Friday, February 17, 2012

Authoritarian Capitalism Watch

I remember seeing a sign on the bus recently saying "If You See Something, Say Something." I remember thinking at the time that this seemed like something you would see in Nazi Germany or behind the Iron Curtain. In fact, even a "Department of Homeland Security'" (who put up the sign with our tax dollars) seems disturbingly reminiscent of the secret police of those regimes. It seems I'm not alone:

“See Something Say Something” Campaign Could Allow People to Label ANY AMERICAN a Suspected “Terrorist” … Just Like in Nazi Germany or Stasi East Germany (Washington's Blog)
I initially thought that Paul Joseph Watson was overreacting when he claimed that a Homeland Security video paints the following activities as signs of potential terrorism:

Opposing surveillance

Talking to police officers

Wearing a hoodie

Driving a van

Writing on a piece of paper

But Watson makes a brilliant point about Homeland Security’s “See Something Say Something” campaign, and how accusations of terrorism actually spread:

As Robert Gellately of Florida State University has highlighted, Germans under Hitler denounced their neighbors and friends not because they genuinely believed them to be a security threat, but because they expected to selfishly benefit from doing so, both financially, socially and psychologically via a pavlovian need to be rewarded by their masters for their obedience.

At the height of its influence around one in seven of the East German population was an informant for the Stasi. As in Nazi Germany, the creation of an informant system was wholly centered around identifying political dissidents and those with grievances against the state, and had little or nothing to do with genuine security concerns. [Indeed, the American government has been using anti-terror laws to crush dissent and to help the too big to fail businesses compete against smaller businesses (and see this. And the Department of Homeland Security has been distracted by activities which have very little to do with terrorism.)]

This is the kind of society the Department of Homeland Security is, whether deliberately or inadvertently, recreating in 21st century America.

Gellately’s website notes:

“I started to read these files about all the victims in just one region of Germany that the Gestapo had processed,” Gellately says. “It would have taken a large force of secret police to collect information on so many people. I needed to know just how many secret police there really were. So I asked an elderly gentleman who would’ve lived through those times, and he replied, ‘They were everywhere!’”

That was the prevailing myth.

“But I had evidence right there in my hands that supported a different story,” Gellately explains. “There were relatively few secret police, and most were just processing the information coming in. I had found a shocking fact. It wasn’t the secret police who were doing this wide-scale surveillance and hiding on every street corner. It was the ordinary German people who were informing on their neighbors.”

***

As he was uncovering who was acting as the Gestapo’s unsolicited agents, he also began to discern what motivated neighbor to inform on neighbor. The surviving myth told the story of informers who were motivated either by a commitment to the Third Reich or by a fear of authority.

But the motives Gellately found were banal—greed, jealousy, and petty differences.

He found cases of partners in business turning in associates to gain full ownership; jealous boyfriends informing on rival suitors; neighbors betraying entire families who chronically left shared bathrooms unclean or who occupied desirable apartments.

And then there were those who informed because for the first time in their lives someone in authority would listen to them and value what they said.

***

Backing Hitler also challenges conventional views on the nature of modern dictatorships. Perhaps as a way for us to believe that “it couldn’t happen here,” we have viewed the Holocaust as an atrocity that was the work of a handful of evil men. Gellately, however, presents persuasive evidence that Hitler and the Third Reich were able to build a consensus for their policies.

“They began with small violations of the rights of Jews and other minorities, and then ratcheted up their racism and persecution only when they saw implied consent from the German people.” Gellately says. “Many Germans disapproved of Hitler’s fascism and brutality, at first. But after the long economic depression following the First World War, the German people allowed the thriving economy and return to law and order under Hitler to mute their concerns. People had jobs and the streets were safe. Hitler was managing a fine balance of consent and coercion.
While "George Washington's" (not his real name) rhetoric can be a bit heated at times, this may confirm his suspicions:

FBI says paying cash for coffee is a sign of terrorist intent (BoingBoing):
Icecube sez, "Earlier this month, a flier was released by the FBI saying that TOR users might be terrorists. It seems that there is another article that was recently published that says that if you see someone paying for a cup of coffee in cash, they too could be a terrorist. I wonder how much longer it'll be before drinking a cup of water at home could be considered suspicious as well."

Using cash for small purchases like a cup of coffee, gum and other items is a good indication that a person is trying to pass for normal without leaving the kind of paper trail created using a debit or credit card for small purchases.

The most recent update asks coffee shop owners, baristas and other customer-service specialists to be on the lookout for the enemy who walks among us (who evidently has been reanimated from the graves of the 1950s Red Scare era of blacklisting and Communist-baiting or the KGB's constant witch hunt for capitalist sympathizers or people who resent being witch-hunted for their political beliefs).


Update: From the comments, kPkPkP nails it: "If you see anything, say anything"
It's not just the United States, as Occupy demonstrated, all capitalist countries are going down this route. The normally sensible Lloyd Alter asks Is Canada Turning Into An Anti-Green Police State? (Treehugger):
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) have long been in the anti-terrorist racket, but now it appears that terrorists include people like you and me who might support Greenpeace and PETA. According to documents released under the Access Information legislation and reported in the Globe and Mail,

Federal security services have identified Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the kind of “multi-issue extremist” groups that pose a threat to Canadians.

