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Our Imperial Presidency

Editorial for Feb. 2, 2006

The program's legal, it's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's necessary." -- President George W. Bush on Jan. 26.

There we have it. President Bush says listening in on our telephone calls and reading our e-mails -- with no court authorization -- is legal, so we should just accept it. Accept it and move on.

The eavesdropping on anyone who places an overseas call or sends an e-mail to anywhere outside the United States is an outrage. But perhaps the bigger danger to our liberties is that about 51 percent of the American people, according to pollsters, don't have a problem with a government that keeps a watchful eye on every move of its people.

If we're so willing to cede our liberties, we deserve to be spied upon.

The president also says we should not call it "domestic spying," but rather let's call it "terrorist surveillance."

Well, we consider it spying if the administration has decided on its own that it does not need a warrant or court approval to listen in on anyone it deems a possible "threat."

The president claims he has the authority, essentially, to do whatever he wants "in a time of war." Yet it's naive to believe that level of absolute power won't turn (perhaps it already has) into something else: Pretty soon, anyone who questions the administration's policies is going to be under surveillance. With no oversight, the potential for abuse is overwhelming.

Don't expect help from our Congress, either. Congress has essentially been reduced to irrelevance because few of those elected to serve there have the will or the courage or even the political interest to speak up about possible abuses of power.

Ironically, our president claims the right to listen in on all of us while at the same time hiding what happens within the White House from the people's representatives: The administration is now hampering the Hurricane Katrina investigation by Congress, which was created to look into the failures of state and federal emergency agencies and the Department of Homeland Security after the hurricane. The Bush administration contends that White House documents, e-mails, and key officials, including the director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, are off limits to congressional investigators. Many requested documents have not been provided, and witnesses say they have been told by the White House not to answer questions.

The purpose of the investigation -- chaired by Republicans -- is not necessarily to cast blame, but to correct problems and find ways to prevent another catastrophe. Stonewalling means these lessons will not be learned.

One lesson, however, is becoming increasingly clear: We have a White House that no longer has any checks or balances on its power, and citizens should not continue to ignore this dangerous trend. Blind faith in our leaders won't keep us free.

JB

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