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Ill Wind Blowing

April 28, 2003

They call the wind Maria, although some have other names. The wind here last week disturbed sleep and contributed to the general restlessness that is the state of the union.

You can pick your source of unrest these days. The PATRIOT Act has enraged me since it was passed in October 2001. Now is the time to tell your Congressmen that you’ve lost patience with the matter. Tell them they’ve had a year and a half to correct their egregious error and they should get on with it.

This is a controversial political issue, but I bring it up in this column because it directly affects the operation of libraries as well as the principles that public libraries both represent and put into practice daily.

There is not one whiff of American patriotism in the cynically named PATRIOT Act.

I know — the act was passed by our duly elected representatives. But that was merely democracy in action. It was also an abject failure to uphold fundamental American principles, such as due process and a separation of powers to provide checks on would-be authoritarians and other powermongers.

Authority is an appetite not easily controlled. Now PATRIOT Act II is on the table, designed to fill in the ‘holes’ in the first PATRIOT Act. The first one was passed just six weeks after 9/11. These ideas were not developed in response to a crisis. They were already written in the notebooks of Taliban- like people waiting for their chance to inject them into the law of the land.

Attorney General Ashcroft even denied there was anything like PATRIOT Act II in the works just one day before camera-ready copy of a full-blown law was leaked to the press. Is this the kind of man you would permit unfettered access to your life?

How about convicted felon John Poindexter as head of the military’s Total Information Awareness program’ Or Henry Kissinger as head of the September 11 Commission, the independent commission that everyone but the Bush administration wants to investigate the events leading up to 9/11.

Now that was a cynical appointment. I think one of the reasons the administration opposes such a probe is that it is likely to reveal solvable problems within the existing security agencies, negating any arguments for the PATRIOT Acts.

These are people who want very much to peek in your windows. Attorney General Ashcroft has made it clear he won’t compromise on any of his newfound, unrestricted authority.

There is no one, especially in the current administration, that is fit to monitor and judge my reading, my personal pursuits, or any detail of my life. I don’t declare this out of arrogance but out of my sense of personal responsibility — something I’m not turning over to any authority, political or religious or, God forbid, a combination of them.

How much power do you want to grant to people like this?

I can ask you this as your local librarian because I have to think about the circumstance in which a minion of the New McCarthyans comes in with a badge and piece of paper from a secret court that is subject to no judicial review and demands to see a record of what you have checked out from the library.

And I couldn’t even hint to you that this happened. This is tame compared with other powers — and thus abuses — granted by the PATRIOT Act.

More on libraries and the PATRIOT Act next time. Meanwhile, tell your Congressmen what you think … while it’s still safe to do.

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