Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Czar of All America

Is it an accident that he is portrayed in front of a picture that looks like a lone cowboy? He seems to have taken the role of the lone cowboy, fighting evil all on his own, without the support or protection of laws. Too bad that he's the president of the country and can't do that sort of thing. Well, I think that he can't do it, but he thinks that he can do whatever the hell he wants to:

President Bush acknowledged on Saturday that he had ordered the National Security Agency to conduct an electronic eavesdropping program in the United States without first obtaining warrants, and said he would continue the highly classified program because it was "a vital tool in our war against the terrorists."

In an unusual step, Mr. Bush delivered a live weekly radio address from the White House in which he defended his action as "fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities." He also lashed out at senators - both Democrats and Republicans - who voted on Friday to block the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, which expanded the president's power to conduct surveillance, with warrants, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The revelation that Mr. Bush had secretly instructed the security agency to intercept the communications of Americans and suspected terrorists inside the United States, without first obtaining warrants from a secret court that oversees intelligence matters, was cited by several senators as a reason for their vote.

"In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment," Mr. Bush said forcefully from behind a lectern in the Roosevelt Room, next to the Oval Office. The White House invited cameras in, guaranteeing television coverage.

We cannot afford to be without "this" law for a single moment, but the president can decide to dispense with other laws at his own convenience. Like in ordering people within the United States to be wiretapped/wiretrapped without a court order. The laws are for the little people, it seems.

Bush's strategy is the expected one: He will simply deny having done anything wrong. He will raise the specter of fear and terror and he will argue that 911 changed everything. This country is now a playground for George Bush and whatever he says must be. The Russian czars ruled like that. But even they didn't have the right to keep the country in a war indefinitely as an excuse for the suspension of various civil rights, and it seems, the suspension of reality.

For what Bush did was indeed wrong:

But, by ordering the wiretaps directly, Bush may have violated laws requiring the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to sign off on intelligence surveillance on American soil.

People within the borders of the U.S. are typically protected from this kind of government activity by the Fourth Amendment, which reads in part: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation ..."

The nation's largest civil liberties group flatly labeled the program illegal.

"Eavesdropping on conversations of U.S citizens and others in the United States without a court order and without complying with the procedures of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is both illegal and unconstitutional," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office, in a written release. "The administration is claiming extraordinary presidential powers at the expense of civil liberties and is putting the president above the law," she said.

Fredrickson called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the program and said that "Congress must investigate this report thoroughly."

One top Senator and member of Bush's own party vowed to do just that.

The wiretaps are "wrong, clearly and categorically wrong,'' said Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, quoted in various wire reports.

Specter, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, promised that a Senate probe of Bush's actions will begin "as soon as we can get to it in the new year -- a very, very high priority item.''

And note that Bush could have used the existing laws to wiretap those with clear Al Queada connections by simply using the secret court orders. He didn't want to bother with that, because he is the czar of all America. And that is what is really frightening of this whole situation; not the terror or the fear but the good likelihood that our whole democracy, such as it is, but with some balances and checks built in, will be allowed to go down the drain of fear, terror and czarism.