Monday, January 15, 2007

A White House Flying Dangerously Out of Control

Bush Vows to Ram Through Iraq Troop Buildup Despite Overwhelming Public and Congressional Opposition, While Cheney Insists That Warrantless Probing of Bank and Credit Records Isn't Illegal --Again Disregarding the Fourth Amendment

By Skeeter Sanders

If you're over over 50 years of age, you probably remember the science-fiction TV series, "Lost in Space." One of my favorite characters in that series was the space family Robinson's robot, who often warned the family -- particularly their youngest son, Will -- of danger. Hardly an episode passed without the Robot flailing its arms and shouting, "Warning! Warning!" or "Danger! Danger!" at least once.

Now, more than four decades after the series premiered on CBS, this blogger suddenly feels compelled to take on the Robinson robot's role and yell "Danger! Danger!" -- for the rhetoric coming out of the White House in the 24 hours prior to this article's post time is frighteningly indicative of an administration that is indeed "lost in space" politically -- and flying dangerously out of control both legally and constitutionally.

White House to Iraq War Critics: "Screw You!"

President Bush, facing overwhelming opposition from both parties on Capitol Hill and from the American public over his plan to send more troops to Iraq, defiantly asserted Sunday night that he has the authority to act and that he's going to send in 24,000 more troops, no matter what Congress wants.

And, apparently, no matter what the American people want, either, since they gave congressional Democrats a clear mandate to "change the course" in Iraq in the November 7 election.

"I fully understand they [Congress] could try to stop me from doing it. But I've made my decision. And we're going forward," Bush told CBS' "60 Minutes."

In a further show of defiance, Vice President Dick Cheney asserted that lawmakers' criticism will not influence Bush's plans and he dismissed any effort to "run a war by committee."

"The president is the commander in chief. He's the one who has to make these tough decisions," Cheney said on "Fox News Sunday."

Any attempts to block the president's buildup would undermine the troops, Cheney insisted, taking particular aim at Democrats now controlling Congress who have blasted the president for increasing troops despite opposition from Congress, the president's own military advisers, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group -- and an increasingly fed-up electorate.

"They have absolutely nothing to offer in its place," Cheney said of Democratic leaders. "I have yet to hear a coherent policy from the Democratic side."

Cheney Ignores Mounting Opposition to Iraq Troop Buildup From His Own Party

Yet the vice president has conveniently chosen to ignore a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers -- including several longtime, archconservative allies such as Senators Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) -- who have also begun attacking Bush's management of the war.

"At this late stage, interjecting more young American troops into the crossfire of an Iraqi civil war is simply not the right approach," Representative Ric Keller (R-Florida), who had been steadfast in his support of the war, said last Thursday on the House floor. And Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) bluntly called the buildup "the worst foreign policy blunder since the Vietnam War."

That Cheney would, at least rhetorically, raise his middle finger and "flip the bird" at the administration's war critics should surprise no one. After all, he's had the audacity to tell Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) to "Go f--- yourself!" on the Senate floor.

Capitol Hill Republicans aren't stupid: Confronted with polls showing a rock-solid 70 percent of Americans opposed to the troop buildup -- nearly half of them adamantly so -- and having already taken a shellacking at ballot box over the war, they know that to stick with Bush on the war now is political suicide.

More Unconstitutional Warrantless Domestic Spying Revealed

But the vice president also touched off a new firestorm over the administration's warrantless spying on Americans when he confirmed a report published in Sunday's editions of The New York Times that the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency are probing the banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans and foreign nationals whom the White House suspects of aiding terrorists or conducting espionage against the United States on U.S. soil.

As in the warrantless eavesdropping of Americans' telephone conversations by the National Security Agency revealed by The Times more than a year ago, the Pentagon/CIA examination into Americans' banking and credit records is being conducted without court warrants. But Cheney insisted that the government was not violating Americans' right to privacy.

"The Defense Department gets involved because we've got hundreds of [military] bases inside the United States that are potential terrorist targets," Cheney said."The Department of Defense has legitimate authority in this area. This is an authority that goes back three or four decades. It was reaffirmed in the Patriot Act," he said. "It's perfectly legitimate activity. There's nothing wrong with it or illegal. It doesn't violate people's civil rights."

Forgive me for being brutally frank, Mr. Vice President, but your argument is a crock of pure B.S. No less an authority than the Supreme Court itself made it abundantly clear in a unanimous ruling more than three decades ago that the executive branch must obtain court warrants to engage in domestic surveillance, to comply with the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- period.

Bush and Cheney Making Nixon and Agnew Look Like Choirboys

Mr. Vice President, you couldn't be further wrong if you said that the sun revolves around the Earth. You and the president have obviously ignored the philosopher George Santayana's warning and haven't learned from the sad history of the Nixon administration, whose abuses of power led to the forced resignation of President Richard Nixon amid impeachment proceedings against him.

You've also obviously forgotten the fact that the Constitution that you are bound by your oath of office to uphold, support and defend "against all enemies, foreign and domestic" is "the supreme law of the land [Article VI, Section 3]."

