As an old crime writer and investigative journalist, I very much understand, advocate and teach the axiom, "Follow the money." It works quite well in both police work and journalism. But, ethically, cops and reporters only do it in hot pursuit of folks under direct suspicion of committing a crime. Police officers need a warrant to do it, and journalists need the approval of their editors and a lot of worn gumshoe spent slogging around and through old, dusty, public records--or someone who owes them a favor in the right place and slips them a file or two. But this mess? Get outta town!
Bush swears that his crew of snoops only read the records of people actually transferring money in and out of the United States with known ties to terrorist organizations. Buy that and I want to offer you some oceanfront property in Kansas at a great price. Who and what is a terrorist organization to the far right constituency necessary to this administration? And who is in charge of defining it today, tomorrow, next month, next year, next decade?
I live, write, and teach journalism in China, and have been for some 4 years now; but my bank account is still in Los Angeles. I pay bills all of the time electronically with a click of my mouse here in Beijing. I don't know enough about the fine points of international banking to know whether my transactions are crossing national boundaries.
More importantly, though, I do not know whether I am a "target" or not. I know this administration has every reason to believe I am not its friend. In my five plus decades of life, I have been called many unpopular things in America: a pinko; a commie; a hippie; an atheist; a n***er lover; a radical; a troublemaker; a traitor; etc., etc., you get the idea.
But to my knowledge I've never been called a terrorist. The trouble is that phrase: "to my knowledge." I know I was on an enemies list of a couple of administrations in the 60s and early 70s. Who is to say that with as much carping as I do on the criminal behavior of this administration that I am not on their list of enemies?
Now, I have so little money compared to the numbers that Bush, Cheney, et al, do their accounting in, it is highly unlikely they would find my banking of any interest at all, other than perhaps to laugh at. But I don't know that for a fact. I also do not know if my e-mails and international phone calls are being monitored since I am so decidedly unfriendly to the current administration.
Rather than Huxley and Orwell metaphors, I am more concerned with a philosophy 101 phrase: Slippery Slope. It surely appears to me that we are slipping mighty damn quickly down a slope so slippery with White House malfeasance and unimaginable hubris that it feels and smells like something that regularly goes down my toilet instead of underneath my rights as an American citizen. And what is at the bottom of this slope? I am afraid it is a cesspool that will make us someday think that 1984 and A Brave New World were comic books.
A whole lot of no-nothings back west harp about the monitoring of Chinese citizens by their Central Government; and yes it is a fact, the Internet and publishing is quite closely watched-manually. They say there are some 30,000 employees of the government whose job is to monitor what appears on blogs and university Internet bulletin boards; there are students whose volunteer jobs are to report on the Intranet chatter within the closed LAN systems of universities. But this is spotty and inefficient as hell in a country of 1.3 billion people.
Repression of free speech and individual liberties is more a threat than it is a real danger to the great majority of Chinese citizens. Here the government wants the people to think that what they say or do is being big-brothered. It mostly does the trick without the dirty deed coming from Beijing; press self-censorship is the shame of China, but it is increasingly not working.
In America, under Bush, the "Central Government" wants like almighty hell to hide its efforts to spy on its citizens. This is a distinction with a difference. It was reported in The New York Times that, yet again, as in the wiretapping scandal, the administration tried to coerce The Times into not publishing the story--some fools in Congress are even calling for the prosecution of The Times (and The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal) for reporting the story.
It argued to The Times that national security would be gravely endangered if Americans found out that, like their telephones and Internet, their bank records were also being vacuumed up into a humongous electronic spying apparatus that looked for patterns of suspicious activity to then target and monitor up-close and personal. Dandy, but what constitutes a "suspicious pattern" to a bunch of neocons who believe they know best what Americans should do, say, or spend their money on? It's not enough that they want to nation-build abroad, they want to citizen-rectify at home.
If this doesn't wake up even the most sublimely ignorant, apolitical yahoo in America, then I guess the whole lot of us deserves to slide down that slope greased with sewer waste into the foul pit stewing so unseemly below.