JOHN ASHCROFT, GET OUT OF MY UNDERWEAR!
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- While preparing to make a mold of my teeth the other day, the dentist made a little joke.
"Now I'm going to register your bite," he said in dentist-speak. "Has your bite ever been in the national register before?"
And for just a moment I actually thought he meant it. Yes, I thought that Attorney General John Ashcroft, having already lost his mind, was requiring all American dentists to register their patients' teeth with the Justice Dept. as part of, say, the second Patriot Act.
That's just another sign of how bad it's gotten in our so-called "land of the free." We are now prey being hunted by the raptors of both government and industry.
The Associated Press, for example, recently revealed that corporations are readying a technology that will replace bar codes on household products with pinpoint-sized computer chips and tiny antennae.
The transmitters will tell grocers when milk has passed its expiration date, for example, as if they don't already know. What grocery store or supermarket do you know of that doesn't put the freshest milk in the back so the older milk will be bought first?
No one would care if this future technology was meant to help with inventory, but the real idea - get this - is to keep the antennae transmitting after we take the products home.
That's right, Procter & Gamble and The Gillette Co. want to send their products into our homes to spy on us.
"Homes equipped with receiver-readers could alert consumers when they are running low on orange juice or their prescription for heart medicine is about to expire," said the AP, once again displaying a remarkable ability to print even the most outrageous lies, excuses and bald-faced scams with a straight face. "Hooked up to a national network like the Internet, the at-home devices could also provide details to marketers about a family's eating and hygienic habits."
When Sting sang "Every Breath You Take" with the aptly-named band The Police, he probably wasn't thinking about his dental floss reporting directly back to its manufacturer. But this AP story certainly gives new meaning to the chorus, "I'll be watching you." And talk about splitting your loyalty. Shouldn't that floss owe its allegiance to the man who bought it and owns it now, instead of its manufacturer?
Long ago and far away, I felt relatively safe from corporate marketing. I don't wear anything with a designer logo unless the manufacturer pays me, for example, and that's never happened. Television ads go by me in a blur - I've never bought something because it advertised. I go into stores when I need something - shopping is not my idea of entertainment.
But I should have known that corporate America would get me anyway. Recently, I had to take the time to register my name and phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry in an attempt to put an end to infuriating telemarketing calls. Registering won't end charity or political telemarketing, and it will only block calls for five years, but it feels good to be doing something to fight back. (Register on-line at donotcall.gov or by phone at 1-888-382-1222.)
In case you think I'm just an old grump, more than 23 million people have already registered. According to The New York Times, "it's as if one-fifth of all American households suddenly put 'no soliciting' signs on their front doors."
Now telemarketing companies are complaining that 2 million people will lose their jobs in a bad economy. Well, what does it say about our economy when people have to lie over the phone to strangers just to pay their rent?
In an attempt to get my name off corporate mailing lists, I've had to register with companies I've never heard of before - Experian, Equifax, Innovis and Trans Union. (To do the same, write to them at Opt-Out Dept., PO Box 24025, Seattle, WA 98124-0025; then try to figure out when you agreed to Opt In.)
Being under attack by corporate America is nothing, of course, when you compare it to being under attack by our own government. From The American Conservative to The Village Voice, all sides of the political debate are uniting in outrage over the endless surveillance now being inflicted on us in the name of "fighting terrorism." Last October, then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey branded our own Justice Department "the biggest threat to personal liberty in the country."
It's no secret now that our cities, roads and highways have cameras tracking our movements. A New York City guerrilla theater group, The New York Surveillance Camera Players, which was formed long before Sept. 11, 2001, puts on shows just for the New York City cameras. You know that weird pyramid with the eye that you see on the back of the dollar, they ask? The Great Seal of the United States? Welcome to our lives, they say.
In the Eisenhower years people used to say, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." At least, back then, they recognized that corporations and the country were two separate things. Now General Motors, along with the rest of corporate America, owns the country, plus all the politicians who are running it into the ground.
So I won't be too surprised when, sometime soon, a small voice comes out of my underwear drawer and says, "Joyce, we're getting a little frayed in here. It's time to go to Wal-Mart." Or that it's speaking in John Ashcroft's voice.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.