Thursday, November 13, 2003

It's Always Something

Change of topic. This health and safety stuff gets so depressing sometimes. Let's talk about other depressing issues. And why not? Without the ability to vote or civil rights, what's the point?

I've been noticing, but not closely following the controversy over computerized voting machines. (I have to ration what I get upset over.) I am a computer-nerd, however, so when I saw this nice, concise, but terrifying article in the NY Times computer section, I took note. You should too.
Then came last Sunday's New York Times, which presented a terrifying report on Diebold, a leading maker of paperless touch-screen voting machines. Eight million of us will be tapping on Diebold computers in the next Presidential election.

So what's wrong with that?

Wrong Thing 1: Wally O'Dell, the company's chief executive, is a Republican fundraiser. He writes letters to wealthy Bush contributors vowing to "deliver" his state's electoral votes to the Bush campaign. He hosts campaign meetings at his house. He's also a member of Bush's "Rangers and Pioneers" club (each member of whom must contribute at least $100,000 to the 2004 re-election campaign).

No matter what your politics, you can't deny that there's a strong whiff of conflict of interest here
Read it. It only gets worse.

And then there's a rather terrifying speech by Al Gore on November 9 at a MoveOn Conference. It's good. If Jimmy Carter is the nation's best ex-President, Al Gore is the nation's greatest near-President.
Or, to take another change – and thanks to the librarians, more people know about this one – the FBI now has the right to go into any library and ask for the records of everybody who has used the library and get a list of who is reading what. Similarly, the FBI can demand all the records of banks, colleges, hotels, hospitals, credit-card companies, and many more kinds of companies. And these changes are only the beginning. Just last week, Attorney General Ashcroft issued brand new guidelines permitting FBI agents to run credit checks and background checks and gather other information about anyone who is “of investigatory interest,” - meaning anyone the agent thinks is suspicious - without any evidence of criminal behavior.

So, is that fine with everyone?

Listen to the way Israel’s highest court dealt with a similar question when, in 1999, it was asked to balance due process rights against dire threats to the security of its people:

“This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individual’s liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day they (add to) its strength.”

I want to challenge the Bush Administration’s implicit assumption that we have to give up many of our traditional freedoms in order to be safe from terrorists.

Because it is simply not true.

In fact, in my opinion, it makes no more sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get at terrorists than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get at Osama Bin Laden.

In both cases, the Administration has attacked the wrong target.

In both cases they have recklessly put our country in grave and unnecessary danger, while avoiding and neglecting obvious and much more important challenges that would actually help to protect the country.

In both cases, the administration has fostered false impressions and misled the nation with superficial, emotional and manipulative presentations that are not worthy of American Democracy.

In both cases they have exploited public fears for partisan political gain and postured themselves as bold defenders of our country while actually weakening not strengthening America.

In both cases, they have used unprecedented secrecy and deception in order to avoid accountability to the Congress, the Courts, the press and the people.

Indeed, this Administration has turned the fundamental presumption of our democracy on its head. A government of and for the people is supposed to be generally open to public scrutiny by the people – while the private information of the people themselves should be routinely protected from government intrusion.

But instead, this Administration is seeking to conduct its work in secret even as it demands broad unfettered access to personal information about American citizens. Under the rubric of protecting national security, they have obtained new powers to gather information from citizens and to keep it secret. Yet at the same time they themselves refuse to disclose information that is highly relevant to the war against terrorism.