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The PATRIOT Act is the last refuge of the scoundrel

This is a painful piece for me to write.

I've often described my political leanings as moderate, with libertarian and contrarian leanings. As the left has gotten more and more radical, however, I've found my own position being redefined more and more to the right. I feel that I haven't really changed, but thanks to the shifting of the left, the middle has moved away from me. I have fallen into the company of the conservatives, and sometimes it's an awkward marriage of convenience. I still decide each issue on its merits, regardless of where it falls on the traditional left-right model.

That being said, I really, really don't like the basic idea behind TalkLeft. Their mission is to look at crime issues from a liberal perspective. To me, this often means finding ways to absolve criminals of their responsiblities and finding ways to blame others, usually "society," for their crimes.

But on one front, the libertarian part of me finds myself not only sympathizing with TalkLeft, but downright cheering them on.

I supported the USA-PATRIOT act, despite its ungodly cumbersome name ("Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" -- good lord, someone notify the Department Of Cumbersome And Tortuous Abuse Of Acronyms Department and have them issue some serious fines!). I think that the vast majority of its provisions are simple common sense, and we have enough safeguards in our system to prevent nearly all abuses.

That being said, I am starting to seriously question the wisdom of renewing it -- at least, in its current form. Because a bunch of Congresscritters have decided to take the opportunity to tack a whole bunch of other notions on to the original concept of the Patriot Act -- most notably, fighting drugs.

According to TalkLeft, some representative with more chutzpah than sense has decided that the national problem with methamphetamines (in particular the crystal meth variant) is on the same scale as terrorism, and has tacked on to the Patriot Act a whole section to deal with it.

In fact, along with wire taps, library records, and sharing of intelligence among agencies, now the fight to keep all Americans safe from another 9/11 requires that we strictly regulate cold medicine.

This has gotta go, folks. This is politics run amok. This is (most likely) one congresscritter with a bee in his bonnet and more clout than sense or integrity trying to ram through his own agenda under the aegis of fighting terror. If the Patriot Act is to have any meaning and value, it needs to preserve its focus on actually fighing terrorism. If Mr. Sensenbrenner really thinks that Sudafed is a grave threat to the American people, let him file his own bill to control it.

Then we can all laugh at him at our leisure.


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Comments (29)

Let's don't act all offende... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

Let's don't act all offended at this silliness. This is pretty standard stuff. Legislators put some silly extra piece of nonsense into a larger bill knowing that the bill will pass on the larger issue and the smaller will be ignored. It happens every day of the week in come legislative body somewhere.

And it's still despicable. ... (Below threshold)
donald:

And it's still despicable. I know the horse left the barn about 175 years ago, but I'm still sickened on every single abuse of the constitution. I realize there is no hope that the majority of citizens in this country will realize the nature of our democratic republic. There are few serious people involved in Politics. It actually shows the absolute emptiness of the democratic party. I mean what problems do they have with the largest expansion in federal spending over the last 5 years? And who the hell wrote the damned things? It's a shame really what we've become.

Indeed.... (Below threshold)
Jay:

Indeed.

What we need is someone wit... (Below threshold)
rick:

What we need is someone with the balls to write a bill and sponsor it ending the ability for "congresscritters" to add unrelated amendments and riders to bills. The titles of bills are often without any meaning at all since the subject of the bill is distorted by tacking crap on to it.

Imagine what would happen to pork if it had to be considered separate from budget bills that deal with funding government agencies. Imagine how much more transparent congress would be. Ideas should be voted on separately just like judicial nominees. Up or down, one at a time.

This type of activity will ... (Below threshold)
Fwarnt:

This type of activity will never end unless a majority of population wakes up/finds the time to pay attention to what their representatives are doing.

For the average person, there is just to much in the world to pay attention to for people that you have to pick and choose what you, as an individual want to pay attention too. Careers, Family, and recreation all come first in most peoples lives and unless one of those is seriously threatened, you're not going to particularly care/pay attention.

People choose their representatives based on a 4 week period of mudslinging before elections and pick the least disgusting person of those available. They don't have time to dig into each available person and find out who is truly the best. In addition, that person that is right for one issue, is probably the wrong person for someone on 2 other issues.

