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The Tip of the Iceberg

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If there were any justice in the world, federal agents would appear at the White House and arrest President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their lackeys tomorrow morning for multiple violations of laws protecting the privacy of Americans and their rights against illegal search and seizure. But given that Bush's attorney general Alberto Gonzales is using Nazi lawyer Carl Schmidtt as his role model, that is not likely to happen. As for me, I'd settle for even a modicum of Congressional oversight of a presidential administration that appears to be careening dangerously out of control.

On the heels of revelations of illegal wiretapping of international calls and recent reports of National Security Agency (NSA) efforts to gather the phone records of millions of Americans, journalists Brian Ross and Richard Esposito are reporting on the ABC news blog that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been monitoring their calls to confidential sources. Esposito and Ross say senior federal law enforcement official advised them to "get new cell phones, quick." The source, they added, also told them that the cell phones of journalists at the New York Times and Washington Post among others may also be monitored.

Purportedly, the monitoring is part of an investigation into leaks to the press that resulted in stories about the secret prison programs and Bush administration monitoring of international phone calls. The reality may be that it is a chilling attempt to intimidate reporters and stifle dissent from those concerned about what may be illegal activity on the part of the President and others in his administration.

Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor, citing a story in National Journal's CongressDaily, says that Russell Tice, a former NSA employee is going tell Senate Armed Services Committee staffers this week that "not only do employees at the agency believe the activities they are being asked to perform are unlawful, but that what has been disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg." According to the story in the Monitor, Tice said he plans to tell the committee staffers the NSA conducted illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of US citizens.

Every day, it becomes a little clearer that the Bush administration is running roughshod over the civil rights and liberties of the American people. Cynically manipulating the events of 9/11 to crush any opposition, the Bush administration is engaged in an unprecedented effort to consolidate presidential power that threatens the very Democratic principals and institutions that have fostered a free America. What's next, arresting journalists? When will they round up the Bloggers in their pajamas?

More importantly, where is the Congress? The Bush Administration and Republican Congressional Leadership has fostered an atmosphere of political and corporate corruption that stifles honest discussion, crushes dissent and impedes the Constitutionally mandated role of Congressional oversight of the Presidency. According to Federal Elections Commission data analyzed by The Center for Responsive Politics, Telephone Utilities have given $6,762,966 to Republican Members of Congress since 2004 and more than $15 million since the 2000 election. How tough do you think the questions are going to be from a Republican Congress investigating the role of AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon in turning over the phone records of tens of millions of Americans to the NSA?

Meanwhile, AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have given $511,955 to President Bush since his election in 2000, making him the top recipient of their political largess.

Maybe the Baby Bells, flush with patriotic fervor in the wake of 9/11, did turn over the turn phone records of Americans out of concerns over National Security. But a cynic might ask whether they turned them over because they didn't want to risk their investment in the political patrons who are greasing the skids for pending telecom legislation that may open lucrative long distance markets and highly profitable broadband services for them.

Congressional oversight is an essential check to the power of the President and key to protecting the rights and freedoms of the American people. But a corrupt Republican Congress, so eager to impose a radically conservative agenda on the American people, has placed their partisan interests ahead of their constitutional responsibilities. And in so doing they have placed the freedoms of Americans at risk and empowered a president who may destroy our liberty. They would do well to remember the words of John Adams who said, "a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever."
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John McDonald is a writer and consultant in Los Angeles.
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