A friend of mine signs off all his e-mail messages with "jihad, bomb, nuke, anthrax, screw Carnivore (R.I.P.), fuck the NSA." He is convinced that every time you click "send," your message goes to a clunky government keyword sniffer that, on finding any of the naughty words it's looking for, blinks red lights at some snoozing functionary's desk. I, like most right-thinking people, believe that's nonsense. The lights are yellow.
The elephant in the room -- and that's every room, virtual or otherwise -- is that the government which couldn't figure out there were flood-phobics in the Superdome is not actually blind, deaf, or anosmic. It captures the sights, the sounds, the smells of pretty much all communication, and accepting that (or even suspecting that) affects our behavior. Because we know that today and for the next few years, each of us is only free at the discretion of the inept, vindictive, and reality-averse Bush administration. [An administration which, by the way, I salute daily -- no, several times a day -- with a big American flag nailed to my forehead while listening to a legally-obtained tape of John Ashcroft crooning patriotic songs.]
Doesn't it seem like the Bush administration thinks rights are some kind of dodge, like only criminals, terrorists, and terrorist-criminals need the protections we all almost learned about in school? What do you care, they say with their actions, if they snoop on your phone calls and mail and e-mail and downloads and uploads -- unless you're doing something wrong? There's probably something to that argument in a Philosophy Department's no-smoking lounge or in the Justice Department's ACLU-hating lounge, but it's useless in the real world. At least in our piece of it.
We're a law-breakin' nation. We scalp tickets and gamble and download music, all crimes of various degrees. The NIH estimates 3.1 million of our fellow citizens use marijuana -- a federal crime -- pretty much every day. We bust speed limits on the highway and blow stoplights in the middle of the night when nobody is around and the stupid thing just won't turn green.
But at the same time we're not a law-disdaining nation. We tend not to murder one another or steal each other's stuff or devise terrorist plots, hopefully not avoiding those things just because they're illegal.
We like sensible laws, big and small. We like liberty, big and bigger. The Bush administration respects neither.
When Dimples Gonzales smirks his way through the required Senate hearings, do you feel like he's maybe a little cavalier about this whole "liberty" business? For citizens, I mean, not for the prez, who earlier this year he referred to as his "client." Why does George Bush get to infringe on your liberties? (Yes, "your" here refers to you, not an abstract other person who's probably a criminal.) Because, according to Gonzales, he has "inherent" authority as commander in chief.
Where does that authority end? Can Bush bypass the Judicial branch and surveil, arrest, and imprison U.S. citizens without a trial? Can he give a hearty "bite me" to the Legislative branch, making up his own rules when their rules (aka "laws") don't suit him? Oh good gracious yes, according to A.G. A. G. (one of those must stand for "Anything Goes"). When you're a commander in chief, or at least this one, you get to turn the whole social contract upside-down, making freedom somewhere between "optional" and "harmful." This state doesn't derive its power from the consent of the governed; the governed derive their scraps of freedom from the consent of this administration. I'm sure that's not technically imprisonment. Come on, we have cars and TiVo!
I'm not going to take the obligatory swipe at the Democrats here (unless you count that clause), but there's really only one body that might be able to check this. Unfortunately they're among the least likely to want Americans enjoying freedom or freedoms: the Supreme Court. Unless Scalia and Pals get a wild hare up their Italian curses and re-assert the Constitution, nothing is going to change the fundamentally unjust justice system between now and the next presidential election. Probably not even then, since by then we'll be well used to looking over our shoulders and not saying anything suspicious on the telephone or in e-mail.
Except my friend, whose sig will keep sparking lights -- red or yellow -- on some dozing functionary's desk. And, I hope, causing no more than a chuckle.