The representatives themselves should be ashamed of taking advantage of the system and of the faith their constituency has given them.

This is actually merely nat... (Below threshold)
Boyd:

This is actually merely nationalizing changes already in effect in several states. I've only been in two states since this effort started, but both Virginia and North Carolina require customers to ask for the pseudoephedrine-based drugs from someone in the Pharmacy, rather than being able to pick them off the shelf.

Given the easy passage of bills similar to this amendment at the state level, I'm not so sure that a separate House bill would fail. This approach already has some traction.

Wow, I am agreeing with Jay... (Below threshold)
WrongWingLiberal:

Wow, I am agreeing with Jay Tea?
I'm really all over the political spectrum, I am conservative on some issues and liberal on others. But things like this PATRIOT ACT leave me feeling confused about conservative values.
Isn't limiting government power and intrustion a conservative value?
According to DailyKos (yeah yeah I know!) parts of this PATRIOT ACT will make it a federal offense to display non-approved political messages at a national convention. Surely that's a liberal lie...
At least I hope it is.
Are secret courts and home searches without oversight or without ANY notification really conservative? Must we kill the constituion to save it?

Please set me straight if im wrong here.

So how come we're regulatin... (Below threshold)
Red Five:

So how come we're regulating Sudafed and Advil Cold & Sinus, but we're not regulating Diet Coke and Nutrasweet?

According to a post I read a couple weeks ago on The Rott, phenylalanine can also be used as a meth precursor. Guess where we get phenylalanine?

Read the ingredients list on any diet drink or anything else with aspartame. You'll see a warning:

PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE.

The damn stuff's a component of aspartame. Further research shows that phenylalanine is fully 50% of the components in aspartame, and it's known as a neurotoxin to boot!

Kill the NutraSweet, and let me have my Sudafed!

I'm pretty sure you've got ... (Below threshold)
Boyd:

I'm pretty sure you've got that backwards, Red Five. As I understand it (but there certainly could be something that I've missed), the restriction is on medicines containing pseudoephedrine, not phenylephrine. That's why, here in Virginia and elsewhere with similar laws, you have to ask the pharmacist for Sudafed (which uses pseudoephedrine as its active ingredient), but you can pluck a box of Sudafed PE (which uses phenylephrine) right off the shelf.

First: It seems to me that ... (Below threshold)

First: It seems to me that government officials, whether they be elected or appointed, who support the “Patriot” Act without question, are actually helping the terrorists achieve their objectives.
The terrorists want to destroy our free society, to take away our liberties, to be able to have secret police make secret arrests and hold polticial enemies incommunicado.

The “Patriot” Act provides just the kind of legal structure that the terrorists need to impose their way of life upon us.

I can understand why pro-authoritarian big-government supporters on the left would go along with that, but I do not understand why people who claim to be on the right, and normally advocate limited government and claim to want strict construction of the Constitution now seem to support the developing structure for a secret and oppresive government that feels free to ignore the individual liberties once guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Remember the Clinton and the White House getting at FBI files to harass their opponents. How long will it be until the "Patriot" Act is used by U.S. politicians to make secret arrests of their oppennets and send them to some equivalent of the gulag?

Second:

The cold medicine provisions of this bill are simply part of the growing trend by politicians to

(a) punish the innocent (and sick) rather than properly identify and deal with the guilty, and

(b) treat all people as guilty of something--terrorism, drugs, whatever, until they prove themselves innocent. Want to go into a government building or fly--you are presumed guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Do you/we want that kind of thinking to spread and take over our lives? If yes. support the "Patriot" Act. If no, it is time to start calling these authoritarian, oath-breaking politicians what they really are.

The bad stuff that people s... (Below threshold)

The bad stuff that people say about the Patriot Act is almost always completely wrong. It's a good and necessary law and there are no real examples of abuse. It would be silly to not pass the Patriot Act because some stupid congresspeople have glommed irrelevent stuff to it. But it is a great time to make a fuss about this practice and work to get it stopped.

This happens all the time, and it is a stupid way to work. It's the best reason why, IMHO, the President should have a line-item veto. Or at very least the ability to bounce back amendments in a bill that are not consistent with the bill's actual purpose. Each piece of legislation should have to have to be considered on its own merits.

