The Normalization of Totalitarianism
Do you ever watch "Without A Trace"? Every week, Anthony LaPaglia (Agent Jack Malone) and his crack crew of FBI investigators track down people who have been reported missing by relatives or friends, solving mysteries and crimes as they go.
In other words, an adult American crime-free citizen decides to go silent for a while. By having someone report them as "missing", this apparently gives the FBI the right to tear that missing person's life apart: tracking bank accounts, credit cards, travel records, phone lists, interrogating friends and colleagues, interviewing doctors and psychiatrists. And we cheer on their successes .
By what law can they do this? Is a judge supervising them? Isn't this the basest form of warrantless surveillance?
We applaud Jack Bauer in "24", as he uses whatever form of interrogation technique (i.e., torture) that he feels is required to obtain the information he thinks he needs. The last Bourne movie was about nothing but the government's abilities to track individuals anywhere in the world. Wherever we turn, there are attractive images of lawmen breaking the rules to ensure that "justice" wins in the end.
As Chomsky and Herman's "Propaganda Model" of media shows, this is the normalization of totalitarianism. If we accept -- neh, applaud -- these illegal actions on entertainment TV, we are more inclined to accept them in real life. This is a not an accident. This is what they want to see happen. This is what they need to happen if their plans for control are to be accomplished.
We need to fight back. Write to each network and studio and ask them to explain how the law enforcement officers in their series and movies can operate so wildly outside the laws required for you and me. Write, and write again. It is the least we can do, to show that we care about our loss of freedoms.
How To Tell When Alberto Gonzales Is Lying
I'm probably going to draw a lot of venom from my liberal friends, but I find myself in full agreement with one -- just one -- of the US Supreme Court's rulings this week. In the majority decision on racial quotas for schools issued this morning, Chief Justice Roberts said:
"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."
I couldn't agree more. By this decision, the Court has forbidden school boards from trying to integrate schools by force of law. Even Justice Kennedy (who voted with the majority but with significant reservations) was obliged to acknowledge that quota systems and similar schemes:
"... threaten to reduce children to racial chits valued and traded according to one school's supply and another's demand."
And, unlike the over-reactions that have been published in the immediate aftermath of this decision (such as this, for example) I don't believe this comes close to overthrowing Brown v Board of Education. Brown did not require quotas, busing and all the other paraphernalia that was erected in an attempt to remedy the historical wrongs of racism. What Brown says is that school districts cannot discriminate on the basis of race, but for the last 40 plus years liberal society did exactly that, excusing itself because they were on the "good" side of the debate. Poppycock.
Discrimination on the basis of race is wrong, no matter who does it, and I am glad to see the Court end the bullshit.
The Bigger Picture on the Attorney Scandal
Many of us have been following with interest the twists and turns in the Attorneys scandal in the United States. What many of us have missed -- mainly because the mainstream media have failed to pick up on it -- is the bigger picture: The attempt by the Bush regime to use electoral laws and US Attorneys to create an environment specifically better for Republican voters than for Democrats.
McClatchy's Washington Bureau has an excellent and detailed overview of the situation today -- it really is a MUST READ.
One quote stood out for me. It stood out because it was not made by a Democratic politician or someone in the "liberal" blogosphere. It was made by Joseph Rich, who left his job as chief of Justice Department's Voters Rights Section in 2005. He said the actions of the Bush regime fit a definite pattern:
"As more information becomes available about the administration's priority on combating alleged, but not well substantiated, voter fraud, the more apparent it is that its actions concerning voter ID laws are part of a partisan strategy to suppress the votes of poor and minority citizens."
None of this comes as a shock to those of us who have believed for decades that the western electoral system is a crock. It must however be upsetting to any regular American who has the naivete to believe that the DOJ and its various "Rights" sections are there to actually protect them.
An Horrific Catch-22
One of the many tragedies within the US justice and corrections system is the Catch-22 that affects only the genuinely innocent. If you are truly innocent but are found guilty of rape(s), you will generally serve more time than will a genuinely guilty rapist.
