It was shocking, and I had to re-read the press release just to make sure: was the libertarian Cato Institute really saying that they had "no problem" with the FBI’s new "guidelines" that gave the cops a green light to spy on domestic groups? For the fifth time, my widened eyes scanned the page:
"No Problem With New FBI Surveillance Guidelines, Scholar Says
WASHINGTON–The Justice Department is expected to announce today new guidelines giving greater latitude to FBI agents to monitor Internet sites, libraries, and religious institutions without first having to offer evidence of potential criminal activity."
So, the feds just want permission to surf the internet and go to the library? Uh, I don’t think so. Does anyone really believe they aren’t already doing these things? Aside from that, the Cato release is highly selective in describing just what the feds intend to "monitor": it fails to mention that they’ll also be watching ideological interest groups, including nonprofit thinktanks like the Cato Institute and Antiwar.com, not to mention legal political parties, publishing enterprises, and any other "public" group that suits their fancy. To hear Cato tell it, this is just a routine matter, no biggie, so move along, there’s nothing to see here. In reality, however, this is the authorization for a police state, in which supposedly legal activities will be "monitored" in order to make sure that only the bravest of the brave will participate. After all, how many people not cowards, but people who have lives apart from politics will become active in a peace group under these circumstances?
It’s interesting, in this context, to go back and see what Norman Podhoretz was saying a few months ago to the assembled conservative hotshots attending the American Enterprise Institute’s annual awards dinner. This is where the right-wing elite meet to greet and you can be sure officials with the Justice Department were in the audience as Poddy warned that a resurgent antiwar movement would derail the "war on terrorism" just as surely as in the tumultuous 1960s:
"Of one thing we can be sure: as the war widens, opposition will widen along with it. We could already see this happening after President Bush spoke of an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union speech two weeks ago. In this single image the President brilliantly defined our present enemies as a fusion of those we fought in World War Two with the evil empire we battled in World War Three, which is the name Eliot A. Cohen has rightly suggested we give to the cold war. The President now promised an expansion of the war to regimes that may or may not have been directly involved in 9/11 "
Podhoretz was not at all optimistic about the possibility of forestalling another "anti-American" assault spearheaded by the "campus left" and, just like in Vietnam, he fretted we would be deprived of a victory abroad by traitors on the home front. While his fellow neoconservatives were confidant that everything was changed, post-9/11, and the administration would now have a green light to invade, and, if convenient, annex the whole of the Middle East, Podhoretz wasn’t so sure.
He spent 90 minutes explaining why he thought the national mood of unconditional support for the government was more likely to be quite ephemeral. In spite of his pessimistic tone, however, Poddy rallied his troops. He urged them to conduct an "intellectual battle" against antiwar forces on the Right as well as the Left and now John Ashcroft is invoking extraordinary powers to "monitor" the groups whose loyalty is being questioned by the War Party. It looks like the call of the amateur Thought Police is being answered by the professionals.
The other day, the President spoke about the necessity of launching "preemptive" strikes in the "war on terrorism," and that’s exactly what this new federal power grab is all about. As this administration gets ready to launch a major war in the Middle East a war opposed even by the top guns in the Pentagon they are moving to chill any and all dissent. Want your name on a list, your own personal dossier kept in a government computer? No? Then don’t get involved in any activities Norman Podhoretz or, worse, John Ashcroft might disapprove of, and you’ll be okay.
THE CASE OF THE TELL-TALE SEARCH PHRASE
It’s funny, but the other day I was looking at our hit report, which gives out an amazing array of information. One such interesting tidbit is a list of all the most popular search phrases used by visitors to reach our site. Two days running last week, I just happened to check this feature and discovered that, on both days, one of the most popular phrases was "Jessica Gavora." Who dat?
Ms. Gavora is Ashcroft’s chief speechwriter and policy honcho, married to one Jonah Goldberg, son of the infamous Lucianne Goldberg, and editor of National Review Online. Jonah has been a tireless defender of his wife’s employer and a harsh critic of this writer, and of libertarians in general. So what does his wife have to do with it? Well, it seems I wrote a couple of columns criticizing Goldberg for not disclosing his conflict of interest and telling his readers that a good part of the family income is derived from the subject of his frequent apologias.