The bad stuff that peopl... (Below threshold)
WrongWingLiberal:

The bad stuff that people say about the Patriot Act is almost always completely wrong. It's a good and necessary law and there are no real examples of abuse.

Are you for real? You believe law enforcement needs more power with less oversight and all the bad stuff is just made up?
You know there IS a bi-partisan effort to not pass this current version of the PATRIOT ACT.

Jay Tea,Well reaso... (Below threshold)
Bat One:

Jay Tea,

Well reasoned and well said. But is this really any different than McCain and company attaching their “Don’t Be Mean to the poor Islamist Terrorist Detainees” provisions to the Pentagon’s spending authorization for exactly the same reason? Of course not.

McCain is no James Stockdale. And perhaps that should disqualify him from addressing the issue entirely. But he is certainly a shrewd and ambitious political operator. The trick is to enforce rules in each chamber which disallow the offering of such amendments. And in this it is the GOP leadership… in House and Senate… that is once again sorely lacking. (There is a reason the Democrats have gone after Tom Delay with such determined ferocity, and the re-districting of Texas is but a small, gratuitous part of that reason.)

As with Ed Morrisey and the Death Penalty, there are those who oppose the Patriot Act as a matter of conscience, although most of the opposition is demonstrably partisan in nature. And so long as that is true, we are unlikely to have any sort of meaningful discussion on the merits. After all, when the Patriot Act was first passed, it was exocriated by the left as a personal vendetta by AG John Ashcroft against the Bill of Rights.

Thus to try and have a meaningful, thoughtful discussion of the issue with someone with the crass judgment and embryonic intellect of a Dick Durbin... why that would quite nearly as useless as having a discussion of military strategy with Jack Murtha.

Related...Did you ... (Below threshold)
-S-:

Related...

Did you hear about this (from a newsletter I received today):

"Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has managed to wedge into Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) border security bill language affirming that it is the sense of Congress that an open guest worker program is needed to keep the United States economy growing. While the provision is not binding, if approved it will provide a green light to the Senate to add a guestworker/amnesty program to the bill. Once added, Senators will insist that since the House already approved of guestworkers a guestworker/amnesty should remain in the bill. The House must say no with finality to the Senate today in order to slow the amnesty/guestworker juggernaut.

"Without question, certain members of the House are giving lip service to strong enforcement legislation knowing this bill is going to come back from the Senate with a nightmarish guestworker/amnesty plan inserted.

"Many members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus are mobilizing to kill the bill unless the Flake provision is withdrawn. They are vowing to vote against the rule for considering H.R. 4437 if it contains the Flake sense of Congress language, and request your help to convince others in Congress to join their alliance against guestworker/amnesty."

The other consequence of ta... (Below threshold)

The other consequence of tacking on unrelated amendments to a bill (or an act) is making it impossible to pass, therefore killing it without voting against it. Then the senators who tacked on their pet projects can talk about the amendment that they backed that "strengthened" the act (if that's what they need to get votes), or can cite tack-ons by other senators as to why they opposed it, all while keeping their personal agenda (to prevent passage) intact. It really is symptomatic of the miserable state of affairs that currently exists in high-level politics.

WrongWingLiberal: The patriot act has been in existence for how many years now? How many cases of abuse can you cite? Have all the doom-and-gloom prognostications surrounding its initial passage come true, or is their absence an indication that all the hullabaloo was just more partisan BS?

Oh, and btw, 100% of DNC senators and four republicans constitutes "bipartisan support" for those who don't understand the use of the term.

I'm of the opinion that the... (Below threshold)
-S-:

I'm of the opinion that the Patriot Act should be continued. For everyone with a plan to corrupt the corruptible, to exploit and abuse, they'll find a way. The Patriot Act helps level the field, in my view, and while I realize the preciousness of liberties that can be perceived as being compromised here, what's being compromised are "freedoms" of people intent on harming others...unfortunately.

We need to keep an eye on the Patriot Act for these reasons but terrorists and irrational political zealots who don't think twice about murdering and stealing and blowing things up are at least now possible to be found in the country among all our liberties and freedoms.

