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Pruning the Patriot Act | Unpopularity Contest | P.B.S. Reprieve | Tongues Wag in Congress

by WS Editors

Jul 1, 2005 | National Security, Politics


A Patriotic House—Well, sort of. The House of Representatives voted to strike Section 215 from the notoriously nosy USA Patriot Act, thereby barring searches by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies of citizens’ public library records.

The American Library Association says it has found 200 cases in which law enforcement officials made requests for information from libraries; the requests included data on readers who checked out books on Osama bin Laden and others. The Senate is also expected to agree to end that practice.

But to offset its sensible move, the House later voted to try again to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing the burning or other destruction of the United States flag. That has been tried repeatedly in the House in the 16 years since the Supreme Court ruled, in 1989, that the Constitution’s First Amendment protects flag burning as a statement of free expression. The House vote this time was 286 to 130, including more than the two-thirds of members present, and voting, required to approve the proposal of a constitutional amendment.

The Senate has never passed such a ruling, but things may be different in this pre-election year, in which the legislators of all 50 states have already passed resolutions calling for an amendment making the destruction of Old Glory a crime.

Bush’s Poll Results Keep Falling—We saw an editorial-page cartoon in the San Antonio Express-News that showed President Bush smilingly saying: “The way I see it, things are looking up!” Trouble was that he was doubled over and looking upside down and backwards at plunging opinion poll arrows on “Support for the War,” “Support for My Social Security Plan,” and “Support for Me.”

Bush’s foreign policy has increased anti-American opinion in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, according to a worldwide poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. A majority of the 17,000 people questioned in 10 of the 16 countries polled hold unfavorable opinions of the United States.

P.B.S. Makes a Comeback—Only weeks after a House Appropriations Committee voted to cut $100 million from the $400 million planned for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (C.P.B.), a federal agency that channels funds to the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio, the Republican-led trim was undone by a full House vote. A growing G.O.P. drive to “deliberalize” public broadcasting seemed to be faltering. The repair vote in the House was 284 to 140.

But there is still a rocky road ahead. For one thing, Kenneth Tomlinson, a right-winger who is chairman of the C.P.B., managed to get another Republican conservative, Patricia Harrison, named as the organization’s president. She is a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. The activist group People for the American Way is collecting petitions calling on President Bush to remove Tomlinson.

It remains to be seen what the Senate will do to the appropriation for public broadcasting, and whether it will restore other cuts of millions of dollars still in the House measure.

Impolite Politics—First, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) was forced to offer an apology on the Senate floor for comparing the conduct of our military in its alleged abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to that of “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags . . . Pol Pot or others.” He formally withdrew that comment.

Then, Representative John Hostettler (R-IN) was forced to withdraw his charge that “the long war on Christianity in America” was being conducted in the House of Representatives “by the usual suspects, the Democrats.” “Democrats can’t help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians,” he said.

The House was debating an amendment to a Defense Department appropriations bill that would have required the Air Force Academy to prevent “coercive and abusive religious proselytizing” among its cadets. Objections to Hostettler’s remarks stopped that debate for 45 minutes. Finally, to avoid having his words formally stricken from the record, Hostettler finally asked for, and was granted, unanimous consent to withdraw them.

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