Patriot Act is the most bipartisan legislation in 12 years - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Patriot Act is the most bipartisan legislation in 12 years

Four years ago when Barack Obama first took over the occupancy of the White House  many discussions took place about what his various policies would be and how they would unfold in his presidency. For obvious reasons the economy took center stage.

Those on the right were absolutely certain beyond a shadow of a doubt President Obama would lead us down the road to European-style Socialism and crash the American economy in the process, thereby selling our great nation to the highest bigger, i.e. China.

President Barack Obama at his first Inauguration in January 2009. Who knew Obama would become more hawkish than President Bush when it came to the Patriot Act and robotic assassins? (C-SPAN Screen grab)

President Barack Obama at his first Inauguration in January 2009. Who knew Obama would become more hawkish than President Bush when it came to the Patriot Act and robotic assassins?
(C-SPAN Screen grab)

What happened was the Europeans went on an austerity program, thereby crashing their economic systems, yet again while Obama pushed through a stimulus package, small as it was, and the U.S. economy has resurged. In fact, the Dow Jones Industrial Average just recently hit an all-time high.

On top of that unemployment stopped going down before the first year of Obama’s first term was over and began to turn around, albeit slowly. Not only that home prices began to rise and the American auto industry came roaring back. All signs the economy is growing — despite the obstructionist efforts of the GOP.

Of course no self-respecting Republican or so-called Conservative is going to admit the economy is getting better under President Obama, let alone give him any credit for the improvement. One day after the Dow hit 15,000 for the first time in history I mentioned it to a conservative (read anti-Obama/Democrats) and his response was, “the volume is low.” Meaning this recovery doesn’t count.

Then there were the discussions about President Obama’s policies regarding foreign affairs. We all know the litany of right wing accusations: “Obama is selling out Israel,” to Obama’s “apology” tour of Europe and the Middle East. Neither of which are remotely true, but the GOP contenders thought they made good talking points going into the 2012 elections. Apparently the GOP was mistaken on their talking points.

President Obama was going to be soft on terror; that he wouldn’t protect America. People like Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, were absolutely determined to keep our troops at war in Iraq, so having President Obama follow through on President Bush’s plan to end U.S. involvement in Iraq by 2011 was tantamount to surrender. There were those in the GOP that wanted a forever war, where our dwindling and broken military would be constantly engaged in battle, every day of every year for the foreseeable century or two.

Long before he became president, Barack Obama saw the invasion of Iraq for what it is: a losing proposition with no good outcomes for the U.S. Here’s the kicker: one of the neocon selling points for going to war in Iraq was that Iraqi oil would pay for the war and the U.S. would reap the financial rewards.

Ten years and trillions of dollars later it’s been documented the two biggest winners of the Iraq War have been China and Iran, respectively. China is getting just over half of Iraq’s oil. And Iran has a new ally in the Middle East.

The U.S. is of course on the hook for a couple trillion dollars and the Iraqi people mostly hate us, as a nation.

Then there’s the longest war in U.S. history: Afghanistan. That’s winding down and it looks like the ending will resemble the end in Iraq, at least on a few key points. The Afghans will hate us as a nation and the people we sent our troops there to fight will once again be in charge of the nation. Oh, and we’ve been conducting a no so covert war in Pakistan.

But we did decimate al Qaida and kill Osama Bin Laden — in Pakistan.

So it seems the fears of President Obama being weak on defense were unfounded. He followed the Bush plan to exit Iraq and he sent in a troop surge in Afghanistan before starting the draw down.

Protesters call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay Prison.

Protesters outsdie the White House call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay Prison. (Bill Hughes)

But that isn’t the end of President Obama’s very hawkish foreign policy. Nope.

When we, the millions who voted for Obama in 2008, put the Junior Senator from Illinois in the White House, we expected a sea change from the previous administration. Our interrogators would stop torturing prisoners, we would close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; we would not be expanding the two wars that were raging at the time … and — oh yeah — we would repeal most, if not all, of the Patriot Act.

