215 + 9/11 = 64

Contrary to the hopes of some, the Patriot Act is popular among Americans. Very popular. In fact, Mr. Kerry is now back on the PA bandwagon, obviously making the same connection that 64% of Americans have already made. That being the correlation of this law to national security post 9/11. As Jeff Jacoby aptly writes, “…the Patriot Act wasn't passed in a vacuum.�

Take Section 215 of the Patriot Act, one of the law's most controversial. It allows investigators to obtain records and other "tangible things" in the course of a terrorism investigation. This, the ACLU informs us, means that "the FBI could spy on a person because they don't like the books she reads, or because they don't like the web sites she visits. They could spy on her because she wrote a letter to the editor that criticized government policy."

There's just one problem with that scenario: It isn't true.


because I just don't trust the government to do the right thing. Libertarian maybe?

The fact that the PA states that it can't be used to do x, y or z doesn't mean it won't happen, because the government has done all kinds of spying on its citizens (and indeed is doing so now, only we hear about various local governments' police forces doing this ) in the past.

I'm still confused as to why so many conservatives feel the need to defend the PA when so many other conservatives (Bob Barr comes to mind) feel it's a true threat to liberty.

I'm really wishing that the effort that had gone into spying on legal civil dissenters (environmentalists, NORML, etc.) had gone into true terror organizations.

We seem to be in disagreement about basic premises, which are not generally susceptable(sp?) to more discussion.At the risk of putting on a "mind reading act", I think your statements imply two premises that I just cannot accept at this time:1) Left completely unfettered, al-Qaeda is capable of destroying America as a nation, and most or all of it's people.2) Curbing constitutional rights and broad surveillence in society are effective tools in preventing terror acts.If either of these points are misstatements of what you believe, correct me with my blessing.As to the first point, I don't deny that bin Laden et all DESIRE to destroy America and its people. I do believe that the lack the capability to do so now and for the foreseeable future. They have the capability to cause us death and grief, but not on a nation threatening scale. Even a thousand 9/11's in a single year could not take as many lives as heart disease. They don't have that capability. Neither do they have occupying armies. We won't be forced to pray towards Mecca anytime soon. As we have learned in Afghanistan, you need boots on the ground to rewrite societies.Nazi Germany could have taken over the world. The Soviet Union could have destroyed us and Russia still can. By comparison, al-Qaeda are a group of petty killers with delusions of grandeur. Having said that, if you live in New York or Washington, I understand if you have a different point of view.As to the second point, I simply point to Russia. Effectively, there are no real rights in Russia. The central government law enforcement and military have a free hand throughout the country and yet Chechens can explode bombs in the nation's capitol on a regular basis. Russia is exhibit A that you can be both unsafe and unfree.So there you have it. If I believed that al-Qaeda were capable of eliminating America and that giving up centuries old constitutional guarantees would stop them, I would certainly support what our government was doing without hesitation. I don't share that premise, so I must question. Just remember that rejecting Ashcroft, et al is NOT the same as embracing al-Qaeda and their sick goals.

Your points are well taken Daniel.

And yes, we have little to go on here with respect to this war. Two years, five, ten? Unchartered territory for sure.

So we can agree that no one knows for sure what will happen tomorrow with these folks who hate Americans. What we do know is they want to kill all Americans. That is me, you, my four-year old daughter, all infidels that they would gladly murder in some cowardly McVeighish scenario in the name of their warped, twisted jihad on civilization.

For me, I must trust Ashcroft. And do.

Tomeboy,Now that you've explained that you mean the poll to be a measure of public opinion, and not as a measure of whether the PA is right, I withdraw my objections. I've said all along that polls are about feelings, so you're obviously using them in the manner intended. I don't believe I've ever claimed that a majority of Americans wish repeal of USAPA, but if I have, I apologize. Although many people in this country do oppose this Act, they are not a majority today.However, I'm not comforted by your and the gov't statements that these are "temporary" wartime restrictions. The reasons I'm not is because 1) Administration officials from the president on down have said that the "war on terror" will last decades and 2) Owing to the hypersecret nature of the this war, there is no way of knowing when we've won. Come to think of it, I'm not sure anyone in or out of the adminstration can clearly articulate what our victory condition would be? When the last terrorist anywhere is dead?Either way, we are looking at a war timeframe of many decades. This we HAVE NOT had before. None of our "great wars" - civil war, WWI, WWII, lasted more than five years. In each case, we knew what victory would look like and the average citizen could make reasoned guesses to when peace may come again. We are currently being set up for "war without end", hence restrictions put in place now will never drop for the rest of our lives if we wait for the war to be over.Finally, who says I have to make a choice between Ashcroft and bin Laden? One wants the unfettered right to toss my fellow citizens behind bars for life, and the other wants to kill me and as many of my coreligionists as possible. The enemy of my enemy is NOT necessarily my friend. As we saw in both Afghanistan and Iraq during the 80s.

Heh. Good one.


They (polls) matter because we are a democracy. No, I don't mean to suggest a "tyranny of the majority" however these snapshots are the only means available to gauge American public opinion. And debunk spin by PA detractors re the sentiments of Americans and their civil rights during our current war.

