Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Kidnapper's Lunacy Of American Foreign Policy

Once when I was a very young child -- still in my single-digit years -- I walked into the living room and caught a glimpse of some crime drama or cable movie my mom was watching on TV: someone had been kidnapped, and tried to escape, and the kidnapper was utterly furious.

To my childish mind, THAT was the most bothersome of all -- not even the thought "kidnappers exist" but the thought "this guy is crazy enough to actually be offended that his victim would want to escape his nasty basement." (That was my thought, though I'm sure my actual vocabulary was much simpler.)

Of course, such solipsism is to be expected from any character playing "Kidnapping sociopath in a crime drama." Finding that attitude among real-live people -- people running the government, no less -- is a hell of a lot scarier.

Yet that's the attitude of American war boosters these past ten years and more. Consider this facepalm-inducing story from the Seattle Times: people in Iraq have been buying inexpensive rice from India in lieu of pricier rice imported from the USA, which has American rice farmers utterly infuriated:

Stoesser and other farmers know Iraqis struggled during the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation. They know most countries - and people - buy based on price.

But at the moment, with production costs rising, export markets shrinking and rice prices dropping, it's difficult to be rational and suppress emotions so intimately intertwined with their land and livelihood.

"That's just not right," the 63-year-old Stoesser fumed. "If we've got some rice to sell, they ought to pay a premium for it just because this is the country that freed them."

Just like kidnappers "free" their victims from the miseries of a loving family or the ability to sleep in their own beds. Though other rice farmers displayed even greater levels of solipsistic cluelessness:

John Alter, 64, also is considering alternatives. Usually, about one-third of his 1,500-acre farm in DeWitt, Ark., is devoted to rice. This year, it would be risky to dedicate too much land to the crop, he said. The loss of imports is disappointing, Alter said, noting the price difference between U.S. rice and Uruguayan grain was small.

"We spent billions and billions, if not trillions over there, and lots of people died," Alter said. "There should be some reciprocation ... Last time I checked, there wasn't any Uruguayan soldiers that lost their lives in Iraq."

Yeah, well, last time I checked there weren't hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead at the hands of Uruguayan soldiers, either.

We might be going to war with Iran soon, too. As an atheist and a woman I have no love for Iran's theocratic, misogynistic regime, but still I know better than to believe the official US narrative: "We the people of the United States have been minding our own business these past hundred years when the Iranians decided to start hating us for no reason at all."

No -- in the 1950s we overthrew Iran's democratically elected leader and replaced him with an absolute monarch. Under him and his son, things got so bad that the Iranians rose up in revolt, leaving a power vacuum which the Ayatollah Khomeini rapidly filled. The entire modern idea "Muslim fundamentalists = dire threat to the Western world" might never had existed, if we'd left Iran alone in the 1950s rather than installed a puppet dictator.

But we did that, and we built a ring of military bases surrounding Iran on all sides, and we insist Iran has no legitimate reason to feel threatened by this. (I'm sure if the tables were turned -- if, for instance, the Chinese had overthrown President Eisenhower and replaced him with the kingly head of a hereditary monarchy, and today the Chinese openly occupied Mexico and had major military bases all throughout Canada -- we here in the US would love China even more than we do already, no?)

And we didn't go after Saddam Hussein because he was a son of a bitch; we went after him because he quit being our son of a bitch. He should have studied all the right-wing dictatorships we propped up in Latin America: Before he engaged in ethnic cleansing and the mass murder of civilians, he was supposed to point his finger at them and yell "COMMIES!" Had he the foresight to stick Che Guevara T-shirts onto a few Kurdish corpses before the world learned of their existence, he'd likely be alive and still ruling Iraq today.

But none of this makes any difference to patriotic American war boosters. How dare poor Iraqis not pay a hefty premium to import rice from the country that bombed them? How dare Iran feel threatened by the past 60 years of US history and the knowledge that US military bases are making a ring around their country? How dare the Afghans not show gratitude to soldiers of the foreign army that's been occupying their country all these years? How dare Bradley Manning let the world know how we've pimped out little boys as sex toys to horny Pashtun warlords and used unarmed Reuters journalists for target practice? How dare anyone look at such videos and doubt the whole "America: international beacon of justice and human rights" propaganda?

