Uncle Frank's Diary
Uncle Frank Comes Back Mad
Uncle Frank went away, and he came back mad. He is, as one of my high school pals put it from time to time, seriously P.O.’d.
Uncle Frank, my accidental alter ego, surfaced one day during my long, otherwise solitary commute. He appropriated my middle name, and my status as an uncle to a scad of nieces and nephews.
He’s a testy, demanding sort. When I want to listen to an oldies station, or turn off the radio and roll down the windows to enjoy a pleasant spring morning on the back roads, Uncle Frank insists on turning on the NPR news. Loud.
And commenting on it, often in language that would embarrass your average Rap artist. This morning he made me listen to Juan Williams interviewing some White House legal functionary. First he chewed out Williams, then he went after the White House guy. I saw that he was in a very bad mood.
“Uncle Frank,” I said, “Don’t you think you should count to ten and think happy thoughts, and maybe meditate for a few minutes before you say anything further uncouth? I mean, look on the bright side of life, and all that? What would your mother say if she heard you talking that way?”
“My mother’s dead,” said Uncle Frank. “And if she weren’t, this business with the FBI and the CIA and for all I know the Girl Scouts and those geniuses in the B**h Gang ignoring terrorist intelligence from their field agents would kill her.”
All right, all right: I’m letting Uncle Frank go, because I can see that he wants to rant.
Uncle Frank Spews
What is this krock o’ krap, he wants to know, with Attorney General Ashcroft, the B**h administration, and the May 30 unleashing of the FBI? We’re going back to the golden days of COINTELPRO’s wanton spying on law-abiding American citizens, citizens who happened to support civil rights, or who opposed the war in Vietnam, or who simply got on J. Edgar Hoover’s bad side.
What it is, aside from the thrashing of a gang of sanctimonious, self-congratulating screw-ups caught with their pants around their ankles in the middle of a fire alarm, is yet another step toward the full realization of the world Orwell warned us about in 1984.
In retrospect, one’s admiration for the good taste and intelligence of the voters of Missouri in electing in November 2000 a dead man to the United States Senate instead of John Ashcroft should be going off the charts. Ashcroft, whose idea of patriotism consists of composing and singing bombastic, smarmy songs about America being too young to die, and whose idea of protecting the nation from evil entails draping nude statues in the District of Columbia, responds to the criminally stupid failure of his regime’s upper administrative functionaries (including himself) by turning loose FBI agents in the street to engage in the kinds of totalitarian domestic surveillance banned in the U.S. since the days of Gerald Ford.
You remember Ford, right? The former U.S. representative who let the despicable crook Richard Nixon off the hook? Who once advocated the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas because the literary/art mag Evergreen Review (which occasionally ran features with photos of lightly clad women) published an essay by Douglas?
During one of Ford’s fugue phases, his administration clamped down on the kinds of abusive investigations the FBI pursued under J. Edgar Hoover (perhaps the Bureau’s greatest director ever to wear a dress). Now, with most sentient Americans—aside from the administration mouthpieces who pretend to give the “news” on the Fox network—searching for their dramamine as they reel in nauseated astonishment at revelations of the ineffable ineptitude of the nation’s “intelligence” apparatus in response to warnings about last September’s terrorist attacks, AG Ashcroft kicks out the jams blocking everyday agents’ access to the stuff they need to know to Keep Us Safe.
Fire Their Asses, Says Uncle Frank
Uh-huh. Having read the accounts that have been everywhere, even in the mainstream “liberal” media, showing how thoroughly the boss-types in D.C. bungled the intelligence passed on to them by competent, hardworking, thoughtful agents in the field, you might think that a responsive commander in chief would call AG Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller into the Oval Office and fire their sorry asses.
“Uncle Frank, Uncle Frank,” I pleaded when I read this. “That’s no way to talk. People will think you’re indelicate. They’ll mistake you for someone indifferent to the refined tastes of sensitive librarians and impressionable youth. Your reputation as a man of discretion and gentility will suffer.”
“Shove it,” he said, and went on.
After canning these creeps, B**h should address the public on television, apologize in his most abject manner for the hideous failures of his chiefs, and promise that he will install at high management levels officials at least as conscientious and capable as the men and women working the field.
Are you kidding? That ain’t the way the federal bureaucracy works.
What we get instead, in the Ashcroft, Mueller, and general B**h administration heinie covering, is this retro move to reinstate the unaccountable, unchecked FBI powers that disgraced the Bureau under The Hoove and that compromised the basic civil rights of every law-abiding citizen in the country.
In a blistering essay in the June 3 New York Times, conservative columnist William Safire accuses Ashcroft and Mueller of fabricating alibis, “posterior covering” (the Times is a tad timorous in the language department), and, in general, of perpetrating a “fraud” on the public in the disemboweling of longstanding provisions against federal spying on American citizens.
Mere ass covering is the most benign interpretation of our leaders’ behavior. Far more sinister is their using the terrorist threat as a convenient excuse to shape the government according to their own fascist preferences for the long haul. AG Ashcroft reportedly read Arizona agent Ken Williams’s warning memo about Osama bin Laden preparing functionaries for terrorist operations in American flight schools only a few days after 9/11. Ashcroft knew, and knows, that conventional surveillance achieved its objectives before 9/11. Ken Williams didn’t need superpowers: He relied on hard work and his own smarts.
The difference now, surveillance fans, is that the means of intelligence gathering have advanced far beyond the primitive techniques available to J. Edgar’s domestic snoops. Electronic measures, notably computer monitoring, make the methods current during the FBI’s hounding of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ernest Hemingway (poor old Ernie: Everyone thought he was nuts when he said the FBI was after him—but he was right) positively quaint.
The Ashcroftian edict of 3/30/02 makes these tools even more readily available, and threatens Americans’ religious, political, and intellectual freedom. It will lead to the invasion by surveillance of churches, libraries, associations, businesses and online behavior without probable cause, without basis for suspicion, and without evidence of criminal activity on the parts of those being monitored.
Roasting Civil Liberties
It’s not as though the infamous USA/Patriot Act wasn’t sufficient to put personal privacy on the grill. Almost all of the 50 states have laws on the books making it illegal for libraries to squeal to legal authorities on borrowers’ reading habits without a court order. Doesn’t matter. The USA/Patriot Act gives the FBI and local law enforcement access to citizens’ library records—including Internet use. Oh, you don’t use libraries? You buy all your books from Amazon? My, aren’t you the secure one. The FBI would never, ever think of using its new powers to requisition the data in your Amazon account, would it?
As so many say so earnestly, if you have nothing to hide, you have no problem. If you feel otherwise, you probably don’t love America. Otherwise, you wouldn’t mind the authorities stripping you naked at noon in front of the Lincoln Memorial, just as a little random check to make sure you haven’t secreted some plastic explosives in your nether bits.
But hey, 9/11 changed everything, didn’t it? Just say the Pledge of Allegiance, sit down, and shut up. And don’t believe for a moment that anything you think, do, or say is not the proper business of Mueller and Ashcroft.
Uncle Frank hates these bastards.