As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Actual Audacity of Hope

Now that the Spitzer nonsense is over (although, in a very important sense, it isn't, more on that below), I have to feel heartened by the swearing in of a blind man in one of the most populous states in the nation to become the governor. From everything I've heard from people in New York, he's a good man and very progressive, who will use a different governing style to achieve similar goals as Spitzer, and who will command respect and admiration for succeeding through his own struggles. Here's a show of support from the New York net/grassroots:

The Progressive community of New York State - activists, bloggers, fundraisers, organizers, ordinary men and women from all walks of life - welcomes our new Governor, David Paterson, as he assumes our state's highest office. We recognize that Governor Paterson is the first person of color to hold the office of Governor of New York and the first legally blind person to ever hold the office of Governor in the history of the United States. We are inspired by his life achievements to date, by his impressive and daring record of reform, and we are supremely confident that he is ready to lead our state.

We understand that Governor Paterson will face challenges and opportunities as he takes office. Our new Governor's long history of working with all stake holders will prove a valuable asset in delivering for New Yorkers. We believe that both houses of our legislature require drastic changes in their operations. Transparency and open government still elude our state, and too often, our citizens are shut out of decisions that affect our lives. The voices of too many New Yorkers still do not get heard in our state Capitol. These things must change. Governor Paterson's distinguished record of reform gives us great confidence that he will be an agent of this change.

The Progressive community of New York State is ready to support our new Governor in bringing about the change New York needs; the change that New Yorkers voted for in the 2006 election. After the trials of the recent past, we believe that New Yorkers want Governor Paterson to step forward with a bold plan for change that returns our government to our people and creates a better future for all New Yorkers. We look forward to working with our new Governor as we build a lasting Progressive majority, in Albany and around the state, conversation by conversation, vote by vote, district by district, until New York is again a beacon of Progressive governance bright enough to illuminate our entire nation.

As for the former Governor, his downfall was his alone and he must own it, but the way in which it was revealed does raise concerns about the extension of the national surveillance state into all walks of life.

These events offer a window into a much larger phenomenon, the National Surveillance State, in which the state increasingly identifies and solves problems of governance through the collection, collation and analysis of information. Governments have always used information, but today's techniques are made more powerful and more prevalent by lower costs of computing and data storage. This story also shows the important role played by private businesses in constructing and implementing the National Surveillance State. The Times report suggests that the banks in question volunteered more than the letter of the law might have required, because the transactions in questions were wire payments rather than coin or currency. The banks erred on the side of caution, seeking to assist the state in its efforts. Moreover, they already had their own pattern recognition systems designed to identify suspicious behavior. (Many people are probably familiar with the programs devised by credit card companies which analyze consumer transactions to calculate the probabilities that a card is being used fraudulently.)

If computing power increases enough, there is no reason why governments might not lower the threshold for reporting of suspicious transactions, or, indeed, require that every transaction over 100 dollars be reported. All this information could later be sifted through by data mining programs, in order to spot patterns of suspicious activity. The only limit is the technology and the manpower that law enforcement is willing to devote to analysis of financial transactions.

Read the whole thing, you'll be nervous by the end. The real problem I have with it is prosecutorial discretion. The NRCC, the campaign arm of House Republicans, had a treasurer who was a thief - he stole over a million dollars over the course of several years and deposited it into personal accounts. Eve Fairbanks gets this right. is it possible that a ten-thousand-dollar Spitzer transfer to a prostitution ring tripped up authorities while the NRCC's treasurer stole one million dollars and nobody noticed anything?

It depends on who's doing the watching, I guess.

P.S. I don't understand why anyone running for Congress would react to this desperation move from the NRCC and give back contributions from Spitzer. If anything, I'd throw it right back in their face and ask every Republican candidate to give back money raised by the NRCC, who has a felon running their books.

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