November 2007 Archives
Last week's FBI report tells us, in the year 2006 alone, with only 12,600 of the nation’s more than 17,000 local, county, state and federal police agencies reporting, there were around 7,500 hate crime incidents.
I've never been a big fan of the "hate crime" designation because of worries about the potential for anti-Bushisms to become "hate speech" for example. But one thing seems clear: intolerance is a much greater threat to America than "terrorism."
Until last week I had scarcely heard the expression. Then two lawyers in two different offices separately described me thusly just hours apart on the same day. The phrase has been pinging around my brain’s background circuitry like a pinball ever since.
What does it conjure? A well-endowed gay friend made me laugh when he claimed to share the designation… Sometimes I imagine an easy-to-reach banana with my head on it…
When I studied abroad in Thailand as an undergrad I began to realize what made me U.S. American. Though I was full of youthful certainty about everything that was wrong with the U.S., and expected that my time in Prothet Thai would only reveal the ways our foreign policy and globalization generally had damaged the country, I unexpectedly came face to face with my own Americanness.
"Surprise radical, young know-it-all," nearly all of my experiences seemed to say. "Most of what you value dearly is ingrained in your culture! American Culture! Ha!" The ensuing identity crisis was long and ugly.
Australian-born U.S. citizen Anne Summers recently had trouble entering and leaving the U.S.:
Summers was detained by armed agents for FIVE HOURS each way in LAX on her way to and from the annual meeting of the board of Greenpeace International in Mexico, and her green card was taken away from her. `I want to call a lawyer', she told TSA agents. `Ma'am, you do not have a right to call an attorney,' they replied. `You have not entered the United States.'What?? Who approved this? Is there a list of regions in the U.S. where the law doesn't apply so, you know, we can avoid them if we want to?
Apparently a section of LAX just beyond the security line is asserted to be `not in the United States' -- though it is squarely inside the airport -- so the laws of the US do not apply.
Those of us who are stepping up to the climate change challenge must devote as much energy to civil liberties issues as we do to energy policy. If we don't, we may wake up one day soon in an America we don't recognize, and find ourselves unable to enforce even the most watered down carbon reduction schemes.
There are clearly many differences between our society today and Germany in the 1930s, but some similarities bear comparison. Unlike the Germans, we have the benefit of history.
In the 1930s, many middle-class Germans were dedicated conservationists with regional hiking clubs boasting thousands of local members. The National Socialists didn't just turn Germany into a fascist state over night: they gradually and legally seized power over a period of years. The outcome was not inevitable. As Thomas Lekan notes in his study of environmentalism in the Rhineland region, Imagining the Nation in Nature, it was important to win over the nature-loving demographic during the consolidation of power. In 1935 the Nazis made their dreams come true by passing the national Reich Nature Protection Law and making Germany the most progressive among industrialized nations in regard to landscape planning and conservation, according to Charles Closmann's essay in How Green Were the Nazis?
What does this have to do with us in the United States right now, you ask?
While researching FBI surveillance of environmental groups today, I came across this passage in a December 2005 New York Times Article:
'One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a ''Vegan Community Project.'' Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's ''semi-communistic ideology.'' A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.'
While llama fur has never put me in Big Brother's sights, the notion of attracting attention due to "semi-communistic ideology" gave me pause. I noted yesterday how this type of surveillance can start with a germ of misperception and spiral out of control, and, well, naive about the draconian period of U.S. history we were entering, I may have inadvertently branded myself a Communist. A Red. A Bathroom Bolshevik Breeder.
What would it be like to be on the other side of such a wild goose chase? Are these the sort of intelligence expenditures that will shield us from people who actually want to harm us?
"At times [The FBI's] intelligence activities have have been reactive, responding to illegal or politically extreme actions or rhetoric, but more often agents have monitored targets for their perceived potential to engage in such dissident activity. In this way, the Bureau has fashioned a mission that stresses agents' ability to anticipate future threats, often indiscriminately targeting suspects for their ostensible hidden activities. From the FBI's perspective, certain political groupings - including "anarchists," "communists," and "terrorists" - are subversive and are therefore legitimate intelligence targets, even in the absence of visible challenges to the state, precisely because they represent a broader, invisible conspiracy. The logic of conspiracy is insidious and self-reinforcing: the continued investigation of targets is justified whether or not agents uncover evidence of actual insurrectionary activities, as a lack of such evidence merely signals a deeper conspiracy that an be exposed only through still more intensive investigation" (pgs. 8-9).
~~ There's Something Happening Here