Monday, August 30, 2010


There is another issue that is garnering an unusual amount of Comment: the existence of America’s Surveillance State.

What caught my eye was attorney Glenn Greenwald’s piece on the Salon online magazine site: you can access it here, and follow that page down to Greenwald’s entry for Thursday, August 26th, entitled “Debating America’s Surveillance State”.

This piece quickly drew two lengthy rebuttals from attorneys or law school deans, one of whom is a close associate of John Yoo (the ‘torture lawyer’ of the Bush administration). Those responses are linked-to in the Greenwald piece.

There have been so many comments on the Cato website (where it was first published) that its server has been overloaded for a while.

And even on the Salon site there are almost 300 Comments/Letters, which is high indeed for that site.

I am bringing this up to the SO community because: A) ‘surveillance’ is nothing new to SOs; B) nobody that I’ve seen so far has drawn a connection between the SO Mania regime of the past 20 years, and instead seem to think that this all started after 9-11 only nine years ago; and C) I think it’s vital that the SO community realizes just how this dangerous surveillance dynamic has now migrated into much larger national issues where it is creating visible (to the average engaged Citizen) problems AND – encouragingly – generating significant pushback in the Comments/Letters … the SO task is now clearly intertwined with much larger, more ‘discussable’, but also vitally important and dangerously mutating public matters.

In this Post I am going to make just a few comments on the Greenwald piece itself, and then just a couple of points gleaned from the Comments/Letters that follow the article. I am not going to go into the two lengthy responses, which you can read by following the links in Greenwald’s article, reading them – I would recommend – from an SO community perspective. The demon Greenwald and many of the Commenters suddenly find themselves confronting is the demon the SO community has been battling for decades now.

So to Greenwald.

The topic problem is that surveillance supporters are using America’s present and alleged “state of war” as pretext and justification for increased surveillance.

First, the ‘surveillance State’ is based on fear-mongering. And the SO community knows that; one of the hallmarks of the SO Mania regime has been its creation of the ‘Sex Offender’, an almost script-like vampiric or zombie monster(and almost always a male) from central casting: a weird and depraved stranger, driven by perverse and violent and uncontrollable lusts and urges, incapable of rehabilitation or self-control or self-mastery, capable of the most sublime and calculating subtlety and/or the most repulsive and hideous violence, hiding behind the goodwill and civic openness and Constitutional protections to wreak his wrack upon unsuspecting families and children (the ‘women’ part shrewdly downplayed for fear of driving away ‘allies’ on the Right who are averse to ‘feminist stuff’).

Second, the definition of “war” in the surveillance State is elastic. We need the surveillance, its supporters argue, simply because the country is “at war” (note that there is no mention of the sex-offense pre-history of ‘surveillance’). But there is huge and valid question as to whether whatever state of military operations We are currently in can actually be defined as “war” in the Constitutional sense.

The Constitution simply requires a Congressional declaration of war – forthright and so simple that it can legitimately be only one sentence long.

But the SO community knows the definition-demon: elastic, expansive, vague, increasing the size of its grip by sacrificing any solid Shape of Definition, it oozes in ever-widening pools to infect and ensnare more and more persons. ‘Molesting’, ‘abuse’, and even such seemingly clear sub-terms as ‘battering’ and ‘rape’ are softened into toxic mush, the better to spread them like rancid butter.

And who can forget the always-queasy but increasingly tenuous distinction between ‘regulatory’ and ‘punitive’ legislation?

And with the problem of Definition goes the problem of Duration: if this is a ‘war’, then how can it be so if – as even Obama says – there will be no surrender ceremony to certify its ending, and the country will most likely be waging it one year, five years, ten years from now.

And yet a state or permanent or semi-permanent ‘war’ is precisely the graveyard of democracies. AND it was precisely what the Framers sought to avoid: some sort of Genghis-Khan-like ‘war state’, or Rome towards the end when its overwhelming military commitments turned the Citizenry into merely a troglodyte life-support system for the legions (and the imperial court).

But the Framers have been ‘overtaken by events’ and by ‘progress’ and they and their vision and maybe even their Constitution are “quaint” and unequal to the present challenges and perhaps the Constitution really serves merely as an ‘obstruction’ to the progress now urgently demanded by the ‘emergency’.

The SO community has heard all of this before. This is exactly the web of excuses deployed in the service of the Sex-Offense Emergency 20 years ago (and the Domestic Violence Emergency just before that). And all this crapulence was given benefit-of-government through enshrinement in grossly inaccurate legislative Findings and the Opinions and Decisions of courts high and low.

Third, there is the ominous reality – now – of Obama’s (!) proposed “preventive detention” for persons who ‘cannot be brought to court’ but ‘are still too dangerous to be allowed to be at liberty’. Surely the SO community has been struggling with this demon since ‘civil confinement’ raised its queasy, sleazy head over a dozen years ago.

Fourth there is the “hyperbolic enemy”, an ‘enemy’ so exaggerated by the official and sensationalist-media ‘spin’ that it appears to be a ‘natural’ predator of almost supernatural abilities and ‘evil’. There is supposed to be facing Us an enemy as dangerous and potentially capable as the Axis combination of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany at the height of their powers and as omnivorous in their evil objectives (‘world domination’) – a characterization of Imperial Japanese and Nazi war aims that was inaccurate even back in the days of the Good War.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that such an ‘enemy’ automatically makes those who oppose it ‘Good’. And who doesn’t like to play that role in Life’s and History’s script? In a society where ‘feeling good about yourself’ is supposed to be the ultimate salvation; in a culture where such a condition is now presumed to be a ‘status’ and not an ‘achievement’ of personal excellence and civic participation; and in an economy where significant material ‘success’ is no longer on the table for most folks … well, every little bit of ‘feeling good about yourself’ helps, doesn’t it? Especially if such a status doesn’t require any heavy-lifting (maturity, say) but rather merely requires that you declare yourself or consider yourself ‘against’ the ‘enemy’.

