“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

All Right, the Party is Over

On my way back, I sat next to a twenty something IT expert who was a chatty little thing. I rarely talk to the person next to me on a flight for the simple reason that a long air flight is one of the few times where you can have several hours of uninterrupted privacy, but she was cute in her own chubby little way and determined to talk.

We discussed the internet and the evaporation of privacy. She said something that really jarred me and that was "the Milleniums" (her word for her generation) have no expectation of privacy. That expectation has been shattered by social media. After she stopped talking and fell to sleep, I thought to myself, "Can you have freedom without personal privacy?"

Rand Paul, Tea Party Ask: What About Privacy?

It's been nearly a decade since Congress, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, hastily approved the USA Patriot Act and its historic expansion of law enforcement and domestic intelligence-gathering powers.

For just as long, civil libertarians have been agitating for legislators to hold a full-blown debate on the sweeping measure, fast-tracked to President George W. Bush's desk just four days after it was raised in Congress.

This week, the Senate failed again to have a robust back-and-forth on expiring provisions of the act that allow wide latitude in surveillance of Americans.

The pressure on the House and Senate, from the White House and others, was to extend the measures — not to question if they infringe too much on civil liberties.

But freshman Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and Tea Party favorite, raised a ruckus with leaders of both parties over the lack of debate, and forced the issue into the spotlight briefly but potently.

Julian Sanchez of the libertarian Cato Institute has suggested, only half-jokingly, that it would take a "legislative boxing match" to get the press and the public interested in a policy debate over a byzantine intelligence law.

Paul, in taking on Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also from Kentucky, provided that fight.

Paul has since been hailed by civil libertarians and privacy activists for reinvigorating the debate over what rights Americans, in the name of counterterrorism, may have sacrificed.

"It is amazing how much he's been able to drive attention to this by breaking the cozy agreement between Republicans who didn't want to revisit the Patriot Act, and Democrats who didn't want to call too much attention to it," says Sanchez, a longtime advocate of Patriot Act reforms.

And though civil liberties activists may not agree with some of Paul's anti-Patriot Act agenda — including his unsuccessful effort to amend the act to restrict national security officials' access to gun records — his passion and Tea Party clout are seen as an asset to those who have long pushed Congress to rein in aspects of the legislation.

Says Laura W. Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office: "Rand Paul took a very strong stand — he wasn't in the control of the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party."

"If he didn't feel strongly about the substance of the Patriot Act, it would have been perceived as just another — yawn — procedural dustup," Murphy said. "But you could tell that he felt passionately about this."

She says sees common concerns among Tea Party Republicans and progressive Democrats "about the way the Patriot Act undermines our Fourth Amendment rights" that guard against unreasonable searches and seizures.

And Murphy is among those who are not looking to the White House to lead on the issue.

"We'd hoped for a much more progressive position out of the Obama administration," she said.

Paul Vs. Reid And McConnell

What happened between Paul and Majority Leader Reid came pretty close to Sanchez's "boxing match." And there was an equal struggle behind the scenes between Paul and fellow Republican McConnell, who wanted to move to a quick vote without considering changes Paul wanted included.

Reid, from the Senate floor, had attacked Paul's push-back on the Patriot Act as akin to aiding terrorists by giving them "the opportunity to plot against our country undetected."

A clearly infuriated Paul responded later from the floor, saying Reid's comments were "offensive" and "personally insulting." And he dressed down the majority leader for abandoning an earlier promise to have a week of debate on the issue.

"I think we should have an intelligent and rational discussion about this," he said. The issue, he said, is "not so simple that you can just say well, I'm either against against terrorism, or I'm going to let terrorists run wild and take over the country."

Paul also took on McConnell, sending out a statement to supporters that asserted the senior Kentucky senator was working against efforts by his junior colleague to force a debate on amendments to the act.

With pressure building on both Reid, who took heat for his treatment of Paul on the floor, and McConnell, buffeted by Tea Party backlash, Paul was allowed to introduce two amendments — both of which failed — before moving to a final vote.

Paul pronounced himself "pleased that we cracked open the door to shed some light" on the Patriot Act.

