Friday, December 16, 2005

Times Union gets part of the story right

Editorial on the Times Union: "Not quite, Mr. Sweeney
The congressman's vote against the Patriot Act is based upon some very odd reasoning

First published: Friday, December 16, 2005

This much needs to be said at the start. U.S. Rep. John Sweeney voted against renewing the Patriot Act the other day, and any vote against the collective assault on civil liberties that misleadingly named set of laws represents can't be discounted.

The problem is that Mr. Sweeney's vote needs to be recorded with a rather dubious asterisk. His formal opposition to the Patriot Act on Wednesday was in protest of how the federal government disperses the money to fight terrorism. Mr. Sweeney, a Republican from Clifton Park, happens to be right when he complains so bitterly that such money doesn't get spent in the places that need it the most. That means, more than anywhere, New York.

Still, what odd reasoning and what odd priorities. Mr. Sweeney actually said that the funding of anti-terrorism activities is more important than the provisions for trying to prevent terrorism spelled out in the Patriot Act. The threat to civil liberties doesn't seem to trouble him in the least.

'We've wasted tens of billions of dollars and we cannot continue to do this,' Mr. Sweeney said. 'It's a fundamental issue of the culture of Congress and whether we're willing to be adults.'

Again, there's no reason for anyone to make an issue of Mr. Sweeney's concern about where federal money goes. He's been an unyielding advocate for New York and all the money it needs ever since it was so viciously attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Only now that Mr. Sweeney has called upon his fellow members of Congress to act more maturely, more is at stake than spending formulas. A Congress comprised of adults would take civil liberties a lot more seriously than Mr. Sweeney does.

Instead it would be full of representatives and senators who would stand up to President Bush when he says, 'The Patriot Act is essential to fighting the war on terror and preventing our enemies from striking America again.' The truth is, some provisions of the Patriot Act are more susceptible to abuses by overzealous law enforcement agents than they are an effective means of hunting down suspected terrorists. Civil liberties don't have to be compromised in the name of security.

There are people, albeit a minority, in Congress -- adults, presumably -- who realize that. Among them is U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty, a Democrat from Green Island. He, too, was among the 174 House members who voted against the renewal of the Patriot Act. Unlike Mr. Sweeney, however, Mr. McNulty did so for the right reasons."

Even a Hearst Paper can tell that there's real trouble with the Patriot Act.

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