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October 27, 2003

Further installment
Posted by Teresa at 02:44 PM *

The latest development in the administration’s program to crack down on the basic freedoms of ordinary law-abiding citizens, while doing nothing to make us more secure, is this plan to require ID on outgoing mail.

This is supposedly a response to the anthrax scare. It isn’t. The government’s investigation of that scare has been—“less than thorough”, would be one way to put it. It doesn’t seem to hold their interest. Meanwhile, there are all kinds of genuinely security-oriented things they could be doing, starting with basic procedures for what you do if you open an envelope and find odd white powder in it.

They haven’t done it. It’s a simple thing. Let’s do it now:

Here’s a good site for basic information about anthrax, put up by Health Canada, which is the Canadian equivalent of the Department of Health. Here’s a very good one on how to handle anthrax and other biological agent threats. It’s from Pryme Safety Services, a private company.

And here’s the basic deal: Say you open an envelope and find weird powder in it. What do you do? You start by knowing that anthrax spores are heavier than air, and that anthrax is not the easiest infection in the world to catch. It’s just relatively easy to prepare usable powdered anthrax for use as a weapon. That’s lucky for you. (You may also be aware that anthrax-bits tend to be electrostatically active, so watch out for that.) Now:
1. Don’t gasp. Don’t hyperventilate. Ideally, don’t inhale at all. If you can just quietly stop breathing until you’re out of the room, do so.

2. Don’t wave the envelope around. Don’t open it further and peer into it. Don’t turn it upside-down and dump its contents out on your desk. Just set it down very quietly.

3. If you have a plastic bag, some plastic wrap, another larger envelope, or other means of containment directly to hand, slide the envelope into that. Otherwise, lay the envelope down and put something—a sheet of paper, a jacket, anything—down on top of it.

4. If there are other people in the room, tell them calmly and quietly to leave. Shut the door behind yourselves. If there’s no door, put tape across the doorway.

5. Immediately go wash your hands and face with soap and water, then dial 911. Get everybody else out of the office—calmly! You don’t want to stir up the air, or breathe in more of it than necessary—and have them all wash up immediately as well.
There. Learn that, and you’ll have done the biggest single thing we can do towards protecting ourselves from anthrax.

This has been a public service announcement.

Now let’s consider the question of how one puts ID on outgoing mail. Any system rigorous enough to actually stop terrorists is going to be incredibly burdensome. Anything less rigorous will be meaningless when it comes to stopping terror. Furthermore, why should a government that doesn’t hand out basic anthrax information come up with a big complicated expensive plan to require ID on all outgoing mail? The obvious answer is: So they can track it. Mail is the most anonymous means of communication we have. It’s incredibly pervasive. It’s low tech. It’s powerful. It goes to all kinds of people who don’t hang out online. The Founding Fathers knew perfectly well why mail is important. They’d used it themselves when they made their revolution.

I haven’t written about every instance where the administration could be doing something real about security and isn’t, nor about every instance where terrorism and the need for increased security are being used to justify new laws and regulations that don’t make us any more secure, but are just the thing if you want to suppress dissent. There have been a lot of them. Way, way too many of them. Stories about them sit in my queue of half-written weblog posts, and I don’t have the heart to finish them. I can get this one out because it’s such a small instance, relatively speaking.

Ever since the attack on the ballot count in Florida, I’ve been assuming that Bush and his fellow brigands don’t expect they’re ever going to go out of power.

You don’t attack a ballot recount at a federal office building, using “rioters” who are actually known political staffers and campaign workers who’ve come in from out of state, having planned and conspired to do so in advance, and having had their expenses paid out of moneys traceable to the core Republican organization, if you think there’s any chance you’re ever going to be called to account for it. There are just too many potential criminal charges that arise from it. But that’s what they did; and there was no great effort made to cover up the money trail.

So. I think they’re planning to systematically rig the coming election. As we saw during the last presidential election, you don’t have to rig an election well enough for it to pass muster during later investigations. You just have to rig it long enough for the general public to perceive that the election is now over. The citizenry doesn’t know what to do at that point.

I think that after the election, they’ll really start tightening the thumbscrews.

I’m not an excitable conspiracy theorist, or a wild-eyed lefty radical. I’m a despairing centrist who had a solid conservative upbringing. And I can’t believe how many supposed conservatives out there are willing to sell their birthright for a mess of nonsensical tough talk. When you’re old, you won’t be proud of having listened to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

Addendum: Meanwhile, that little rodent Byron York at NR has the shameless mendacity to suggest that Democrats don’t really care about terrorism. He is without honor.

Comments on Further installment:
#1 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 03:55 PM:

And here92s the basic deal: Say you open an envelope and find weird powder in it.

First, check if it's from your dealer. You don't want to alert your officemates when your new shipment comes in, or they'll all want some.

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 03:57 PM:

I was going to mail (overnight) some brownies to a friend about a year ago. But I dust the top of my brownies with cocoa I didn't mail them. Once you've been slammed up against a wall by a federal goon, you can't ever be unslammed, even if you're cleared absolutely.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 03:59 PM:

Get some of that good super-dark cocoa powder. Very different effect.

#4 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:00 PM:


How do they expect to DO this?

Do the friendly blue boxes on the street corners disappear?

Do they refuse to collect an outgoing envelope from your house if you haven't written a return address on it? What if you've put a return address other than your own on it -- which you could be doing for entirely innocent purposes, for example helping a friend or paid client to address wedding invitations? (Sure, a lot of people do these on the laser printer now, with a script font, but there have got to be some holdouts still favoring calligraphy or simple handwriting.)

Would ALL mail have to go across a post office counter, in person, with the sender showing ID?

How do they then store that information? How many more labor hours will it take to maintain the data?

This is both ridiculous and an outrage.

#5 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:05 PM:

Teresa - never heard of the good super-dark etc. Does it have a stronger flavor, or does it just look nicer? I definitely, definitely will look for will enhance the Black Hole Brownies dramatically! Got a brand name and/or store for me to try?

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:06 PM:

The Founders knew that a post office was vital for opposing tyrrany.

Looks like some other folks have figured that out too.

#7 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:09 PM:

So I want to know, what in the name of Franklin is "sender identification", and how do they expect to keep all the hordes of anthrax-mailing terrorists from faking it, or stealing someone else's?

Are they going to get rid of all postal drop boxes? What about leaving out-going letters in your mailbox for the mail carrier to pick up? Are they going to require all first-class mail to be submitted face-to-face across the counter at the post office?

After thinking about it a little, maybe they're planning uniquely identifiable postage; every stamp has a serial number. But will they outlaw buying stamps from vending machines?

Or are they just hoping to finally get rid of letter writing?

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:09 PM:

Rikibeth, if it's usable, it'll be easy to hack. I forgot to put that point in. If it isn't so rigorous that it practically shuts the mail down, terrorists will be able to go right through it.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:20 PM:

They can't be planning to require every business office in the country to take its mail to the PO at the end of the day.

#10 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:20 PM:

Looking at the Pryme page, probably half the stuff I mail meets one or more of their "suspicious packages and letters" criteria:

- I generally don't keep a stock of small-denomination stamps; if it's over an ounce, I'll probably stick another 37 cent stamp on it.

