Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Even If We Win, We Still Lose

So focused have I been on bad news lately that not until today, while researching this Daily Dot story about Anonymous' alleged threat to hack the Iowa GOP caucus, did I realize Ron Paul is currently on track to win the caucus race. At first glance that looks like good news -- longtime readers of this-here blog might recall that in 2008, I stained my soul by spending six whole days as a registered Republican solely so I could vote for Paul in the GOP primary -- but then I thought: why should one man matter so much? Suppose everything works out just as I hope: Paul wins the caucus, wins the GOP nod, wins the election and restores all the constitutional rights we've lost these past ten years. Sounds great, but if the system's only as good as the guy in charge, how are we any different from an absolute monarchy? Whatever happened to checks and balances?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Only Terrorists Have Seven Day’s Worth Of Food

Here’s what Senator Rand Paul said about the National Defense Authorization Act, which will enable the military to imprison any American citizen suspected of terrorism without a trial, without a lawyer, without anybody even knowing they’ve been imprisoned:
"There are laws on the books now that characterise who might be a terrorist: someone missing fingers on their hands is a suspect according to the department of justice. Someone who has guns, someone who has ammunition that is weatherproofed, someone who has more than seven days of food in their house can be considered a potential terrorist," Paul said. "If you are suspected because of these activities, do you want the government to have the ability to send you to Guantánamo Bay for indefinite detention?"

Guns and ammo? It’s our constitutional right to have these, but no surprise why an oppressive government wouldn’t trust citizens who do. Missing fingers? Presumably on the assumption you lost them while making a bomb. These both make sense, in a twisted authoritarian sort of way.

But food stockpiles? More specifically, food stockpiles lasting barely more than a week? I could – maybe – understand why a paranoid government would distrust someone with food sufficient to last several years: if you really are planning to become a domestic terrorist, it would behoove you to have a stockpile handy so you can vanish into the wilderness rather than make regular supply runs into town. Of course, there are also perfectly innocent reasons to keep that much food on hand: maybe you’re a Mormon with the religious obligation to store a couple years’ worth of supplies. Maybe you watch enough disaster porn to fear starvation if the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts or a dinosaur-killing asteroid strikes. Maybe you’re poor, or fear becoming so, and stockpile non-perishable food to ensure that even without money, you can still eat. Maybe you live in an isolated rural area and fear a blizzard or other storm could keep you housebound for a long time. Maybe you live in hurricane country and already know firsthand about being cut off from civilization for awhile.

Still, I can understand – sort of –why a paranoid government would look askance at anyone with several years’ worth of food on hand. But seven days?

I suppose I run the risk of disappearing into a military black hole by admitting this, but what the hell: ever since I left my parents’ house and set up housekeeping on my own, I’ve always had at least two week’s worth of food on hand. As a college student working for tips in stripper bars I had an erratic income, so whenever canned or dried food I liked went on sale, I’d stock up. (Indeed, there were lean weeks when those canned and dried goods were the only thing keeping me fed.)

Now I’m a freelancer with an even more erratic income, so I still stock up on sale days: a few weeks ago I bought ten cans of baked beans – the maximum allowed for a customer – when the store sold them for 40 percent off. I also face occasional power outages, so I make sure to have a Sterno kit and plenty of heat-n-serve food like canned spaghetti; that came in handy when I lost electricity for a week after the unseasonably early blizzard last October.

But even if none of this applied to me – even if I were the happy-go-lucky sort who never worried about bad luck and therefore never planned for it – I’d often have more than seven days’ worth of food on hand for the simple reason that I only go grocery shopping once a week. And if there’s only one or two people in your household it’s hard not to buy more than seven day’s worth of food, not unless you eat the same thing every day: rice and flour are most often found in five- or ten-pound bags. A box of just-add-water pancake mix could feed a person for nearly a week. Eggs are sold by the dozen. Oatmeal, coffee, farina, sugar … if you buy “ingredients” rather than “processed meals,” you pretty much have to buy more than seven days’ worth at a time.

So there are plenty of non-terrorist reasons a person would have more than seven days’ worth of food stores; why has the government set such a ridiculously low cut-off for the “potential terrorist” threshold? Why pretend a week’s worth of food is equivalent to plutonium? The only explanation that makes any sense, especially in light of the indefinite-detention bill, is the explanation offered by a commenter on my last blog post:
My bet is that they are preparing for the total collapse of the global economy in the next year or so and will use this to take out anyone who doesn't accept their fate as serfs.
Sounds paranoid, I know. Utterly ridiculous. But what other explanation makes sense? Until the indefinite-detention bill, I routinely pooh-poohed the concerns of people who blathered on about FEMA concentration camps set up in the western deserts, or feared mass round-ups of citizens in the streets. But now? Unless Obama vetoes the bill – and he’s already said he won’t – any American suspected of terrorism can be made to disappear. And any American with more than a week’s worth of food in their pantry can be suspected of terrorism. And oh, dear God in whom I wish I could believe, I am so very terrified.

