The original USA PATRIOT Act, as students of history know, was passed more or less unanimously by a terrified Congress in the weeks after Nine Eleven Day. Though much of it appeared to have been drafted well in advance of the attacks, and most of the members who voted for it were not given enough time to actually read it, doubters were swept up in the national wave of gullibility and jingoism that was granted to the White House by a benevolent deity. Reportedly, House and Senate leaders issued thumbscrews during the actual vote in order to keep overly independent legislators from wavering.
Patriot I broadened the government s police powers to fight the scourge of terrorism. It gave the administration new jurisdiction, more or less unimpeded by judicial oversight, to detain and interrogate resident aliens without charging or trying them. So far federal authorities have show a gleeful lack of restraint in trying out these new powers, and federal judges (with a few exceptions) have shown a general willingness to keep out of their way. Conveniently, the Act amended the official definition of “terrorism” to include any activities which “appear to be intended& to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”
Civil libertarians on both the right and the left, lacking any other excuse to get their panties in a bunch, focused on the flexibility inherent in the use of the word “appear.” Even Nixonian loyalist William Safire complained that the Act gave President Bush “dictatorial power.” Of course, the next day, he also announced that he would continue to act as a willing conduit for deceptive leaks in an effort to help enhance that dictatorial power. But still, it was an electrifying moment!
The sequel, Patriot Act II, is being handled even more carefully than the original. Its very existence was kept secret from all but the most toadying Republican congressional leaders. The Center for Public Integrity got its hands on a leaked draft, which spelled out draconian new domestic “counter-terrorism” provisions. These include the power to strip Americans of their citizenship and to more easily deport both citizens and aliens. The government would have greater access to credit reports, fewer restrictions on warrantless searches, and a broadening of wartime surveillance powers without the necessity of it actually being wartime. Plus a vast new DNA database – and doubtless other databases too sensitive to spell out in the actual legislation – would be created to keep tabs on the potentially dangerous 281 million citizens of the US.
Parts of Patriot II were actually attached in secret as riders to other legislation before the existence of the draft became publicly known. Since the leak, Attorney General Ashcroft has essentially denied that the bill exists and/or that the administration will seek to pass it. This claim seems about as credible as Donald Rumsfeld s reluctant promise not to create an Office of Disinformation. In fact, rumors are swirling around Washington that when Congress passed the blank check authorizing the President to go to war whenever he likes, a special subsection in invisible ink gave him the power to pass a new Patriot Act every six months or so. In this case, Patriot II may already be the law of the land.
This reporter has recently received a copy of a proposed Patriot Act III, which would seem to corroborate these rumors. It was accompanied by a tape-recorded message, which self-destructed after five seconds. The tape indicated that Patriot III would be automatically passed at the time of the next scheduled terrorist attack, though the schedule was being distributed only on a “need-to-know” basis. The new bill is known as the GOP PATRIOT Act, or Glorify Our Presidential Powers And Trounce Recalcitrant Independents and Other Traitors. I pass along excerpts from the new legislation in hopes that an enraged populace can convince as many as seven or eight Senators to vote against it:
Section 201, Expansion of Airport Security Zones. This provision extends current airport security regulations to a 500-mile radius surrounding every airport in the nation, leaving only a small patch of Nevada exempt. Citizens will be subject to the new classification as either red, yellow or green citizens. Red citizens are to be treated as potential terrorists and will simply disappear. Yellow citizens are to be regarded as awfully suspicious and will be searched and questioned on a random basis, with every thirteenth subject deported to France. Green citizens are everyone else, who can maintain green status by providing regular information on their yellow and red neighbors to the proper authorities.
