Thursday, December 02, 2010

The creeping police state of Orwellian America

Sometimes liberty isn't snatched away through the revolutionary actions of a Pol Pot. Sometimes it just erodes away. I've described Hugo Chavez's use of slice-by-slice "salami tactics" in Venezuela, and it's an appropriate analogy:

In the first episode of the great Yes, Prime Minister, "The Grand Design," new PM Jim Hacker meets with the government's chief scientific advisor to discuss defence policy. The advisor, a hawkish Austrian, argues that the Soviet Union would use "salami tactics" to take over Europe, that is, a "slice-by-slice" plan with no one slice so grave as to compel the West (or the U.K., in this case) to respond militarily. (The 16 YPM episodes originally aired on the BBC from 1986-88.) At each slice/stage of the scenario, he presses Hacker -- What would it take for him to act? An incursion into West Berlin? Or would the Soviets have to go so far as to take over the Reform Club, one of London's old political establishments? Would he ever respond with nuclear weapons? Probably not.

My point here is not to make a case for military action against Venezuela, but it is clear that Hugo Chavez is using salami tactics in his drive to establish so-called "Bolivarean" socialism -- that is, his own national-socialist autocratic rule -- in that country. I wrote about this last week: "Sometimes revolution can be achieved without sudden, dramatic bloodletting." There are a number of different prongs to Chavez's continuing revolution, a number of slices. They may be examined individually, but they are best understood as variations of the same, as components of a single overarching plan. The nationalization of industry, the seizure of private property, repression of dissent and opposition, control of the media, one-party rule, rule by decree, and, soon, the removal of constitutional impediments to the permanent and perpetual rule of the leader himself.

The pattern is clear. One slice, then another, and another, and another, with no one slice so grave as to compel anyone to act...

This is happening in America now, too, is it not? Yes, there are many who are standing up for freedom and civil liberties, but what success are they having? Freedom has been opposed for a long time by corporatist elements -- including what Eisenhower famously called the military-industrial complex -- but the speed with which government and its private-sector and media allies apply slice upon slice has grown markedly since 9/11 and the supposed emergence of the Islamist-jihadist terrorist threat as the justification for the Patriot Act, domestic surveillance, racial/ethnic/religious profiling, anti-Muslim bigotry, the TSA's intrusive airport pat-downs, and so on. Read 1984. What's happening in the U.S. may not be so blatantly obvious, but do you see what's going on? If not, wake the fuck up.

I'm a committed civil libertarian on this. I understand the need for some degree of security, but beyond what's absolutely essential (like what we were used to at airports, for example), we shouldn't budge an inch. Because it's a slippery slope. If you aren't vigilant in defence of your freedom, you'll wake up one day to find it gone.


At Reason, which espouses a libertarianism I generally reject, Radley Balko addresses one of the latest and most revealing slices:

Janet Napolitano said last month that we should expect to soon see tighter restrictions at bus, train, and marine transportation centers, too. Here's a report about TSA, Border Patrol, and local police setting up a checkpoint at a Greyhound station in Tampa. Note how quickly preventing a possible terrorist attack expands to include catching illegal immigrants, and preventing drug and what sounds like "cash smuggling." (It's hard to tell from the audio.) Note also the complete and utter reverence the local news report bestows on these government agencies, who after all are merely "teaming up to keep your family safe."

A liberal blogger wrote to me in an email this week that libertarians who call the TSA pat-downs a violation of their civil liberties do a disservice to actual violations of civil liberties. It's not difficult to envision the day where anyone wishing to take mass transportation in this country will have to first submit to a government checkpoint, show ID, and answer questions about any excess cash, prescription medication, or any other items in his possession the government deems suspicious. If and when that happens, freedom of movement will essentially be dead. But it won't happen overnight. It'll happen incrementally. And each increment will, when taken in isolation, appear to some to be perfectly reasonable.

If you care about your freedom, and about being free in America, don't stand for this.

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