Fear and Loathing

Given the candidacy of my man Barack Obama - a presidential candidate so cool he appears at Wilco concerts (what, was Radiohead busy?) for crissakes - I have been feeling oddly optimistic about American politics lately. Then, sleepily making the girls' breakfasts this morning, I heard recaps of the weekend's news: nine American troops killed in Afghanistan in a well-planned Taliban attack; the sudden but catastrophic collapses of Indy Mac, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac;fallout from the new FISA bill...

So here are two good - that is, scary as hell - articles to fan the flames.

First, the Harper's blogger Scott Horton interviews the journo Jane Mayer about her new book, The Dark Side, an elaboration of her terrifying New Yorker articles that describe how Cheney's cabal subverted the Constitution in fashioning a quasi-legal apparatus that permitted the torture and apparently even the murder of anyone who could be labeled a "terrorist." I'd love to read the book, but frankly it sounds too scary and depressing to digest: basing interrogation techniques on 1960s experiments involving the torture of dogs, the cabal's fear of war-crimes prosecutions, the contravention of John Walker Lindh's civil rights, the way that - as summarized by one historian she quotes - “Fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools.” Terrifying.

Second, in light of the recent FISA bill, it's worth rereading the security scholar James Bamford's analysis in the Atlantic of what the Bush administration's surveillance regime might mean to you and me. Again, terrifying: "Today, the NSA has access to more information than ever before. People express their most intimate thoughts in e-mails, send their tax returns over the Internet, satisfy their curiosity and desires with Google searches, let their hair down in chat rooms, discuss every event over cell phones, make appointments with their BlackBerrys, and do business by computer in WiFi hot spots... NSA personnel, the customs inspectors of the information superhighway, have the ultimate goal of intercepting and reviewing every syllable and murmur zapping into, out of, or through the United States. They are close to achieving it... As history has shown, the availability of such vast amounts of information is a temptation for an intelligence agency. The criteria for compiling watch lists and collecting information may be very strict at the beginning of such a program, but the reality—in a sort of bureaucratic law of expansion—is that it will draw in more and more people whose only offense was knowing the wrong person or protesting the wrong war."

Forecast: Significant blowing and drifting, with the possibility of heavy accumulation in rural areas.