It’s been widely reported (and not just on the Daily Show) that new Presidential Press Secretary Tony Snow used the racist term “tar baby” in his first televised press briefing.
Responding to a question about the NSA’s secret wiretapping program, Snow answered:
I am not going to stand up here and presume to declassify any kind of program. That is a decision the President has to make. I can’t confirm or deny it. The President was not confirming or denying. Again, I would take you back to the USA Today story to give you a little context. Look at the poll that appeared the following day […] something like 65% of the public was not troubled by it. Having said that, I don’t want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program… the alleged program, the existence of which I can neither confirm or deny.
Just to illustrate what “tar baby” means to most people, below is a photograph of Tar Baby’s Pancakes, a restaurant in North Myrtle Beach whose logo taps into the vast reserves of racist imagery comprising our nation’s history.
I snapped this photograph in July 2005, when I was in Myrtle Beach with my family. We didn’t eat at Tar Baby’s, but when I saw the sign, I had to stop and pull over. The sign left me speechless (close-up of the sign at Flickr). Finally–and sadly–I’ve found some relevance to this photograph.
A few more thoughts on the massive NSA database of every domestic phone call, ever, in the United States…
The database actualizes what was once only theory: DARPA’s defunct Total Information Awareness project, which sought to “counter asymmetric threats [i.e. terrorism] by achieving total information awareness.”
Awareness of everything, godlike omniscience.
Is this the only way neo-cons can imagine protecting Americans from terrorist attacks?
Forget Total Information Awareness, this is Total Imagination Failure.
Another disturbing aspect of the NSA’s database is that General Michael Hayden, now Bush’s nominee for the head of the CIA, was in charge of it. Hayden is not a retired general. He is still on active status in the U.S. Air Force. So what we had here with the NSA (and what we might have with the CIA) is a military officer running a civilian organization. It is yet another chilling example of the militarization of domestic, civilian life.
There’s a reason the founders of the Constitution made a civilian (the President) the Commander-in-Chief of the military. Men with guns need to be kept in check. Because men with guns will eventually use those guns (and tanks and planes and phone records). Ironically, nobody recognizes this more than the neo-cons, who see Iran’s nuclear ambitions as de facto evidence that Iran will eventually deploy those nuclear weapons.
Again, Total Imagination Failure.
The big surprise in today’s USA Today story about the NSA building a staggering database of every single domestic phone call in the United States is not that such a database exists, but that the NSA waited until after 9/11 to begin building it.
I think we had always assumed that the government was already gathering this information, logging every phone call, timestamping every caller and every recipient, and crossreferencing all those records. Think of it: every pizza delivery order in the U.S. stored for posterity’s sake. Oh, the marketing possibilities!
“A database of every phone call ever made”: this is how one insider describes it.
Yet, there are gaps in the record: Qwest is the only big carrier to refuse to cooperate with the NSA (unlike Verizon, BellSouth, and AT&T). Good for them. Sell your Qwest stock soon, though. (Or, maybe hoard it, and wait for that big buyout from the resurging Ma Bell…)
In his press conference this morning, President Bush was asked about the New York Times‘ recent revelation that the NSA was operating a covert surveillance program that monitored hundreds of Americans’ phone calls and emails without any court supervision or warrants.
My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.
The fact that we’re discussing an illegal wiretap program that defies the Fourth Amendment is, right now, at this very minute, helping Osama bin Laden? The fact that I just wrote the previous sentence means that I’m helping the so-called mastermind of 9/11?
You have to admire the verve of President Bush, suggesting that the ones who question our government here are responsible for the ones who blow things up here and abroad.
Should I apologize now, finally? Should I send a Hallmark card? Sorry about those planes and IEDs, I didn’t mean it. Love will find a way, Peace on Earth and Happy Holidays?
But wait, I thought the “enemy” was Saddam Hussein. And he’s already caught and in jail. So we’re safe now, right? Or am I still at fault?
I’m so confused.