Why can't the rest of the world understand they have no legitimate interests that ever run counter to our own? Why aren't they content to just remain chained in our basement?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This Post Is Totally Godwinned

If you've spent time online at any political comment board, you've surely noticed that whenever anyone makes any sort of comparison between Nazi Germany and anything in modern America, someone else will always post "GODWIN!!" in response. (The original "Godwin's Law" simply stated that any online political discussion was bound to result in a Nazi analogy sooner or later, but for many since then, "Godwin's Law" has since come to mean "Don't even think about making any sort of comparison between us and the Nazis, not if you harbor any hope of being taken seriously.")

According to a quick search on Google, before today I only mentioned the word "Godwin" in one post on this blog, last month, when I wrote, "reading the news these days feels like watching a documentary on a World War Two cable channel, a documentary about how things went dreadfully wrong in a certain country I dare not mention because anytime anybody makes the slightest comparison between anything here now and anything there then, somebody will scream Godwin! and at that point the conversation is over."

And today, Kevin Carson took that attitude to task in an excellent essay titled Nazi Exceptionalism; or, How Godwin's Law Gets It Backward. It's worth reading in its entirety, but it starts out like this:

Most participants in online debates are familiar with Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” The implicit corollary, of course, is that the first person to descend to such a comparison automatically forfeits the debate. Oddly enough, though, I don’t remember electing anyone named Godwin to legislate for me. And more importantly, that corollary is — or can be — quite stupid.

Godwin’s Law, by treating Nazi Germany as some sort of unique, metaphysical evil in human history, essentially nullifies its practical lessons for people in other times and places. Although Nazi precedents are now used as symbols of ultimate evil — just look at Darth Vader — they didn’t seem anywhere so dramatic to the German people at the time they were happening.

Nazi repression came about incrementally, in the background, as people lived their ordinary daily lives. Each new upward ratcheting of the security state was justified as something not all that novel or unprecedented, just a common sense measure undertaken from practical concerns for “security.”

After all, the bulk of Hitler’s emergency powers were granted by the Reichstag after a terrorist attack (blamed at the time on communists), a fire which destroyed the seat of Germany’s parliament. Any parallels to 9/11 and USA PATRIOT are, of course, purely accidental. Each new security clampdown, after an initial flurry of discussion, was quickly accepted as normal because it didn’t affect the daily lives of most ordinary people. And of course, those ordinary people had nothing to fear, because they’d done nothing wrong!

Since I've already gone and violated Godwin's Law once today, I'll do it again by quoting Robert H. Jackson, the former chief US prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials (a quote I found in Amy Alkon's succinct anti-TSA column in today's MensNewsDaily):

"Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart."

I've been banging the anti-TSA pro-civil liberties drum on this blog since 2006, the same year I started it. And America's gotten worse, incrementally, as people lead their ordinary lives. It led directly to the passage and acceptance of the NDAA, with its unconstitutional insistence that the government can arrest any citizen at any time with no evidence, no trial, no legal rights at all, provided the government first says "Trust me, he's totally a terrorist." It's led to what Carson calls a "de facto internal passport" required for travel within the borders of our own country. And when those who support these laws watch documentaries on the rise of the Third Reich, they shake their heads in patriotic superiority and swear "It can't happen here."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

50 Reasons I’m A Terrorist Suspect

True story (which wouldn’t be worth telling, were America truly the free country it still claims to be): About a year ago I thought my dishwasher was broken, because I kept finding scummy film on just-washed plates and utensils. Fortunately, before wasting money on fruitless repair bills I realized the problem: not my dishwasher, but the detergent I poured therein. Although it’s legal to sell dish detergent containing phosphate (read: detergent that works) in Connecticut, it’s banned in every bordering state, and I doubt it’s cost-effective for chain grocery stores to stock one type of detergent in their Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island branches, and a different type exclusive to tiny Connecticut.