The problem: you cannot qualify for sex offender treatment in prison unless you accept your guilt; and you cannot get parole without having completed the sex offender treatment. Thus, the truly innocent -- those who simply cannot accept guilt for something they haven't done -- don't even get on the parole track and have to serve their entire sentence. Meanwhile, vicious rapists are released years or even decades earlier.
An unlikely scenario? I bet that's what Anthony Capozzi thought some 22 years ago when he was charged with two rapes. DNA evidence finally cleared him earlier this year, and the prosecutors fully supported his release.
Unfortunately, it is a bit late for Mr Capozzi. He has severe schizophrenia and is currently confined at the Central New York Psychiatric Centre. The system literally drove him crazy. Can you blame him? His lawyer intends to sue the State to ensure that he receives the treatment he now needs.
Yes, You Too!
For those of you who think I write too much about government intrusion, perhaps in the belief that if you have done nothing wrong then you have no need to worry about government surveillance, this one's for you, too!
The Washington Post today runs a story about how those watch lists (which we know are faulty, with a too low threshold for inclusion) are used by banks, mortgage companies and other lenders to turn away perfectly legitimate applicants.
"The Office of Foreign Asset Control's list of "specially designated nationals" has long been used by banks and other financial institutions to block financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. But an executive order issued by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has expanded the list and its consequences in unforeseen ways. Businesses have used it to screen applicants for home and car loans, apartments and even exercise equipment, according to interviews and a report by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to be issued today.
"The way in which the list is being used goes far beyond contexts in which it has a link to national security," said Shirin Sinnar, the report's author. "The government is effectively conscripting private businesses into the war on terrorism but doing so without making sure that businesses don't trample on individual rights."
Penalties for businesses NOT to use the watch lists can be huge fines and imprisonment.
"The law is ridiculous," said Tom Hudson, a lawyer in Hanover, Md., who advises car dealers to use the list to avoid penalties. "It prohibits anyone from doing business with anyone who's on the list. It does not have a minimum dollar amount . . . The local deli, if it sells a sandwich to someone whose name appears on the list, has violated the law."
Perhaps we need more of these stupid examples to filter out, to affect more and more of the general population. In that way, a groundswell of opposition may be developed that can at least slow down this steady advance toward government/corporate surveillance of individuals.
What To Read Over The Summer -- Karl Rove's Emails
In an earlier post, I had mentioned that I thought the documentary gap of 18 days would prove important in the Attorney-General scandal; and in fact the late batch of documents that cover some of that period has already indicated that AG Gonzales misled Congress about his involvement in the firings.
Now we hear that much of the Administration's business has been handled by partisan third-party email accounts, presumably to avoid their being dredged up in any White House document dump. One report has it that Karl Rove uses such accounts for 95% of his business. Luckily Henry Waxman and his Committee have the bit between their teeth, and are asking the serious questions. Josh Marshall makes an excellent case that such emails cannot fall under the protection of "executive privilege", no matter how broadly Bush tries to paint that situation.
This has the potential to be even more fun than the AG document dumps, ridiculous gaps and all!
Update: a further short note from US News.
Those of us of a certain age may still tingle at the memory of the 18 1/2 minute gap -- supposedly caused by secretary Rose Mary Wood's carelessness -- in a crucial White House tape. For many, it was the discovery of this erasure that irreversibly damaged Richard Nixon's credibility and led inevitably to his resignation over the Watergate cover-up.
Perhaps "18" is a significant number in Presidential scandals because today, amid the sound and flurry of thousands of emails concerning the US Attorneys' scandal, a gap of 18 days has been noted in the stream. And a crucial 18 days too, immediately before the time the attorneys were fired. What happened? Tony Snow and the White House denied all responsibility:
Q Okay. You keep saying the Justice Department, the response -- that these emails, the 3,000 pages is unprecedented, is very responsive. Why, then, is there this gap from mid-November to about December 4th, right before the actual firings? Why is there a gap in the emails?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Why don't you ask them?
Q Well, you're the White House, the Justice Department serves under --
MR. SNOW: I know, but I'm not going to be the fact witness on Justice.
Q But you're the one representing that this has been very responsive. Now when there's a gap you say go to them.
MR. SNOW: Yes, and I've been led to believe that there's a good response for it, but I'm going to let you ask them because they're going to have the answer ...
