President Obama just signed a one year extension of the Patriot Act. As a Senator, he had criticized the Patriot Act. Had he done nothing–something Obama is supremely gifted at–the provisions of the Patriot Act would have expired this Sunday.
From the AP:
President Barack Obama has signed a one-year extension of several provisions in the nation’s main counterterrorism law, the Patriot Act.
Provisions in the measure would have expired on Sunday without Obama’s signature Saturday.
The act, which was adopted in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, expands the government’s ability to monitor Americans in the name of national security.
Three sections of the Patriot Act that stay in force will:
-Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
-Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations.
-Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
Obama’s signature comes after the House voted 315 to 97 Thursday to extend the measure.
The Senate also approved the measure, with privacy protections cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them. Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government’s authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.
The LA Times notes that:
As a senator from Illinois, Barack Obama was a critic of the Patriot Act. Last week, however, the Obama administration asked the House and Senate to extend the three provisions. "The administration is willing to consider . . . ideas [for modifying the law], provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness of these important authorities," Assistant Atty. Gen. Ronald Weich said in a letter to Congress.
One might also recall then Sen. Hillary Clinton’s accusation against Obama (in the New Hampshire primary debate) that he was an unknown, flip-flopper:
"You said you were against the PATRIOT Act–you came to the Senate and voted for it."
It turns out Hillary was right back in January, 2008. Obama is a first-class flip-flopper for in 2005, as a Senator, Obama opposed the core principles of the Patriot Act. In a 2005 speech on the Senate floor Obama himself said:
This is legislation that puts our own Justice Department above the law…When National Security Letters are issued, they allow federal agents to conduct any search on any American, no matter how extensive or wide-ranging, without ever going before a judge to prove that the search is necessary. They simply need sign-off from a local FBI official. That’s all."
…And if someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document – through library books they’ve read and phone calls they’ve made – this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law.
No judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case. This is just plain wrong.
Not only is Obama a gold medal winner in flip-flopping, not only does he lack core ideals from the Democratic side of the Democratic party, he also has no leadership skills, at least leadership for progressive values. So once again, as in health care reform and on a score of other issues, the Obama administration had a real chance to propose fundamental changes of its own to the Patriot Act, but failed to do so. Again, as in health care reform, Obama has passed the buck to Congress where, of course, he knows that nothing will happen even though his own party has overwhelming majorities in both the Senate and the House and where his own administration has effectively undercut efforts for change.
Nor were other Democrats in Congress firmly committed to the Constitution and individual rights. The House Committee on the Constitution deliberated on this only since this past Tuesday before it overwhelmingly voted to extend the Patriot Act’s provisions:
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), its chairman, said the law had "aroused a great deal of controversy and concern" but nonetheless "remains a useful tool" in investigating and preventing terrorism.
Over in the Senate, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy showed that he can outdo hapless Harry Reid in passivity to Republican wishes:
"I would have preferred to add oversight and judicial review improvements to any extension of expiring provisions in the USA Patriot Act," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "But I understand some Republican senators objected."
So the Republicans did not even need to object (according to Glenn Greenwald’s account, the bill was passed in the Senate by voice vote with no debate) on the record, they just had to kinda "be there" for the Democrats to cave in. With this kind of attitude, would it make any difference if there were 90 Democratic Senators? If so, the supermajority number required would certainly be 91.
One of the lone voices against this travesty comes from the only Senator who originally voted against the Patriot Act: Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin. According to the LA Times article above, Feingold served notice that he would join with other Senate liberals to make "fixes" to the Patriot Act. The bill Feingold supports, called the Justice Act, also would allow lawsuits against telecommunications firms that cooperated with the Bush administration and supplied information on their customers.
With Obama in office, fat chance that anything Feingold wants will pass. In fact, Obama and the Obama administration in the past months have actively undermined Feingold’s efforts to reform the Patriot Bill:
…Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) had worked to place language in the bill strengthening civil liberties protections, but in the judiciary committee the Obama administration worked with Republicans to craft seven amendments, effectively watering down Feingold’s work.
Feingold said the bill that emerged from the judiciary committee left him "scratching his head."
"The Patriot Act reauthorization bill passed by the Judiciary Committee falls far short of adequately protecting the rights of innocent Americans," Feingold said in a statement. "Among the most significant problems is the failure to include an improved standard for Section 215 orders (getting personal information through national security letter requests), even though a Republican controlled Judiciary Committee unanimously supported including the same standard in 2005."
Feingold said what was most upsetting to him was the willingness of too many members of the Democratic-controlled committee to defer to behind-the-scenes complaints from the FBI and the Justice Department.
"We should, of course, carefully consider their perspective, but it is our job to write the law and to exercise independent judgment," Feingold said. "After all, it is not the prosecutors’ committee; it is the judiciary committee. And while I am left scratching my head trying to understand how a committee controlled by a wide Democratic margin could support the bill it approved, I will continue to work with my colleagues to try to make improvements to this bill."
Dennis Kucinich also spoke out (and voted against) the extension of the Patriot Act’s provisions:
This legislation extends three problematic provisions of the PATRIOT Act and, at the same time, leaves some of the most egregious provisions in place, absent any meaningful reform and debate…As Members of Congress sworn to protect the rights and civil liberties afforded to us by the Constitution, we have a responsibility to exercise our oversight powers fully, and significantly reform the PATRIOT Act, ensuring that the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans are fully protected…
More than eight years after the passage of the Patriot Act, we have failed to do so.
Obama proves once again he’s little more than Bush Lite. The Democrats prove once again they are little more than the second branch of the Corporate Party.