As the presidential candidates and their trusty sidekicks square off in debates and deliver speeches to partisan audiences, finally articulating in the speeches those clever come-backs that they failed to think of in the debates, one might wonder if the politicians in the House of Representatives and Senate are as glued to their television sets and online news journals as most politically literate Americans seem to be these days.
Have no fear! Our respectable legislators, notwithstanding their undoubted interest in who wins the tight race, would never let the spiteful and deceitful exchanges between Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards interfere with their noble job of passing legislation to secure the country and prevent future 9/11s.
The federal government keeps us safe, after all. I heard as much on the radio yesterday, when a conservative radio host paternalistically informed a Democratic caller that the only logical vote this November is for the man who’s "kept you safe in your bed these last three years." The proof? There have been no biological weapon attacks or mushroom clouds anywhere in the United States, so therefore the president must have been keeping the caller — and all of us — alive. How dare anyone not vote for this man that has saved the lives of 294 million Americans!
Just like the president, Congress is keeping busy to protect us all. They’ve drawn their latest inspiration from the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. Unfortunately, the bills they’re considering go a little bit beyond what the Commission actually recommended.
Wired News reports that some of these bills may infringe on certain civil liberties. "At issue are provisions that would":
- "create a de facto national identification card
- allow employers running a background check on an employee to obtain records of arrests and detentions — not just convictions — without limitation on republishing the information
- speed up the implementation of the newest airline passenger screening system, Secure Flight, by requiring congressional approval after it is deployed, not before
- require the State Department to study the feasibility of a worldwide database tracking American citizens” and foreigners’u2018lifetime travel history,’ including information on what countries Americans traveled to
- require the State Department to intervene with foreign media outlets and foreign governments to influence media coverage
- make it easier for the government to deport immigrants to countries where they might be tortured or to countries to which an immigrant has no relationship
- expand Patriot Act wiretap provisions and the ban on material support to designated terrorist organizations
- make it tougher for illegal immigrants to get a hearing to protest deportation
- prevent states from issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented aliens by changing what documents are acceptable at Canadian and Mexican borders"
National ID cards? Extended wiretaps? And regulating foreign media? This is some heavy-duty stuff!
Not only did the 9/11 Commission not call for these measures; it has specifically asked for some of them to be removed from the bill.
Congress, unfazed by the shortsighted Commission’s misunderstanding of its own recommendations, will likely ratify in a bipartisan effort many of these provisions, amid scarcely any fanfare, or notice, some time around the election, if I had to guess. The Bill of Rights will take another major beating and nothing of any good whatsoever will be accomplished.
For Congress even to consider such sweeping legislation at this point in time makes me wonder what Washington, D.C. has in store for us after the election. If even now — during the election season, when the political process is most visibly disgusting and the prevarication and intellectual shortcomings of the political cream of the crop are on display for everyone to see, and particularly at a time when the most prominent ingredient of the War on Terror, "Operation Iraqi Freedom," has become roundly discredited as a scam — the Congresscritters and Senators can still continue their relentless violence on American liberty, what on earth do they have in store for us when the November winners have been declared and their job security, along with the elected president’s, has been renewed for another two, four, or six years?
Nothing good, that’s what. Once the Fourth Amendment is further trampled and the US Federales are going around asking folks for their papers — some essential consequences of this new abomination of legislation — any additional government anti-terrorism measures are likely to be quite disturbing.
What ever happened to PATRIOT Act II — also called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act? It’s still in the works, I’m sure. Remember they lied about it, saying plans for it didn’t exist, and then they eventually fessed up. But there’s been little talk about it recently, and if it came up now there would probably me mass protest and resistance. So for now, although they might pass the atrocious 9/11-Commission-inspired legislation, they’re waiting for another crisis before launching the even worse PATRIOT II.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, Congress passed and Clinton signed the notorious Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. (Notice how unlike most titles of legislation, sugar-coated and made palatable to the public, this one has the word "death" right in it.) It was basically the same as a law Clinton had wanted earlier, nationalizing law enforcement and establishing new government powers, some of which had nothing to do with terrorism.
After the September 11 attacks, Congress passed and Bush signed the notorious PATRIOT Act, which, despite what some Republican cheerleaders claim, has indeed eviscerated much of the Bill of Rights. Unlike Clinton’s boldly titled "Death" Act, this one was named to evoke images of the founding fathers and the American Revolution. But it was obviously written, most of it anyway, before 9/11. Just like Clinton’s law, it federalized law enforcement and gave the government new powers, some of which have nothing to do with terrorism.
The events of April 19, 1995 and September 11, 2001 made previously intolerable acts become seen as necessary evils.
PATRIOT II would give the power to the president to strip away anyone’s citizenship, and deport and detain people without trial. If it ever comes to light, it would probably contain parts even worse than that, if you can imagine it. So picture the most outrageous restrictions on freedom you can imagine. Something that could never happen in America.
I picture martial law and dictatorial power in the hands of the executive, speech suppression, curfews, the whole lot. This is what I expect to see if there’s another major terrorist attack. It won’t be imposed on everyone all the time, of course, but the government will claim new powers that no one in his right mind would ever confuse with the word "Patriot."
So they probably should rename it. I suggest they be honest about it and call it the USA ENABLING Act.
USA PATRIOT Act was a cute acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism."
USA ENABLING, to continue with the theme of honesty, can be short for "Unifying Scared Americans by Enacting Nazi-esque Acts to Butcher Liberty and Institutionalize Nationalism in Government."
Anyone who would support the USA PATROT Act, its proposed sequel, or the anti-freedom bill currently being considered should probably not be trusted with protecting the country, especially since failing to protect it makes it easier to pass even more of these types of laws.
For those out there who think that President Bush is the only thing preventing another 9/11, keep in mind that this means he’s also the only thing protecting the last remains of our freedom — from himself and his PATRIOT II. It does not seem like the best motivation to do a good job.
Terrorism is evil, frightening, and utterly unacceptable to the sensibilities of a humane civilization. Some things are potentially even worse.
Thanks to Scott Horton for suggesting that I write this piece.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.