Q Tony, just for the record, this gap between mid-November and early December, is there a gap because there are no emails pertaining to this situation between then, or are there more emails to come out?
MR. SNOW: That I don't know. Like I said, that's why I think you need to go back and ask the Department of Justice. They've done the document production; we have not been in charge of it. I would refer questions to them ...
Q And then there's a gap in emails. Was there any -- perhaps any emails about the President in there? And did the President have to sign off on this? Because the question was raised --
MR. SNOW: The President has no recollection of this ever being raised with him."
I suspect this gap will prove of some importance. I'll keep watch.
The New York Times quotes the Justice Department spokesman:
"Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said, “The department has provided or made available to Congress all the documents responsive to Congress’s requests over the time period in question.” He added, “To the extent there was a lull in communications concerning the U.S. attorney issues, it reflects the fact that we have found no responsive documents from that time period, which included the Thanksgiving holiday.”
Not Considered Newsworthy
The basic truths of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky's Propaganda Model have rarely been displayed so decisively as in the case of Demetrius Crocker. This white liberterian-racist extremist from Tennessee has been sentenced to thirty years in prison for attempting to buy a chemical weapon and for planning explosive murder.
"The 40-year-old farmhand and father of two was convicted of accepting what he thought were ingredients to make Sarin nerve gas and a block of C-4 explosive from undercover agents in October 2004 ... In all, Crocker was convicted on five charges: one count of attempted possession of a chemical weapon, one count of inducing another person to acquire a chemical weapon, one count of possession of stolen explosives, one count of possession of explosive material with intent to harm an individual or damage or destroy a building, and one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device. During the trial, prosecutors introduced video- and audio-taped conversations that Crocker had with undercover agents, laced with profanity, racial slurs and Crocker's open hatred of all things to do with the government."
Have you heard of this case? No? Can you imagine the splash coverage this would have received if Crocker's name had been Abdullah Mohammed, his skin was olive, and he wore a fierce black beard? CNN, Fox, all the main stream whinos would have grabbed this case as another excuse for sensationalist coverage of the Islamic threat. But the guy's white and he only seems to want to blow up black people, so we don't need to hear about it, I guess.
Have you heard of this case? No? Can you imagine the splash coverage this would have received if Crocker's name had been Abdullah Mohammed, his skin was olive, and he wore a fierce black beard? CNN, Fox, all the main stream whinos would have grabbed this case as another excuse for sensationalist coverage of the Islamic threat. But the guy's white and he only seems to want to blow up black people, so we don't need to hear about it, I guess.It is just another of those Zero-Some games I've written about before: -- like zero tolerance in the War on Some Drugs, this is a War on Some Terror. And as the Propaganda Model correctly predicts, the media is used to keep us on focus. Shame on them.
Listen To The Advancing Jackboots
Homeland Security's Automated Targeting System is at least as bad as we imagined.
"Without notifying the public, federal agents have assigned millions of international travelers, including Americans, computer-generated scores rating the risk they pose of being terrorists or criminals. The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments. The government intends to keep the scores on file for 40 years. The scores are assigned to people entering and leaving the United States after computers assess their travel records, including where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered."
When the Stasi and the KGB did this
kind of detailed surveillance in East Germany and Russia, we quite rightly
called it evidence of a police state. Surely it was the Cold War
Republicans who led that charge? They always were such hypocrites.
And the consequences of falling foul of these "watch lists" are every bit as bad in 2006 America as they were in 1955 Berlin or 1973 Moscow. One becomes a non-person, unable to travel, and severely hampered in terms of employment. This kind of information quickly finds itself in the hands of credit agencies and insurance companies. There are questions and delays whenever one wants to get anything done. Your children's futures become compromised. And it's probably a case of mistaken identity anyway, but there is no way to appeal.
"The government gets advance passenger and crew lists for all flights and ships entering and leaving and all those names are entered into the system for an ATS analysis, said Jayson P. Ahern, an assistant commissioner of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection agency. He also said the names of vehicle drivers and passengers are entered when they cross the border and Amtrak is voluntarily supplying passenger data for trains to and from Canada."
Is that Kafka taking notes in the corner? The dystopian future is now and it ain't great.