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Imagine

February 15, 2006
By Patricia Goldsmith

I'm tired of playing the self-defeating electoral game. We have no reason to expect that in 2006, after six years of rigged elections, everything is suddenly going to work. In 2006, HAVA will really kick in; our situation could well be worse.

I know in my own state of New York, lobbyists are busily flogging voting machines. Now and then I get a notice from a committed activist, and I write e-mails requesting optical scanners with paper ballots, but it's a pretty secret process. Responsibility for purchase decisions passed from the state level, where legislators could be attacked en masse, down to the county level, and I just have this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that the people in charge of choosing our new black box voting systems can be bought for a not-too-fancy lunch.

There's a lot of money sloshing around out there, and there's a lot of takers. Even Democrats are lobbying for Diebold et al now, after years of being frozen out. Happy days!

The homophobic black preachers, the journalists taking payola, the 23-year-old Intelligent Design ignoramuses with jobs at NASA, and the good folks cutting deals for voting machines, on both ends of the transaction: yes, all the mosquitoes in this Okefenokee are so fat on our blood they can barely buzz. And this is the moment George W. Bush has chosen to declare himself dictator.

Of course, he's been acting like one for years now, but people weren't getting the point, and what's the fun of being dictator if nobody knows it?

But it's the way he has announced himself that has finally scared the bejesus out of Congressional thugs and the Mainstream Media: universal wiretaps. All the phone companies are in. The Bushitters have secured the whole flow of electronic communications.

Certain more moderate Bush-backers, like James Klurfeld of Newsday, have practically begged Bush to restore the fig leaf of a nominal law: ask for changes in the law if you need it, just ask:

What baffles me, however, is that there are no compelling national security reasons for Bush to have instituted his program of listening to the communications of U.S. citizens without a judicial warrant...

Why isn't [FISA] enough for the Bush administration? And if it isn't why couldn't Bush have asked for an amendment to the law?

Claiming unfettered, unchecked, unbalanced power to protect national security is how dictators operate.

His puzzlement seems genuine, and anguished. Klurfeld, apparently a moderate Republican, ended the piece, which was entitled "Bush spying defense: Politically bright, legally dim," with the line, "This is truly scary."

He at least has the wit to be frightened. Tom Vilsack, the Democratic governor of Iowa who may be running for president, seems to have absolutely no inkling of the potential political uses of all the information that streams through the big switches at AT&T, Verizon, MCI, and Sprint, the phone calls, e-mails, and faxes of an entire nation. Deirdre Mulligan, Director of the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Law, speculates as to how much power the telecom companies have given to BushCo:

That is probably the most troubling issue right now domestically. So, the telephone companies deal with the law enforcement apparatus of the United States government all the time. They have incredibly regular relationships. There are wiretaps going on all the time. And they know the rules, and they know that whoever came in and asked them to capture this information wasn't playing by them. And it's incredibly problematic that they were complicit in this and remained silent for so long. I mean, this has been going since 2001. And the fact that not a single telephone company stepped up and complained about this in a way that was public or even, you can imagine, to the intelligence communities of the House or the Senate, I think is just totally shocking...

And the FBI, actually, or NSA, could position people at the telephone companies - right? - who are then able to kind of be there, and so the level of scrutiny that the telephone companies have over what the government officials who are engaged in listening in have, I'm not clear.

Now here's how Tom Vilsack, head of the Democratic Leadership Council, views our present constitutional predicament:

"If the President broke the law, that's unacceptable. But I think it's debatable whether he did," Vilsack told Des Moines Register editors and reporters.

"And I think Democrats are falling into a very, very large political trap," he said. "Democrats are not going to win elections until they can reassure people they are going to keep them safe."

No. Democrats are not going to start winning elections until we go back to fair elections. Vilsack, governor of Iowa, ought to know better. On election day, 2004, Iowa started building an electoral tsunami for Kerry in the early afternoon, with results starting to approach a 60 percent advantage for the Democrat. And yet, in a stunning reversal, Bush ultimately took Iowa.

Vilsack's spy comments came at exactly the moment when Republican opposition to the warrantless spying - and other BushCo initiatives - is mounting, a pattern that has been repeated over and over throughout the Bush presidency. The more resistance to the initiative, the more imperative it is to have a figure with hefty lefty cred come out for it, someone who can raise a thoughtful finger and say, consider before you automatically condemn our brave commander-in-chief.

Rather than asking the American people if they would approve of wiretapping in order to capture terrorists, pollsters ought to be asking if they'd approve of illegal wiretapping so that Karl Rove can have access to every electronic transaction in America. As to what Herr Rove's been doing with this stuff for the past four years, use your imagination. And don't be afraid to think big; Rove certainly isn't.

The intelligence industry is currently building facilities to mine the information, organize it, and zero in on key words and phrases. Or names. The new operation, centered in Colorado, will be able to store the electronic equivalent of the Library of Congress every two days.

A good gray Democrat, Vilsack lacks - or studiously strives to suppress - the slightest curiosity about the political possibilities of spying on such an unprecedented scale.

Milton Mayer [They Thought They Were Free: the Germans, 1933-45, University of Chicago Press] describes how it happened under Hitler:

Hitler got them to a pitch and held them there, screaming at them day in and day out for twelve years. They were uneasy through it all...

Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany - not by attack from without or by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler. It was what most Germans wanted - or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want. They wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.

I came back home a little afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under pressure of combined reality and illusion. I felt - and feel - that it was not German Man I had met, but Man...

If I - and my countrymen - ever succumbed to that concatenation of conditions, no Constitution, no laws, no police, and certainly no army would be able to protect us from harm. For there is no harm that anyone else can do to a man that he cannot do to himself, no good that he cannot do if he will. And what was said long ago is true: Nations are made not of oak and rock but of men, and, as the men are, so will the nations be.

Mayer, a Jew, says of the ten Nazis he profiles, "I liked them. I couldn't help it." They weren't at all monstrous. They were just small - that's how they referred to themselves, as "little men." The Unitary Executive is talking to the very same little man when he sternly warns the nation that the "plotters and planners" haven't gone away, and probably never will.

It makes my skin crawl to watch Bush spin bogus stories about preventing an attack on the "Liberty" (actually Library) Tower in Los Angeles, wondering if the trick will work again. Kristol is right about paranoid liberals. I am starting to have truly lurid suspicions about what BushCo have done, and what they're capable of.

Strangely enough, it's only the left that prohibits any account of conspiracy in the ordinary workings of the world, even though it is the left that lost an entire generation of visionary activists to political assassination in the sixties.

Coretta Scott King's death last week was an uncontrollable whiff of 1968, the smell of cities on fire from coast to coast: both Martin and Bobby. Spying and political assassination; wiretapping and cold-blooded murder: could there conceivably be a connection? Unlike Jackie O, who merely whisked her children away from the good ole USA to Greece and the protection of an international business magnate with more money than God, Mrs. King said publicly that she and her family did not believe James Earl Ray killed her husband. Imagine.

Now imagine what we're going to do without the vote.

The sooner we face the truth, the better. When we are finally able to digest the fact we have lost the vote, it will become obvious that we have to take a page from the Greens and concentrate on the corporations. If and when the sleeping giant wakes, we have to make damn sure John and Jane Q. Public know who to blame. We need to channel that energy, and we better start now. But I'm betting that on that fateful day, Dems and Rethugs will be able to agree on one very important thing: big money is behind all of it.

We need to take to heart the Cree prophecy sent to me by a new Green friend:

Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Then you will find out that money cannot be eaten

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