Wake-up Call

Once again, the Bush administration is flimflamming the hapless Democratic majority in Congress into rushing an important piece of legislation into law without serious thought or debate about the implications.

Although Congress passed a temporary extension of the FISA law in August that carries it through to February, the administration is already back demanding the immediate passage of a permanent law that permits the government to snoop on all private communications.

They've also requested a few "improvements" to the law, including a retroactive waiver of liability for the big telecommunications companies that gave the government unfettered warrantless access to phone calls and e-mail communications in violation of existing law.

The other "improvements" that the White House wants, and our intelligence chiefs say they need, would broaden the already bloated power of the executive branch.

This, even as one member of Congress revealed this week that the temporary extension of the snooping law was jammed through in August when administration officials stampeded legislators by revealing secret information about an alleged terrorist plot to bomb the Capitol. Which, surprise, never materialized.

That was a good one. What will they do to frighten Congress this time? Threaten to send Osama bin Laden the home addresses of every member of Congress who opposes them?

And precisely when can we expect the people who run Congress these days -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- to wake up to the reality that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are playing them like a fiddle?

The White House has stonewalled this same Congress on its demands for information about known abuses of the new surveillance powers. It's assumed for itself, without challenge, all sorts of powers that would appall the men who wrote checks and balances into our Constitution to prevent the unfettered power of a king or dictator.

The Bush White House may have gotten most everything it's touched wrong, but it's raised fear-mongering to a fine art. It's wrapped itself in a cloak of invisibility named national security that quashes all questions, stifles all debate and conceals a multitude of sins.

The equal branches of government, meant to keep a chief executive greedy for power under control, have failed the American people for nearly seven years of the Bush administration. Shame on Congress and shame on the judiciary for their dereliction of duty and failure to protect the inalienable rights of the American people under the Constitution.

Shame, as well, on the American people, who've been too busy shopping, too busy partying while Rome burns, to pay as much attention to the steady erosion of their rights as they do to Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton or O.J. Simpson. Shame on most of the news media for regularly parroting so many of the administration's assertions about Iraq, Iran, terrorism and so on without bothering to ask whether or not they're true.

Meanwhile, men whose incompetence has become legendary, men who seemingly have no common decency, nor even a smidgen of good intentions, dare to claim for themselves the mantle of Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman.

Is it too much to ask that Americans begin paying attention to all that's being stolen from them? To the breathtaking failures of this administration and the entire federal government? To a president who's about to demand another $200 billion to finance his war of choice in Iraq for another year but who refuses to spend another penny to care for sick children? To government departments and regulatory agencies run by Republican hacks and industry tools who not only don't do their jobs but also block all attempts to investigate the theft of billions of tax dollars by Republican cronies, donors and contractors?

"The evil that men do lives after them," Shakespeare's Mark Antony said in his eulogy of Caesar. If the Democrats in Congress don't find their spines and find new leaders who aren't confused about what's happening and aren't afraid of the word "impeachment" -- then we all may find ourselves in an even worse mess than the one that Bush and Cheney already have made. At war with Iran, for example, and throw in Syria and North Korea, too, for good measure.

While we're at it, we need to encourage the Republican and Democratic parties to find some better candidates for the presidency. The ones out on the campaign trail now look like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

If the two parties don't find some better candidates with some new ideas, the pitiful 40 percent of Americans who bother to vote may vote for "None of the Above." Or write in Lincoln or Truman for president. Even dead, they're a better choice than what's on offer now.

Consider this a last-minute wakeup call. This is your country. Take it back before it's too late.