About Sudafed, most of us don't understand to what proportions of harms meth-labs go. I don't have a problem limiting public access to whatever chemicals and substances are posing a public health and/or criminal problem. It seems absurd to us ordinary people, yes, but the issue isn't a minor one, Jay Tea, from what I've read.

I'll have to go read more inorder to arrive at the conclusion that banning Sudafed is an act that is idiosyncratic by Sensenbrenner.

The patriot act has been... (Below threshold)
WrongWingLiberal:

The patriot act has been in existence for how many years now? How many cases of abuse can you cite?

That doesn't make me feel anymore safe. Just because it hasn't been overly abused doesn't mean it won't be. Those in power have made abuses in the past, before the Patriot Act, what makes you think abuses won't happen with even less oversight and more power?
"Good faith" in the government just doesn't cut it for me.

I think the practice of tac... (Below threshold)
Chris:

I think the practice of tacking unrelated legslation onto bills is awful, and constantly abused. However, if there's a relevant link between the bill and the amendment, it's a different story. I don't see how McCain's amendment is unrelated to a Pentagon spending bill, or how the guest worker amendment is unrelated to an immigration bill. However, someone (the primary suspect is Frist) tacked on an amendment to the initial homeland security bill, exempting pharmaceutical companies from liability for vaccines containing thimerasol(it may not have been spelled out that specifically, but that was the practical effect.) That was gratuitous abuse, particularly considering that the bill was the first major legislative response to 9/11. You'd think there would be times when these guys could rise above politics. The whole thing was made worse by the fact that no Senator has ever admitted adding the amendment.

And by the way, what exactly is meant by saying McCain should be disqualified from discussing torture because he's "no James Stockdale?" I have my guesses as to what is being implied, but it was a pretty oblique reference.

Jay, I think you're going a... (Below threshold)

Jay, I think you're going about this the wrong way. No LAW will thwart Congress from piling the pork on, as they've obviously been doing since Bush took office...that is why we need a Constitutional Amendment to give the President the LINE-ITEM VETO.
And we sure as hell know Congress won't pass such an amendment, but 38 state legislatures can pass a resolution DEMANDING Congress to convene a Constitutional Convention for just such a purpose.
Don't listen to those naysayers who purport that this would turn into a runaway train. Bulls**t! It CAN be limited by the state legislatures themselves in the very call for a convention: "We only want to discuss the Line-Item Veto and nothing else."
Jay you are right about one thing though: the citizens have to get up off their a**es to demand such action!

Chris: Stockdale didn't tal... (Below threshold)

Chris: Stockdale didn't talk....

Actually, Boyd, that was th... (Below threshold)
Red Five:

Actually, Boyd, that was the whole point. Would you wager a guess as to how much Sudafed et al is sold, versus how many diet drinks, Equal, et cetera? I'd guess that the amount of stuff containing aspartame (and therefore phenylalanine) is orders of magnitude greater than the amount of stuff containing pseudoephedrine. If it's true that phenylalanine can be used as a meth precursor, and there's so much more of it out there available for use, why doesn't anyone pass restrictions on diet drinks and other things containing aspartame? And that's not even considering the fact that phenylalanine is already a neurotoxin, with a fairly well-known track record of causing things like ADD, ADHD, and even Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. There's much more; just google "History of aspartame" and read the first search hit.

This whole thing with banning pseudoephedrine is simply a knee-jerk reaction.

Yeah, WWL, what kind of abu... (Below threshold)
seamus:

Yeah, WWL, what kind of abuses could possibly happen? You think the NSA is going to start listening in to international phone calls or reading international e-mails without a warrant? Or that the Defense Department is going to start keeping files on Quaker groups in Florida trying to keep military recruiters out of high schools listing them as threatening? Those quakers are very threatening. Sitting all quiet, waiting for the spirit to "move them". I don't trust it. The real question WWL, is why do you hate America so much?

Red Five, at the risk of so... (Below threshold)

Red Five, at the risk of sounding snarky,

They probably didn't do anything about NutraSweet because they've never found a meth lab with a few duffel bags full of Equal.

