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Renewing the PATRIOT Act: The Police State Continues to Grow

Analysis by civil liberties attorney John Whitehead.

Most Americans have been lulled into thinking that the pressing issues are voting in the next election or repealing health care. This is largely due to the media hoopla over the Tea Party, the recent elections and the health care law, and the continuous noise from television news’ talking heads. But the real issue is simply this – the freedoms in the Bill of Rights are being eviscerated, and if they are not restored and soon, freedom as we have known it in America will be lost. Thus, Congress should not renew the USA Patriot Act, nor should President Obama sign it into law. If he does so, he might just be putting the final nail in our coffin.

Unfortunately, even many of those civil libertarians who took Bush to task and vocally criticized his civil liberties abuses have been virtually silent in face of President Obama’s continuation of Bush programs that undermine the Bill of Rights. For example, The Public Record, a nonprofit news organization based in California, asked prominent civil and human rights leaders “to explain their relatively passive position on the renewal of the Patriot Act. Most did not respond. One who did requested that his name not be used because he is still hoping to energize some of the silent voices.” Here’s what he had to say:

Many of my colleagues have just given up on the Patriot Act, either expressly or implicitly (in terms of the mindshare, energy, and resources dedicated to the issue). They don’t seem to understand or recall just how foundational this supposedly ‘emergency’ law was in setting the stage for the infringements that came later.

Sheer exhaustion plays a role, but the fact that it’s been nearly a decade means that generational change is even starting to have an impact, as have all the other irons in the fire – so many other traumatizing events have come up to distract and rightfully demand attention (torture, even broader surveillance, illegal war, assassinations), and a corrosive new so-called realism (cynicism, actually) about the politics of terrorism and the complicity of our fear-driven media and political class, combined of course with a reluctance to undermine our first black president and whatever incremental progressive achievements he can make.

So the situation’s pretty bleak out there, and will only turn around, in my view, if there is much greater bottom-up, local, and peer-to-peer, community-to-community activism.

It’s time to wake up, America.

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