- When I bother to put a return address, it's nearly always handwritten. On bills in pre-printed envelopes, I don't usually bother with a return address, because it's unlikely to fail to reach the addressee, and my address is inside the envelope, anyway.

- When I wrap packages, I tend to be paranoid and over-tape.

- City or state mismatch between postmark and return address: I often mail stuff on my way to work, or while out shopping 2 towns away from home.

The "Don't Panic" tone, and the details about how best to handle suspect anthrax are great, but that list at the end pretty much boils down to "if it looks suspicious, suspect it."

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:27 PM:

At last! Now people who send pictures of calico cats to John Ashcroft, and boxes of pretzels to Bush, can be properly dealt with!

"When you92re old, you won92t be proud of having listened to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter."

I'm sure they'll always have a small clique of loyalists. Bitter old cranks who will chip in money to have a vanity press republish Coulter's opus, and spooky young people who set up tables at airports and SF conventions.

The latter will probably pay good money for Newt Gingrich fiction.

#12 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:27 PM:

Teresa, don't ordinary business postage meters already stamp a per-machine serial number?

My conspiracy-theorist persona wonders if Pitney-Bowes is pushing this, to stamp out stamps.

#13 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:39 PM:

To Novalis: You don't want to alert your officemates when your new shipment comes in, or they'll all want some.

"Said the waiter, "Don't shout,
And wave it about.
Or the rest will be wanting some too."

#14 ::: Ann ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 04:45 PM:

How utterly depressing. Moving to Canada keeps looking better... but no doubt Bush & Co have their sights set on that, too...

#15 ::: Adrian Turtle ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 05:55 PM:

This is appalling. Not because it's impossible,
or because it will stop personal mail. I expect
it will be cumbersome but doable, a parallel
system to stamps. Businesses will have ID
machines in parallel to their franking machines.
Individuals can go to the post office and show ID
to have a single piece of mail authenticated. Or
you can show your ID, and the government will
sell you a sheet of barcode-stickers authorizing
you to send mail under the new system...every
piece of mail needs postage and a sticker, or it
gets destroyed. Didn't we go to war over a Stamp Act?

Postal stupidity and paranoia is not a new
problem, unfortunately. Either my landlord or
the local postal workers are claiming there is
a federal law that "all mailboxes must be kept
locked at all times." This is clearly absurd.
Houses, and many apartments, don't HAVE locks
on the mailboxes. But our building has mailboxes
that lock, so if somebody neglects to lock one,
there's a federal law that kicks in and forbids
mail delivery to the building. "This is an
important safety regulation!!!" Despite the
accepted custom of leaving packages and large
letters unsecured on the table in front of the
mailbox array. Despite the accepted custom of
leaving outgoing letters in an unsecured basket
by the door.

#16 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 06:03 PM:

Has everyone in the US forgotten who the "several US senators" mentioned in the article were? And when the anthrax envelopes were sent? Of course no one in the Bush administration is interested in finding who is responsible.

It's just like the Clinton impeachment. They win either way.

#17 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 06:19 PM:
I think they’re planning to systematically rig the coming election. As we saw during the last presidential election, you don’t have to rig an election well enough for it to pass muster during later investigations. You just have to rig it long enough for the general public to perceive that the election is now over. The citizenry doesn’t know what to do at that point.

I think that after the election, they’ll really start tightening the thumbscrews.

I’m not an excitable conspiracy theorist, or a wild-eyed lefty radical. I’m a despairing centrist who had a solid conservative upbringing.

Well, I am an excitable conspiracy theorist and wild-eyed lefty radical, and I'm worried too.
#18 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 06:36 PM:

Cui bono?

Let's think about this analytically: assuming this is really the bad guys plotting to do evil, what do they expect to achieve?

Firstly, they're looking at tracking bulk mailings. (If they get round to individual letters, that will take a bit longer -- they'll need to set the machinery up first.) Obviously, bulk mailing -- e.g. by junk mail companies -- isn't something that you can stuff in a normal post box. So it's an easy target: if it goes to the post office in a mail sack it can be monitored.

But the real obvious target would seem to me to be postal votes. And that's a pre-emptive strike against people registering for postal votes in the hope of making an end-run around Diebold and their friends in the bent voting machine racket.

(A secondary target a long way down the line might be traffic analysis of personal correspondence, especially involving dissidents who've opted out of the ECHELON-trackable electronic media, but that's probably a lower priority than hanging onto power ...)

I'm not familiar enough with the way US elections handle postal or absentee votes. Does this make sense?

#19 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 06:43 PM:

Charlie, here in Los Angeles you can hand your "absentee" ballot sealed in its envelope to a poll worker at any polling place on election day, instead of mailing it.

#20 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 07:01 PM:

Printed in the Federal Register on October 21, the revision of the Domestic Mail Manual is open for public comment until November 20.

So let's frickin' comment, rather than bitching about it in blogs.

#21 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 07:31 PM:

Why don't we all do both, James?

#22 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 07:37 PM:

I agree that we have to stomp on this one fast, but we have to understand what to stomp on.

I have an email in to a few friends of mine who are still in the mailing industry to check this out (I worked for a DMA member for seven years then changed jobs to one closer to home last year). During the time my team was working on this kind of stuff (with a copy of Part 24 of the regs on my hard disk) I heard about this idea, long before 9/11. What the big mailers, the companies that support them, and the USPS have wanted for years is an end-to-end tracking system, similar to that first set up by FedEx and now possessed by everyone but them. There is a whole stack of issues involving things like premium services, trackability, and closed loop address correction that they want to solve with it that have nothing to do with the individual postal customer.

This is one place where I think the CNN article is, well, not as complete or clear as it could be. They use the term "discount rate mail" and connect it to first class mail, which is sort of true, but only if you are mailing at least 500 pieces of a similar item at one time. As a lot of you already know, there are a whole pile of different discount rates starting with zip presort and extending up through CASS certified and NCOA. That kind of mail right now is surprisingly traceable if you really want to do it.

What I think is going on is that some administration types in this "President's Commission" are trying to piggyback a much more draconian and objectionable idea on top of a perfectly reasonable one that has been worked on for some time. Trackability of premium service mail is part of what you are paying for. Trackability of mass commercial mail makes good sense. Trackability of individual first class mail is a fool idea of the first order and would quickly kill of what was left of individual first class mail.

Make sure to comment on this, and send a copy of your comment to your Congresscritter and Senators. Let's see if we can come up with the address for comments.

#23 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 08:05 PM:

Here's a couple of additional sources:

An article from the WashTimes -- I know, yuck, but they are at least running a longer version of the story, though with the spin you would expect. Seems part of the idea is some kind of "smart stamp".

Ecommerce Times has an article on the overall One Code project to enable what they are calling "intelligent mail".

Here is what may be an edited version of the Federal Register posting of the proposed rule. Best part is it has the comment address:

DATES: Submit comments on or before November 20, 2003.
ADDRESSES: Mail or deliver written comments to the Manager, Mailing Standards, U.S. Postal Service, 1735 N. Lynn Street, Room 3025, Arlington, VA 22209-6038. Copies of all written comments will be available for inspection and photocopying between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Postal Service Headquarters Library, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW., 11th Floor North, Washington, DC.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joel Walker, Mailing Standards, United States Postal Service, (703) 292-3648.

BTW, PostalWatch is a good source for keeping up on all this stuff.

