Thursday, December 05, 2002

And So It Begins ....


We'll have to give up a little freedom, they said. A bit more of a wait at airports. No nail clippers. We have to make sure that Bad Guys won't blow up the plane (with nail clippers?) No real problem; we're only interested in Bad Guys. If you're not a Bad Guy, you have nothing to worry about. After all, we're the Good Guys.

A lot of us were profoundly uneasy at this. It's just too easy to define Bad Guys as "people I disagree with". "Trust us", says the Administration. "We'll do what's right."

Well, it's started. And who is singled out for intensive scrutiny? Rich Saudi kids (the kind who did the 9/11 hijackings)? New American converts to Islam ("no fanatic like a convert")? High level couriers (the guys who pay cash for one-way first-class tickets at the last minute)?

Nope. Elderly anti-war nuns. Left-leaning journalists. Green Party organizers. Yep. To the Administraiton, the Green Party is on the same level as Al Qaeda. Elderly war-protesting nuns are going to hijack airplanes. Yeah. Right.

Look, we all know what's going on here. The Republican Party is right and they know it. Anybody who disagrees with them is wrong, and shouldn't be allowed to confuse things. A person who is so deluded as to disagree with the Republican National Committee is capable of anything at all. Keeping them off of airplanes is just the first step ....

This could explain a lot about the 2002 elections. The way things normally go, the Democrats should have picked up strength. The Republicans get plusses for kicking over the Taliban, but most of the other things they've done have not been successes. No Osama. Afghanistan is still a mess, waiting to collapse back into the anarchy that spawned the Taliban. The crusade (I think the word is proper, here) against Saddam Hussein is offending practically everybody in the world. The economy is still in the toilet. More big companies collapsing into bankruptcy, amid accusations of fraud. Massive payoffs to Republican campaign contributers.

Yet we never heard any of this, either from journalists or from the Democrats. Perhaps some chains were yanked? What would happen to, say, ABC News if some of their key technical people suddenly had trouble getting on airplanes?

Just to make things more ominous, the 2002 elections were the first to make heavy use of computerized voting machines. These machines, hastily designed after the Florida disaster of 2000, have the interesting characteristic that they are totally audit-proof. That is, there is no assurance that what the machine spits out at the end of Election Day has any correlation at all to what voters punched into it. The Risks Digest has been chronicling problems with computerized voting, both theoretical and actual. See, for example, here, here, and here. I should note that the Risks Digest is probably the best regarded chronicler of risks to the public from computer systems in existance, and has been for well over a decade.

Most alarming (other than the utter cluelessness of the districts buying these pieces of crap) are the alleged ties between the voting machine manufacturers and organized crime.

Most we ever heard in the mainstream press was that some academic types don't like the voting machines. No details, no indication that the news types have any comprehension of either the technical or the political details.

It's gonna be fun to watch all the right-wing phony libertarians on the Net tapdance around this one.

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