You remember the Patriot Act. We had to strip away our rights as guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution to preserve our rights … whaaa? It was reminiscent of the Vietnam War “logic” first uttered by an un-named Army major to Associated Press Reporter Peter Arnett in 1968: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

  • The Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
  • The town in Vietnam was Bén Tre, the capitol of the province in the south of Vietnam.
One of several types of drones used by the military and the CIA to carry out covert assassination missions in Pakistan and Yemen. (DoD file photo)

One of several types of drones used by the military and the CIA to carry out covert assassination missions in Pakistan and Yemen.
(DoD file photo)

We’ll get back to the Patriot Act as that has had a very fascinating history.

What we saw from President Obama in his first term was a very hawkish approach to foreign policy. First of all, President Obama has deported more undocumented aliens than any other president in history, so much so that we now have a negative influx of “illegal” aliens. Then President Obama stepped up the killer drone program, far exceeding what President Bush had done.

Richard Engel of NBC News just did a piece on the drone program and said we had conducted 114 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2010-2011. We’ve actually never really been at war with Pakistan, officially. Most troubling about that report is that despite the theoretical accuracy of drones delivering smart bombs to selected targets, the targeting of enemy combatants is still handicapped by human error. In other words, people that might be completely innocent of any terrorist or anti-American sentiment are getting killed in the process.

Put that aside for the moment and take in the fact that we are not at war with Pakistan, that Pakistan is allegedly one of our allies … and yeah, that can be a little troubling. Not to mention the complete scuttling of that pesky “due process” we like to claim as a hallmark of our judicial system.

There’s this designation the military has for one type of strike, called a “signature strike.” Terrorists have “signature” behaviors, hence the name. In this one the military and intelligence analysts see an individual acting like he (or she) might be a terrorist or enemy combatant so that person is targeted and bloop! They are taken out by a drone strike. The due process consists of a few well-trained (we hope) individuals who make subjective judgments about the movements of these people that are targeted.

But that’s really small potatoes in this war on terror … err, terrorists. Terrorism is an idea and we can’t wage war on ideas. Terrorists are people and we do wage war on people — with or without a declaration and lately it’s been the latter.

The big thing is killing the enemy, whomever those people might be and wherever they might be trying to hide, be it in Pakistan or Yemen, or … who knows? The president reserves the right to strike enemy combatants even within U.S. borders.

Thanks to policies first initiated by the previous administration. Use the drones to find the enemy and then use them to kill the enemy. Pass the Patriot Act that gives the Executive Branch (The President) sweeping powers to shred the fabric of our Bill of Rights and then commence to shred those rights.

Open an offshore prison for “enemy combatants” and hold individuals there indefinitely without charging them with any specific crimes, deny them access to visitors, legal counsel and all the rights that we expect in these United States … and then of course start data mining everyone’s electronic information with secret approval from a secretive tribunal known as the FISA Court. And I mean everyone’s electronic information; from your phone calls to text messages, e-mails, private messages via instant messaging services — every-fucking-thing.

Is Agent Smith reading your Facebook messages and examining your telephone habits? (Verizon map and Agent Smith from the Matrix by the Wachowskis)

Is Agent Smith reading your Facebook messages and examining your telephone habits?
(Verizon map and Agent Smith from the Matrix by the Wachowskis)

According to the report from the Guardian, a U.K. publication, the government isn’t interested in the names of the users or the conversations. They just want the phone numbers and email addresses so they can look for signatures … and, as it turns out, to read all your electronic communications. Maybe they’re not listening to our phone calls, but the government is reading all our communications: emails, private messages on Facebook and other social media; reading our instant messages, our posts in all the various forums and message boards we frequent — every-effin’-thing. Looking for what some person or group of people had decided is “signature” behavior and speech of terrorists.

Remember, “signatures” is one of the ways the military and CIA use to identify targets to kill in the assassin drone program.

Who are you talking to, texting, emailing? How long? Do any of your contacts have connections to terrorists or terrorist groups, foreign or domestic? Are YOU a terrorist? Well, are you? Or, are you a virtual loudmouth blowhard that talks tough on every message board you can find because you are, theoretically, anonymous? Well, you aren’t quite so anonymous. The government probably has us all tagged for being internet trolls, although it’s a good bet  they have a more clinical term.

What do your electronic communications say about you?

That all started under the Bush (43) Administration when almost the entire Congress voted “Yea” and passed George Bush’s USA Patriot Act in 2001. And it all continued year-after-year as each Congress passed the extensions with near unanimous votes. Even Nancy Pelosi voted for it in 2001. She hasn’t voted for the extensions, at least not in recent years. Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: “USA PATRIOT ACT” is an acronym for  Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.