#24 ::: Adina ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 08:33 PM:


King Arthur Flour carries a really good black cocoa powder (I've never used it straight, but even mixed half-and-half with regular it made my chocolate cake impressively dark.)

#25 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 09:23 PM:

Hello, I'm John A, and I'm a recovering wild-eyed left-wing conspiracy monger.

#26 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 10:49 PM:

Hi, John . . .

#27 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 11:12 PM:

In a PK Dick novel, "smart stamps" would come encoded with the engrams of the person on the stamp (hence illegal to have still-living people on them), and would chat with you on the way to the mailbox.

#28 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 11:23 PM:

???uncey writes:
> Seems part of the idea is some kind of
> "smart stamp".

ObSF: "Letter Rip," by the quirky and not-famous-enough George M. Ewing, *Analog*, April 1977.

[SPOILERS ahead]

In which the high-tech surveillance guys opening our mail are discovered and exposed by an inventor who sends a clever new imaging system, disguised as a gum wrapper, through the mail.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2003, 11:48 PM:

Ken, you're scared? Damn. I was hoping you'd tell me I was overreacting. I was hoping Jim would tell me the same thing, and he didn't either.

Jim and Claude are right. We don't get to lament and wring our hands if we don't also send in comments. Let's all get moving. The relevant info is in Claude's post of 8:05 p.m. this evening.

Bill, I am truly impressed. And furthermore, it's a poor atom blaster that doesn't point both ways.

Christopher, you want the baking and confectionery supply heaven on the south side of 22nd Street just east of Sixth Avenue. And keep an eye out for their cut-price kilos of Valrhona in multiple single-producer varieties, O Yum, which they'll greatly downprice for minor sins like being cracked across, or having a slight bloom on one end.

Confectionery supplies. We're being very rasff.

#30 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 12:05 AM:

Politics and chocolate. No wonder I read your blog, Teresa!

#31 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 03:50 AM:

Claude Muncey: What I think is going on is that some administration types in this "President's Commission" are trying to piggyback a much more draconian and objectionable idea on top of a perfectly reasonable one that has been worked on for some time.

When I read chapter 7 of the commission's final report, it looks like they're supporting the perfectly-reasonable part and emphasizing the need for further study on the draconian part (including a reminder to balance the promised security and speed with loss of privacy, and hinting that it may not be feasible at all). Given the high level it's written at and the amount of hand-waving that many of the chapters include, I can't take it seriously as evidence of a VRWC plot.

It also looks as if the USPS was making plans for "Intelligent Mail" well before this commission was formed, and that a lot of the push for it is actually coming from companies who just happen to have products that would be useful for implementing such a thing.

ObSF: Heinlein's "Gulf", where the hero painstakingly forges a mailing label to fool an "electric-eye sorter" into delivering his package to an address that doesn't match the human-readable version. Not bad for 1949.


#32 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 08:59 AM:

J Greely:

Well, let's get their own wording in here -- from the Comission's Technology Subcomittee final recommendations:

6. Security. The Subcommittee believes that the events of 9/11 and the Postal Service anthrax incidents have increased the need to ensure security in the mail system. The Subcommittee believes that a more secure system could be build using sender identified mail. The Subcommittee recommends that the Postal Service, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, explore the use of sender identification for every piece of mail, commercial and retail.

I could comment at some length at the language used but ("the Subcommittee believes" -- right) will stick to the thread for once. I think that simple competition will ensure that some form of the "One Code" and "intelligent mail" will be adopted for bulk rate and premium service mail, as it simply brings a number of separate coding and tracking systems into a single system. It makes perfect sense and does not make any further assaults on privacy. No problem there.

However, when that system is in place, the cost of extending it to retail mail would be greatly reduced. If the cost is not too high (or at least can be sold as not too high) and you can sell it as a anti-terrorism measure, you might get it through quickly. One of the best times to stop this is now, before the train really gets rolling, when this report has all those nice concerns about privacy in it. Lots of negative comments, copied to Congress, can make them want to put this on the back burner.

Because that paragraph makes it clear that they want to do it.

#33 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 09:59 AM:

I first want to apologize, y'alls. For John Ashcroft. Because we voted a DEAD guy into office over him, and he went on to national office......

This whole thing really bothers me, as much as the reporting of library materials checked out and bookstore sales to the Department of Homeland Security. It is an easy place to throw your weight around politically, if you control the physical, postal mail, you control what was possibly the most private of correspondence. Gonna have to write my congress critters as well as the postmaster.

Onto that. Talk at you later.

From a centrist who's now really feeling depressed about our country.

#34 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 10:52 AM:

Wearing my tinfoil hat ...

Teresa, the time to begin really worrying isn't now, isn't even when they've rigged the next election (care of Diebold and Fox News), repealed term limits, brought in the death penalty for dissidents, and started reading your mail.

The time to begin worrying is when they reintroduce currency exchange controls. Or at least that's what my reading on the rise of the Third Reich suggests.

The dollar is already sliding against world currencies such as the euro and sterling (as my royalty cheques are telling me) -- down from 1.5 to the pound to nearly 1.7 in only six months. If the worst prognostications of the economic doomsayers like Billmon are right, a major dollar devaluation and debt crisis could be on the cards. One way out would be for the US government to default on loans -- but if that happens, you'll be in for currency controls for the same reason the Nazis introduced them: the government won't be credit-worthy.

Fascist dictatorships don't tend to try to hold onto dissidents who want to get out (unless there's a shooting war on). But if the credit bubble bursts and the dollar devalues and they bring in currency controls to control it, (a) you won't be able to take more than the shirt on your back when you run, and (b) it's the penultimate step before the traditional war to seize foreign assets (to pay for the debts) and to train the young Straussian gentlemen in patriotism. (Thanks, Ken.) And if you're a dissident or a deviant and you don't run then the government will relocate you for free, to somewhere like Auschwitz, as some cousins of my father found out to their terminal cost.

Note: wearing my shiniest, thickest, most crinkly tinfoil hat (and praying fervently that I'm wrong) I do not expect this to happen in less than 24 months.

#35 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 11:23 AM:

Um, re-reading that post, I hope I'm not coming across as too alarmist. I still harbour some confidence that I'm misreading the situation and erring on the side of paranoia. (It's just that being wrong would be so, well, serious.)

If there's one thing the atmosphere in the US under the current administration reminds me of, it's the UK in the early 1980's under Thatcher. People of a liberal persuasion kept saying "no, she can't mean that, she's not really going to do that ..." and then she did. But we're still here. The unthinkable happened, we recalibrated our shit-meters, and it turned out that the slippery slope didn't lead down quite as far as we feared -- although it was pretty bad. Thatcher, despite all the rhetoric of her enemies, was no Hitler. And I'm hoping that Bush won't be, either.

And if the worst happens, you've got friends over here who'll help you get back on your feet once you arrive.

#36 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 11:59 AM:

As someone who actually write letters every week, this is all coming across as a push to get rid of the post office completely.

I think these people just don't get mail anymore--not real mail anyway. The kind where you open your mailbox and get all excited and happy because you have a real letter from your grandmother/best friend/whoever. They seem to have forgotten the joy of realizing that someone bothered to take the time to sit down, put pen to paper, and write you a letter, of opening the mailbox and seeing, in the pile of bills and junk mail, something that is pure pleasure.

