December 14, 2005
The House appears to be in good order and will pass the reauthorization of the Patriot Act today (Wednesday, December 14th). Actually, most of it is permanent anyway; but there are some "controversial" sections that were only passed as temporary stopgap measures back in 2001, set to expire in four years.
Which, by a curious coincidence, would mean December 31st this year.
All eyes turn now to the Senate, where the biggest problems lurk. Those problems are named John Sununu (R-NH), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and possibly Arlen Specter (R-PA) -- though it looks as though Arlen is satisfied with the deal cut in the conference committee to reauthorize the most controversial provisions for an additional four years... basically, to kick the can down the road a bit more, leaving it up to the 111th Congress in 2009 to figure out what to do about it.
If those first five are the only Republicans shaky on the Patriot Act, we're fine; even without a single Democrat (and I still hold out hope for a couple), we would pass the reauthorization by at worse 51-50 (Vice President Cheney casting the tie-breaker; and he'd better be at a disclosed location -- to wit, the Senate floor -- when that vote is taken!) But what worries me is this:
About a dozen Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are complaining that the Patriot Act gives government too much power to investigate people's private transactions, including bank, library, medical and computer records. They also say it doesn't place enough limits on the FBI's use of National Security Letters, which compel thirds parties to produce those documents during terrorism investigations.
How does that "about a dozen" break down? Naturally, this being the Associated Press, they don't tell us: too much depth, Professor!
If it's five Republicans and seven Democrats, well and good. But what if it's the other way around? If six Republicans defect, then we could lose some of the most important elements of the act, including the ability to authorize "roving wiretaps" (where the cops get a warrant to tap any phone that a suspected bad guy uses, even one borrowed from someone else, rather than just a particular phone number); and the ability to subpoena, from private businesses, records of the actions by the target -- and to prohibit the business from tipping off the target of the probe. Thus, company invoices for materials purchased by the target of the probe could be subpoenaed from the company, or travel records, or even theoretically a list of books on bomb-making purchased from Amazon or checked out of the library (this is the one that causes "civil libertarians" to literally float six and a half feet in the air and twirl around faster and faster until they explode).
I used scare-quotes around the word "controversial" in the first paragraph of this post because the controversy is entirely manufactured by opponents of fighting the war against Islamic jihadi terrorists. Curiously, these same people point their fingers and accuse the CIA and FBI of not "connecting the dots" before 9/11 -- while simultaneously doing everything they can to prevent us from connecting any future dots we may stumble across. There is actually nothing controversial about these provisions... because they have been sitting in the federal code for years now, or in some cases decades, to be applied to cases of foreign espionage, drug running, and racketeering. All that the Patriot Act does is add terrorism to that list of crimes for which such measures are allowed.
Nevertheless, nearly all the Democrats and a few wilting-violet Republicans are adamant that allowing us to use the same tactics against Osama bin Laden that we already used against John Gotti would spell the end of liberty in America. They don't quite explain the point; like Mary Poppins, they never explain anything!
Alas, they have votes, even if they are potato-heads; and they must be appeased. One awful possibility -- which I hope the Senate GOP caucus votes against in lockstep -- would be to authorize only a three-month extension, allowing an additional ninety days to play Let's Make a Deal ("I'll vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, but only if you promise to drop ANWR from the Energy Bill conference report... and restore that Bridge to Nowhere, too!")
Senate Democrats joined by some libertarian-leaning Republicans want to extend the expiring provisions of the law by three months to give Congress time to add more protections against what they say are excessive police powers.
"There's no reason to compromise right to due process, the right to a judicial review, fair and reasonable standards of evidence in the pursuit of our security," said Sen. John E. Sununu, R-N.H., one of several senators urging Congress to move the expiration date to March 31. [Sununu went on to fail to explain how allowing roving wiretaps would compromise due process, judicial review, or standards of evidence; does he think a roving wiretap means the suspect doesn't get to hire a lawyer? -- the Mgt.]
That would be a nightmare, especially as there would be no guarantee that, on March 32nd, they wouldn't just do the same thing: refuse to vote for anything but yet another three-monther, another episode of Monty Hall. April Fool!
For this reason, it would actually be worse for the country to reauthorize for a token period than it would simply to call Harry Reid's (D-NV) bluff and allow the Act to expire. Then go to the mattresses -- and the airwaves -- and announce that the country just became a heck of a lot less safe, and terrorists a heck of a lot more secure, until the Democrats and the RINOs come to their senses and reauthorize the Act.
Spend a couple weeks on the talk shows explaining the provisions, why they're needed (and why they don't threaten our rights), and reminding voters that the next 9/11 is already being plotted, and the only question is whether we pick the terrorists up before they strike -- or after.
It's a risky game; but this is the Great Game -- the one where, as I said before, you can't quit. To paraphrase Bette Davis, Fasten your seatbelt, it's gonna be a bumpy fortnight!
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 14, 2005, at the time of 3:14 AM
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» More "Patriot" Doubters from Big Lizards
Yesterday, in Patriot Paroxysms, I wrote the following: All eyes turn now to the Senate, where the biggest problems lurk. Those problems are named John Sununu (R-NH), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lindsay Graham (R-... [Read More]
Tracked on December 14, 2005 3:20 PM
» The PATRIOT Quadrille from Big Lizards
My head is spinning. On Tuesday, in Patriot Paroxysms, I opined: All eyes turn now to the Senate, where the biggest problems lurk. Those problems are named John Sununu (R-NH), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Lindsay... [Read More]
Tracked on December 16, 2005 5:12 AM
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