The Lighter Side
Obscure provisions
By Jack Doman
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 29, 2007, 01:05

It seems like the announcement of every other Washington scandal lately includes a reference to some �obscure provision� of one of our laws.

  • Eight federal prosecutors are fired and under an obscure provision of the USAPATRIOT Act, allowing the administration to replace them without Senate approval.

  • The FBI issues over 144,000 National Security Letters collecting personal financial information due to an obscure provision of the USAPATRIOT Act.

  • An obscure provision of the defense budget bill makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

  • A last-minute addition to the Medicare bill enables certain insurance companies to circumvent the time restrictions placed on Medicare Advantage registrations.

  • Due to an obscure provision of the 2004 tax law, oil companies will save at least $3.6 billion over the next decade in corporate taxes.

  • An obscure provision of the Deficit Reduction Act requires participants to prove their citizenship to qualify for Medicaid, even though most of the poor served by Medicaid lack passports or other documentation.

  • Oil companies stand to gain as much as $28 billion under an obscure provision in the energy bill that waives the royalties on oil and gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico.

The list goes on and on. I realize that all these laws are complex and detailed. It can take hours to read them. And I know that our lawmakers are very busy with junkets and fund-raisers and campaigns. But, can�t they make the time to find some of these weird loopholes BEFORE they vote for them? I mean, lobbyists and the administration provide a great public service by writing these laws; do we have to count on them to read them to us as well?

I started wondering what other legislative surprises await us. So, unlike at least half of our lawmakers, I decided to actually read some laws in search of more of these �obscure provisions.� I�m afraid I found some doosies! For example:

  • The Emergency Budget Appropriations Act declares the lima bean as our National Fruit.

  • Under a provision of the Immigration Reform Bill, border agents have �the right to question, torture and ingest illegal aliens, but only if the agents are really, really hungry at the time.�

  • The War Powers Act empowers the president to declare war, not only on Afghanistan and Iraq, but �any Middle Eastern country whose name begins with a vowel.� That means potential targets include Iran, Israel, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and sometimes Yemen.

  • A little nugget in the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act declares George W. Bush as President for Life.

  • The Milk Marketing Orders Act -- �In Heaven, loyal Bushies will be rewarded with 400 gallons of premium ice cream, 72 virgins and a really nice car.�

  • There�s a rather disturbing line in the Energy Bill that says �Dick Cheney is one extremely handsome fellow.�

  • And, believe me, you don�t want to know how the Compact of Free Association Amendments Act of 2003 defines �serving at the pleasure of the president!�

Doesn�t anyone read these things?

I found lots of obscure provisions in practically every law I read, but the Patriot Act and the Military Commission�s Act are just chock full of them! How did all of these provisions slip past our good senators and congresspeople? I mean, there is no way any legislator would knowingly vote for a bill that includes the crazy stuff I found hidden there. These laws have provisions that effectively eliminate habeas corpus and condone torture. They enable indefinite detention without cause, indiscriminate wiretaps and extensive warrantless mining of our financial and personal information. The executive branch can declare pretty much anyone an �enemy combatant� with no rights or protections. I mean, there�s no way our good and decent legislators would have approved any of those obscure provisions if they had known about them! Would they?

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