Consistent Pressure

Congress has always been under pressure to extend expiring provisions of the counterterrorism law.

And the Obama administration has pushed Congress just as hard as the Bush White House. It insisted that if Congress failed to extend the provisions that were set to expire Thursday, terrorism investigations could be compromised.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, was even dispatched to warn Congress that analysis of "information obtained at the Osama bin Laden compound" could be slowed if the surveillance provisions lapsed.

Sanchez is among those who have long suggested that the need for many of the expanded government powers under the Patriot Act are overstated, as is the imperative that extensions of expiring provisions must be done quickly and without lapse.

"If an investigation is already open, it's grandfathered in if a provision expires," he says. "And if they need to open a new investigation, I would be very surprised if they couldn't figure out a way to do that."

"Terrorism investigations happened before 9/11," he says.

Future Of Debate

Paul has teamed up with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on an amendment to the Patriot Act that would phase out so-called National Security Letters. The controversial letters allow the FBI to collect, without court approval, personal records from financial institutions, credit card companies and Internet service providers.

Paul did not raise the amendment last week; Leahy has promised to raise it as a stand-alone bill.

Murphy, of the ACLU, says she's been heartened to see more members of Congress willing to push back on Patriot Act extensions. They include Democratic Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Jon Tester of Montana and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana.

She sees a western and New England flavor to the core of opposition.

It appears that Paul will remain at the center of the ongoing debate over counterterrorism policy executive power.

"If he can do what he's just done, and show that there isn't a huge political price to pay for saying that there should be limits on government surveillance, maybe other people will step forward, too," Sanchez says.


  1. I needed the break and enjoyed it.

    The thought of a life without the privacy that I enjoyed as a child and a young man seems very sad. I guess if you have never known it, you can't miss it.

  2. Can the bar now expect ash and rat to inform us how the constitution is being shredded by the signing of the patriot act. Don't count on it, for ash it's ok because it's a lib admin and for rat the POTUS is Irish, like he's Italian

  3. Deuce, I don't think you ever had as much "privacy" as you, perhaps, thought you had (in fact, I would almost argue that you have more now than you had then.)

  4. It's always been pretty easy to get the type of records we're talking about, here, esp. if you were, or had a friend, in law enforcement.

  5. Oh, glad you had a good time; Welcome back.

  6. Oh, glad you had a good time; Welcome back.

  7. I am not Italian, I've never even been to Italy.

    As to the shredding of the Constitution, the Patriot Act is a piece of bi-partisan legislation, first passed when the GOP controlled the Executive, thus the veto.

    The Patriot Act is as American as apple pie.

    The Senate approved the final version of the Patriot Act extensions by a 72 to 23 vote on Thursday. The House followed with a 250 to 153 vote, and President Obama "signed" it into law that evening.

    That's bi-partisan, the Patriot Act passed the Senate and House with large majorities.

  8. Sky News - ‎2 minutes ago‎

    Palestinians are delighted. Egypt's opening of the Rafah crossing, its border with the Gaza Strip, is literally the opening of the prison doors on the enclave after a four-year sentence.

  9. Qatar is stepping into the breach, taking a leadership role amongst the those in the Islamic Arc

    AFP - ‎40 minutes ago‎

    DOHA - The Arab League said on Saturday it backs seeking UN recognition for a Palestinian state, as Qatar proposed at a meeting that the Middle East peace process be suspended until Israel was "ready" for talks.

    Which the Egyptians will back, as they follow the money.

    Qatar pledges $10 bln investment in Egypt

    AFP - ‎1 hour ago‎

    CAIRO - Qatar has pledged to invest $10 billion in Egypt, a country with which it had strained relations under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, a minister was quoted as saying on Saturday.

  10. Who here, with a real sign-in, claims that GW Bush shredded the Constitution?

  11. Let's just say, "Im thankful for the 2nd Amendment, and the Two-year Election Cycle. :)

  12. The 2nd Amendment, rufus?

    You going to fire on the National Guard?

    I certainly will not.
    Nor support anyone that does.