Now you or I might say that's fine, it doesn't affect me, I am not a member of these groups, I just donate a bit of money to them. But when you combine this with the changes that the government proposes on warrantless internet surveillance, you have a real problem in this country. Vic Toews, the Minister of Public Safety, has just introduced legislation that allows warrantless access to all kinds of private information from our internet service provider, all under the guise of dealing with child pornography. It is even called the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. The National Post summarizes the powers given under the act:

In addition to a name, address, phone number and email address, companies would also be required to hand over the Internet protocol address and a series of device identification numbers, allowing police to build a detailed profile on a person using their digital footprint and to facilitate the tracking of a person’s movement through the location of their cellphone.

Toews says that if you are against the act, "you are with us, or you are with the child pornographers." People of all political stripes are outraged; even the conservative writer Margaret Wente says On Internet privacy, I’m with the child pornographers.

The scary part of this legislation is that basically, if you support any organization trying to stop the Gateway pipeline, if you have any interest in animal rights, they can just open up your internet records, which the service provider is required to keep, having been forced to buy equipment that allows police to enter a "back door" into your computer. Heather Mallick of the Star writes:

Online, people are saying they’re ashamed to be Canadian. I’m not ashamed. I’m frightened.

And see: Canada's sweeping new, evidence-free electronic spying bill (BoingBoing)

Back in America, user Hakuin posted some good links to this story: What's the social cost of making it harder to get Sudafed?

Private prison company offers to buy 48 states’ prisons: In exchange for keeping at least a 90 percent occupancy rate, the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has sent a letter to 48 states offering to manage their prisons for the low price of $250 million per year, according to a letter obtained by the Huffington Post.

Woman says innocent trip to Ala. spirals into meth charge:
Unless she wins her appeal, a Mississippi grandmother who spent $8.98 on a box of Sudafed must serve a year in jail.

For Diane Avera, a 45-year-old Meridian woman who does personal care for the sick, disabled and elderly, it has been a nightmare, she said. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up, but I never do."

She is seeking a new trial in Demopolis, Ala., after being convicted of second degree intent to manufacture methamphetamine. If she loses, she plans to appeal to the Alabama Court of Appeals.

Crackdowns taking place across the nation on pseudoephedrine and other products used to make methamphetamine have caused her to become a "prisoner of the drug war going on inside America," said her husband, Keith. "When common household medications and disinfectants are now illegal to possess, I believe we have gone overboard with the drug laws."

In 2009, grandmother Sally Harpold was handcuffed and jailed in Indiana after she bought a box of Zyrtec-D cold medicine for her husband and a box of Mucinex D cold medicine for her adult daughter in less than a week.

Mississippi has one of the nation's strictest laws, requiring a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine.

Marshall Fisher, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said since the law's enactment, his agency has seen a 67 percent decline from the 960 meth labs it found the year before and an 80 percent decline in children endangered by meth labs.

While it is illegal to bring pseudoephedrine products back to Mississippi, authorities don't target those who do, unless they have been arrested in the past, he said.

"We have enough to say grace over without doing that silliness," he said. "The last thing we want to be responsible for is targeting grandma."

Avera, who has three grandsons, had no prior arrests. "The only thing I've ever had is a speeding ticket," she said.
And highly related to the above story is this: Cop spends weeks to trick an 18-year-old into possession and sale of a gram of pot (BoingBoing):
More fun from the self-loathing society: This American Life had a show about how young female undercover cops infiltrated a high school and flirted with boys to entrap them into selling pot, so they could charge them with felonies and destroy their lives at an early age.
Drip drip drip. I forget who said that when war is extremely profitable, you're going to have a lot more of it. Well, the same is true for prisons: when sending people to jail is profitable, you're going to have a lot more prisoners. See this article in The New Yorker: The Caging of America:
The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.

The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an unco√∂perative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.
And as we've shown earlier, debtor's prisons are now making a return in this country: Debtor’s prison 2.0: Jail for delinquent homeowners?
While we can’t be sent to a federal prison for ignoring bills, many states allow citizens to be popped into state or local lockups for unpaid debt. Savvy collection agencies use this process to do an end run around the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Here’s how it works:

The collection agency sues the debtor, often in small claims court, with perhaps only a mailed summons (legal in some states, Illinois for example) or, worse, an imaginary notice referred to as “sewer service”
The debtor tosses the paper threat unread or misunderstands its implications. The debtor automatically loses the case because he doesn’t show up in court. He’s ordered to pay the collection agency, and the judge issues a arrest warrant for failing to appear and/or make the court-ordered payments
Mr. Debtor is dragged out of a PTA meeting on the outstanding warrant and goes to jail
He makes bail, which is (amazingly!) set at the exact amount owed
The bail is turned over to the creditor. Taxpayers foot the bill for arresting and jailing the “evildoer”
If unable to come up with the money owed, Mr. Debtor rots in jail. According to a Minnesota Star Tribune article, an Illinois man was sentenced “to indefinite incarceration” until he paid his $300 lumber yard debt

What about mortgage lenders?

[...]
And of course, once you're jailed for debt you have a "criminal record" and will become unemployable hereafter, meaning you will have to "drop out" of the workforce. that's a good way for authorities to lower the unemployment rate, isn't it?  Are you sure you don't have any outstanding debts? I'm not. Buying cold medicine, $300.00 in lumberyard fees, paying for coffee in cash, it's all enough to land you in America's vast prison gulags and make sure you will never legitimately work again. Welcome to Authoritarian Capitalism.

All of which is exactly what we expect as capitalism continues to deteriorate and the vast majority of people get poorer and more desperate every year: the government will resort to increasingly strict and repressive measures to preserve the wealth and power of the elite at all costs.

Just keep telling yourself, "It can't happen here, it can't happen here..."

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came%E2%80%A6

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