Not all precursors are created equal--if it were as easy/cost-effective to extract the necessary component from aspartame-infused products, that's what the producers would have been using from the get-go.

You need to get out of the "anti-WOD" mode for a minute. Nobody's "banned" pseudoephedrine, they've just mandated that its sales must be more closely monitored. Perhaps if you spend a little time in situations where the influence of Crystal Meth is more profound than an occasional news report, you'd see why most law enforcement agencies agree that it poses a significant risk. It's not nearly so benign a drug as pot. Think crack with a longer high, and you're at least in the ballpark.

Back to the Patriot Act question...

When the libs get one solid point of abuse to harp upon as a direct result of the provisions of the Patriot Act, I'll consider their case. Until then, I'll contend that the government already has sufficient tools to abuse its citizenry (anyone remember Ruby Ridge and Waco?) and it's good and proper to extend to them tools that they can utilize to actually protect its citizenry.

I've always heard, "Where there's no guilt, there's no fear." So, why are all you guys nervous?

I'll make it easy.... (Below threshold)

I'll make it easy.

Here are the expiring provisions. Which one(s) are both unnecessary and pose a significant risk of abuse? Please explain why, if possible (I don't expect you to disclose any information about your own questionable activities).

I've always heard, "Wher... (Below threshold)
WrongWingLiberal:

I've always heard, "Where there's no guilt, there's no fear." So, why are all you guys nervous?

Im not nervous. Im furious. You may be willing to give up freedom for security, but I am not.

Apparently there are few in... (Below threshold)
WrongWingLiberal:

Apparently there are few in DC who agree. Maybe you haven't hear the news, this version of the Patriot Act has been blocked. A win for freedom and liberty!

I better get back to work before Jay Tea finds this thread and starts throwing personal attacks.

"You may be willing to give... (Below threshold)
bf:

"You may be willing to give up freedom for security, but I am not."

Remember you said that when someone you love get blown into strawberry preserves because law enforcement didnt have the tools it needed to identify the threat in time. Jihadis manipulate our open society against us to see thier work done.

After the 9/11 attacks the game changed, personal freedoms in open societies began to be exchanged for "security", this is how "security" is provided. Don't blame the Fed for imposing on your civil liberties, blame the terrorists who would see you dead, protecting you from thier kind is what the Patriot Act is all about.

The psuedofed/meth issue was tacked on and should have been added into it's own bill, not coat tailed onto the PA, blame your lawmakers for that.

If Bush and his apologists ... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

If Bush and his apologists have their complete way, this entire on threat the Patriot Act or illegal domestic spying be too sensitive to discuss online or by telephone..And be careful what books you ask for in the public libraries? Is this one of the provisions Dubya wants to keep permanent in the Act?

Date: Sat, 17 Dec 2005 <br ... (Below threshold)
D. C. Russell:

Date: Sat, 17 Dec 2005
Subject: Interlibrary Loan and Homeland Security
To: [email protected]

Checking Mao's Little Red Book out of the library can now get you visited by DHS

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/12-05/12-17-05/a09lo650.htm

Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior
By AARON NICODEMUS, Standard-Times staff writer

NEW BEDFORD -- A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."
Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security, the professors said.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Although The Standard-Times knows the name of the student, he is not coming forward because he fears repercussions should his name become public. He has not spoken to The Standard-Times.

The professors had been asked to comment on a report that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on as many as 500 people at any given time since 2002 in this country.

The eavesdropping was apparently done without warrants.

The Little Red Book, is a collection of quotations and speech excerpts from Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung.

In the 1950s and '60s, during the Cultural Revolution in China, it was required reading. Although there are abridged versions available, the student asked for a version translated directly from the original book.

The student told Professor Pontbriand and Dr. Williams that the Homeland Security agents told him the book was on a "watch list." They brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student, the professors said.

Dr. Williams said in his research, he regularly contacts people in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other Muslim hot spots, and suspects that some of his calls are monitored.

"My instinct is that there is a lot more monitoring than we think," he said.

Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk.

"I shudder to think of all the students I've had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that," he said. "Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless."

A posting from the Archives & Archivists LISTSERV List sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, www.archivists.org.




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