Chronologically speaking, 2009 isn't that far away. But it still gives Dick Cheney time to turn the U.S. from a republic, with an unprecedented set of constitutional freedoms, to a dictatorship that puts the ultimate control in the hands of the president.

Cheney is so unpopular he could never be elected president on his own. That doesn't really matter, though, because as vice president, he has wielded a remarkable amount of power over national affairs.

Notwithstanding the relative late-comer presence of Karl Rove, members of the “Old Guard” - who have been part of every Republican administration since Richard Nixon - have been able to manipulate George W. Bush, largely because the president is not a critical or deep thinker. He's sort of like a boy king in the days of old, wearing the crown in public but dangling from the strings of older, more seasoned marionettes - in this case, Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other malevolent forces, the so-called “power behind the throne.”

This week, Cheney publicly argued for “strong and robust” presidential powers, claiming executive authority was eroded during the Watergate and Vietnam eras. In other words, the man was trying to justify the fact that Bush gave federal “spooks” the authority to spy on American citizens. Or, to use language that might be enough these days get a tap put on a newspaper phone line, Cheney is promoting not democracy, but a fascist state.

The president needs this authority, Cheney claims, to quell the threat of terrorist attacks, but that's a load of bull the likes of which could only be rivaled by a stockyard. It's not just al Qaeda cells that have been subjected to wiretaps, as the White House has claimed. Indeed, among the groups Big Brother seems interested in watching are those who have dared to publicly opposed the Iraq war and other Bush policies - groups like Greenpeace, PETA, Catholic Workers and - most outrageous of all - those quintessential peaceniks, the Quakers.

Apparently, last year at a Quaker meeting house in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. NBC News has obtained a secret 400-page Defense Department document labeling the meeting as a “threat,” one of around 1,500 “suspicious incidents” that occurred in this country over a 10-month period. (For a more detailed list of other targets, check out msnbc.com.)

One must wonder what else falls under the umbrella of “suspicious incidents.” Perhaps people who forward Internet-spawned jokes about President Bush to everyone on their e-mail lists, some of whom they don't even know because they were picked up from other people's address books? Clerks working in stores that sell T-shirts bearing anti-Bush slogans? Employees of newspapers that publish editorials critical of Bush?

As we said earlier this week, “terrorism” is a broad and subjective concept, and “terrorists” have been around, in one form or another, since time out of mind. Anyone who doubts that needs to consult the Old Testament. And no matter what we do, “terrorism” will always exist as long as there are human beings with the ability to make and use weapons that will kill other people.

In other words, if “terrorism” is a good enough excuse to curtail our cherished constitutional rights, America as we know it will cease to exist. Not because of the terrorists, but because our leaders have caved in to those terrorists and given them what they want - namely, an America with far fewer freedoms than the terrorists themselves enjoy in their own homelands. Isn't that what many ultra-conservatives like to say - that the terrorists are “jealous” of our freedoms? If that's the case, it is our goal to remove the catalyst for those allegations?



Sorry, folks, but the president has crossed the line, and the benefit - whatever it may be - will never outweigh the demise of American ideals. If all this spying were legitimate, Bush could have easily gotten warrants, under the terms of the Patriot Act. Those of you who agree with him need to get to the library and check out a copy of ?” to refresh your memory on just where this sort of thing could end up.

Ignoring it will only make it worse. It calls to mind a short piece written by Martin Niemöller in the wake of World War II. It has appeared in various forms, citing different groups, but the incarnation that appeared in 1989 in Time Magazine gets the message across well enough:

First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up,

because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up,

because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up,

because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left

to speak up for me.

Under the circumstances, it doesn't seem unreasonable - or even paranoid - to wonder who will be next.

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