Friday, November 18, 2005

Some Cautious Optimism

Twenty-four hours ago, it looked like the Patriot Act was another done deal. Now, however, it looks like some Senators are digging in for a fight. The New York Times has a couple of pieces suggesting that all may not be lost.

The first is found in the news section of the paper and contains some rather startling information.

A tentative deal to extend the government's antiterrorism powers under the law known as the USA Patriot Act appeared in some jeopardy Thursday, as Senate Democrats threatened to mount a filibuster in an effort to block the legislation.

"This is worth the fight," Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview.

"I've cleared my schedule right up to Thanksgiving," Mr. Feingold said, adding that he was making plans to read aloud from the Bill of Rights as part of a filibuster if necessary. the eleventh-hour negotiations to complete the deal, Congressional leaders discussed changing some crucial elements of the agreement in response to concerns from lawmakers, officials said. One proposal would have lowered the "sunset" on the three investigative provisions from seven years to something closer to the four years approved by the Senate in its version of the bill earlier this year.

In a letter Thursday, a bipartisan group of six senators said the tentative deal had caused them "deep concern" because it did not go far enough in "making reasonable changes to the original law to protect innocent people from unnecessary and intrusive government surveillance."

Reflecting the political breadth of concerns about the law, the letter was signed by three Republicans - Senators Larry E. Craig, John E. Sununu and Lisa Murkowksi - and three Democrats - Senators Richard J. Durbin and Ken Salazar and Mr. Feingold.

The group called for tighter restrictions on the government's ability to demand records and its use of so-called "sneak and peak" warrants to conduct secret searches without immediately informing the target, among other measures.
[Emphasis added]

Frankly, the article points to a couple of bits of good news. The first is that Democrats are willing to use that Senate tool known as the filibuster to draw attention to the flaws and egregious intrustions into the rights of Americans that the new and improved version of the Patriot Act contains. That Democrats would actually stand up instead of bending over bespeaks not only an improved and healthier posture, but also an understanding of how serious the issue is.

The second bit of good news is that even Republicans don't like the smell of the bill that came out of conference. While I'm no fan of the likes of Lisa Murkowski, John Sununu, or Larry Craig,I have to admit that I'm impressed that all three are willing to stand with the Democrats in the fight against the bill and against the administration and its lackeys in Congress.

The second piece in the New York Times is an editorial which nails it beautifully.

With key parts of the Patriot Act due to expire shortly, Congress has an opportunity to improve the law. Instead, it seems poised to renew many of the provisions that infringe most directly on civil liberties - and to add some new ones. There is nothing "patriotic" about letting the F.B.I. seize the records of ordinary Americans without a judge's approval, or taking away the federal judiciary's historical role in ensuring that the death penalty is imposed fairly. ...

There are many things Congress should be doing to protect the nation from terrorism. None of them involve dismantling the freedoms of ordinary Americans. There is still time to fix the many problems with the Patriot Act.
[Emphasis added]

It appears from the news article that the compromise bill won't reach the Senate floor for a vote this week. That gives us a brief window of opportunity to swamp the offices of senators with emails, telephone calls, and letters urging them to vote against the bill. I urge you to engage in a little political action over the next couple of days, even if you assume that your senators are a lost cause. After all, at least a third of the Senate is up for re-election in 2006. You might want to remind them of that.


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