Friday, July 5, 2013

"And the Rockets Red Glare..."

Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD flies a replica of the Star Spangled Banner
We went out to Ft McHenry -- about ten years ago -- on what may have been our last visit to Baltimore, in fact on what was probably our last day there on our last visit.

What I remember was how damned hot it was, blazing hot, and the humidity was high as well. It was in September, too. Despite spending several Septembers in Florida -- where the weather seems to be pretty damned hot and wet pretty much all the time -- I had never experienced heat and humidity like that at Ft. McHenry before and I'd really rather not do so again. This from someone who lived in California's Central Valley for decades. Summertime temperatures in the Valley are often over 100 and can on occasion be over 110 -- up to, say, 115 or so. Not pleasant, to be sure, but survivable because "it's a dry heat." Well, usually. Sometimes it's not...

I understand that at the "Restore the 4th" gathering at the State Capitol in Sacramento yesterday, the temperature was 109. Hot, hot, hot. Those kinds of summer temperatures are normal in Sacramento; it's not due to global warming. The irony is that the lingering rains and actually cooler temperatures in the Valley are more symptomatic of global warming there, whereas here in the East Mountains of New Mexico, it's the heat and drought.

But we've had rain here every day since June 30, apparently the Monsoon is coming in right on schedule. Actually, the weather people say this daily rainfall is not the Monsoon, because the storms are mostly coming from the north and east, and the Monsoon comes up from the west and south and the Gulf of Mexico. So the rains we've been having on a Monsoon schedule are considered anomalous because there is so little moisture coming up from the south or crossing over from the west. Bad as the drought has been here, I understand it has been worse in Mexico proper. I can only imagine.

What I saw of the "Restore the 4th" rallies showed somewhat muted and sparse crowds that weren't really crowds at all. They were hand fulls. A dozen or so in Albuquerque, a few hundred max in some other places, a few scattered 4th Amendment Supporters here and there; that leads me to believe there may have been no more than a few thousand demonstrators in all the land yesterday. How disappointing.

Well, what can I say. We ourselves went out to the Route 66 Casino and had us some fun. We came back through Albuquerque as the multiple fireworks displays were under way -- which made for quite a spectacle given the lightning that was flashing over the mountains. It was really quite a show, and as we crossed over the mountains ourselves, the rain came down in buckets. Day before, there had been much hail, so much that it looked like a heavy snowfall in places like Santa Rosa, and Meadowlake out in Valencia County was mostly flooded. The folks there raised quite a stink when the county told them they'd get no help till after the holiday. Priorities!

The 4th Amendment has never been all that operative when you think about it. If one is a member of a targeted Out Group, the 4th barely applies, and then only under certain tightly confined circumstances. No knock and blanket warrants are common, no warrants in emergencies (ever more broadly defined) is not unusual, and warrantless digital searches have always been part of -- indeed, features of -- the intertubes. Given the way the 4th has been ignored or sidestepped routinely over the past few centuries, and especially how it was all but voided during the conquest of the continent, the various labor uprisings and Red Scares, and more recently the Existential Terror Threats, it seems to me that getting all worked up over it now is a day late and a dollar short.

What is anyone going to do about it?

This is where the hysteria over NSA spying is strikingly dissonant, at least in my view. There have long been big problems with it in part because it is mostly being done by corporate partners like Booz Allen Hamilton, for which Young Snowden worked at the last. (I'd be careful making too much of that, though, because it looks like much of the documentation he collected and gave to the Guardian and possibly others was acquired in 2009 and 2010 rather than recently, which leads to a whole other set of questions about it -- and him.)  But ultimately the NSA portion of the Domestic Surveillance Apparat is that of the aggregator, not so much the instigator, and because it is "above the fray" if you will, the attacks on the NSA for violating the 4th Amendment strike me as jejune. Yes, they are violating it, but so what? What are they doing with their accumulated data? Nobody really knows, do they? Has any of it been used to persecute Americans or "US persons"? Again, nobody knows. Has the NSA been engaging in this persecution -- if it has happened at all -- on its own account? If anybody can testify, please, come forth.

What about the daily violations of the 4th by the FBI, and local and state police forces? Do those suddenly not matter because the NSA has a vast data collection and storage capacity? Because the NSA is in violation of the 4th Amendment, we should forget about all the rest?

That's the message the hysteria communicates, whether or not that's the intent of those undertaking the revelations.

Didn't we fight a revolution in order to secure these rights? No, actually we didn't. The concept of the Bill of Rights comes from an earlier era, and from a prior "revolution" in Britain, the so-called Glorious Revolution that deposed the Stuart monarch James II, and put in on the English throne his daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange. As part of the deal made with them by the insurgents, they were required to accede to the Declaration of Right of 1688 and English Bill of Rights of 1689, which they did. Bless their hearts. Most of the provisions of the English Bill of Rights were already a part of civil and criminal law in the English Colonies that revolted from the Crown c. 1776, and they continued to be part of the post-colonial legal framework of the now independent states. The United States Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, became an issue rather later, when a national government under the Constitution was instituted c. 1789, due to the perceived necessity to control the power of the new government just as the power of the Crown had been partially controlled previously. The American Revolution was not fought to secure these rights, for they were already as secured to American subjects as to the British, though it was often in the breach rather than in practice -- due to exigent circumstances, dontchaknow.

"Exigent circumstances...." Well, here we are again, n'est pas? Come to think of it, have Our Rulers ever not been operating under "exigent circumstances?"

But, but, but, but, surely we don't want the NSA spying on us innocent Americans, just as we don't want the TSA fondling our junk as it were. We must put a stop to it!!!! Well, I won't fly any more if I can avoid it, partly because of the invasive and officious behavior of the TSA. I de-Facebooked and de-Twitted partly because of the utter lack of privacy they entail though it had more to do with their utter time-wasting and hyper-marketing, but that's another issue.

Of course I still use Blogger and Hotmail. And I've never been much for heavy-duty encryption, or any of the other means of dancing around and sidestepping the Surveillance State. For a time, I even had a Carbonite account! OMG! As I see it, you can't really live in the Modern World and avoid all forms of surveillance, given the multitude of ways the private sector tracks your every move and the myriad ways the private sector shares and sells that information to the Perfidious Government. Unless you choose to live as a hermit in the wilderness, you're not going to escape it -- and even then, you probably won't as there are many means most of us don't even think about to keep track of and surveille hermits in the wilderness.

The NSA hysteria is in my view a sideshow and distraction from the very real issues involving day-to-day surveillance by the private sector on behalf of government or on their own account,  and the increasing levels of economic injustice that pervade our Land of the Formerly Free and Home of the Constantly Fearful. In my view, those who are most vocal about the NSA and its data capture and storage don't care in the least about the kinds of invasive ground-level surveillance most of us are subjected to from the private sector and they tend to ignore or actually support the economic injustice that has been eviscerating the middle classes and crushing the poor in this country for years.

This story will be told one day. And when it is, may we come to realize just how badly we've been had...

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