prior to the attack -- through a panicked Congress and terrified populace. Abuses of the Patriot Act's legion of civil-liberty-eroding provisions are rampant, while there have been no significant arrests made -- or terrorist plots foiled -- as a result of this destructive legislation. So why are Congressional Republicans so eager to ensure these abuses continue? Is it just so they can score a perceived "win" against the Democrats?
According to The New York Times, President Obama wants three provisions extended, but with revisions that would guarantee restoration of our civil liberties:
Days before, the Obama administration called on Congress to reauthorize the three expiring Patriot Act provisions in a letter from Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs. At the same time, he expressed a cautious open mind about imposing new surveillance restrictions as part of the legislative package.
"We are aware that members of Congress may propose modifications to provide additional protection for the privacy of law abiding Americans," Mr. Weich wrote, adding that "the administration is willing to consider such ideas, provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness of these important authorities."- Advertisement -
Of particular concern to civil libertarians -- and pretty much anyone else who values their rights and freedoms -- is a provision that allowed the F.B.I. to obtain bank, credit card, and telephone records from tens of thousands of citizens without any order from a judge. Another nasty element of the Act grants immunity to all the telecom companies that allowed the Bush Crime Family to eavesdrop on our telephone calls without a warrant or probable cause.
So far, Sen. Russ Feingold is the leading Democrat opposing the renewal and has drafted a bill that would roll back many of the more egregious portions of the Act. Now it remains to be seen how many other Democrats follow his lead, or cave to the pressures of the NeoCons. It is an important test, and the outcome is critical to us all.