NEXT-DAY EDIT: After an uneasy night's sleep, another possible motivation occurs to me: Alabama has made headlines these past couple months, after its anti-illegal immigration initiatives resulted in a statewide loss of their agricultural force, and crops rotting in the fields en masse. Alabama officials have suggested filling the gap by using prison labor to bring in the crops. Maybe the government's motivation here is to ensure a steady supply of slave laborers, for any politically connected businesses that want it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

TSA Paved The Way For The NDAA

Behold a new meaning for the phrase "it's important to keep a balanced diet": FEMA says all Americans should keep a three-day supply of food on hand in case of emergency. But the department of justice says anyone with more than seven day's worth of food is a potential terrorist, and the new defense authorization bill says anyone suspected of being a terrorist can be locked in a secret military prison without a trial, without a lawyer, without anyone even knowing you're there. So to keep your family safe, you need at least three day's worth of food but no more than seven. Got that?

I remain convinced that the TSA groping policies -- or rather, the millions of Americans who continued to fly despite them -- paved the way for the indefinite-detention bill. The thing about indefinite detention is this: most Americans will console themselves by thinking, "This won't be used against me and mine; it's only those other people who need to worry about it." But that was never the case with TSA groping (which started in airports and is spreading to other forms of mass transit); it happens to any American citizen who wishes to travel within the borders of his own country. It's not even something where people can say "It'll never happen to me" ... yet still, the majority went along with it. "Yeah, I don't like the groping, but what am I supposed to do -- vacation someplace within driving distance? Screw that."

Groping people without cause is a gross constitutional violation. Waterboarding people is a gross constitutional violation. The department of defense classifying peaceful protests as "low-level terrorism" is a breathtaking expression of contempt for constitutional freedoms. So why be surprised to hear the government now wants to do away with the right to a trial, the right to a lawyer, any rights at all? Ever since 9/11, the government violated the constitution over and over and over again; who thought it would stop of its own volition? Who was naive enough to think they'd ever say "Okay, we've seized enough power now; we don't need any more?"

Everyone who submitted to a TSA grope-down, for starters. Do you feel safe now, cowards?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Game Over

My fellow Americans, we're screwed. The National Defense Authorization Act allowing the military to detain American citizens captured on American soil indefinitely, sans trial, sans lawyer, sans evidence, sans anything, has passed the House. And Obama has backed away from his threat of a veto; looks like he'll sign it into law. So much for the oath to defend the constitution of the United States. So much for the "land of the free."

Every good thing I once believed about my country is dead. We invade other countries on false pretenses. We torture people. We molest innocent citizens whose only "crime" is wishing to travel within the borders of their own country. And soon we'll start disappearing our own people, on the word of an anonymous tipster with a grudge.

I should've listened to the guidance counselor who urged me to become a doctor. Not that I have any interest in medicine, but if I were a physician, I could emigrate the fuck out of here. Instead, I'm trapped in a country where anyone suspected of terrorism can be made to disappear, and where anyone who protests in considered to engage in "low-level terrorism."

I don't enjoy contemplating my own mortality, but I always figured I'd either die of natural causes or (if unlucky) in an accident. Now it looks like I might very well die in some filthy secret military prison, after a bureaucrat decides some op-ed I wrote for the Guardian or what have you qualifies me as a threat to the commonweal.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Constitutional Amendments Four Through Eight, R.I.P.

In an inspirational display of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats alike in the Senate passed a bill that would designate the US a “battlefield” in the war on terrorism, and give the military the right to detain American citizens, in America, indefinitely, with no trial, no evidence, no lawyer, no rights at all.

American citizens suspected of terrorism, of course. But terrorism means whatever the government says it does; in 2009 came the entirely unsurprising news that the Department of Defense believes – and teaches – that protests are a form of “low-level terrorism.” In which case pepper-spraying elderly women at a peaceful protest almost makes sense.

If suspicion of “terrorism” is all it takes for the military to disappear you …. that’s enough to make me nostalgic for the days when I had “only” to worry about TSA molesting me if I ever want to fly again. How long before the next step inspires nostalgia for the days when I needed “only” fear eternal military detention, sans evidence or a trial?

Bin Laden is dead, Saddam and Gaddafi too, yet the less boogeymen we have, the more power the government grabs in the name of fighting them. What can I, personally, do about this? Nothing comes to mind. I’ve been ranting about the decay of civil rights ever since the PATRIOT Act was new – for the past half-decade, I’ve even ranted as a bona fide journalist whose rants sometimes make it into mainstream publications with infinitely more readers than my little blog here has. Singing the same song over and over, in a slightly different key each time – and always nothing changed, nothing changed, nothing changed no wait it just got worse!

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is madness. But accepting that same result I’ve been getting is capitulation. I haven’t capitulated yet – I still refuse to fly in American airspace, because I have no interest in being unfaithful to my partner and if I did it wouldn’t be with some blue-gloved TSA thugwaffle – but how much longer do we have until avoiding airplanes isn’t enough to stay out of the government’s crosshairs?

Earlier this year, when the PATRIOT Act was extended yet again, I noted in the Guardian:
A few months before Bin Laden died, Pew Research did a survey showing he and al-Qaida had already lost most of their support throughout the Muslim world. So, with Bin Laden dead and his organisation toothless and despised by its own former power base, why not repeal the Patriot Act and return to the constitutional standards of 10 September 2001?

Oh, right: won't happen because the Patriot Act was never about Bin Laden in the first place.

And the terrifying new powers the government keeps grabbing for itself were never about keeping the country safe. We didn’t have to give up amendments four through eight during the Cold War or World War Two, and Hitler and the Soviets were bigger threats to us than Bin Laden could ever have hoped to be.

But what can I do about this? What can any of us do about this? Hell, just asking those questions might be enough to get people disappeared, in the America of the imminent future.
FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com