The final stripping of our hard-won, Constitutional right to privacy will not come as a raw power-grab by jack-booted agents of the state, but as a glossy new product sold to us by slick TV ads, promising to bring us the convenience that only a National Identification Card can provide. A mandatory national ID card–don’t you dare leave home without it!–is the holy grail of autocratic snoopers, a group that columnist William Safire calls “zealots of intrusion.” Lately, they have gotten more sophisticated. Instead of thuggish demands to “show us your papers,” the card will be marketed like a super-sophisticated credit card that every consumer needs. One can expect that the cards will come in a choice of designs and colors, and who can doubt that there will be vanity versions for the gold and platinum crowd? Cantankerous critics like me will be dismissed as fussy old fogies.
“You carry a driver’s license,” they’ll scoff, “so what’s the big deal?” Well, as Safire points out, this is not a license, but an electronic dossier that will open your private life to their scrutiny. Not only will this piece of plastic have your photo, address, and signature, but also your retinal scan and DNA information… plus much, much more–including your medical records, credit rating, employment history, bank balance, voting records, arrests, product preferences, Internet purchases, and membership in groups.
State drivers’ license bureaus are planning to link their databases, Oracle Corporation says it will donate the software for the government to create the national ID system, and powerful members of Congress are pushing legislation.
What a hoot to watch all of these Rambo, make-it-on-your-own capitalists go scuttling to their bogeyman, Bad Ol’ Big Government, whenever they hit a speedbump on their path to global empire. The latest corporate giant to beseech Washington for special favors is SBC Inc. This huge outfit is the local phone monopoly for 60 million customers in 13 states, stretching from Connecticut to California, Michigan to Texas. SBC rakes in some $55 billion a year from customers, even though it has become notorious in some states for lousy service and high bills. In 1999, this phone giant decided to remake itself into a razzle-dazzle provider of high-speed Internet services for its phone customers. But there was way more razzle than dazzle to SBC’s performance. It charged high prices, provided poor service, ran up huge costs, and couldn’t compete effectively against cable companies that provide the same service. So SBC has resorted to the tried-and-true tactics that served it so well for so long in its home state of Texas: Hire a passel of lobbyists, shell out millions in campaign contributions, and get the government to rig the rules of the game in your favor. An SBC-backed bill is already moving through the House in Washington. It’s called Tauzin-Dingell, named for its two chief sponsors, the Commerce Committee’s Republican chairman and the top-ranking Democrat. Both gentlemen are recipients of SBC’s political largesse. To further grease the skids, SBC named a new president for its company: Bill Daley. He’s a former Clinton cabinet member, political operative, and a Mr. Fix-it for corporate interests. Daley knows nothing about the business of phones and the Internet, but he knows how to wire a deal, and that’s the fix SBC wants.
Charles Schwab is one lucky duck. Not only is he a billionaire stockbroker, heading the Wall Street firm that bears his family name, but he also has his own private duck-hunting club on 1,500 acres of wetlands in picturesque Northern California. He calls his place Casa de Patos, which is Spanish for House of Ducks. However, ducks don’t read, so they’re unaware that Charlie named his place for the birds and that they’re supposed to swoop down from their migratory path to get a close enough for Schwab and his duck-loving friends to shoot at them. Also, while you and I know from his ubiquitous ads that Charles is a hot-shot Wall Street stockbroker, your average duck doesn’t watch a lot of TV and wouldn’t know Charles Schwab from a cotton swab. But Schwab knows that his feathered friends are attracted to rice fields, so, to lure more of the game birds within gunshot range, Charles has had much of Casa de Patos planted in rice. Charles Schwab, billionaire duck man, discovered the federal farm program. Specifically, his legal eagles determined that, as a rice grower, Schwab was eligible for rice subsidies from us taxpayers. Lots of subsidies. The bottom line here is that you and I, Mr. and Ms. Joe Schmoe Taxpayer, fork over some $500,000 a year in federal crop-support funds so Schwab can be sure that guests at his exclusive hunting club have plenty of ducks to kill. The farm program was originally meant to help struggling small farmers–not a pleasure-seeking Wall Streeter with a net worth of some $4 billion. With program perverters like Schwab, we taxpayers are sitting ducks.
Jim Hightower’s latest book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or write [email protected].