Monday, May 30, 2011

Obama's Patriot Games

May 31, 2011

by Jeff Huber

Harvey Korman and Mel Brooks
test prototype "autopen."
Young Mr. Obama signed an extension of the Patriot Act on May 26, minutes before a midnight deadline.  Or rather, he robo-signed it.  Obama was in France meeting with that country’s president, Nikolas Sarkozy.  The Patriot Act extension was somewhere in Washington, presumably in the Oval Office.  “The White House” told AP’s Jim Abrams to tell us that, “the president used an autopen machine that holds a pen and signs his actual signature.”  Talk about distancing yourself from your actions. 

One supposes that using an autopen involves something like Obama pushing the “enact” button on his 3G iPad II and sending a signal across the web to the iPen on his desk.  Do you think he has a customized Executive Overreach app that controls all that business?  One rather wonders if he read the bill with one of the sundry eBook apps available for iPad before he eNacted it, though one rather doubts that he did. 

One can safely risk a shiny new Illinous quarter that darned few people who ever had anything to do with making the USA Patriot Act law actually read it.  One could also wager that even fewer people know that the law is a god-awful acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”  I bet it took as many true believers to trance up that tortured title as it took to transcribe the Act itself. 

You should have read
the fine print!
It’s little wonder that so few people have read the Patriot Act; it is unreadable.  I regularly read Joyce, Proust, Faulkner and Clausewitz and enjoy them all immensely, but I can’t make hide nor hair of the Patriot Act.  They might as well have titled it Remembrance of Legislation Past, because it is a compendium of amendments to laws already on the books that are themselves unreadable because they’re incomprehensible and/or classified and/or don’t even exist as far as anyone really knows.  About all one can glean about the Patriot Act is that it made the Bill of Rights as obsolete as human decency among Republicans and moral courage among Democrats.   

In 2007, yahooligans from both sides of the aisle howled like Sergeant Fury’s Commandos at the release of an inspector general report that revealed abuses of the Patriot Act by the FBI.  "It shows just how this administration has no respect for checks and balances” barked Democrat Chuck Schumer.  Republican Arlen Specter growled that Congress might "take away some of the authority which we've already given to the FBI, since they appear not to be able to know how to use it."  But in the end, nothing really changed and everybody in the FBI lived to molest the Constitution another day.

This time around, the extension was passed over “bi-partisan resistance” that amounted to little more than a road bump on Obama’s road to establishing an executive branch so plenary as to make Julius Caesar churn in his urn and Dick Cheney jealous.  At the end of the day—or rather minutes before that—Barry the Kid had signed a law that allows his minions to write their own search warrants and listen in on dirty phone calls ‘til they tickle themselves dry.

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Republican leader and a leading neocon chimp, said that provisions of the Patriot Act "have kept us safe for nearly a decade and Americans today should be relieved and reassured to know that these programs will continue."

Sure, Mitch.  All that executive trumping of the Constitution allowed us to catch the Panty Bomber who couldn’t even blow off his own tally whacker and the Times Square Screw Up who locked himself out of his bomb car and his get away car and his apartment, both of whom Inspector Clouseau could have tracked down and nabbed from his deathbed, Patriot Act or no Patriot Act. 

And after all the fuss, Congress passed the extension by a landfill—the vote went 72-23 in the Senate and 250-153 in the House, showing you that your representatives are far more committed to revoking your rights than to providing you with health care.  It’s also another indicator that Congress has completely abdicated its war-making powers to the executive. 

But as indicators of Congressional vaginitis go, the rubber-stamping of the Perpetual Patriot Bill is eclipsed by The Kid’s merry derision the War Powers Act of 1973.  Days not weeks of our Libya lollapalooza have turned into months, which means the O’bombardier’s 60-day deadline for engaging in hostilities not approved by Congress has come and gone like a goose’s breakfast with no Congressional approval, and aside from a few voices like Dennis Kucinich's crying in the Constitutional wilderness, nobody’s overly apoplexied about it. 

Representative Howard Berman of California, a Democrat and enthusiastic consumer of Obama’s precious bodily fluids, gargles, “There are no black-and-white answers here.”  Yes, there are black and white answers, here, Dennis, written in black ink on white paper in the War Powers Act: "s-i-x-t-y-space-d-a-y-s."  Lamentably, though, Berman’s bleat reflects the singular sad truth about the American mutation of the rule of law, namely that laws only mean what they say if they say what the rulers want them to mean. 

I got mine, baby!
The White House says it has all the authority it needs to keep on fighting in Libya, but declines to explain what law gives them that authority or even bother to make a flimsy legal argument to that effect.  That’s probably because there is no argument, flimsy or otherwise, that says what Obama is doing in Libya is legal. 

But Obama is a law unto himself, isn’t he?

As an aside, I loved how Obama makes cutesy appearances like his Memorial Day photo op at Arlington National Cemetery as his outgoing Secretary of War Bob Gates is telling folks like the inner warmongery at the American Enterprise Institute that we’ll need to reduce defense spending by cutting military pay and veteran’s benefits.

Support the troops, huh Uncle Bob?

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance.


  1. Lovely man, that Uncle Bob. Destined for sainthood, no doubt about it. I wonder if anyone will ever ask him about this part of his legacy:

    US Troops discuss "Drop-Weapons"

  2. Commander, it bothers the hell out of me, that what I read is under scrutiny by the feds. (After all I bought your book.)

    What I find comfort in: I had hoped that the Good Lord would be merciful on what we did to the Iraqi people.

    However: Texas is "on fire".... acres and acres... burning to the ground.

    Louisiana, Mississippi...Alabama, Georgia... under water.

    Missouri, Oklahoma.... and now Massachusetts, blown away by tornadoes.

    Kharma is a bitch.... and "Vengance is mine" sayeth..... (you know who.)

  3. Further insights into the empire were found in these 2 articles. Bacevich addresses the handover of power by congress to the imperial president, in line with Huber's discussion of the USA Patriot Actors in our Congress. Hersh mentions the next yellow-cake party being planned for our circus.

  4. Correction: This is the right link to Hersh's heads up about the potential repeat of the infamous Powell yellowcake warning.

  5. Thanks for the great links, ER.