Today's Blogs

Patriot Act Redux?

Bloggers discuss the renewal of the Patriot Act; they also react to the use of white phosphorus by U.S. troops in Fallujah and respond to the launch of a new bloggers’ consortium.

Patriot Act redux?: The House and Senate agreed on a “tentative deal” to renew the Patriot Act yesterday; if finalized, the agreement would make most of the current law permanent. According to USA Today, the proposed changes would make the Justice Department accountable to Congress about “its use of national security letters, secret requests for the phone, business and Internet records of ordinary people.” The changes would also make it harder for the government to do roving wiretaps and to obtain business records. (Read a draft of the proposed changes.)

Most believe that the agreement favors the Bush administration. “Overall, it looks like a step in the right direction. Judicial and Congressional oversight is being proposed to the nasty sections,” writesJ.A.S.O.N, a self-described “simple online nerd.” However, he points out, “Essentially, the government would have a single form that guarantees a gag order and trumps any argument the defendant would have since you would have to prove ‘bad faith.’ How exactly do you prove ‘bad faith’ when national security is the argument?” Legal salon Volokh Conspiracy’s Orin Kerr points out  that the Bush administration has benefited from the lack of outcry against the bill and adds: “The basic structure of preexisting law remains in place, but the new law bolsters judicial review and enhances record-keeping and Congressional oversight concerning some of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act.” He also highlights the main developments. “As to the substance of the bill, it contains many illusory provisions that appear to be pro-civil liberties, but are really meaningless or steps backward,” fulminates Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers on liberal Daily Kos. He points to a series of provisions that he finds objectionable.

Some bloggers are encouraged by a small cadre of senators that has threatened to block the renewal because the act contains “unnecessary and intrusive government surveillance.” Hammer of Truth’s libertarian Stephen VanDyke rejoices: “Score one for rational lawmaking. I’m actually hoping they get the cold-shoulder on this so it will become big news and more senators will back them.” So does Kazablog’s Andrew Kaza, a progressive activist who writes: “Don’t think this is a liberal or conservative issue either. One of the Senate’s most conservative members, Larry Craig (R-Idaho) is outraged by this deal.”

Read more about the renewal of the Patriot Act.

White phosphorus/white heat: The Pentagon admitted yesterday to having used white phosphorus, a “highly flammable substance” that critics consider a chemical weapon, in Fallujah last year but insisted that the substance wasn’t used against civilians. However, an Italian documentary made by the state-run broadcaster RAI claims otherwise. According to  Reuters, a former U.S. soldier who was in Fallujah told RAI that he saw “Burned children and burned women” and that “White phosphorus kills indiscriminately.” (Watch the documentary.)

“The effect on the human body, according to a chemical expert, is similar to napalm. Bush and the neo-cons are now synonymous with crimes against humanity,” notesThat’s Another Fine Mess’ liberal Zoe Thomas. Urban Guerrilla’s Commie urges people to take to the streets and points out that “the pentagon at first claimed that it was not used, then said the first statement was incorrect and that it was used as a smokescreen, and then said that it was fired at enemy combatants but not at civilians.”

But quite a few bloggers can’t understand what the fuss is about. Libertarian InstaPundit posts an e-mail from a reader, Jeff Medcalf: “It seems to me that the Left’s position is inconsistent: if WP rounds are WMD, then Saddam clearly had massive WMD stockpiles, and the war was justified.” Black Five’s Uncle Jimbo, a former Special Forces weapons sergeant who has used white phosphorus and trained troops to use it, writes, “I will stick with the very simple fact that WP is not a chemical weapon, or even similar, and our use of it was more humane than using high explosives or other munitions. Unlike the vast majority of people flapping their gums on this issue, I actually know WTF I am talking about.”

Read more about white phosphorous.

Open season on OSM: Bloggers Roger L. Simon and Charles Johnson (of Little Green Footballs) launched Open Source Media, a for-profit blogger consortium, yesterday.

Some are gaga about the enterpise. Soxblog’s Dean Barnett, a conservative journalist, believes OSM could revolutionize mainstream media: “Sometimes if you want to be a journalist you need to be affiliated with an organization of a certain heft to get the access that you want or need. … Because of the size of the audience that OSM will probably reach, politicians and newsmakers will be delighted when a chance to appear on their virtual pages arises.”

But the critics are vicious. “[W]hy should anyone care what these bloggers think? Who are they? Unless you’re already sold on blogging, the teasers are laughable: ‘Blogger Joshuapundit seems quite unhappy,’ ‘War to Mobilize Democracy’ is ‘nervous,’ ” mocks law professor Ann Althouse. She continues, “There’s nothing snappy or exciting in any of that, no sense that these bloggers are likely to come out with anything more interesting than whoever was sitting next to you in the living room where you watched the evening news.” And MartiniPundit’s conservative Matt claims, “It was pretty clear that in signing up I would be giving up the editorial control of my own blog and that the lion’s share of whatever money there was would be going to the big bloggers setting the thing up. While I don’t wish to impute bad motives to the OSM founders, it looked remarkably like a Ponzi scheme.”

Read more about Open Source Media.

Got a question, comment, or suggestion? E-mail