The more hoops we have to jump through, the less likely people will be to send letters. Which would be too bad.

And Xopher, would you be willing to share your brownie recipe? I'd be willing to trade if you wanted--my brownie recipe is good enough that my co-workers are willing to forgive pretty much anything, as long as I bring in brownies every once in awhile.

#37 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 12:04 PM:

The unthinkable happened, we recalibrated our shit-meters, and it turned out that the slippery slope didn't lead down quite as far as we feared -- although it was pretty bad. Thatcher, despite all the rhetoric of her enemies, was no Hitler. And I'm hoping that Bush won't be, either.

Charlie, that's the closest thing to a believable optimistic statemement I've seen in a long time.

#38 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 12:21 PM:

Comparing Thatcher to Bush?

God. I knew Thatcher was bad, but I had thought she was only in the Nixon-Reagan league ...

#39 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 12:51 PM:

Charlie --

(well, and everybody else, too.)

You're a raving optimist.

Look at this with a little more context of time, and it's clear that this are people who have worked and laboured for thirty years to get to where they are now, in many, many ways. This is not an expedience or an accident or an opportunistic power grab. (Frex, it took about twenty years to respond to Watergate by getting rid of the free press, but this they have now accomplished.)

There is no principled core to this; they hold the Federal Government of the United States illegitimate because it has the power to tell them what to do.

That what they want to do involves imposition of theocracy, rigid class structure, and all economic risk on other people is beside the point; even the exhaltation of wealth as an uncontexted good is beside the point. The real driving motiviation is a demand from their self love that they exist in a world where they serve nothing, and everything serves or fears them.

Maggie Thatcher -- and Ronald Regan, and Bush the Elder -- served a particular imagination of government; a bad one in most respects, but it had in it a concept of duty. This lot serve nothing, owe in their hearts no duty, regard none in fellowship; the comparision to the rise of European Fascism is not apt because these exalt nothing that is not their individual selves.

I don't beleive anyone has ever tried to enact a philosophy summarizable as 'objectivism doesn't go far enough' in the world before; I don't think historical precedent exists by which to judge.

So far as precedent does exist, it exists for the striving to render the earth such that they are never afraid.

If any good thing has come from that, or any limit to sorrow, in all the days of the world, I do not know what it might be.

#40 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 12:54 PM:

Charlie, Thatcher was running under two constraints:

First, she was in charge of a medium-sized country, rather than the dominant economic/military power of the world.

Second, she was never handed a 'gift' (from a lower power) like Bush has been.

There might also be a third constraint, but I'm not sure - I've heard that there was a mainstream opposition press in the UK. Something else that Bush hasn't had to worry about.

#41 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 01:09 PM:

In terms of currency controls and problems,
the Bush has one advantage - the US dollar is the world's main currency. It is at risk from the Euro, but right now it is the currency of the world. In the 1930's, that would have been the British pound (from what I know; but certainly not the German mark). This gives the Bush administration a lot more leeway.

#42 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 01:14 PM:

In terms of rigging the (next US presidential) election, what frightens me is that they probably have the ability to do that *right now*. They need only rig a few of the right states (Florida should already be in the bag). The GOP will have far more money, a lapdog press, and a large group of people who *believe* whatever Bush says.

The only real reason that they *might* not take over in '04 is that their sheer egotism and short-term viewpoint messed things up just a little too early. In Iraq it appears as if they have two choices: either to reinforce with all remaining troop strength and fight a guerrilla war, or to pull out as quickly as practical, hand over the country to a figurehead in Spring '04, and hope that that holds through Nov '04.

If they could have put Iraq off until spring '04, they'd have been home free.

#43 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 01:16 PM:

Sorry - the 'gift' I was referring to as having been given to Bush was 9/11. Like the Reichstag fire, but on a collosal scale.

#44 ::: graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 01:23 PM:

Pardon the failure of tag-closing (and use of the 'Preview' function) -- intened only 'want' to be bolded and italicized.

#45 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 01:59 PM:

I worry when people I've always thought of as moderate and sensible conclude that a radical coalition has seized control of the US, will do whatever it takes to keep control of it, and intends to conquer the world.

This is not a situation I've experienced before. I never thought of Thatcher as mad, or fascist, or even dictatorial. I didn't think she, or Reagan, would actually go to world war except by appalling miscalculation. It just wasn't that apocalyptic.

I've probably said this before, but I first got an uneasy feeling about the future when I was having a very pleasant time in Poland last summer. I had a thought I couldn't shake, which was: 'Everything looks fine, but something very bad is going to happen.' Maybe it had something to do with wandering around the Old Jewish Quarter in Krakow. It gives one a rather eerie sense of how bad things can go, and how fast. And at the time, I couldn't think what it might be. Iraq was a cloud no bigger than a man's hand.

OK. If Teresa and Graydon are right, then this lot are going for broke. Maybe it has something to do with the oil running out in less than fifty years. The Project for a New American Century (etc) means war, and in the long run not with ramshackle Third World regimes but with one or more of the Great Powers (who will not take kindly to being muscled out). If you're right, folks, you're talking about World War Three, and about a situation in the US where all that is left by way of changing the government is a revolution.

I suspect that one thing that is making that outcome more likely is a wide sharing of the kind of disbelief I have, which is that things can't really be that bad. Because if they are that bad, we all have to re-order our priorities.

We have to party like it's 1929.

#46 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 02:28 PM:

Ken MacLeod: That's precisely what I meant when I wrote last August, Sometimes I wonder whether it's going to take French troops in New York and Chinese troops in San Francisco spearheading drives that eventually meet on the Missouri River to root these bastards out. I hope not.

#47 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 03:01 PM:

Not to interject religion (further) into this, but all I can keep thinking of is those end times films they showed me back when I was (don't laugh) a member of the Awanas.

Bar codes on the hand, anyone?

(Disclaimer: I am not suggesting anyone here should (or shouldn't) believe in Biblical end times prophecies. Merely that this bears a striking resemblance to certain interpretations thereof.)

#48 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 03:03 PM:

I hope not, as well. 'Cause it ain't gonna happen.
One of the unsettling thoughts about the parallels
between now and the late 19030's, is that Germany
simply wasn't as powerful as the US is today. Germany had the most advanced land/air military, as the US does. However, the US has a far, far larger military, in relation to the rest of the world, than Germany did in relation to the the rest of Europe, in every category except raw bodies.

What's the figure batted around? The US spends as much as the next 30 countries put together?

#49 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 03:13 PM:

Claude Muncey: However, when that system is in place, the cost of extending it to retail mail would be greatly reduced.

At the moment, I can buy stamps 24/7 using cash. Not just from machines located in post offices, but from ATMs and grocery-store clerks, and there's no limit on the quantity. I can buy or borrow stamps from friends. Heck, I can even steal them from someone's desk drawer and they'll still work. All of that has to go away before universal "intelligent mail" is possible.

I can inject my stamped mail into the system from several hundred different locations in my relatively small town. That also has to go away for UIM to be possible. Changes on this scale would take years to phase in without utterly wrecking the postal system.

The same report talks about cutting down on the number of post offices, using the same rationale that led to shutting down military bases. This is more or less incompatible with trying to reduce the number of ways to inject first-class mail into the system and ensure accurate sender information.