Thus, last month, I was ecstatic when I discovered old-school phosphate dishwasher powder for sale in a local discount store. I bought a great many boxes, paying cash as I always do since I consider credit cards (and personal debt in general) to be emergency-only tools.

Then I visited the grocery store, which had a sale on various non-perishable foods my household consumes. So, in addition to the items on my regular grocery list, I also bought enough canned or dried goods to last a couple weeks, even if that was all we ate.

That was risky. My telling you about it here is riskier, since the government now considers “a week’s supply of food” to be a possible terrorist warning sign. And paying cash for things, in lieu of using credit cards and leaving an electronic trail, is ominous according to the same guidelines.

But that’s how I roll. That’s what I do: shop in adherence with a frugal household marketing budget, and keep my pantry well-stocked and my dishes so sparkling-clean, you can literally eat off of ’em.

In my mother’s generation, those signs indicated “a likely housewife, respectable to the point of boringness.” Today they indicate maverick badassery. A steely-eyed freethinker who plays by her own rules. Spirited! Defiant! Even … dangerous.

Or maybe they just indicate a government that’s lost its freaking mind. I lean toward the latter theory, especially after glancing through the FBI’s “‘Communities Against Terrorism’ Suspicious Activity Reporting Flyers.” Publicintelligence.net published a list of links to the fliers, and explained:
The following collection of 25 flyers produced by the FBI and the Department of Justice are distributed to local businesses in a variety of industries to promote suspicious activity reporting. The flyers are not released publicly, though several have been published in the past by news media and various law enforcement agencies around the country. We have compiled this collection from a number of online sources.
The documents (which I can’t link to individually from the .pdfs on the Public Intelligence site) show a government security apparatus that’s gone far beyond “fear of terrorism” into the “actively paranoid” realm. Here’s some of the “suspicious behaviors” that employees of Internet cafes should watch out for:
“Are overly concerned about privacy, attempts to shield the screen from view of others.”
“Always pay cash”
“evidence of a residential based internet provider (signs on to Comcast, AOL, etc.)”
I’ve never plotted harm against anyone, but I’ve done all of these when I’ve gone online in public places. I’ve also “us[ed] cash for large transactions” in home-improvement stores, and the FBI thinks clerks in such stores should keep an eye out for people who do.