Like your predecessor, Spiro Agnew -- who was also forced to resign -- you, Mr. Vice President, have no regard whatsoever for the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution -- particularly the Fourth Amendment, which says quite explicitly:

"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 [emphasis added], and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Your blatant disregard of the Constitution and the rights it guarantees to all Americans -- not to mention the authority of Congress and the courts established under the Constitution as co-equal branches of government along with the executive branch -- makes you, Mr. Vice President, an enemy of this country, an enemy from within.

And this blogger is far from alone in that opinion. The Founding Fathers enshrined the Bill of Rights into the Constitution precisely to prevent the government from becoming the all-powerful, authoritarian dictatorship that you, the president and others of like mind inside this administration are turning it into.

Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said his panel will be the judge of whether the warrantless snooping is constitutional or not. My only argument with Reyes is that he's not as bold as I am in declaring flatly that warrantless government spying on Americans is unconstitutional.

The Forgotten 1972 Supreme Court Ruling on Domestic Spying

I can be that bold because I've got the Supreme Court's 1972 ruling to back me up -- United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, et al. (Case Number 70-153) -- a ruling that I have brought up again and again and again each time I have written in this blog about this issue. You can look it up at the Supreme Court's own Web site yourself (http://www.supremecourtus.gov/) if you don't believe me.

Why the mainstream media -- and especially The New York Times, which banner-headlined the story about the high court's ruling on its front page all those years ago -- have not mentioned it remains a stupefying mystery to me. As far as this blogger is concerned, the media's failure to mention the high court's ruling in their coverage of the domestic-spying controversy is an obscene dereliction of their journalistic duty.

Writing for the nation's highest court -- which struck down the Nixon administration's warrantless domestic wiretap program it claimed was authorized under the Safe Streets Act of 1968 -- then-Justice Lewis Powell declared that while the president does bear the responsibility "to take such measures as he deems necessary to protect the nation against an actual or potential attack or other hostile acts of a foreign power," the Fourth Amendment bars the executive branch from spying on Americans on U.S. soil without warrants issued by a court of law for probable cause.

"The Fourth Amendment does not contemplate the executive officers of government. . .to be the sole judges of when to utilize constitutionally sensitive means in pursuing their tasks," Powell wrote. "Unreviewed executive discretion may yield too readily to pressure to obtain incriminating evidence and overlook potential invasions of privacy and [suppression of] protected speech."

Moreover, the justices noted that the Safe Streets Act itself -- passed by Congress in the wake of an unprecedented nationwide violent crime wave in the mid-1960s -- explicitly required the Nixon administration to obtain court warrants prior to initiating such surveillance as wiretaps.

History Repeating Itself With Another Out-of-Control Imperial White House

Sound familiar? It should. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which lies at the crux of the current surveillance debate, does the exact same thing -- and contrary to the arguments put forward by the Bush administration, the USA Patriot Act cannot circumvent either the FISA statute or the Fourth Amendment.

The administration continues to argue that national security letters -- issued by the executive branch -- permits it to seek records about people in terrorism and spy investigations without a judge's approval or grand jury subpoena. That's bull -- and the very same federal court in Michigan that struck down Nixon's warrantless wiretap program in 1971 also said that argument is bull when it struck down Bush's program last August.

The administration is appealing the district court's ruling to the sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. No matter which way the appeals court decides -- and, for the record, that same appeals court upheld the Michigan district court's ruling against Nixon -- the Supreme Court will inevitably have the last word.

And lest we forget, the Supreme Court already has ruled at least once that Bush had overstepped his authority when the justices ruled last June that the military tribunals he established to prosecute terror suspects were unconstitutional because it was never authorized by Congress and that they violated the Geneva Conventions -- to which the U.S. is a signatory -- that governs the treatment of prisoners of war.

Bush responded by browbeating the then-GOP-led Congress into passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which not only gave congressional authority to set up the tribunals, but also effectively did away with the constitutionally-guaranteed right of habeas corpus -- enabling the administration to declare anyone -- even you -- an "enemy combatant" and have you locked up in a detention cell for months, even years, without charge or trial.

Now the administration is trying to browbeat Congress -- and by extension, the American people -- into accepting without question, even support, its reckless war policy in Iraq by scaring up the Iran bogeyman and issuing thinly-veiled threats to go to war against Iran.

It's Time to Think Seriously About Impeachment

By now, it should be clear to everyone -- regardless of whether you're a liberal, a moderate or a conservative -- that this administration is flying dangerously out of control.

That the White House is boldly declaring its determination to pursue a war policy in open defiance of the will of the overwhelming majority of the American people and their elected representatives -- and to continue a domestic spying operation that flagrantly disregards the authority of Congress and the courts and violates the Constitution's Bill of Rights -- is dangerous for the survival of our democracy, for the survival of our freedom at home and for the survival of our country's good name and standing abroad.

This administration is a disgrace to the Founding Fathers. It is a disgrace to the principles upon this country was founded and upon which millions of Americans risked and sacrificed their lives to preserve, protect and defend.

By its rhetoric and by its actions -- especially in the last week -- this administration has clearly demonstrated for all Americans to see that it is no longer fit to govern.

The time has come for all Americans, whether Republican, Democrat or independent; whether liberal, moderate or conservative, to take very seriously the need to rectify this dangerous situation by taking concrete action to put a stop to this administration's reckless abuse of power -- even it that means having to remove this administration from office through the impeachment process.

The survival of our democracy may depend on it.

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Volume II, Number 6
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.











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