[Disclaimer: I pay all my bills online, and haven't sent a personal letter in at least five years. The last time I used a post office, I was sending 35mm slides via Express Mail, and I most definitely wanted a correct return address on them in case of a problem.]

Do I see a conspiracy? Yes, but it's on the part of the companies who sucked up to the commission to get their products and services recommended.

On a side note, I now have a reason to approve of Gray Davis giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens. By making it so easy to acquire a "legit" ID, he's provided a powerful counter-argument to the alleged benefits of UIM.


#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 03:20 PM:

Barry --

in some dollar accountings, the US spends more than the entire rest of the world combined.

That's not the point, really; this isn't a conventional environment. "Conquer the world" as a goal means taking a bet that absolutely everyone else will chose to be conquered and enslaved rather than nuking at least some of your cities, on the one hand, and that there aren't enough of everyone else to get enough cities to remove your nation from the present of history.

It takes a very peculiar flavour of crazy to take that bet, and I spent the eighties being reassured by the absence of such craziness near the levers of power.

#51 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 05:37 PM:

I'm frightened by the events of the last four years, too, but I still don't see all of them as *carefully orchestrated* results of a conspiracy under a *unified* leadership.

Instead, I see them as depressing (but more spontaneous) consequences of a spreading disease of
avaricious power-grubbers breaking down our national immune system.

When various virii finally succeeded in getting the Bush-Cheney organism into our DNA, they milled around for awhile, looking for systems to invade.

The 9-11 event opened the system to a series of new attacks.

This weakening of our immune system has allowed a whole bunch of other malignant virii hanging around in our bloodstream to gain footholds to do more damage than they were capable of before Bush. But I don't buy into the idea that the 30-year conspiracy Graydon alludes to has been centrally unified under a single leadership (like the Freemason-like organization that Homer Simpson stumbles into).

Instead, what I think we're seeing is the result of new opportunities for a number of virus-like agendas to gain a foothold. Yes, they're talking to each other and cooperating as they simultaneously realize they can destroy the safeguards that held them in check for so many years.

But. the Bush Administration, itself, isn't even unified and organized. Bush's fundamentalist agenda, Cheney's avaricious military-industrial agenda, Wolfowitz's global pax Americana agenda, Ashcroft's totalitarianism are joining forces with other viral streams -- Charles Issa's California recall, Diebold's rigged-machine insurance racket, Tom Delay's power fantasies, etc., to create a disaster.

We're facing a whole bunch of related disease outbreaks. Getting Bush/Cheney out of the White House, if we can, may get our Constitutional immune system working. But I doubt whether those villains had an orchestrated strategy for perpetual power when they strongarmed their way into the White House. More like a variety of selfish thugs have wanted to strongarm their way in for 30 years. The system fought off the Gingrich invasion, but a series of circumstances combined to cause it to succumb to the Bush invasion in 2000.

Now that they're feeding on us, these individuals and organizations share the common goal of remaining at the trough. Yes, they cooperate, but their coalition has a number of diverse agendas. They share a common alliance against being ousted by a unified, enlightened electorate. But I think it's a mistake to attack them as a unified conspiracy. They just deny it as absurd; and the public senses a grain of truth in that denial. The public can then be distracted by divide-and-conquer tactics that statistically appeal to as much fear and ignorance as skilled Republican tacticians are able to conjur.

The electorate needs not to be told that they're the victims of a fascist conspiracy. They need to be told (and convinced of the fact) that a number of short-sighted, avaricious people have gained a foothold in this country that that can severely damage their liberty and quality of life. Removing some of them (starting with Bush and Cheney) is an important step toward fighting off an attack of selfishness and ignorance that threatens all of us.

To remove Bush and Cheney, we need to have a legitimate election -- ergo, the concern about large, rich corporations being in a position to rig the electoral process -- whether or not these corporations actually have the nerve to go through with what they're capable of doing.)

#52 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 05:41 PM:

Actually, it doesn't, except for very high values of 'conquer'. It could simply mean that there is no power or combination which could plausibly threaten you, and that most of them have to cooperate quite well, or get stomped.

It also means making sure that no rogue stateless power can acquire a nuke from a collapsing state, ship it into your capital, and detonate it near your house. And these guys don't seem to worry about that as much as funding failed SDI programs.

Which makes me think that there's a bit of strangeness in these guys' thinking.

#53 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 05:45 PM:

The preceeding post was in reply to Graydon's post (I'll be more careful in the future).

#54 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 06:35 PM:


All that has to be done is to say that on, oh, 1/1/2005 only "smart stamps" will be accepted. This technology already exists and is deployed -- this is the form that postage sold over the internet comes in and is already used by some commercial customers. A lot of the equipment for this is already in place to support current programs. Just give everybody notice and replace some vending machines. Offer to buy back existing postage in smart stamps for 30 days after the switchover. It will take a bit of planning, but it is not nearly as big a deal as you think -- and they have been working on this in a perfectly aboveboard way for some years.

Why should this be a big deal. Well, the FBI today cannot get into your private mail wihtout a warrant, but it can look at the outside of it all they want. They can request a "mail cover" which means that all your mail will be photocopied whithout being opened. However, somebody has to physically find the mail, copy it, return it to the mail stream, and then read the copy and collate that information. Instead of a mail cover, an investigator would start with a database of what mail has been sent by whom to whom. By everyone. And you could cross check the sender's address on the stamp with a scan of the return address. Any target address with a large number of unreadable or otherwise interesting source addresses could come under scrutiny.

I'm not being paranoid and I left my tinfoil hat at home today. As I have ssid repeatedly, most of this is quite reasonable for certain types of mail and has been created for perfectly understandable reasons. But you don't evaluate the effects on civil liberties of a proposed policy based on a scenario where government entities only act legally and reasonably, especially as experience shows that is not too reasonable a scenario. You have to at least look at the hard cases.

#55 ::: Isabeau ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 07:58 PM:

Maybe I92m wrong (being afraid, very afraid doesn92t do much for my ability to concentrate), but I don92t think the proposed rule (which can be found in its entirety here) would apply to ordinary people who buy 37a2 stamps and stick them on ordinary envelopes. I think refers only to mailers who are eligible for a lower postage rate because they sort their mail according to ZIP code, use special machine-readable formats for addresses, etc. A detailed description of how to qualify for a discounted rate is here.

So if John Ashcroft decides that everyone who gives to the American Friends Service Committee is an enemy combatant, he92ll know where to send the black marias; but if some lone nutcase decides to send me a ricin sandwich with anthrax garnish, all they have to do is buy the stamps out of a vending machine, carefully making sure it weighs less than a pound.

Whether I92m right or wrong, write to protest.

#56 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 07:59 PM:

CM: All that has to be done is to say that on, oh, 1/1/2005 only "smart stamps" will be accepted.... Just give everybody notice and replace some vending machines.

And stop selling stamps in ATMs. And stop selling stamps at grocery-store checkout counters. And make it a felony to privately sell, trade, or give away stamps. And make the vending machines require a hard-to-forge ID (unlike, say, a post-Davis California DL).

And somehow convince people to put up with all of this instead of simply not using USPS for ordinary mail. As I said, I've already pretty much dropped out of the system as a sender (used one stamp in the last three months), and it's a rare month when something lands in my mailbox that isn't a bill, a catalog, or a mortgage or credit-card offer.

