It’s axiomatic, based on history, that no nation can maintain an empire abroad and a democracy at home. We are now about to pay for our empire, and the price is American freedom.

This is the message of a new book by Chalmers Johnson, a historian. His latest book is titled Nemesis and is the third work in what has turned out to be a trilogy on the American Empire. The first two were Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire.

No American president in my memory has shown more disdain for the Constitution and its limits on power than George W. Bush. His ridiculous claim that his "signing statements" can alter the laws passed by Congress and his latest claim to alter the rule-making of various government agencies are just two examples.

The outrageous claims by his attorney general that the U.S. could conduct warrantless wiretaps and Internet intercepts and that the Constitution does not guarantee the right of habeas corpus are about as stark a warning that freedom is in grave danger as you could ask for. The Bush administration has politicized science and intelligence and taken this country to war based on lies. It has condoned torture and scoffed at international law by using secret prisons where people are tortured and denied the most basic rights.

The federal authorities can break into your home and plant surveillance devices without notifying you. They can get a list of books you buy or check out of a library and put the bookseller or librarian in prison if the person tells you about it. If you are an alien, perfectly legal, you can still be picked up and held indefinitely.

Of course, it is all done in the name of protecting the American people. That is the standard excuse that has been used since the earliest empires. We’re only trying to make sure you’re safe, they claim. Well, one should remember that there were no safer streets than Moscow under Stalin or Berlin under Hitler — unless, of course, it was the government that wanted to do you harm.

Given a choice between government security and freedom with risks, always choose freedom. Criminals, including terrorists, don’t have much power, but government possesses crushing power. Of course, we Americans are conditioned to view our government as friendly and protective, but that is a mistake.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn made an interesting point in his "Gulag Archipelago." He said the reason so few Russians resisted when the secret police came to get them was because they were innocent. They had done nothing wrong, they were loyal, and they expected their government to realize that their arrest was a mistake. The government didn’t, of course, because they were victims of a dictator’s paranoia.

Unfortunately, Americans have virtually no control over their government between elections. President Bush has two years to go and can do anything he wants to, including taking us to war with Iran. Government propaganda against Iran is following the exact same pattern as propaganda against Iraq. It is accusing Iran of seeking nuclear weapons in the face of evidence to the contrary. Now it is accusing Iran of making improvised explosive devices for the Iraqi insurgents. That strikes me as a lie. The IED is just a bureaucratic name for a booby trap, and you don’t need to be an explosives expert or an electronic wizard to make them.

Congress really has only two choices. It could initiate impeachment proceedings against Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, or it could cut off the funds for the war. I doubt there is enough sand to do either.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.