And in a country where being ‘for the children’ simply requires being ‘against’ ‘sex offenders’ (broadly defined) then far too many people can consider their civic responsibilities well-discharged if they merely go along with whatever new sex-offense legislation and ‘regulation’ is pushed their way by legislators who can’t seem to muster the chops to craft genuinely responsible and competent legislation.

Fifth, increasingly intrusive government oversight. While there seem to be no large sex-offender laws coming along at this point, there remain ant-hills of ‘local’ ordinances as well as occasional stabs at ‘international’ regulation. Although, happily, increasing numbers of originally SORNA-supportive folks – women even more than men, from the sound of the reports – are coming to realize just how many ‘regulations’ and how much ‘surveillance’ is wrapped into the life of any ‘sex offender’, and how much this, that, or another legislator or local government type would like to add on.

Sixth, Greenwald notes what he calls a “severe bar-lowering” in all of this. The bar of legislative integrity and the careful use of language and concepts is being lowered, and has been – the SO community knows – for 20 and more years. Was it Orwell who observed that the decline in the integrity of using language signals a culture and polity in decline?

And of course, in a nice double-entendre, the Bar itself is being lowered: attorneys – whether prosecutors or jurists or legislators with law degrees – are continually being corrupted, or more specifically corroded, by daily participation in such queasy and essentially rotted and unprincipled laws and procedures.

A couple of the many, many points raised in the Comments/Letters about this piece of Greenwald’s also strike me. (And reading all of them or a hefty sampling of them is a heartening and encouraging experience – though sex-offense sites don’t get this much comment-participation, it’s good to see just how much concern will reveal itself if given a chance.)

First, there is the pretext and justification of some British woman who was caught by a public surveillance camera stuffing a cat into a dumpster. THIS is supposed to be a justification for ‘the surveillance State’ (which the Brits, without a written Constitution, have had imposed upon them to a far greater degree than the Americans). I suppose the surveillance-supporters would have preferred having somebody (God forbid) stuff a child into a dumpster, but they had to go with what they had.

Second, one Commenter observes that the Surveillance State “is already a done deal” and goes on knowledgeably about that. But he doesn’t make any reference at all to the SO Mania regime.

Third, a Commenter wishes for a Wikileaks trove that might shed even more light on all of this. I can’t help wishing for a Wikileaks trove in the matter of SO Mania legislation. But of course, from the get-go, these Mania regime laws were shepherded (stove-piped is more like it) through the legislative deliberation process in such a way as to i) discourage any deliberation (there was so much to be skeptical about) and ii) prevent any legislator from having to have his/her support (and responsibility for that support) be on the record – where they might be held accountable if things went wrong, as they have. Short-circuiting committee-deliberation, forcing discussions on the floor, voice-votes (anonymous by their nature) … all these little legislative tricks and more were deployed to get these things passed by legislators who, apparently, had more reservations than We were led to believe.

Fourth, the surveillance State supporters are seen to be claiming that it’s OK to introduce all of this surveillance since America has such a strong civil-rights tradition that it won’t matter. BUT of course this is like saying that it’s OK to run Titanic into a berg-field since she is unsinkable anyway and no harm can come of it.

And of course, Our responsibility – as is the responsibility of every generation of Americans – is not simply to HAVE a democracy, but to KEEP it – which is a lot more work than many folks care to imagine. (Ben Franklin saw all this at the outset.)

And you don’t keep a democracy by figuring that you can do any amount of undemocratic stuff to it since, being a democracy, it can’t be changed into anything un-democratic. That’s childish mental processing from hell.

And thanks to decades of the SO Mania Regime (with the Domestic Violence regime and the Satanic Ritual Child Day Care Abuse Trials pushing things back to the early 1980s) this country does NOT any longer have so strong a Constitutional ethos as it once had. And from what I can see of what they’ve been teaching in the law schools, the recent and future graduates are not going to be deeply competent in preserving or restoring it either.

Fifth, the “war” imagery – as Greenwald also noted in the text of his article – is a huge warning sign with a long history that should leave no doubt as to what is happening. But again, no Commenter notices that the country has been “at war” against sex-offenses for decades; nor that the Mania regime is a complex and multi-rooted infestation that was put in place with the government’s vigorous connivance.

Sixth, and most telling of all, is that surveillance-State presumes THAT ALL AMERICANS ARE POTENTIAL ENEMIES OF ‘AMERICA’, which is – if I may allow myself the word – shocking. But isn’t this precisely the dynamic of the SO Mania: that just about anybody (male, anyway) can be and probably is a ‘sex offender’? The earliest formulations had it that ‘all sex is rape and ergo all men are rapists’ (except, I suppose for the males who don’t have sex, who are either lying or weird anyway).

Once again, a classic trope of the Sex Offense Mania now migrates to a larger arena of national affairs, creating an even wider swath of civic destruction, corrosion, corruption, and decline.

But I take heart from the number of persons who are motivated to speak up and speak out, and it leads me to think that there is still time and grounds for hope.

The SO community now possesses an expertise and familiarity gleaned over long decades of struggle against the infestation of anti-Constitutionality.

I think there are many more Citizens now who might be able to understand just what the struggle has been all about. And still is.


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