September 28, 2008

Stop and Think, Shithead


Most people don’t really care about politics. Oh, they’ll pretend. They’ll make the right grunting noises in public, but deep down they don’t really give a toss. I’m much the same way myself, except that I don’t bother with that whole “pretending to care” bit. I merely look at the presidential race as another television reality show, but one with less singing and dancing and cursing. In the end it doesn’t really matter who wins; the real attraction is in the sleazy shenanigans which lead up to the final episode.

            This year, however, I’m worried. Not about the outcome of the race—whoever ends up getting elected, I’m sorry, really won’t change a goddamn thing. No, what worries me is what I’m afraid will happen in the weeks to come—and it doesn’t have much of anything to do with the McCain or Obama campaigns.

            I’m not a paranoid or a conspiracy kook.

            Well, okay, scratch that. Maybe I am, but that’s beside the point. Apart from being a paranoid and a conspiracy kook, I also try to be a rationalist in my dealings with the world. And from a rational, non-partisan—even nihilistic—perspective, the idea that’s been nagging at me for a couple of years now makes too much sense, and the events of recent weeks have only confirmed my anxieties. The corker was a September 22nd headline which read “Spies Warn That Al Qaeda Aims for October Surprise.”

            An October Surprise, of course, is a tried and true bit of political chicanery in which one candidate (or someone working for him) whips out a bit of stunning news or shocking dirty laundry in the days or weeks before an election. The idea, naturally, is to wow the voters and the press, and thus win the election before anyone has a chance to think about it too much.

            The most famous example of an October Surprise came in 1980, when President Carter's plan to arrange the release of the American hostages in Iran before the election was thwarted by Ronald Reagan, who made a secret agreement with the Iranian government to hold the hostages until after the votes were counted. Reagan won in a landslide. It wasn't until he was deep into his second term that the sordid details of that hostage deal began leaking, but by then it was way too late.

            The “surprise” in question doesn’t have to be intentional. If term limits hadn’t been firmly in place when the twin towers came down, you know damn well we would’ve had to suffer through a third—and quite possibly a fourth—Giuliani term.

            Which brings us back to this most recent headline.

            From the moment the planes hit the towers to the present, we’ve been told to panic about another impending and inevitable terrorist attack. They were going to attack the Super Bowl, we were told, and shopping malls around Christmas, and the World Series, and most every other major public event that’s occurred since late 2001. In New York alone, they were going to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and the subways and the Empire State Building and the Holland Tunnel and the Statue of Liberty.

            In 2004, Vice President Cheney said on Meet the Press that “fear will win the election,” and he was right, and it did.

            None of those other attacks came to pass, so why should another vague, non-specific threat bug me?

            Well, if, like me, you have a few serious, lingering doubts about the official account of what happened in September of 2001, you start to think about things like motive. And that’s why now seems to be a good time to start worrying.

            For the last seven years, I’ve been keeping a file of stories concerning State-sanctioned paranoia, increased public surveillance, the deterioration of fundamental liberties and the public’s willing and enthusiastic acceptance of it all.

            (Needless to say, it’s a mighty big file.)

            So why not just breathe a sigh of relief that the whole ugly business is about to be behind us? Well, first and foremost, because I don’t think it’s over with by a long shot. It didn’t begin in 2001, and won’t end in 2008. It began with the Adams administration and has been evolving ever since to the point we’re at now—it just had a little shot in the arm in 2001, is all. Whoever wins the election in November isn’t going to do a goddamn thing to cut the number of unwarranted wiretaps or illegal searches and seizures. He’s not going to reign in the NSA or tell Google to stop collecting personal information. And lord knows he’s not going to decrease the number of cameras watching you every moment of the day. There’ll just be more of everything. Christ, the people do it to themselves now anyway. They don’t even need the government to spy on them—just hand them a cell phone camera and let them run wild.

            But that’s another story.

            So why am I expecting something awful to happen? Well, it seems to me that an administration that’s been this secretive and vindictive, and one that’s spent this much time and effort getting these systems into place isn’t going to go away quietly.

            The Wall Street disaster and an economy in freefall is one thing, but somehow it seems too subtle (even if its long-term effects are much more foreboding). A major “terrorist” attack at this point—especially one that dwarfs the WTC in scope—would quickly and easily achieve one of three important goals for the outgoing administration.

            1. In the simplest outcome, it would at least assure a Republican victory, as the voting public tends to be as simpleminded and easily swayed as a golden retriever (“There it is, boy! Go get it!”). Again, not that one party or another would make any difference, but you know how these partisan types get.

            2. In purely vindictive terms, a major disaster right now (on top of the economic mess) would really, really fuck things up for the incoming administration, and quite possibly leave Bush’s terms in office looking masterful in comparison. He has a legacy to salvage mind you, and only a few weeks left to do it. Can’t let the term “Evil Boob” start cropping up in next year’s textbooks.

            The third possible benefit is when we jump headlong into Paranoid Wackyland.

            This may be nothing but an urban legend circulated by conspiracy nuts, but the way things have been going, who knows? National Security Presidential Directive 51 does indeed exist—the Washington Post reported it in May of 2007, shortly after it was issued. Few other news outlets bothered with it, though, and the question remains, what does the directive really imply? Here’s a small excerpt:

            “This policy establishes ‘National Essential Functions,’ prescribes continuity requirements for all executive departments and agencies, and provides guidance for State, local, territorial, and tribal governments, and private sector organizations in order to ensure a comprehensive and integrated national continuity program that will enhance the credibility of our national security posture and enable a more rapid and effective response to and recovery from a national emergency.

            According to the conspiracy nuts, what the directive says at heart is this: in the event of something really nasty—say a nuclear attack—the president can stay in office as long as he needs to bring things under control. What’s more, it allows him to suspend the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and states that the other branches of government would need to answer to him directly. And if those other branches of government have been vaporized, well, then, out comes the Shadow Government which was established shortly after the 2001 business.

            The conspiracy nuts may be overstating it a bit, but there’s no question that there’s some hinky hoodoo afoot in the directive.

            It all makes me say “hmmm . . . ” Especially when Homeland Security starts dropping hints that something really awful might happen, like, before the election, even.

            Hey! That’s one more reason why this all seems so inevitable to me—if something really does happen after all these warnings, at last—at last— they’ll be able to say their intelligence was correct!

            So if and when something does happen between now and November, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Personally, I think most people in this country deserve what they get, if only for being such happy collaborators. As for me, there is that small handful of people I care about, which is why I’m just hoping that whatever happens happens in, I dunno, Denver or Miami this time.


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