  13. As for the President, he is a Polynesian. That back in the day it was decided to include parts of Polynesia in America, not my doing.

    Mexico is more American, than Hawaii, geographically.

  14. Rat, I'll fire on any sonofabitch That Fires on Me.

  15. But, in the real world, the beauty of the 2nd amendment is that "the assholes in power Know we're armed."

  16. And why, rufus, would the National Guard be shooting at you?

    That whiskey still, out in the back?

    Do you think that Missouri is going to be leaving the Union?

    That there will be another Civil War?

    As Mr Lincoln said, we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, which is ratified by the electorate every two years.

    As you say.

  17. But, you know, it's not usually the country's equivalent of the "National Guard" that fires on the citizens. As we've seen in Egypt, Iran, Syria, and other places it's usually "paramilitary" thugs, and imported mercenaries that do the dirty work.

  18. The majority of the electorate certainly supports the Patriot Act, or it'd not have been passed by the Congress, twice.

    Those fellas, they know which way the wind blows.

  19. Rat, of course I can't foresee a situation ever developing where I would be at war with the government of the U.S. On the other hand, as I said,

    It's a Good thing that they know the citizenry is armed.

    In the final analysis, Nothing scares me as much as a Government - Any Government.

  20. Never forget, the first War the U.S. ever fought was against the Whiskey Makers (AKA Farmers) of Western Pennsylvania.

    They were refusing to pay a tax that the large distillers, including G. Washington, his damned self, was exempt from.

    Google: The Whiskey Rebellion

  21. Oh, I know of the Whiskey Rebellion.
    And of the War of Northern Aggression.

    There are certainly many aspects of the Federal regime that I dislike, even despise, but even so, it is what it is.

    Duly elected.

  22. Oh, I knew you knew of the Whiskey Rebellion, Rat. We've discussed it before. I was thinking about some who might not be aware of that particular chapter in our early history.

  23. According to Wikipedia, the Whiskey Rebellion was about taxes

    The whiskey excise was unpopular among small farmers on the western frontier, where protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent government officials from collecting the tax. Resistance came to a climax in July 1794, when a U.S. marshal arrived in western Pennsylvania to serve writs to distillers who had not paid the excise. The alarm was raised, and more than 500 armed Pennsylvanians attacked the fortified home of tax inspector General John Neville. The Washington administration responded by sending peace commissioners to western Pennsylvania to negotiate with the rebels, while at the same time raising a militia force to suppress the violence. The insurrection collapsed before the arrival of the army; about 20 men were arrested, but all were later acquitted or pardoned.

  24. Here's another account of the "rebellion":
    In late October 1794, the Federalized militia entered the western counties of Pennsylvania and sought out the whiskey rebels. By mid-November, the militia had arrested 150 rebels, including 20 prominent leaders of the insurrection. Under the President's authority, General Lee issued a general pardon on November 29th for all those who taken part "in the wicked and unhappy tumults and disturbances lately existing" with the exception of 33 men named in the document. [9] While most of the militia returned home, a regiment occupied the area until the following spring, and organized opposition to the tax evaporated.

    Of the whiskey rebels who were arrested, many were released due to a lack of evidence. Only a few men were tried and just two were convicted of treason. In July 1795, President Washington pardoned the two convicted men and those still in custody or under indictment. Several rebels sought for arrest fled the area, but most were later pardoned as well. President John Adams pardoned David Bradford, who escaped to Spanish-controlled New Orleans, in March 1799.

    While violent opposition to the whiskey tax ended, political opposition to the tax continued. Opponents of internal taxes rallied around the candidacy of Thomas Jefferson and helped him defeat President John Adams in the election of 1800. By 1802, Congress repealed the distilled spirits excise tax and all other internal Federal taxes. Until the War of 1812, the Federal government would rely solely on import tariffs for revenue, which quickly grew with the Nation's expanding foreign trade.

  25. The early Founders were a sociable lot. They drank a ton. And, the big thing was corn whiskey. George Washington was one of the largest distillers. It was a sweet racket.