You mentioned the Bill of Rights. As I we have discussed before, national security has historically trumped "civil rights" during war time. Nothing new here. This is also where I come down on the PA. We are in a war. And yes, I "trust" Ashcroft more than Bin Laden and his ilk. When the war is over, I will be the first to jump on the other side. (save me a seat)

Something else no less important here. Many are lead to believe that "draconian" wartime measures are left standing in peace time. Not true. Lincoln reinstated Habeus Corpus, Japanese were released from internment camps, etc..

For a sense of relativism here regarding our Bill of Rights today, consider the following written about George Washington in 1802. "(Washington)is the grand lama of Federal adoration, the immaculate divinity of Mt. Vernon." James Thomson Callender, the author of these words was tried and convicted of Sedition by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase for printing this, the First Amendment notwithstanding. He served nine months in jail. Any thoughts on how long Michael Moore's sentence would have been two hundred years ago??

No, polls aren't everything. But they certainly do a serviceable job of pouring water on those that wish to portray a different consensus of national opinion about the Patriot Act.

I won't give you my usual spiel on why polls regarding basically factual matters don't seem useful to me. If someone doesn't remember my usual spiel, just ask!My question to Tomeboy is: Why do polls on factual questions such as "Does the PA weaken the guarantees given in the Bill of Rights" matter? If a poll ever came out showing majority support for abortion on demand, would that be a sign for abortion opponents to chill out?I'm just not ready to have justice and liberty determined by majority vote. I don't think you are either, but your frequent citing of favorable polling data as evidence of the rightness of the Act makes me wonder sometimes.

Hitler and Stalin *did* a lot, too. Thanks, Greg.

The government is asking you to, myself and others are simply saying 'chill out'.

This administration has *done* a lot, some good, some bad. But at least they are actually *doing* something and not just making nice speeches in an effort to pacify everyone.

Heh. Good one.

In reply to GregS, the government IS asking us to trust them. I heard the guy who was largely responsible for the drafting/research on the PA interviewed on radio a while back. His point was, essentially, "if you're not guilty, you have nothing to fear"(!).

Frankly this current administration does so little right that I do have something to fear....them and their misguided views.

Makes for a good read, and they include the margain of error, something to always keep in mind

Ah....but what about the margain of (t)error? ; )

How does that old saying go? Something about lies, damn lies, and statistics, or polls, or something?In any case... A Neat Collection of terror/politics related polls done by and reported in major media places. Makes for a good read, and they include the margain of error, something to always keep in mind.

No one's saying we should trust the government. There are plenty of cases were law enforcement officials have abused their authority. That's not an excuse not to pass laws or create rules that help fight terrorists.

They have the capability to cause us death and grief, but not on a nation threatening scale.

Daniel, respectively speaking, I disagree.

From my perspective you are trying to apply an old paradigm to a model that has not yet been defined. Comparing Al Qaeda to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union is not a fair assessment. Your analogy is akin to our war in Vietnam. The tactics of our enemy had changed, but we (our military) didn’t. Ashcroft et al understand this. I hope.

Al Qaeda is chaos incarnate. Havoc is their business, not territorial pursuits per se. And they are a threat on many fronts. First, consider our economy’s sensitivity to terrorism. We are just now emerging from a two year plus downturn since 9/11. This market continues to walk on egg shells today.

There is also the psychological dimension to this war that I consider a threat. Our nation’s collective psyche has been scarred. Severely. A policy of acquiescence, or acceptance of hit and run terrorism exacerbates this condition. The PA is proactive, as is our war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Alleged civil rights abuses notwithstanding, the PA represents one of many preemptive tools employed by our government to protect us. I want this and so do most other Americans. (hence my polling data).

Lastly, I don't subscribe to a "casualty criteria" to establish a bonifide national security threat. I don’t live in New York, but I wonder if there is a sense among the locals of playing Russian roulette? What subway, train station or building will be the next target? Could we surmise that their definition of national security may differ from others? I would also, respectively of course, submit that your designation of New York and Washington as the only hot spots for future terrorism is a bit naïve. It think it was Sun Tzu that said “Never underestimate your opponent.�
Anyway, all of the above constitute our nation’s security. One life or many, if it is on our soil and carried through by our enemy it is a national security issue. Do we really want to assess this issue based upon what one may consider a meaningful body count? I shudder to think of the impact on my life of losing just two Americans; my daughter and wife. Israel understands this and we should too.

Daniel, again, this is a war of will. Al Qaeda doesn’t seek to occupy this country, only to break its resolve. Conceding that hit and run terrorist actions, eg 9/11, are not “nation threatening� and must somehow be accepted as a way of life, is not only wrong but self defeating.

I want all Al Qaeda destroyed. I want it done with dispatch, using all available means necessary and completed as soon as possible. You too should want the same as the alleged constitutional liberties that are now threatened are a direct result of Al Qaeda. The sooner they are dealt with, the sooner we move on to a post PA nation.

As for Chechnya. Russia is cash strapped. Severely cash strapped. They cannot sustain a war in Chechnya, if so, Putin would have moved in long ago. Taking your analogy of Russia one step further. How many terrorist attacks did the old Soviet Union sustain from disgruntled satellites, or from those same Chechnyans pre-1990? What about China, North Korea, Cuba today? Perhaps the terrorism in modern day Russia is a direct result of the new civil liberties afforded to their citizens?

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