In John Sayle’s funny and insightful film The Sunshine State, comedian Alan King plays one of a group of retiree golfers who seem to be tackling rather than playing a beautiful Florida golf course. King’s character waxes philosophical about the surroundings the men are enjoying, observing that a golf course is “nature, on a leash.”
Americans might have felt a leash being yanked last Friday. Not surprising to those who have observed the important role the sunshine state has played in recent American history, Governor Jeb Bush’s Florida was involved. And the timing of things was something akin to an abusive husband buying his wife a new dress just after she starts sporting a black and blue shiner.
Major newspapers reported that the Treasury Department was given wide access to the international banking system. Where before intelligence teams looking to fight terrorism with financial data had to get by on little bits of “intel” gathered a tiny bit at a time, the Treasury used a post 9-11 subpoena and were effectively handed the front door keys.
At the time of this writing, there are numerous questions being asked concerning the scope and legality of the surveillance of banking customers around the world. A Treasury Department spokesman commented on PBS’ NewsHour that his people had asked newspapers not to run the story. Uh, because revealing the actual technique of the spying would curtail the program’s effectiveness. Yeah, plus it’s kind of icky when this sort of thing, like Bush’s phone surveillance, gets out.
How icky? Enough that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was enlisted as the director, in the theatrical sense, of a beautifully distracting episode of “War on Terror!” filmed in Florida with an all-black cast and timed to smother the financial spying revelation. The media, which might as well clothe reporters in bridesmaid dresses on days like this, covered both stories but gave the Administration exactly what it wanted: fake terrorism on top. To its credit, the LA Times had, by Saturday, moved the Florida story to page 5.
Let me walk you through the case Gonzales has on the seven “terror” suspects in Florida by using myself in a scenario like the one in Liberty City. Understand, this is my made-up, fake scenario. It’s not real, like the case Gonzales has.
Let’s say I’m unhappy with the dry cleaning industry. I’ve got questions about the chemicals they use, and there’s all that plastic and paper waste when you get your clothes back. So I get six other guys that agree with me, and we all move into a warehouse and start calling ourselves The Society of Naturally Clean Dudes. Mostly, we sit around in the warehouse, talking crap about how we might do something to targets like Larry’s Shirts n’ Skirts or Happy Hanger Cleaners. People could get hurt if we did act on these plans, but so far…we are just talking.
Then we get introduced to a guy who says he can hook us up with the Global Society of Naturally Clean Dudes. And with their help, we can get all the gear we need to act on our talk that we’ve been talking. Then the Feds come through the front door of the warehouse, and we’re busted.
That’s it. We didn’t have any bombs or weapons. There’s only evidence that we talked about things like that, the way a kid might say, “Wish I owned a bazooka!” And that guy from the Global outfit? He wasn’t real; he was a stooge for the Feds. A souvenir from a bygone era when law enforcement agencies would often get away with something called entrapment.
“You want to go and disrupt cells like this before they acquire the means to accomplish their goals,” U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said at the federal courthouse in Miami last week. Meanwhile, the cell known as the Bush Administration actually has the means. And by golly, they are using them. As Bush might paraphrase Alan King, government is the Constitution, on a leash.