    The corn farmers out in W. Pa, of course, could make a lot more money by distilling their corn, and transporting the whiskey back east than they could transporting their corn for someone else to distill.

    They didn't like the tax, but it really chapped their ass that the big distillers, like Washington, were exempt.

  26. The party is never over. You know that, at least not with me.

    You got back just in time because my next post probably would have been on Lady Gaga eating Letterman's notes

    This is what I have learned this week. Your roadies, as a rule, never stay on topic. Right? So wouldn't you think that no matter what the post was they should have been able to hold their own. But they couldn't, all week.

    I"m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

    I feel like I should be doing something.

  27. You showed a lot of class, Melody. You did good. Wasn't your fault everyone was on vacation.

  28. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. See if Sarah-baby rides her own Hawg into DC.

    Palin-haters' heads a 'splodin'.

  29. Well, actually only only Deuce was away, oh and Qurik.

    My point wasn't that my posts were ignored. I don't care whether people read me or not. I thank you for your kindness,though.

    My point was without the host present the bar couldn't carry on as usual. It's nothing against any of the patrons. You guys are awesome. I knew no one would post all week so I just wanted to experiment with...I don't know I think I might go cut down some branches off a tree that is blocking the school zone sign, on my way to work.

    When they cut the school budget I think the answering machines were the first to go. I keep calling and no one picks up. I think I might have to do the job myself.

    Last year? One phone call and one message and the tree was trimmed.

  30. Fascinating take on Polynesia being less American than Mexico and he is right! As to The Patriot Act and how it is protecting us and is the will of the people, right again.

    Why two days ago I watched a rather large American white lady, well into her sixties, dressed in slacks, made from a material that had an unlimited ability to expand.( Clearly the result of American knowhow) be pulled aside by our front line federal finest.

    She was surrounded by federal and pensionable agents of the state security, TSA, defending us from terror, by taking the big jolly woman to wand her with an obviously undersized electronic paddle. The jolly lady said that she had two knees and one hip replaced with titanium but the federal agents, in their smart uniforms all with American flags, were not to be fooled that such an engineering fete was even possible.

    The bravery of these fine young men shamed me for not having on my own American flag.

    I backed off fearing for the potential explosion and out of what I estimated to be the range of the potential flying carnage that would result if these brave federal agents accidentally caused the jolly big American lady to prematurely explode. A federal TSA commandante took charge of the operation and after a very thorough virtual interrogation, which I may add did not include the need for wate-rboarding released the jolly lady so that she could waddle with her titanium knees to the first Cinnabon stand to celebrate her release from federal detention.

    A very happy ending.

  31. We decided not to cut the branches and possibly making a video go viral.

    It was too risky driving while intoxicated and possibly getting caught by an officer of the law. It wouldn't have bothered me to be confronted, but a DUI is something I don't need.

  32. Rita's closed at ten and the need to get out of my car for DQ just wasn't in the cards so I ended up at MD's for a large Mcflurry, which put me into shock after I paid 2.65 and they handed it to me in a 12 oz cup.

  33. Mixed messages, to be sure.

    The Taliban target government and NATO officials ...

    Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A top coalition general wounded in a suicide attack Saturday in northern Afghanistan -- one that left seven dead and eight others hurt -- said weeks earlier that he'd charged international troops to "show Afghans ... respect," in part to contrast with brazen actions by the likes of the Taliban.

    While the NATO forces, on the day following the attack upon its high ranking officers ...

    ...inadvertently hit two civilian homes in the volatile southwestern Helmand province, killing 14 women and children, an Afghan government official said Sunday.

    ... the alliance launched the airstrike late on Saturday in retaliation for an attack earlier in the day on a U.S. Marine base in Helmand's northwest district of Nawzad. He said NATO hit two civilian houses, killing five girls, seven boys, and two women.

    Tit for tat?

  34. While it is reported that an aQ faction has taken control of a port city, in Yemen.

    Obviously the capture of the town of Zinjbar by those evil doers justifies an invasion of Yemen, by US forces.

    We just cannot allow those folks a safe haven, can we?

    Especially if we are living in fear of flying fat folk in spandex.

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