What is USPS offering to convince me to ever buy a "smart stamp"?

On a side note, it's not news to me that they've been working on this sort of thing for quite a while. It's one of the reasons I don't buy the VRWC explanations for it...

I agree completely that, if implemented in the usual way, "intelligent mail" would be a potential disaster for privacy, and an expensive boondoggle for security. I just don't think it could actually work if rolled out over less than five years.


#57 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 08:24 PM:

Lenny -

There's a limit to the effective scope of opportunism. Events such as the Tennessee vote suppression or the 2000 Florida voting fraud greatly exceed that scope.

It's not one conspiracy, in the neat fictional sense; it would be a lot less trouble if it was. It is instead a substantial fraction of the population of the United States having decided that the rule of law and democratic institutions are bad ideas.

#58 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 08:27 PM:

Actually, JGreely, I think we are forcefully agreeing . . .

Isabeau, the current proposed rule does not cover individual postal customer -- but the commission that is behind this rule wants to start "studying" just that -- and says so publicly with Congressional support.

#59 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 08:46 PM:

Being at the peon-level in the Postal Service means, as usual, that this is the first I've heard of a move to introduce "smart stamps" on a wide level.

(I've seen some of the electronically generated postage from, but they're pretty rare.)

I can testify, though, that personal letter writing is so close to dead that the body is starting to bloat.

Most of my delivery route is to a senior-community trailer park. The old folks still do some letter writing. Even so, in a community of nearly four hundred residences, there's probably not more than a few dozen personal letters on any given day.

On the remainder of my route, about a hundred sixty single-homes, in a fairly upscale and much younger demographics neighborhood, the number of personal letters received in one day can usually be counted on the fingers of one hand, with leftover digits.

(This is not counting postcards. People still send out postcards when they're on vacation trips. Usually with the subtext of "I'm in Hawaii/Paris/wherever, and -you're- not! BWAA-HA-HA-HA!")

Everything else is advertising, bills, business mail, and magazines.

This is a drastic change from when I first started delivering mail twenty-five years ago. Then, personal letters were still common, rather than exceptional. (And there was a lot more satisfaction in the job.)

#60 ::: Isabeau ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 10:27 PM:

I joined the ACLU last night. Again. I belonged before, maybe five years ago. I92m still afraid of pissing the gummint off. I blame Richard Nixon. I92m being perfectly serious: Watergate was the first political event that penetrated my consciousness, and the enemies92 list really stuck in my mind. What changed my mind this time was the fact that, as much as I would hate to suffer the fate of an official Enemy of Righteous Godliness, I know that I would be just as unfree living in John Ashcroft92s idea of Eden.

P. S.: Bruce Arthurs92s comment reminds me of something my boss told me. He92s from a village in rural India, in Maharashtra, I think. He said it92s gotten so cheap to make a phone call that nobody writes letters any more, and though it92s nice to hear people92s voices and often very handy to be able to communicate so quickly, he misses having the letters to keep.

#61 ::: Helga Fremlin ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 11:07 PM:

very good post. Fyi: in Australia you already have to provide ID on any outgoing envelopes, parcels, etc. if they are larger than your standard-sized envelopes even if you only send calendars or brochures. This never used to be the case until a couple of months ago when the regulations were obviously changed.

#62 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 11:25 PM:

Pardon the length of the following; I am trying to tease out what the ultimate developments of Bushists in indefinite power might be, and whether you think these likely.

O fuck. Do we have to foresee Barbara and / or Jenna as future President for Life in the Bush Dynasty (or, more likely, since the twins reportedly have the combined intelligence of Britney Spears, George P. the law student 96 I forget whose son he is, Jeb92s or Neil92s). Will professing born-again Christianity and attending church regularly become mandatory. Will the Internet, as virtual site of the entire alternative press and resistance movements, be shut down, or commercialized / privatized out of existence (the Maureen F. MacHugh story 93The Real Thing94). Will illegal immigrants be thrown into detention / labor camps. Will the universities undergo _Gleichsschaltung_ and all the leftist professors 93encouraged94 to retire, the new generation of leftists not hired, the departments scrambling to stuff the hiring slots with AEI clones or at least with blandly unpolitical individuals. Will single women be placed under great social and political pressure to marry (how about an Augustan Marriage Amendment) and have numerous children, staying in the home, abortion being of course outlawed. Homosexuals disappear into the internment / labor camps. Corporal punishment resumes in the schools. Jim Crow is reinstated in the South. Evolution disappears from school textbooks and biology departments in universities drop both palaeontology and genetics.

I don92t think they could do it. There aren92t enough wild-eyed right-wing loonies to accomplish what they want, a rolling back of all of America to c. 1920, or better 1890. Germany in 1933 was still close enough to the nineteenth century and still an authoritarian, centralized society.

Unless in the present case we92re talking about a very long time scale 96 three or four generations of Bushistas and New Right. Fukuyama (a neocon thinker) admires the shift from Georgian and Regency "decadence" to Victorian conservatism and projects something similar for twenty-first century America in his _The Great Disruption. _

More likely would be partition of America; the New Right gets the South, the old Confederacy, their base, in which many of these features are already trends. And another Civil War.

#63 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 08:20 AM:

Sara: playing devil's advocate here, when you say "there aren't enough wild-eyed right-wing loonies to accomplish what they want", I suspect you're missing the implications of the still-playing technological revolution in progress. Information technology is a force multiplier for bureaucracy -- they simply don't need as many faceless fascist clerks as the NSDAP in order to get the job done. The postage proposal is part and parcel of this (sorry 'bout the pun). If you can trace all letters then you can perform traffic analysis, look for "small world" networks of friends some of whom have subversive interests, and focus on reading their mail intensively. Traffic analysis is what Google does; this would make it possible with paper communications.

What I think we have most to fear is what, for want of a better term, I refer to as a "panopticon singularity", one in which the tools of repression benefit from the applications of IT and AI more than the tools of liberty. One seems close to emerging this decade ...

#64 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 09:03 AM:

The other thing is that in absolute numbers there are plenty; you don't need more than one in fifty to maintain a repressive state. (You may want more than that, but you don't need more than that.)

That means about six million, in the US; there are certainly six million adults in the US who are strong supporters of the radical agenda.

There is absolutely no indication that they're usefully incompetent, either.

#65 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 09:12 AM:

Folks, you're not looking at the BIG PICTURE.

This is a perfect way to introduce the national ID card. See, you'd have to get the new national ID card to send mail. That ID would have a smart chip and an RFID in it. All your info would be in it. Walk into the post office, present your ID and your mail, and the mail is stamped with your unique ID, allowing Ashcroft to track you and make sure you're not funding terrorism.

#66 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 09:17 AM:

I've been talking about the last and next elections for a while. Barry mentions Florida being in the bag already -- it won't be if, as I fervently wish, Bob Graham ends up on a Democratic ticket. I know lots of people talk about a Dean/Clark dream ticket, but I'm not so sure. I think Dean/Graham, with Clark as SecDef is a lot rosier looking, and the Dems should announce their principle cabinet posts AT the convention next summer.

This way they can start pointing out the records of each of the cabinet posts they will replace, and how they will do so.

