Friday, February 24, 2006

Writing Checks, Ignoring Balances

I am worried. I am worried, because the more I live outside of U.S. borders the more I am afforded the opportunity to see more clearly the fault lines and the cracks that threaten the nation’s stability and future path. A fish in a pond can’t necessarily see the effects or ripples on the surface when a rock is thrown into it (maybe because it doesn’t want to), but the observer on dry land can see those ripples, where they begin, and how far they have the potential to travel. The observer on dry land can see the person who threw the rock in. The fish, though, if it is hit on the head is never granted an answer to the question of “Why did this happen? How did this happen?”

The disrespect that I see being shown to the cornerstone of the American Republic – that is, the Constitution – with the levels of secrecy and the unapologetic attitude of a White House that is flexing Executive Branch muscle while the Legislative Branch has been sluggish to respond in kind, is incredibly alarming to this American expatriate, especially when I’ve not been a Bush opponent a lot of the time in recent years. In fact, I don’t consider myself an opponent of Bush now – but nonetheless I do disapprove of the way he’s been running his administration lately. Is he at fault? Not personally. Not totally. But in a democracy we have the duty and right to hold our leaders accountable for mistakes.

The Bush administration is acting lately as if the post-9/11 era has given the Executive Branch the right to do pretty much whatever it wants, be it secret National Security Agency wiretaps or this recent ports deal. It is turning out to look more like an “imperial presidency” these days – not in the sense of an American imperialist spread, but the dictates coming from Bush, Scott McClellan, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales.

As a proud American living overseas, a Republican I might add, I take no comfort in the unapologetic statements, almost every time they are released, whenever something seems to go opposite of the way the Bush administration likes. Cheney shoots a guy, and the nation is kept in the dark for a day. Is there an honest and frank apology for keeping the information that the Vice President of the world’s only superpower shot a guy while hunting quail secret? Yes – but from the guy that got shot, not the White House!

A deal goes down that sells operations at six U.S. ports to a country in the Middle East (and as conservative commentator Ann Coulter wrote this past week, there are about 3,000 reasons an Arab company shouldn’t be approved for such a deal, and they died on 9/11) , and Bush wants America to believe that he didn’t know about it until the middle of last week, especially when a former Dubai Ports World executive was named by the White House last month to be the new administrator of the Maritime Administration of the Transportation Department? You’re telling me that Bush, who appoints Cabinet secretaries and has weekly or daily meetings, didn’t know about what his own administration was up to?

You’re telling me that just like Cheney’s connections to Halliburton had nothing to do with that company getting Iraq contracts, David Sanborn’s being a former Dubai Ports World director of operations for Europe and Latin America had nothing to do with Dubai Ports getting eased through the approval process – with the help of members of the Bush administration – for the U.S. portion of a worldwide buyout of a British company?

To be honest, I’m proud of the bi-partisan efforts of Congress to step in and finally tell the Executive Branch that there is more to the American governmental process than White House decisions and dictates. If the Dubai Ports World deal is going to go through, it’s going to go through – as bad and stupid as it is (if Bush can’t see why a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a British company, well, he should let someone else give the 9/11 anniversary speeches while he holds the hand of the Saudi king). The White House seems to expect Congress and the American people to simply take their word for it, while at the same time the White House just doesn’t seem to understand the way things work.

This isn’t Russia we’re talking about, where people are clamoring to join President Vladimir Putin’s “United Russia” party with an eye on future advancement, a Russia where a former KGB-man turned president appoints regional governors and where the Russian parliament, the Duma, is basically a rubber-stamp body. This isn’t Iran we’re talking about either, where genocidal crazies like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are “elected” by the people to make decisions that, really, only the Ayatollah is authorized to make.

America isn’t a sham democracy. And Americans should not accept even the most subtle efforts of unelected bureaucrats to make it into one. Note, Bush was elected. Most of the people working for him were not. It is these people who I speak of.

Still, I said before I’m worried, and I am. I worry about the precedent being set by the Bush White House at a very sensitive time in U.S. history. I’ve supported the fight against terrorism, I supported and continue to support the war in Iraq despite the political bungling by the administration that seems to be happening every so often.

I think that terrorists should be listened to in the United States, their phone calls tracked and such surveillance advertised to let them know “hey, you don’t have a free hand and you are being watched”. But rather than acting like a White House that should be setting an example, the Bush administration is providing future American presidents with lessons on what can be gotten away with in the erosion of Constitutional protections. Just like with the flu or common cold in a person, a sickness can infect and incubate within a country for some time before taking hold and disabling it for a time.

Instead of taking cues from other democracies that haven’t cut down on freedoms in the fight against terrorism – such as Israel – the Bush Executive Branch is doing exactly the sort of thing that our enemies in the Islamic world would like us to do: Erode our protections. Change our societies. Of course, our freedoms are – thank God – still intact for the moment. I can still type this and talk and say what I want. I do not think that President George W. Bush is trying to do this. But I do feel many of the people he’s got working for him are – for whatever reasons they may have. Money? Maybe.


"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." - The Declaration of Independence, 1776


When I get a phone call from my Grandma Sis
in Tucson and she tells me that she doesn’t want to discuss politics on the phone because people are listening in to international calls (this has happened a couple of times), I can’t help but make a political jab in response and say “This isn’t the USSR.” She might have been overreacting (probably was), but you know what? Hearing that over here from her was jarring all the same. When people who have lived through the Second World War and Cold War – times when, with little doubt, German and Soviet spies roamed the American countryside and “loose lips” could “sink ships” – are suddenly afraid of their current government (no matter if they are not fans of the present head of the administration in the first place) listening into phone calls to loved ones…something isn’t right. My grandmother, whatever her political opinions, should be able to talk politics with me, her grandson, in Israel just like she used to when I was in Tucson.

The American Republic is not the same sort of government that the ancient Roman Republic was. The Constitution is there for a reason. The Separation of Powers, the Checks and Balances…they are all there for a reason. If our man in the White House truly cares about American security and America’s future, and I think he does despite what the haters say, then he might want to show those protections the respect due to them and get a reign on the people working for him who seem, with cavalier attitudes, to have gotten the idea that they are working for the most powerful person on the planet.

Well, they are, but they are confused as to who that most powerful person on the planet is. They seem to think it is the head of the Executive Branch – whoever it is, be it Bush or some future president they await. But it is really the American voter, corny as it sounds, who is the most powerful person on the planet.

Or does the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and I daresay the Declaration of Independence all stand for something else other than what we have been led, all these years, to believe? I love America, and I don’t want to see our Republic go the way of the Roman Republic. Both Democrats and Republicans have the potential to drag it down such a path. The Bush administration shouldn’t make it easier – or make it appear easy – for a president from either party or any political party to do so. It seems that what is lacking in much of White House operations and decisions these days can be summed up in two words: common sense.

And this lack of common sense is dangerous, you ask me. I felt off-balance a bit earlier this week. From way over here, America seems off-balance too. And I don't like the implications for the future if such a situation continues for too long.

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