Emergency powers are a funny thing. Granting extraordinary leeway to a governmental authority is crucial when lines of communication have the potential to get crossed, and swift action is needed to address an urgent situation. However, the tricky part comes when it’s time for that governmental authority to give up those emergency powers. When the ’emergency’ is vaguely defined, it becomes easy to justify extending the powers indefinitely. The ability to violate those pesky civil liberties becomes far too tempting, especially if there’s no organized opposition to point out how egregious your abuse of the law is.
US President Barack Obama has signed a four-year extension of the Patriot Act from Paris, extending post-September 11 powers allowing the government to secretly search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of alleged terrorists or their supporters. Hours after the US Senate and House of Representatives passed the law, through votes taken in rapid succession, and just minutes before the law was to expire at midnight in Washington DC, Obama sent in a digital signature, finalising the renewal on Thursday. During congressional debates, legislators rejected attempts to temper the law enforcement powers to ensure that individual liberties would not be abused [emphasis mine].
At the risk of sounding like a member of the tin foil hat brigade, people need to realize that without an effective opposition, the government is not working for your best interests. This is simply the nature of all government; once it begins considering itself the embodiment of the state – rather than the legislative interests of the people of the state – it will become self-serving at the expense of the rights of its citizens. Despite all the hopes pinned on this supposedly liberal president, he has shown – with one stroke of the autopen – to be no less autocratic than his predecessor.
I have supported Barack Obama from the beginning of his first campaign to the office of POTUSA. He spoke a language I agreed with – people becoming more involved with their government and increasing transparency. However, like all leaders, once he gained office he had to begin making compromises. I stuck through him with his ludicrous mishandling of the health care debate and various budgetary fights (his insistence of pretending that Republicans are reasonable people with principled objections rather than seeing them for the howling mob of reactionary plutocrats they are irked me to no end). I cheered when he overturned the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” regulations, and commiserated when he had to sign the renewal of the Bush tax cuts.
However, by signing the Patriot Act back into law rather than simply letting it expire, and by increasing America’s military presence abroad, he has shown himself to be just as unprincipled and prone to corruption as his opening act.
Most chilling about this story?
Congress bumped up against the deadline mainly because of the stubborn resistance from a single senator, Republican freshman Rand Paul, who saw the act’s terrorist-hunting powers as an abuse of privacy rights. Paul held up the final vote for several days while he demanded a chance to change the bill to diminish the government’s ability to monitor individual actions. The bill passed the Senate 72-23.
Any story where Rand Paul is the good guy is one that makes my head spin. The same Rand Paul that thinks that businesses should have the right to discriminate against people based on sex, gender, race… basically whatever they don’t like. This is the guy I have to cheer for standing up for his principles. It’s a sad day.
This is what happens when you don’t have a serious opposition – corruption takes root unabated. The Republicans are too busy trying to torpedo the entire United States economy, by demanding ridiculous service cuts by holding a metaphorical gun to the head of the country’s credit rating, to organize a legitimate force that can criticize acutal government overreach. Although, considering how they explode government interference (while all the while trumpeting for “small government”) when they have power, maybe it’s no surprise that they support unchecked wire taps and surveillance of people who are suspected of crimes in the absence of real evidence.
The lunatics are running the asylum, and the people who were hired as orderlies are too busy trying to steal meds from the supply closet to bother trying to restore order.
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