I didn’t have the patience – or the heart – to look through all 25 and count how many of my everyday habits now qualify me for a government watch list. I don’t think blogger Allan MacDonald did either, though he clearly waded through far more of them than me, long enough to count 85 innocuous-yet-suspicious activities. From his list, I counted 48 that I personally do or would consider doing, including:
1) Do Not: Use Google Maps to find your way around a strange city.
2) Do Not: Use Google Maps to view photos of sports stadiums.
3) Do Not: Install online privacy protection software on your personal computer.
4) Do Not: Attempt to shield your computer screen from the view of others.
5) Do Not: Shave your beard*, dye your hair or alter your mode of dress.
6) Do Not: Sweat.
7) Do Not: Avoid eye contact.
8) Do Not: Use a cell-phone camera in an airport, train station or shopping mall.
9) Do Not: Seek to work alone or without supervision.
10) Do Not: Appear to be out of place.
*I don’t actually have a beard, but I’ve certainly dyed my hair and altered my mode of dress before.
13) Do Not: Emit strange odors.
I try not to, but sometimes, especially on days hot or humid enough to make me violate rule #6 (do not sweat) … I’ve been developing a palate for spicy foods lately, as well, and Zod only knows how they affect my oil and sweat glands.
14) Do Not: Travel an “illogical distance” to do your shopping.
15) Do Not: Have someone pick you up from a beauty supply store.
16) Do Not: Be nervous.
17) Do Not: Be a new customer from out of town.
18) Do Not: Use a credit card in someone else’s name.
I’ve done all five things (the credit card was my partner’s, used with his knowledge and consent, but the name on the card differed from the name on the mailing label).
22) Do Not: Make comments involving radical theology.
Do I make comments promoting radical theology? Not unless you count atheism (as many Americans do). But involving radical theology? Sure; hard to discuss current affairs without it.
24) Do Not: Express anti-U.S. sentiments.
No comment.
26) Do Not: Leave store without preprogramming disposable phones.
I’ve never bought a disposable phone, but if ever I did, I probably wouldn’t do anything to it until after I left the store.
27) Do Not: Be overly interested in satellite phones and voice privacy.
What is “overly” interested?
29) Do Not: Ask questions about how phone location can be tracked.
If you use exciting new technologies, curiosity regarding exactly how they work is bad, mm’kay?
31) Do Not: Express out-of-place and provocative religious or political sentiments.
32) Do Not: Purchase a police scanner, infrared device or 2-way radio.
33) Do Not: Act impatient.
38) Do Not: Take photos of the Statue of Liberty or other “symbolic targets.”
39) Do Not: Overdress for the weather.
40) Do Not: Ask questions in a hobby shop about remote controlled aircraft.
41) Do Not: Demonstrate interest that does not seem genuine.
42) Do Not: Request specific room assignments or locations at a hotel or motel.
43) Do Not: Arrive at a lodging with unusual amounts of luggage.
44) Do Not: Refuse cleaning service.
45) Do Not: Avoid the lobby of a hotel or motel.
46) Do Not: Remain in your hotel or motel room.
I’ve never bought remote-controlled aircraft, but if I ever did I’d surely ask questions first. I don’t know how “genuine” my interest would appear, though. And I have no idea how much luggage is considered “unusual.” I never leave anything in my car overnight when I’m staying at a hotel, so the longer I’ve been away from home the more stuff I haul into the room: luggage, cooler, dirty-laundry bag, plus whatever the hell I’ve bought since the start of my trip.
52) Do Not: Make notes that are illegible to passersby.
53) Do Not: Communicate through a PC game.
54) Do Not: Download “extreme/radical” content.
55) Do Not: Exhibit preoccupation with press coverage of terrorist attacks.
56) Do Not: Wear a backpack when the weather is warm.
I don’t play PC games but if I did I’d likely communicate through them, same way I communicate via web forums and social media now. Being a small-government libertarian is considered radical, and after 9/11 I was so preoccupied with press coverage of terrorist attacks, “watching TV news” was pretty much all I did for three solid days.

And I always carry a backpack while doing touristy things (especially in warm weather). I even keep a special tourist backpack where I store my camera, binoculars, road atlas and other things that used to indicate a harmless day-tripper but now suggest possible terrorist activity.
59) Do Not: Mumble to yourself.
That occasional under-the-breath “goddammit” does not conform to the standards of shiny happy America.
60) Do Not: Pass along any anonymous threats you may receive.
I haven’t actually received any, but according to the DHS “See something, say something” advertising campaigns, I thought reporting such things was my patriotic and civic duty? Or do they mean “If someone anonymously threatens my own personal self, don’t report it to the police because it’s your own damned problem?”
61) Do Not: Discreetly take a photo in a mass transit site.
62) Do Not: Arrive with a group of people and split off from them.
Don’t act like a tourist, in other words.
63) Do Not: Demand “identity privacy.”
Like when I buy nicotine patches and won’t let the cashier scan my driver’s license into her database?
65) Do Not: Make bulk purchases of meals ready to eat.
I haven’t, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since I lost electricity for a week after the Halloween blizzard. But I would pay cash unless I bought them online, in which case I might use a credit card in someone elses name.
71) Do Not: Exhibit ire at global policies of the U.S.
72) Do Not: Balk at providing “complete personal information.”

74) Do Not: Receive an unusual number of package deliveries.

78) Do Not: Inquire about security systems at your storage facility.
I don’t rent a storage facility, but if I did, “inquiring about the security systems” is something I’d do before even signing the contract. And what is an “unusual” number of package deliveries?

So that’s 48 things off MacDonnell’s list, plus the “using a residential internet provider” in public-internet spots (either while on vacation, or when my home internet was down for some reason), and the aforementioned “having more than a week’s worth of food on hand.”

