The United States Senate came one step closer to extending provisions of the PATRIOT Act, as only eight senators stood up and called for the provisions to be reformed or not extended. The provisions, slated to expire on Friday, now must pass in a final vote later in the week.
Provisions slated to expire include: the “roving wiretap provision,” which permits government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders without identifying the person or the facility being tapped (Section 206 of the Act); the “Lone Wolf” provision, which permits intelligence agencies to survey non-US persons not affiliated with a foreign organization (Section 6001 of the Act); and Section 215, which grants government authorization to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no evidence the “thing” pertains to the terrorist or terrorist activity under investigation.
One senator, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who would like to “sunset the entire PATRIOT Act and protect American civil liberties,” delivered a speech on the Senate floor in defense of freedom and privacy in America.
What the PATRIOT Act has done, explained Paul, is “taken away some of the protections of the Fourth Amendment.” Under the Fourth Amendment, the government must “name the person and place to be searched.” Those protections are gone.
No longer does government need to have “probable cause.” As Paul stated, the Act has taken away those rights and made it so if it’s “relevant” or they think the search or seizure is related to the investigation authorities can conduct searches and seizures.
Paul raised the issue of national security letters (NSLs), something that candidate Barack Obama opposed. They allow the FBI to write warrants without review by a judge, Paul stated. This throws off our nation’s system of checks and balances.
“Do we want a government that looks at our records and is finding out what our reading habits are?” asked Paul. “One of the provisions apply to library records. Do you want the government to find out what you’re reading at the library?”
Additionally, Paul asked, “We now have a president that wants to know where you contributed before you do work for the government. Do we want that kind of all-encompassing government that is looking at every record from top to bottom and invading our privacy?”
Defenders of the PATRIOT Act argue these authoritarian set of powers granted to government are needed to fight the “war on terror.” Paul dismantled this claim in his speech:
You know, we — we looked at — I think so far they say we have looked at 28 million electronic records. We have looked at 1,600,000 text messages, and we have 800,000 hours of audio. We have so much audio that they can’t even listen to it all. Twenty-five percent what they have recorded of your phone conversations is not listened to because they don’t even have time to listen to it.
My point would be that we’re eavesdropping on so many people that it could be that we are missing out and not targeting. It’s just like the airports. Every one of you is being searched in the airport and you’re not terrorists and you’re no threat to our country.
Why are we not looking for the people who would attack us and spending time on those people? Why do we not go to a judge and say this person we suspect of dealing with this terrorist group, will you give us a warrant? Why don’t we have those steps?
Paul’s speech wasn’t anything one could call radical except for the fact that only a handful of senators had the guts to speak on the extension of the PATRIOT Act. Out of fifty-one Democrats in the Senate, only four voted “no” and stood with Paul. Those Democrats were Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester, both from Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Independent Bernie Sanders voted “no” and so did two Republicans, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Why are there so few Democrats taking issue with the idea that government should be able to violate the Fourth Amendment to fight terrorism when that is not the case? Why is there so little push back from liberals or progressives to put an end to the extraordinary assault on civil liberties that the Bush Administration escalated and the Obama Administration has done little to bring to an end?
Liberals see Paul’s name and point out that he believes life begins at conception, opposes federal abortion funding, would like to see federal spending growth limited to the per-capita inflation rate, supports stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of all powers to regulate greenhouse emissions, supports a repeal of health reform, supports a ban homosexuals in the military, favors the privatization of Social Security, or opposes giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. But, if there is no liberal or progressive push in the Legislative Branch to sunset the Patriot Act, who are those who give a damn about civil liberties to support?
Gone from the Senate is Russ Feingold, the only Democrat who voted against the Patriot Act when it first came up for a vote in the Senate. Now, when there is a push to extend Bush Administration policies like the PATRIOT Act or moves to give the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) the power to give pat-downs and do body scans in airports, libertarians are the only crowd the country hears defending civil liberties.
President Obama no longer appears to have any problem with any parts of the PATRIOT Act. So, liberals, who fully understand why people like Paul are justified in opposing the PATRIOT Act, cower and take cues from the Obama Administration. They fall in line and allow violations of basic civil liberties to be perpetrated. They take at face value the claim that the government “needs this authority.”
Under President Bush, liberals would never have been as silent as they are now. There would have been rancorous opposition especially in the blogosphere to extending PATRIOT Act provisions. Liberal talk radio and MSNBC would be talking about the government’s push to maintain extraordinary powers. But, for liberal activists, bloggers, pundits, and politicians, Obama cannot be hampered by any campaigns to defend democratic society, which might make it difficult for him to run for re-election.
Liberals began the Obama presidency committed to making Obama do it—whatever they thought needed to be fixed now that President Bush was gone. They had some kind of a vision. Now, they tinker around the edges and ask for minuscule reform that will not upset the balance (or gross imbalance) of power in the country. They ask for changes that have no monetary impact on the corporatist elements of the United States, which make money off of subverting democracy to fight the “war on terror.” When their voices are most needed, they say nothing and do nothing.
Liberals contend that people must cut Obama some slack. Meanwhile, the imperial presidency expands.
Watch Sen. Paul say what liberals or progressives should be saying.
Rand Paul has proposed amendments to the extension of the PATRIOT Act that would address some of its most totalitarian aspects. Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald notes in a post how Paul’s move to amend the extension has led to Democratic Party bullying from leaders like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (an ardent supporter of prosecuting Julian Assange under the Espionage Act):
Sen. Paul announced that he was considering using delaying tactics to hold up passage of the bill in order to extract some reforms (including ones he is co-sponsoring with the Democrats’ Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Leahy, who — despite voicing “concerns” about the bill — voted for cloture). Paul’s announcement of his delaying intentions provoked this fear-mongering, Terrorism-exploiting, bullying threat from the Democrats’ Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Dianne Feinstein:
“I think it would be a huge mistake,” Feinstein told reporters. “If somebody wants to take on their shoulders not having provisions in place which are necessary to protect the United States at this time, that’s a big, big weight to bear.”
In other words: Paul and the other dissenting Senators better give up their objections and submit to quick Patriot Act passageor else they’ll have blood on their hands from the Terrorist attack they will cause. That, of course, was the classic Bush/Cheney tactic for years to pressure Democrats into supporting every civil-liberties-destroying measure the Bush White House demanded (including, of course, the original Patriot Act itself), and now we have the Democrats — ensconced in power — using it just as brazenly and shamelessly (recall how Bush’s DNI, Michael McConnell, warned Congressional Democrats in 2007 that unless they quickly passed without changes the new FISA bill the Bush White House was demanding, a Terrorist attack would likely occur at the Congress in a matter of “days, not weeks”; McConnell then told The New Yorker: “If we don’t update FISA, the nation is significantly at risk”). Feinstein learned well.
Paul appears to believe the Senate should be a place for open public debate. In trying to challenge Obama on the Libya war and the Obama Administration’s violation of the War Powers Act, Paul told Anderson Cooper, “It’s hard for me to get the floor unless I somehow sneak on the floor when no one’s looking to try to get a vote. Why would we not want to debate great Constitutional questions? When I ran for office, that’s what I thought – there will be great and momentous debates on the floor. We don’t have any because they prevent the debates from ever even beginning.”
It’s people like Sen. Paul, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Sen. Russ Feingold, and representatives in the House like Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Rep. Ron Paul, who both Democrats and Republicans violate rules and guidelines in Congress to ensure real debate on issues never happens.