Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Dangers of Appeasing Bush

"The Devil is in the Details," has long been a sad and sometimes sinister truism concerning business contracts and of course legislation.

Congressional Democrats, who angered many of their supporters by caving in to the Bush administration in the recent vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (with its unpleasant acronym, FISA) are now legitimately afraid that the language in the act may significantly broaden the administration's ability to going beyond even warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens into both cruder(physical searches) and more sophisticated (business records, etc) "aimed" at foreigners who may have contact with Americans who then may be subject to all sorts of warrentless surveillance, searches and seizures "authorized" by the Attorney General which can lead to anything imaginable for American citizens without any recourse to any court--the so-called "FISA" court is now limited to determining whether the administration's actions were "clearly erroneous" that is whether they simply made a mistake in ransacking an American citizens home and interrogating him under preventive detention because his name was identical to another individual who belonged to a group which had some communication with a foreign national whom the Justice Department believed represented some intelligence risk.

The Democrats are promising to revisit these details and the administration, happy that they tricked the Democrats into potentially giving them more than they wanted, are smugly saying that they will continue to do what they want, that is, assert the power of the president to do what he wants when he wants to regardless of Congress and the courts (I am old enough to remember a time in the United States when all history and government teachers, especially conservatives, pointed to both the separation of powers and the built in checks and balances as both the foundation and the genius of the United States Constitution, but Bush and Gonzales (that paragon of honesty in government) among many others, seem to see the Constitution as a license for rather than protection against "Executive aggression," that is, a document that enables them to seize any power that Congress and the Courts let them get away with taking either by commission or omission.

As a post-script, my interpretation is supported by a very unlikely source, Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration Justice Department attorney whom I remember from the not so good old days defending Reagan anti-Civil Liberties policies, opposes this legislation (actually, things have gotten so bad that there are a fair number of former Reagan officials who have difficult stomaching this Bush), tried unsuccessfully in a meeting with Justice Department officials and members of concerned groups to have the administration state that it would follow congressional restrictions on the legislation.

He was given a flat no, according to the New York Times story. which intersperses his comments with Democratic party critics and administration apologists. His comments about what he was told are worth quoting. They are that the legislation, however it is worded "is just advisory. The president can still do whatever he wants to do. They have not changed their position that the president's Article II powers trump any ability by Congress to regulate the collection of foreign intelligence."

Or pretty much anything else, I would add. The Democrats by their fear of looking "soft on terrorism" appeased the Bush administration and the administration responded to that appeasement by taking more than the Democrats expected them to take, which should surprise no one.

Their attitude is that they can pick and choose from legislation to do what they want when they want to do and ignore legislation that prevents them from doing what they want when they want to do. (If I sound repetitive it isn't really me, but the administration which keeps on repeating this theme over and over again.) That is reminiscent of what one third world tyrant called "guided Democracy" a half a century ago, that is, the executive knows best regardless of parties and parliaments and courts.

For people for whom democracy and the rule of law are not as empty as the words on a Fox News Network program, that is the basis of dictatorship and there are millions of Americans today who see this administration, from the stolen election of 2000 to the abuses of the "Patriot Act" to the Iraq War as moving in the direction of a dictatorship and they elected the Democrats to stop Bush today and prepare to reverse his policies tomorrow.

If the Democratic majority doesn't do that they will be undermining their chances in the 2008 elections, which even most Republicans realize is theirs to lose.

They can and must correct themselves here and give Bush nothing on future legislation, regardless of his tyrant's threats to do what he wants anyway and to veto any legislation that he doesn't want. Their answer to such threats of course can and should be impeachment, from Bush on down.

Giving this administration anything it wants merely takes away from the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the American people, which the government and the Constitution of the Republic were instituted to defend.

--Norman Markowitz

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