I’m no threat to the commonweal or anybody in it, yet I still manage to set off more than half these anti-terrorist alarm bells. And if I tried flying in American airspace – if I submitted to the obscene gropings of some TSAgent – I would surely discover my name on the No-Fly List, since journalists who criticize TSA have the disturbing tendency to be blacklisted in retaliation.

Back when 9/11 was still recent history, news stories claimed that one month before the attack, then-President Bush and key government officials received a memo titled “Bin Laden determined to attack US.” Outraged citizens demanded to know: How could the attacks have happened when the government had a month’s prior warning? Some luckless government spokesperson gave an excuse I found difficult to fault: US intelligence agencies get so many tips and so many false leads, figuring out which threat is real is “like finding a needle in a haystack.”

And thus did our government in its infinite wisdom deem “adding more hay to the stack” the best way to find the next terrorist needle.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Details, Details

The Miami Herald tells of the $3.3 million verdict, which a jury ordered Bank of America to pay Rodolfo Valladares, who was arrested after he tried cashing a $100 check and a teller, mistaking him for a robber, hit a silent alarm. The Herald reports:
When Rodolfo Valladares walked into an Aventura Bank of America, he simply wanted to cash his $100 check. A jumpy bank teller, thinking he looked like a robber, hit a silent alarm.

Police from Aventura and Miami-Dade rushed to the bank, ordered everyone to the floor as they physically detained Valladares, handcuffing him and kicking him in the head, his lawyer said. He was let go when bank employees and police realize they made a mistake.

For his troubles, Valladares soon will be getting a much bigger check.

A Miami-Dade jury has awarded Valladares $3.3 million in damages after ruling that the bank was negligent in triggering the silent alarm, then failing to cancel it when employees realized he was not a robber.

Valladares, 50, a former mortgage company loan officer, still suffers from headaches, blurred vision and post-traumatic stress disorder, said his attorney Russell S. Adler.

The bank is planning to appeal, and there's no knowing when -- or if -- Valladares will get his actual payout. But there's one detail the story doesn't address: police were certainly correct to respond to a silent alarm and, under the circumstances, correct to initially handcuff Valladares. But why aren't they being charged with attempted murder for kicking a handcuffed man in the head?

Meanwhile, tales of a different sort of police malfeasance come out of Seattle: a cop was smart enough to turn off his dashboard cam before beating up a couple off innocent guys to inflate his arrest statistics; fortunately for his victims, the cop forgot to turn off his lapel microphone, which recorded him saying "Yeah, I'm going to make stuff up" to justify their arrests. A police review board cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.

When those 30,000 spy drones start flying over America by the end of the decade, I'm sure we'll see similar patterns of videotape failure: anytime police misbehave, the cameras will always stop recording first. And remember: in American jurisprudence, anytime your word contradicts that of a cop, you are always assumed to be lying unless there's recordings supporting your version of events (and not always, even then).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Washington Post: Heroic Defender of the First Amendment

I've said this before, I've said it more than once, but Zod help us all because it bears repeating: Government cock will not suck itself. That's what a free and independent media is for.

Far too many American news outlets seriously believe this, if their editorial output is any indication. For example, check out this propaganda gem from the Washington Post, the newspaper that presents itself as the scourge-of-corrupt-government, Nixonsbane, exposer of the Watergate scandal, and now it publishes gushing feel-good stories about how TSA is "Using social media to improve airport security."

WaPo published the article -- a Valentine's day love letter to American freedom -- in conjunction with the "Partnership for public service," according to the subheadline. The story is a nauseating cheerleading routine praising the efforts of Lynn Dean, the propagandist who is paid very, very well (out of your tax dollars and mine) to praise the TSA and the freedom fingerbangs it regularly imposes on American fliers.

Dean, according to the story, is assistant to Gale Rossides, TSA's deputy administrator. Those of us who've made a point of following TSA crimes these past ten years will recognize Rossides as the odious author of the Christmas 2009 bathroom ban.