Teresa, your fears about next year are mine as well. Being from New York, I'm embarrassed that a New York Rep. (John Sweeney) is the one who uttered the phrase, "Shut it down," and I think we need to not only target BushCo, but all of the Reps and Senators on top of them. It's time to clear house in DC, and that may include Democrats we like.

The analogies to the Wiemar Republic bubble up in my head often. A minority rises to power and slowly strips away civil liberties, all while waving the flag of the Fatherland. The repeated military expansions (Czechoslovakia, Austria, et al) remind me of the War on Terror in many ways, as the people were behind the moves. State-run media manipulated their emotions on a scale we're fast approaching.

What's the answer? I don't know. There are times I think that moving to Canada or the U.K. might be the right thing to do, but then, I also want to stand up and fight. Next September in New York City will be a scary time, that's for certain. If Pataki is able to get Bush to lay the cornerstone of the new WTC at the convention as they're trying to do, look out.

#67 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 09:20 AM:

Oh, Sara, the next Bush would be Jeb!, of course. I did a domain search last year and discovered that Jeb2008 was already taken, if I'm not mistaken. The guy who took it out appeared to be a Democrat, though, but still. W wants to hand over the country to the smart brother.

And that scares me a lot.

#68 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 09:28 AM:

Bush == Indbur III. We need a Mule ...

#69 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 10:30 AM:

Revisions on last night's too-late-at-night post.

I see we're talking about two distinct, but related, subjects:

(1) the seizure of actual power by the Republican right (as per Graydon's 1 in 50 individuals; Charlie on manipulation of technology). They probably only need a relatively small number of people at the top. Those under them can be subjected to pressure that need not be obvious (including hiring and layoff decisions overtly for other reasons).

(2) shifting the entire national culture rightward, which was what I was talking about. I still tend to think this would take many years to effect in the "blue" states, and I'm not sure that it could be done (except for the legislative policies).

Of course Jeb would be the next "heir." My joke about the next generation of Bushes was from this perspective (say 2025).

#70 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 12:18 PM:

Sara -

Liberal culture requires a certain range of economic conditions in order to exist. People have to have enough margin to be willing to engage in life as something other than the war of all against all.

Economic policies designed to produce a massive crash, widespread poverty, and the revocation of the social safety net while maximizing wealth concentration will remove any possibility of maintaining current liberal culture in the 'blue' states, or anywhere else.

One of the objectives is to produce a situation where if you do not conform, you do not have a job, and if you do not have a job, you do not have health care, shelter, or food.

It isn't difficult to do this in a context of 20% unemployment where 'conform or starve' can be enforced by many, many individual hiring decisions. It does not require a generational time scale, either, just reducing the amount of choice to which people have reliable access down to a stark choice between conformist, submissive employment and starvation.

#71 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 12:43 PM:

Sara: as Graydon said, "One of the objectives is to produce a situation where if you do not conform, you do not have a job, and if you do not have a job, you do not have health care, shelter, or food." For a teensy example, there was a newspaper article last year in the UK (in, I think, the Guardian's business section) explaining how retail sales of suits have skyrocketed since the recession began to bite: people want any edge they can get, and in an environment where conformity is rewarded, conformity provides an edge. Another whacky statistic from a couple of years ago: over 50% of the UK working population wear some sort of uniform. (Even if it's a tie or blouse from a company store for the sales staff, it's a uniform, and uniforms aren't designed to encourage liberal bourgeois individualism.)

(I keep using the UK as an example because it's where I live and where I can read the signs best, but my experience suggests that the UK is, if anything, more liberal than the United States, where social conservativism is much more deeply entrenched.)

I think what we view as liberal culture is actually a thin veneer supported by a crust of affluence. If you kick away unemployment insurance, anti-discrimination legislation, and workers' rights (including union rights), you will render most people's existence insecure. Insecure people feel threatened and lash out at anything that is destabilizing or undermines what tenuous grip on security they have. They cling to certainties and avoid risks and blame out-groups for their ills.

From where I'm standing, the entire American national culture appears to have already lurched sharply towards conservativism over the past two decades. As an outsider I admit my judgement on the matter is coloured by media bias and may be wrong, but that's what it looks like from here ...

#72 ::: Ab_Normal ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 01:27 PM:

Graydon, you have a very good point. There's very little I wouldn't do to feed my daughter. Giving into soul-crushing conformity would be on the "easy" end of the spectrum.

#73 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 01:51 PM:

Scott, when I said that Florida was probably already in the GOP bag, what I meant is that Jeb altered the course of the last election, with Katherine Harris' actions (voter roll purges and the certification).

They got away with it, and got power as a result of it. They will try it again.

#74 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 02:53 PM:

They got away with it, and got power as a result of it. They will try it again.

They only partially got away with it. I'd class completely getting away with it as being able to cover their tracks well enough that there are no accusations of vote rigging. They didn't manage that.

I'm hoping the Democratic party have some sort of plan in place for what they do if there are multiple repeats of what happened in last time Florida. I have no idea what form such a plan should take.

I hope the next US Presidential election is a clear cut result where any ballot rigging doesn't affect the result. Florida only mattered last time because the result was so close.

#75 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 03:01 PM:

Tim -

We do not know what the result was in Florida. There was no proper count.

Every indication is that there was a lot of fraud. There are reports from Diebold's own internal memos to the effect that one (county? precint? my brain stuffs 'riding' in the category label, no matter what I do) voting region had a negative number of votes for Gore reported.

This has not made the mainstream American press.

There are a lot more black-box voting machines going in. They are going in under contracts which apply criminal penalties for opening them, and attempts to mandate a voter-verified audit trail in Congress are being voted down by Republicans.

It doesn't matter how you vote if they don't count the vote.

So, yeah, there's going to be a clear cut result, all right.

#76 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 03:36 PM:

Jim, what was that incident you were telling me about, where the results for one precinct in a Californian election were available on the voting machine manufacturer's website two hours before the polls closed?

#77 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 04:47 PM:

Teresa, I wrote about that here, with links.

#78 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 05:54 PM:

Postal is withdrawing the notice:

However, word is that they are going to reissue it with the exact same language.


#79 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 10:41 PM:

Graydon, Charlie: on economic immiseration promoting right-wing politics: these are the most depressing comments that I have read in the blogosphere recently, and that's saying a lot.

Are you suggesting that nothing can be done? That we had better go home, turn down the lights, and lay out the vodka and barbiturates? Or that the alternative is violent Marxist revolution or guerrilla warfare? Do we head for the hills with our automatic rifles?

Nightmarish economic conditions in late nineteenth century America -- that we probably couldn't even imagine today -- produced the Progressive movement. In Europe, of course, they also produced the Communist revolution and, a little later, National Socialism.

The people who remain somewhat free (because they are already well-off or because their employment is based on technical skills or talent that can't be replaced) should promote a new progressive movement.

Do you think there is no future in this?

I think I'm younger than most of you (32 and my progressive political self is only a couple of years old). Living under the dystopia you project will be unendurable.

#80 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 11:22 PM:

Sorry about the tone of the last post -- I don't want to sound so upset, but I am very curious what some of you think are possible solutions to a situation that you seem to be positing as inescapable.

#81 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 01:38 AM:

I'm with Sara. I'm hearing a lot of pessimistic doom-saying (and far too much of it valid for this mostly but not all leftist), and not nearly enough suggestions what to do. I can't comment on the smart stamps or equivalent to my congressperson - I'm Canadian. But what affects the US postal system affects me. (It's that young writer thing. I use a lot of US stamps to very little affect.)

