9 02 2008

You might be living in a failing totalitarian state if…..

Your country is swarming with wealthy tourists attracted by how cheap everything is, since your currency has become so devalued, and shopkeepers are accepting foreign currency in payment for their goods.

Customs officials seize travelers’ cell phones and laptop computers and copy all the phone contacts and files “for further study.” Most of the time, they return them.

El Presidente has created a plainclothes volunteer force of “leading businessmen” and deputized them to use deadly force. Their job is to keep their eyes and ears out for threats to the regime (and their businesses) and report them to the proper authorities.

The country’s main law enforcement agency is pushing for funds to keep biometric tabs on everyone.

And if you live where all that is going on, you are living in these United States, friends, not Guatemala or China or Franco’s Spain or Orwell’s Oceania. Of course there are plenty of other examples we could place on this list, but I’m just including the latest additions. The stores in New York (and probably other places, by now) that are happy to take Euros do add a new twist to things, though, don’t you think?

As for the other three:

US Customs claims that copying every file in a traveler’s computer is no different from looking through her luggage. However, some people travel with company computers containing proprietary information. Lawyers may have confidential client information on their computers. In any case, examining the contents of somebody’s computer isn’t just like making sure they don’t have a contraband bottle of scotch stashed with their underwear. It’s like reading their diary. Conservatives will answer that one should have nothing to fear if one has nothing to hide, but our Constitution is supposed to grant us a certain amount of privacy, especially if we have committed no crime.

Here’s an interesting bit of doublethink from the Immigration Officials’ handbook: although it is official policy not to profile by race or ethnicity,

“it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual’s connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity.”

Well, sure enough, it’s largely individuals with a swarthy or Oriental appearance who are getting targeted. Not all those northern Europeans swarming into the US with fistfulls of Euros, looking for bargains here in yard sale America. And yes, this has been bumped into the legal system, but all it takes is the wrong judge, somebody in the mussAlito/Roberts strain, and it’s bye-bye privacy for good.

You’ve heard of the Stasi, the Gestapo, and the KGB. Have you heard of “The Infraguard“? There are 24,000 of them here in Amerika and they’re looking for reliable recruits. The Infraguard has been set up by the FBI as a way to deputize members of the business community and increase the FBI’s outreach. Director Robert Mueller has exhorted them to

“note suspicious activity or an unusual event.”

and to inform the FBI of

“disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers.”

To these ends, they have special contact numbers that will get them through to the FBI, and have been told that when–not if, but when–martial law is declared in this country, they will have greater freedom of movement than us run-of-the-mill citizens, will be able to “get people out” (of what? one wonders!), and, if necessary to defend their particular piece of the American infrastructure, they can shoot to kill and not be concerned about the consequences.

Meanwhile, members are advised to be extremely circumspect about their knowledge, duties, and activities, and ” Tailor answers to the expected audience,” which I suspect is a fancy way to say “lie if you have to.”

When martial law is declared–not if, but when–hmm, more on this in a moment.

The FBI wants to measure your retinas, without your permission. They are working on ways of getting an accurate image of a person’s retinas (and everybody’s retinas are different) from fifteen feet away. Since we now have cameras that can read newsprint from outerspace, as I understand it, this won’t be too difficult. They want to then install retina readers in public places so they will know who’s where, all the time. At present, they estimate that this will cost a billion dollars, but you know how those estimates go….

And where is all this heading, all this frantic scrabble for security? Why, as our infrastructure falls apart and our tax base comes undone, is our government planning for martial law? Do they really think they can cling to wealth and power this way? Do they think they can hold off the hungry masses forever?

They can’t. They won’t. This misguided paranoid freakout will only make things worse in the long run. The best strategy for American security is generosity. It may sound cliched, but it’s true: there is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.

Each of us needs to do all we can to join with our friends and neighbors, cocreate a low-impact, gracious way of life, and advocate for a sane, open-handed, open-minded government. Neither Hillary’s pitch for a Walmarted, Tyson-food fed, Monsantoed America, nor Obama’s vague rhetoric about change and clear advocacy for nuclear power and armed strikes against Pakistan will do. Certainly John McCain’s call for a hundred years’ war in Iraq is out of touch with reality.

A national policy that defangs the corporate demons and distributes resources and knowledge in a way that eases everyone’s burden is the only way to end terrorism and bring about world peace. The sooner we start, the easier it will be. If we fail to create a just world, based on a sense that we’re all in it together, the combination of environmental catastrophe and population overload will overwhelm even the tightest, best-armed security money can buy. There will be very little left for anyone to fight over, and very few humans to do the fighting. For now, there is still a choice.

music: Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”




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