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Congress’s shameful Patriot Act brinksmanship

The four-mile stretch of beach from 55th Street in Newport Beach, California, to the end of the Huntington Beach Pier may be the happiest and zaniest place on earth on Saturday mornings. It certainly was this past weekend, with an Olympic-distance triathlon, the “Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge,” a vast women’s volleyball tournament and the usual assortment of thousands of surfers, fishermen, runners, joggers and walkers thrown together in a typical Southern California brew.

Of course there were also two lonely Taiko drummers mastering their art far out on the sand.

These thousands and thousands of wildly diverse folks pursuing their various types of play (and some commerce, for there are beach establishments all along my regular route — restaurants, bike and board rentals, the occasional back-of-van entrepreneur selling wood to the fire pit folk) is the result of a peaceful, largely nonviolent, largely free market-driven country that cares very little about what you like to do provided it doesn’t collide with anyone else’s pastimes. I defy anyone not to smile at such an array of, well, American-ness as Huntington Beach on a Saturday morning.

All of it protected, of course, by lifeguard towers and an occasional station peopled with very talented men and women—the Huntington Beach Police and Fire Departments. They are rarely glimpsed but instantly on the scene of any serious trouble. The same goes for the Coast Guard beyond the pier, a United States Navy beyond that, and a vast military around the world backed up by various agencies reporting to the Director of National Intelligence, chief among them the CIA, the various agencies within the Pentagon and the National Security Agency.

All of those unseen layers working to allow these four miles of beach its absurd carnival of laughter and fun, and to do so without intrusion or even anything approaching general awareness. So it is across the nearly three million square miles of the Lower 48 and our far-flung sister states to the north and in the Pacific.

Saturday was just another day in the life of a country that is enjoying the most freedom, and for the longest stretch of time, of any other place in the world throughout history. The activities of a beach town at the western edge of the country are different than those of other places throughout this country. But they are carried out largely free of government supervision — just like they are anywhere from Maine to Miami and everywhere in between the HB Pier and the Outer Banks.

Whether at work or at play, Americans — except, of course, for those under orders or in confinement — do what they want, when they want, where they want (so long as the “where” is not privately owned by someone else). Remarkable what we and the generations before us have built.

Even though this ordered freedom took so long to build, it is also very, very fragile. That’s in part because the world has produced such genuinely evil forces and such monstrous weapons of destruction that who knows what the next decade might bring to our shores, much less the next century.

Which is why it is so astonishing that Congress is on the brink of allowing the crucial tools of our security embedded in the Patriot Act to lapse without a replacement. It is beyond reckless. A better word is “insane,” especially considering the nonchalance with which it has happened. It is brinksmanship combined with lassitude.

It is a shameful thing. So many Americans have sacrificed everything to build the country, and D.C. cannot even maintain a thin shield of uninterrupted security, even as the threats grow and multiply.

The only word that captures what our deadliest enemies must be feeling in response to such frivolity by our political class is “confidence.”


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