Sunday, August 20, 2006


Assuming you can get past the all-JonBenet, all-the-time coverage this past week, you may have read that Judge Anna Diggs Taylor struck down the Bush Administration's warrantless, illegal, and unconstitutional wiretap program. The administration and their right-wing lackeys have predictably fired back with both personal (Taylor is a "Democrat-appointed judge," she's an activist judge, she's an appointee of that weak and evil Jimmy Carter) and generally jingoistic (supporters of this decision are supporting the terrorists, they're anti-American, they're traitors) responses. This decision, they say, weakens the country in its ongoing war on terror; it prevents us from wiretapping the terrorists.

But this decision has nothing to do about wiretapping the terrorists. Hell, I'm all for wiretapping terrorists; most people are. In spite of the hue and cry from the right-wingnuts, this decision doesn't prevent the government from doing that.

The administration claims that this decision would stop us from finding out about and stopping terrorist plots, like the one recently defused in England. That's a blatant lie. Here's the truth:
  • The U.K. plot was foiled by the British, not by Americans; our ability to wiretap (or not) was irrelevant in that case.
  • The CIA can wiretap any communications it wants to outside the U.S.; this decision has nothing to do with that.
  • The government can wiretap communications within the U.S. by simply asking for permission and receiving a warrant from a special FISA (Foreign International Surveillance Act) court. The FISA court almost always says yes; it's pretty much a blank check (much to the chagrin of civil libertarians).

The fact that the government has to go through warrant-friendly channels to do a wiretap is no great restraint; it doesn't hinder our anti-terrorist efforts in any way, shape, or form. The Bush Administration saying otherwise is simply untrue.

So what's the deal, then? If it's not about stopping the terrorists, what's all the fuss about?

It's about power.

You see, Bush and Cheney and their cohorts want no limits whatsoever on presidential power. Forget the Constitution, forget the two other branches of government, forget checks and balances. The executive branch must have the power to do whatever it wants, with no oversight from either Congress or the courts. It's the Imperial Presidency, one short step from dictatorship, that Bush and Cheney want.

And why do they want this? It's the unholy alliance between Bush, the rich fratboy who's used to always getting what he wants, and Cheney, the evil spawn of the Nixon Administration who wants to recoup the powers that Congress unjustly (in his view) stripped from the presidency after the Watergate scandal. It's about having no one to answer to; it's about unfettered, uncontrolled, unheard-of power.

The thing is, the current administration should be careful of what they ask for. If they succeed in creating an Imperial Presidency, what's to stop the next Democratic president from using those same powers against them? Short of a coup, this administration ends in two years, and the next guy gets to use all the power that these guys have massed -- and the next guy could use that power in ways unimagined. It won't always be you in charge; think of the future, guys.

And the future is just what Judge Taylor, the ACLU, and all other responsible Americans are thinking of. The country and the Constitution must endure, despite the efforts of the current despots.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

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