Section 202, Prohibition on Joking. Just as it is now forbidden to joke about airport security measures with airport security personnel, further restrictions on joking will be necessary in order to combat terrorism inside the new Security Zones. No jokes about terrorism are permitted, nor can anyone fashion jokes about the policy forbidding jokes. Also proscribed are any jokes concerning President Bush, his cabinet, his parents, his wife, his twin daughters, his brothers, his nephews and nieces, and pretzels. It is likewise forbidden to publish or broadcast any presidential gaffes. The Department of Homeland Security will publish a list of all restricted jokes and malapropisms, though it will be illegal for anyone to read it.
Section 301, Freedom from Freedom of Information Act Act. Although FOIA will remain on the books, it will henceforth be illegal to make any FOIA requests. It will be a misdemeanor to request any information which takes ten years or less to process, as well as any documents which have to have more than fifteen words blacked out. Requesting those documents which have entire pages blacked out except for one or two words will now be a Class One Felony, whereas making requests for papers which you already know are exempt from FOIA will be a capital crime. The death penalty will also apply to anyone leaking government information, receiving or publishing said leaks, or thinking about doing so.
Section 302, Vice Presidential Security. It will be a crime to request, publish or joke about any information whatsoever concerning Vice President Dick Cheney, especially that whole “undisclosed location” thing. This section will apply to any stories concerning Mr. Cheney s health, finances, previous history, official activities, opinions, whereabouts, shoe size or demented half-smile.
Section 303, Media Conglomeration Enhancement. The same three-color system applied to airline passengers in and out of airports will now be extended to media outlets. Green media are limited to the six largest conglomerates, who are directed to consolidate into no more than three within eighteen months. They are to be owned only by defense contractors, sweatshop manufacturers, or wacko right-wing billionaires (this provision may already be in effect). Red media are those who publish, think about publishing, or joke about thinking about publishing any restricted material as described above, or mention this legislation in any way. Yellow media are anyone else, who are permitted to talk about whatever they like outside of restricted subject matter, as long as 60% of content concerns celebrity gossip or sensational crimes. However, any yellow media gaining more than a 2% market share must automatically sell themselves to a green media outlet.
Section 304, White House Press Conferences. No reporter from anything other than a green media outlet will be allowed to attend Presidential press conferences or White House briefings, except for Helen Thomas, who must stand facing the corner. All questions are to be submitted in advance to the White House Office of Communications, who reserve the right to rephrase them in order to make them easier to understand. The President is to be filmed only from the waist up, and a three-second tape delay will be maintained for gaffe editing. On some occasions, it may be required to speed up the film of the press conference in order that the President may appear to be talking normally.
Section 401, Two-Party System Enhancement. Only two parties will be permitted, or maybe one and a half. The Democratic Party will henceforth be known as the Minority Party. Any and all minority groups are required to take up their grievances with this party, who will then negotiate terms with the Republican, or Ruling Party. Computerized touch-screen voting systems with no paper trail, secret software patches and anonymous ownership will be installed in any jurisdiction which threatens to give the Minority Party a majority. The Congressional delegation of the Minority Party will allocate votes depending on the Homeland Security Department s terror alert code. During times of red alert, they will give the President 90% of what he wants, during orange alert 80%, and so on (this provision may not be strictly necessary).
Section 501, Corporate Super-Personhood. All corporations are to be granted super powers, including the power to deflect all lawsuits; to beat the living crap out of people who publish parody websites or make fun of their logo or brand name in any way; to create advertisements which hypnotize people and bend them to their will so that they authorize regular fund transfers form their checking accounts; to freeze federal regulators into stone, and to hide within the heart of the sun in order to avoid taxation.
Section 601, Presidential Military Authorization. The President shall have the power to go to war on a whim, including but not limited to daydreams and fantasies the President may have about military action on any particular country. The President shall keep an enemies list of countries to be attacked, ranked in order of evilness. Military action will be automatically triggered whenever the President s aggregate approval rating falls below 54%.
MARK ZEPEZAUER is an author and cartoonist based in Tucson, Arizona. His most recent book is Boomerang! How Our Covert Wars Have Created Enemies Across The Middle East And Brought Terror To America, from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org