Little Alberto Gonzales and His Letters of Cachet

I'm not surprised that Congress sold us out--16 Democrats, and the undead Republicans-- and passed an unexamined bill permitting the Attorney General to listen to private conversations without a court order, without oversight, even-- this is what's giving the phone companies the cold sweats-- without any written records at all. All Alberto has to do is pick up the phone. Oaths were made to be broken, and it may be the senators were under some terrible compulsion. Perhaps their families were threatened. Maybe they were tortured, or theirs arms twisted psychologically. Maybe (this is hard to fathom) the Bush administration is smarter than they are, and tricked them into passing the bill like a three card monte dealer suckers you in to looking for the Queen. Maybe they were bribed with allurments of money, or power, or the opportunities for sex that appear when you have enough money or power. No, it was none of those; they handed this kind of power to the least trustworthy president in American history so they could go home on time.

Somebody (Algren?) said once he weren't surprised that Chicago officials could be bought, but he was always amazed at how cheaply they could be bought. Lillian Hellman, whatever her flaws, observed that the people in Hollywood who sold each other out during the Blacklist didn't do it because their families were threatened or they were in any danger themselves; they did it to hold onto their swimming pools and second cars.

So now the Bush administration has been given the power of letters of cachet, something not seen west of the Iron Curtain since the French Revolution. The most notorious lettres de cachet, the ones that inspire stories about the Man in the Iron Mask and fed thousands of innocent prisoners to the Bastille or the guillotine, allowed the government to arrest and sentence any citizen without trial and without an opportunity of defense. The lack of oversight invited abuse. It was how the wealthy, the connected and the ambitious disposed of unwanted individuals. This was the Age of Reason, after all, and they needed something more efficent than accusations of witchcraft.

The lambs with easy consciences all say, let them listen, I've got nothing to hide, let them use torture on people who must already be guilty, let them open secret prisons in Eastern Europe and Guantanamo Bay, nobody I know goes there. I think this might be the definition of "streetwise" and "square": the naif thinks, It Can't Happen to Me, It Can't Happen Here. The hipster knows that all it takes is one wrong turn, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he could be next, that anyone could be next, that the next person who falls into the government's threshing machine might be you.

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