Obama’s mental bookkeeping

David Bromwich writes:

Minutes before midnight last night [on May 26], President Obama, in Paris, by a species of teleportable pen signed into law a four-year extension of the Patriot Act: the central domestic support of the security apparatus devised by the Bush administration, after the bombings of 11 September 2001 and the ‘anthrax letters’ a week later. The first Patriot Act passed the senate on 25 October 2001, by a vote of 98-1 – the opposing vote coming from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. In the years that followed, a minority view developed, which said that the Patriot Act ‘went too far’; but its steadiest opponents have come from outside the mainstream media: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute, and libertarian columnists such as Glenn Greenwald and Nat Hentoff.

In the last few days, two senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, took up the mantle of Senator Feingold (who lost his bid for re-election in the anti-Obama midterm disaster of 2010). Both spoke against a government interpretation of the new Patriot Act which has not yet been shared with the American people.

The senate as a whole voted (this time 72-23) to renew a law that citizens have had no opportunity to understand, as Wyden and Udall present it, and that few members of Congress have looked into, even to the limited extent allowed. The Patriot Act controls secret investigations. The government, however, according to Wyden, has a private understanding of the law. This interpretation has been classified. So the meaning of a law about secrets is hidden because the government’s view of the law is itself a secret.

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