Was one of Gavora’s minions testing the new guidelines by finding out who’s been dissing the boss or was it Goldberg, reminding himself why he was going to suggest to his Other Half that Antiwar.com needs to be thoroughly monitored and investigated? Or maybe it was Gavora herself, researching her Enemies List. Under these new "guidelines," this is something every online writer heck, every writer, period needs to be concerned about. It’s absurd but then so is the post-9/11 world we are stuck in.
ORWELL’S LAST LAUGH
Okay, so let’s see if I get this straight: it’s okay, as far as the "libertarians" over at Cato are concerned, for the cops to "monitor" the local peace group, infiltrate its meetings, take down license plate numbers, and gather personal and political information on the membership, as long as we’re talking about "public" information right? They presumably also want to pay public employees to surf the internet, trolling for "subversion" so Ms. Gavora and/or members of her entourage are free to google themselves to their hearts’ content at taxpayers’ expense. I knew the word "libertarian" was in danger of losing its meaning when people like Jesse Ventura, William Weld, and Bill Maher started laying claim to it, but little did I suspect that it had degenerated down to the level of "libertarians" defending outright authoritarianism.
Oh, yes, I know, I know, "everything’s changed" but surely some things remain the same. Or is Orwell having the last laugh as freedom morphs into slavery?
PILON PONTIFICATES: DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY
Roger Pilon, vice president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute and a former Justice Department official, is cited in the Cato release as follows:
"As reported in the press, the new FBI surveillance guidelines present no serious problems. Especially under post-September 11 circumstances, law enforcement monitoring of public places is simply good, pro-active police work that violates the rights of no one. The same is true for topical research not directly related to a specific crime, which the new guidelines will permit.
"Depending on how the work is conducted, there is always the potential for abuse, of course. But unless the new latitude leads to significant abuse, that potential should not preclude officials from taking an active role not simply in prosecuting but in preventing crime as well."
What this drivel dramatizes, above all, apart from the moral and ideological bankruptcy of the individuals involved, is the primacy of foreign policy in determining the politics and direction of an ideological movement. In giving Bush’s "war on terrorism" a blank check of unconditional support, Cato had already capitulated on that front and it wasn’t long before their ostensibly "libertarian" politics began to collapse all along the line. First you’re endorsing an invasion of Pakistan, then, before you know it, you’re supporting Ashcroft’s presumably God-given "right" to rifle though everyone’s underwear drawer. It’s a slippery slope indeed, and one that Cato has slid down to the very bottom of in record time.
LOST WITHOUT A COMPASS
I never did like or trust the people at Cato, to be quite honest about it but, I must say, not even I expected this kind of craven surrender. "No serious problems"? How anyone can say that with a straight face, knowing full well the history of the FBI’s infamous Cointelpro operations during the Vietnam war era, is beyond me. Back then, lawless "law enforcement" agencies infiltrated legal organizations with paid informants and agents provocateurs, disrupting their activities and waging a political war at taxpayers’ expense and at the expense of the Constitution. Pilon gives himself an out by making Cato’s endorsement of this license to recommit the crimes of Richard Nixon conditional on "how the work is conducted" but do we really need to instruct alleged "libertarians" on why or how government will inevitably seek to use its increased power for the benefit of the political class? Government surveillance of legal political activities is not liable to abuse it is an abuse. Any "libertarian" who doesn’t understand that has lost his ideological bearings for good.
MILTON FRIEDMAN WAS RIGHT
In 1981, when the Cato Insitute moved to Washington, D.C., from San Francisco, Milton Friedman predicted they would be absorbed into the Big Government miasma of the largest concentration of federal employees in the nation and soon sell out their principles. He later retracted his statement but he was right the first time.
We have to ask ourselves: how did the Cato Institute, staffed by committed, intelligent libertarians who were unquestionably dedicated at least, in the beginning to the libertarian ideal of a peaceful foreign policy and a free society, come to shilling for Ashcroft and the neocon Thought Police? More was involved than mere physical proximity to the seat of the federal Leviathan. This shocking betrayal must serve as a wake-up call for libertarians everywhere it’s time to do some serious soul-searching, and strategic re-thinking.
But this requires a little history lesson, one that requires at least another entire column to cover adequately. Before libertarians know where they are going, they must remember where they have been. So I hope you’ll bear with me until Friday. In lieu of a full answer to the question of "what happened to Cato?", however, I have just two words to say to my ex-comrades for shame.