And damn right it affects me if the biggest power and my next-door neighbour starts to turn into a new Germany.

I'd like to think that if it came to it, I'd rather put down the fiction, pick up a gun and step into the revolution against the decline.

But we'd all like to think that. What actually happens when things get insecure is... different. So what can we do now, before it gets there? Even us mere near-neighbours?

#82 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 01:46 AM:

And some right-wingers are getting even more outrageous. I didn't hear (I was in another part of the store and only heard some of the follow-up) a comment tonight that "we need more people like Dan White these days" (the San Francisco supervisor who shot George Moscone and Harvey Milk and indirectly gave California its current senior senator, Dianne Feinstein). I don't think Feinstein's a gem, but I draw the line at advocating murder. If I'd heard it, I'd probably have said something that might have meant we'd never have a John Ringo autograph party again at the store (Please note that it was _not_ Ringo who said this, merely one of his friends, of a completely different gender from Mr. Ringo!).

This whole thread disheartens me. Like Sara, I'd like more info on what we can actually do than doom and gloom. I've been learning a bit about state-level advocacy and legislation, so with luck I'll be somewhat prepared (but with our current Governor, I wonder how much the legislature will actually be able to do?). And I'm re-reading REVOLT IN 2100 (and the preface about theocracy in the US is frightening, too) just to have something else to think about (NOT).


#83 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 04:00 AM:

Revolt in 2100, eh?

Now there's a plan: join the Freemasons.

#84 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 06:15 AM:

Lenora: as an aside, the US suddenly turning into Germany would be a good thing -- as long as you mean Germany today, not Germany circa 1929. (Germany today seems to have the authoritarian impulses under pretty firm control so that even when mass unemployment in the east produces right-wing radical groups among the ossies, the response of the main parties isn't to panic and chase after the neo-fascist vote but to try and fix the pressures causing the outbreak.)

Sara: I don't think we're much older than you (less than a decade) and we're going to have to live through whatever's coming too. Reading up on history helps give a perspective, though -- when it comes to politics it's surprising how similar pressures give rise to similar demands and similar solutions, time and again.

An important fact to keep in mind about this whole business is that the USA is not the whole world. The word today is, in terms of travel costs and time, about the size of New Hampshire in 1803 -- you can get right to the far side of it in a couple of days for maybe a week's gross average wages. And a lot of the economic insecurity I was pointing to is being generated by logical consequences of the international free trade system, which permits the export of jobs via capital migration without also permitting the free movement of labour. Big money is engaged in an self-destructive process: racing to find the cheapest labour world-wide so that it can produce goods and services as cheaply as possible, not realizing that in the larger picture the cheap labourers won't be able to buy as much of those goods and services.

It seems to me as if the Bushistas and their friends are responding (in the only way they know how) to a set of economic conditions they're largely responsible for (because it's in their short-term self interest) but which in the long term is highly threatening to them.

If there's a US currency collapse, and a shift of the world reserve currency, the battleground for democracy will move east. At that point, concerted efforts by either the EU or China could rewrite the global free trade system or re-export democracy to the west. Think China's a bit of a stretch? China is intent on modernizing, and seems to be trying to adopt western models -- when the authorities are willing to sign petitions like this it suggests reform has already gone further than anyone would have believed a decade ago.

And, as anyone here in the UK can tell you, life in a post-imperial former great power isn't all bad.

#85 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 07:16 AM:

Sara -

Of course there are things we can do.

One of the things we can do is make it clear that if the vote is not counted and reported in an obviously fair and open way, the people responsible for the conduct of the voting system will die.

Yes, die. They're already making it clear that they don't recognize the legitimacy of the law, do not consider themselves subject to the rule of law, and indeed are demonstrably *not* subject to it as matters now stand.

At that point, you're over the threshold at which armed rebellion is required. It's much better if the clear threat of it will work, much, much better, which is why getting really organized and really stubborn right away is very important, but if -- as remains possible -- hundreds of persons per polling station are ignored, you have to break the machines.

Having paper ballots to hand would be good, too, but the essential thing is that the rigged vote not happen and doesn't grant an illusion of legitimacy to the pre-set results.

You are the Sovereign People.

Time to wake up and remind some folks of that.

#86 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 02:23 PM:

"Lenora: as an aside, the US suddenly turning into Germany would be a good thing -- as long as you mean Germany today, not Germany circa 1929."

Charlie: D'oh! I'm usually one of those who reminds OTHERS of that not-small distinction. I can't believe I scribbled that thoughtlessly. Of course I meant Germany circa 1929.

The problem with remembering the US is not the whole world is, well... it isn't, but it is one of the strongest forces. If it collapses, yes, we follow in a nasty way. And all jokes about invading a useless wimp like us aside, Canada is not in a safe position if our neighbour makes that kind of transformation. There is the question of resources. So is there any hope that if I and other Canadians write various branches of our government (and other people in other countries do the same), we can have the slightest hope of putting enough pressure and scrutiny on the vote to help keep it honest?

#87 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2003, 06:56 AM:

Some random thoughts:

One argument that current administration isn't a claw on the finger of a long-term conspiracy is that they betray people who would have been useful later--the two examples that come to mind are the Kurds and the Plame thing, and it seems to me I've heard of plenty more.

Even if the outcome of this mess is a third world kleptocracy rather than a totalitarian theocracy, that's quite bad enough.

Nazi Germany was a medium-sized chunk of a sub-continent with only two allies, one minor and the other inconveniantly placed. It took a massive coalition and tens of millions of dead to defeat the Nazis. As stated, though, nuclear weapons make the situation rather different. You know, when I was a kid, I though "unprecedented" was just boilerplate, but I feel the force of that word now.

As I understand Al Queda tactics (repeated attacks if the first ones fail), their next US target is DC. I have no idea whether AQ has been sufficiently disrupted that they can't make a serious effort, but if they kill a significant chunk of the administration, I wouldn't even try to predict the outcome.

Teresa, thanks for the advice on what to do if there's white powder in a letter where you weren't expecting white powder. "Don't shout and wave it about, or the rest will be wanting some too".

#88 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2003, 01:15 PM:

Nancy, I've always felt differently about that particular limerick since finding out it came from London in the height of meat rationing in WWII. Gave it a different level of irony, for me.


#89 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2003, 03:05 PM:

Tom (and everyone else),


My first thought was that it'd be difficult to choose between, "I agree--someone should emulate Dan White and kill you" and "I agree--you should emulate Dan White and kill yourself."

My second thought was that, if the best response we can come up with for hard-right politics tending toward the authoritarian is counter-violence, then we've basically lost.

My third thought is back to my zeroth, "Wow."

#90 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2003, 09:46 AM:

Get to work, folks. Letters to editors. Letters to congress. Organize. Keep America a democracy.

#91 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2003, 08:05 PM:

Just be careful how you organize and how you show your political affiliations, folks.

I have a non-Republican presidential candidate bumper sticker on my car. Since it's been there I've been pulled over several times for trivial infractions - a burned-out headlight, excess smoke from the exhaust. The last time, yesterday, the policeman asked me why I was supporting the candidate and then asked if I had any illegal items in the car.

This was in Massachusetts.

One year to go.

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