Monday, December 19, 2005

The Future is Now

Back in 2003, John Ashcroft dismissed criticism of Patriot Act provisions that would allow the FBI to search, among other things, library records of ordinary citizens. In fact, Ashcroft called such criticism, "hysteria." Despite strong opposition to the provisions by the American Library Association and that a federal court had condemned Ashcroft's Justice Department for their abuse of the law, he deprecated complaints, saying:
Now, you may have thought with all this hysteria and hyperbole, something had to be wrong. Do we at the Justice Department really care what you are reading? No.
Wrong. In contrast to Justice Department claims that they had never used the Patriot Act to secretly request library records, the ALA reported that, in fact, at least 545 libraries had received such requests or had been directly visited by federal or local authorities. Whether these were fishing expeditions was uncertain at the time but the leading House critic, Rep. Bernies Sanders (I-Vt), presciently warned us all in September of 2003,
The bottom line is not so much what may or may not have been done in the past, but what might be done in the future.
Well, that future is now.
A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library's interlibrary loan program.

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request, leaving his name, address, phone number and Social Security number. He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.
The words of de Maistre are ringing in my head right now:
Nations get the governments they deserve.
De Maistre meant it in an entirely different context, of course, and his firm belief in authoritarian conservatism and rejection the French Revolution might have even led to him conclude that the Bush administration is perfectly justified in doing what they're doing. But that doesn't mean we believe that and it doesn't make his pronouncement any less applicable to this nation of idling, consolate masses or the band of Orwellian good fellas currently seated in the White House.

The corollary to de Maestre's statement might be along these lines: if you're asleep at the wheel, someone will grab it and point you in a direction you don't want to go. You may be asleep for any number of reasons, but the point is that your attention has been misdirected and not focused on the task at hand. You might put up some initial, faint-hearted, bleary-eyed resistance, but the wheel-grabber works to calm you down. All the while they will be telling you to relax because "they know where they're going." Please sit back and enjoy the ride.

During the trip that has now been wrested from your control, they will be calming you with words like, "security," "protect," and "safety," and telling you that they're steering you away from bad things you have bumped into on the road before; things like "terrorists," "evil-doers," and " freedom haters." They will appear to be very strong, confident and determined. This will assure you, or at least part of you, that maybe they are right.

While they are doing this, they will be stepping on the accelerator and pointing the vehicle straight toward a very big cliff. Though your indolence prevented you from noticing before, you will suddenly become aware of the fact that your hands and feet have been bound, your mouth gagged.

[via All Spin Zone]


Blogger John McAdams said...

There is plenty of reason to doubt that this story is in fact true.

Apparently Bogus: Homeland Security Visited Student Who Ordered Mao’s “Little Red Book”

10:47 PM  
Blogger theBhc said...

Hi John,

[I am also posting this comment on my site, in response to your headsup]

Thanks for the link to the debate. And certainly, it could be bogus, though the reporter seems insistent on following it up by trying to get the student involved. It will be interesting to see which way this shakes out.

However, there isn't much in your argument that I find terribly compelling. Relying on the official denials of spokespeople from the DHS is hardly a reliable source, as far as I concerned. One passage you cite of DHS spokeperson, Jamie Zuieback, leaves me especially unconvinced,

'She insists that the agency is concerned with “violations of the law” and not with peoples’ “reading habits.”'

Hmm. Now that is a interesting and familiar claim and it echoes exactly what Ashcroft said, as I pointed out in the original post.

We've had to many, many examples executive spokespeople deny things they later had to admit. The Pentagon, especially, has been backpedaling furiously on any number of stories that have come out recently. The White House constantly insisted, until they couldn't, that certain people were not involved in the Plame episode. Frankly, my ability to believe a damn word that comes out of the mouth of any government agency spokesperson is about as weak as it could right now.

Considering the current situation (and I refer you this item, ) I am far more skeptical of government denials of such activity than I am that such activity has actually taken place.

11:15 AM  

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