Both of California’s Democratic senators have consistently voted for it — the original Patriot Act and then every extension. Barbara Boxer, easily one of the most liberal members of Congress, has gone around the bend with the Patriot Act and its extensions.

Just about every Republican has voted “Yea” to the Patriot Act and all its extensions. So this is about the most bipartisan piece of legislation to make it into law since 2001.

Now the current president, Barack Obama, has taken all these policies from the Bush Administration and upped the ante on them. He’s authorized more drone strikes than Bush — way more. He hasn’t shipped any prisoners to Gitmo since he took office. Nope, instead he has our enemies killed by drones. And if we do take prisoners they get turned over to some other government for the kind of torture that makes a person shudder at the thought of it.

And then we find out the National Security Agency (NSA) is data mining all the electronic communications from America’s largest domestic phone/communications company, Verizon … and every major internet company we can think of, from Yahoo to Google, Facebook to Skype, Apple and Microsoft. Every internet company is cooperating and the government has a software program developed just for the task. It’s called PRISM. So far the companies are claiming they aren’t involved in this meta data mining, but NSA says otherwise. Yes, the NSA admits to doing it.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about meta data mining. In 2006 Susan Page of USA Today did an extensive article about it, with the NSA’s limited cooperation. You see, just about everyone in government, left, right and center, was — and is — for this kind of data mining. That’s why the extensions get passed with nearly unanimous votes.

Strange bedfellows indeed. Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein from California and Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia got together to tell us not to worry, it's all "routine." (screen grab)

Strange bedfellows indeed. Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein from California and Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia got together to tell us not to worry, it’s all “routine.”
(screen grab)

And it makes strange bedfellows of those few legislators that oppose the Patriot Act. Imagine hyper-conservative libertarian Rand Paul standing shoulder-to-shoulder on this with Nancy Pelosi.

As mentioned earlier: it’s the most bipartisan legislation to make it into law in the last 12 years.

Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) got up in front of the cameras Thursday — together — and told reporters this sort of data mining was routine. A FISA judge reviews the extension and then routinely approves the warrant.

  • FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It was first passed in 1978 and then updated to accommodate the digital age.

Notice the word “Foreign” in the title. That’s because it is tied to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the somewhat secret group of judges charged with either approving or denying applications to spy on people outside the scope of our civil liberties.

And as we have found out — once again — it isn’t just foreign surveillance the government is after, the counter-terrorism folks want all our communications. As Senators Feinstein and Chambliss said, this has been “routine” for at least the past seven years. Before that the Bush Administration just did it without any oversight of any kind from any court or legislative body.

Putting each application to mine data under the auspices of the FISA Court and submitting that provision of the Patriot Act to constant renewal by the full Congress was a response to objections, loud and angry objections, when it was discovered, through leaked information, our government was steadily getting our telecom companies to turn over all of our communications records for government use — voluntarily.

And it was all made possible by the passage of the Patriot Act. Some of us were against this law from the beginning because we envisioned what was coming. But in 2001 those of us that opposed the Patriot Act were being shouted down as anti-American and unpatriotic. “You Socialist scum! ‘Patriot’ is even in the name!”

Ask not for whom the Agents Smith come, they may be coming for YOU! (From the movie The Matrix by the Wachowskis, Warner Brothers and Village Road Show Pictures)

Ask not for whom the Agents Smith come, they may be coming for YOU!
(From the movie The Matrix by the Wachowskis, Warner Brothers and Village Road Show Pictures)

So, President Bush and his neocon team created a fine little law that allowed them to do just about anything to spy on us. After Bush’s eight-year term was up Barack Obama and his allegedly leftist, Socialist mob took over. Yeah, the president has stopped the torture of prisoners and he wants to close Guantanamo Bay, but he’s expanded everything else Bush started when the Patriot Act was first passed.

As I wrote earlier: it’s the most bipartisan piece of legislation to make it into law in the past 12 years. It was a terrible policy under the Bush Administration and it’s an even worse policy today.

Who knew that one day Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and I would agree on something? I need to lie down for a moment and appreciate this development. That just blew my mind.





About the author

Tim Forkes

Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative college newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment issues, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the business of government and business was so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that reality. Contact the author.
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