I wrote about it for the Guardian at the time:
[After discussing my unfortunate habit of forming kidney stones as readily as a teenage boy forms horny thoughts] So I must drink, which means I must go to the bathroom, yet the federal government – specifically Gale Rossides, the TSA administrator responsible for the Boxing Day flight restrictions – told me I couldn't do that because a wannabe terrorist set his thigh on fire during the last hour of a flight?

And that "last hour" of a flight could easily stretch out for two or more, if the plane falls into a holding pattern before landing. During that final hour, or two, or three, Rossides wanted passengers to keep their hands visible at all times, refrain from holding anything in their laps, never reach into their carry-on bags, and obey a variety of other humiliating and pointless regulations that would make great spirit-breakers for serial-killer inmates in a supermax prison, but do nothing to stop a prepared terrorist from damaging a plane. ... how did America go that wrong, where someone so prone to authoritarian overreaction got legal authority over any life form more advanced than toilet-bowl mold? Why wasn't anybody fired over this?

In retrospect, that was a silly question. When I wrote that column, I was furious over the odious ban, yet relieved to know it was rescinded two days later. I had no idea that in ten months the TSA would step further over the line and impose its mandatory molestation policies, and not back down this time: I can't fly unless I let some TSA twat squeeze my own (if you're a man, make that "You can't fly unless some TSA dick tugs on yours"). Which I refuse to do, thus I cannot fly.

I have been unable to find these links despite a 20-minute Google search-a-thon, but: back around the start of the Iraq war, I read anecdotes about Russian immigrants -- those who came of age in the Communist Soviet Union before moving here to the Land of the Free -- amazed by the overwhelming media support for our upcoming invasion of a sovereign nation: "How does that happen? In the USSR, the media always supported the government, because the media was the government. But why does it happen in the USA?"

At the time I did not know, because I was still naive enough to believe a different form of propaganda: "America is great in part because of a press free to expose evil, corruption and venality." But now I -- like everyone who can remember the days before the Iraq war -- am nine years older and nine years wiser, and cringe to recall my earlier naivete. Boy, is my face red! But that still beats "dripping white from tyrant bukkake." If Lynn Dean and Gale Rossides had an active working conscience, they would feel ashamed of what they are doing to their fellow Americans, as would the nameless editor who decided to praise them in the pages of the Washington Post.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Droning On

Mathematical proof I'm a better person than any given employee of the TSA:

Number of people against whom I personally have committed sexual assault: zero
Number of people for whom I have justified or covered up acts of sexual assault: zero
Number of TSA agents who can honestly say the same thing: zero again.

It's been a bad week for civil liberties. The president, of course, supports a proposed bill to put 30,000 unmanned spy drones in American skies by the end of the decade. At the very beginning of 1984, Orwell's Winston Smith noted the Thought Police helicopters swooping down to peer into windows, but American drones promise to be smaller and more unobtrusive. Neither of the three apparent contenders for the GOP presidential nod -- Romney, Gingrich or Santorum (I'm ignoring Ron Paul since I work for the media) -- promise to be any improvement over Obama in any way.

I miss the days when Bush was president, because at least with him I could believe things would get better once The Next Guy took over. One bad apple's much easier to handle than an entire contaminated orchard.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Night of the bat

February started out perfectly fine until the new month was almost two hours old, then things started getting a little hinky:

1:55 a.m. Hear clanking noises coming out of what should have been a perfectly silent kitchen.
1:56 a.m. Open office door, see something fluttery black flying in frantic circles and occasionally crashing against the decorative copper plates on the kitchen walls (clank).
1:56:30 HOLY SHIT IT'S COMING RIGHT FOR ME (slam office door)
1:57 a.m. Dash into bedroom, wake up partner and tell him there's a bat in the kitchen.
2:01 a.m. Partner conscious enough to attempt to do something about it.
2:53 a.m.
Bat finally captured and re-released into the wild.

Best guess is he somehow got into the basement, then crawled/flew up the vent pipes and emerged in our apartment somewhere behind the washer/dryer. Lucky for me he wasn't sick and didn't bite us; if I came down rabid I'd soon be so brain-damaged and frothing-insane, I'd be reduced to working as a TSAgent.
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