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A Bush dictatorship? 

Emergency powers would allow it.

In Steven Lee Meyers' article published Oct. 15 in The New York Times, he reports that Bush senior administration officials don't believe that Vladimir Putin, Russia's president — whose tenure ends next year — “would step aside and leave the trappings of office to a successor, even a weakened one, let alone the power he has concentrated in the presidency.”

A greater question in the U.S. is: How would Americans feel if George W. Bush declared a national emergency, tightening further on individual freedoms, and assuring his continuation in the Oval Office past 2008?

Impossible, we mumble to ourselves. Why, look what Bush has done recently in Pakistan. There, the Bush administration has pressured President Musharraf to end the state of emergency he declared Nov. 3 and release the thousands of people detained there.

The public and media would actively dissent here, too, right? Then, get ready, for two reasons: (1) the U.S. president has massively broad legal powers, basically dictatorial, in national emergencies, and (2) Bush's dictatorial actions through his two terms, and perhaps even more so as he nears the end of his second, show a president who is a divine-right monarch in his own mind.

Last year, the Congressional Research Service issued a report for Congress, “National Emergency Powers,” outlining the chief executive's authority under declared emergencies, and Congress's power in regulating the president. The development of the report would indicate some in Congress have their own growing concerns.

The 25-page study, published Nov. 13, 2006, noted four aspects to an emergency condition: (1) “sudden, unforeseen, and of unknown duration;” (2) “dangerous and threatening to life and well-being;” (3) “in terms of governmental role and authority…who discerns this phenomenon?” and (4) requires immediate action that is not always “according to rule.”

The third and fourth aspects prove particularly relevant for Bush and Dick Cheney, who have consistently and aggressively demanded authority to determine the nation's direction with a pro-war, anti-environment and anti-human-rights administration. Their attitudes and actions have allowed their corporate cronies to capture huge government contracts, ignore regulations and profit monetarily while governmental programs for the poor, elderly and young have suffered, and American soldiers have continued to die from a war based on a lie.

Presidents have jumped at the chance to solidify their dictatorial powers during times they determined to be national emergencies. And the Congressional report notes the startling vastness of these powers:

Under the powers delegated by such statutes, the president may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens. Furthermore, Congress may modify, rescind or render dormant such delegated emergency authority.

What kind of emergency could Bush create that would allow him to keep his grip on the presidency? The most logical trauma would be a threatened terrorist attack. He lied about a threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. What would keep him from lying about a threatened massive terrorist attack at home?

A second possibility would be vast civil unrest. The Associated Press reported on Aug. 10 that Bush's new war adviser, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute said, “I think it certainly makes sense to consider” a return to a military draft. Bush, of course, said he didn't agree with his war adviser. But their bad cop-good cop public stances seem to be setting the stage for his administration's move toward a new draft. And such an effort could ignite resistance from the nation's young at a time when the president's approval ratings hang in the 30 percent range, primarily because of his badly miscalculated war.

A draft effort and president-driven war caused civil unrest in the '60s. Why not next year? And civil unrest could lead to a declared national emergency, which in turn could keep Bush in the White House beyond 2008.

Could Congress succeed in negating Bush's effort? They might vote to do so. But when Bush challenges that vote, whose side would the conservative-heavy U.S. Supreme Court — led by Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts — take?

Roger Armbrust has worked as a journalist both in his hometown of Little Rock and in New York City. His articles and columns have covered labor and management, Congressional legislation, and federal court cases, including appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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