Sunday, March 6, 2016

Just Like Them!

It is fascinating – not necessarily in a good way – to watch the change in American values over the years in reaction to external threats and internal demographic shifts.After World War II, the victorious allies (most definitely under a U.S. prosecution) tried, convicted, and in some cases, executed Japanese soldiers for war crimes that included charges of waterboarding.
Today, despite the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified by the U.S. in 1994), the acknowledgment of the Obama administration and the global consensus that waterboarding is in fact torture, the reinstatement of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, is part and parcel of more than one GOP candidate’s platform, including that of front-runner Donald Trump. Even as GOP stalwarts, like Senator John McCain (himself once a prisoner of war), believe that our justifying such techniques against our enemies is a tacit acceptance of our enemies’ use of such methods against our own captured troops.  
The Edward Snowden revelations, consternations to our intelligence and justice agencies, tell us how pervasive government actions, against not just our enemies but allies and our own unaccused citizens, have invaded the nooks and crannies of our private lives in the name of stopping terrorism. Secret intelligence courts and rogue bureaucrats pushing beyond the legal envelope had gathered so much private data that such activities even shocked the conscience (assuming they had one) of Congressional conservatives and liberals alike. Today, fearful citizens cannot understand why Apple is resisting an FBI probe, backed up with an order from a federal magistrate, to hack into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters for relevant data. They are even more stunned at Apple’s intention to render its next iPhone 7 unhackable, knowing that both criminals and terrorists will be using these communications systems to plot and scheme.
But given the proclivity of these same criminals and terrorists to hack personal data from vulnerable systems (and creating back doors and enabling hackability makes any device generally vulnerable no matter who has the officially authorized key), who use that information to their illicit economic and violent advantage, are we really benefitting “America” by opening up our personal information to third parties, even if we think we are only enabling “good guy” government investigators? Are we stronger or weaker as a result?
Looking at recent polling results (post-GOP South Carolina primary polling by Public Policy Polling), we can see a rising belief targeting those with contrary religious beliefs and non-standard lifestyles with exclusionary legislation. “Data [shows a] third of Mr. Trump’s backers in South Carolina support barring gays and lesbians from entering the country. This is nearly twice the support for this idea (17 percent) among Ted Cruz’s and Marco Rubio’s voters and nearly five times the support of John Kasich’s and Ben Carson’s supporters (7 percent).” New York Times, February 23rd. 74% of Trump supporters there also believed in the ban on allowing any Muslims to travel into the U.S.
“70 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters in South Carolina wish the Confederate battle flag were still flying on their statehouse grounds. (It was removed last summer less than a month after a mass shooting at a black church in Charleston.) The polling firm says that 38 percent of them wish the South had won the Civil War. Only a quarter of Mr. Rubio’s supporters share that wish, and even fewer of Mr. Kasich’s and Mr. Carson’s do.
“Nationally, the YouGov data show a similar trend: Nearly 20 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters disagreed with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Southern states during the Civil War. Only 5 percent of Mr. Rubio’s voters share this view.” NY Times. Really? Slavery is a good thing today? Wow! ISIS also believes in slavery.
We also see an increasing number of Americans, particularly in the Evangelical community, who want a Constitutional amendment to make our laws subservient to the Bible (both the New and Old Testaments), a rather clear repeal of one of the most important provisions of the Bill of Rights. ISIS also believes in the subservience of their legal system to their view of their holy book, the Qur’an.
These migration to exclusionary policies are also raging in the European Union as right wing forces are beginning to force consideration of open travel and no internal boundaries within member states. The U.K. has renegotiated a looser affiliation with the E.U. as a condition to remaining in the E.U.
Free speech is increasingly a casualty in regional reactions to rising terrorist threats. “A puppet show at an open square in Madrid during Carnival festivities this month featured a policeman who tried to entrap a witch. The puppet officer held up a little sign to falsely accuse her, using a play on words that combined Al Qaeda and ETA, the Basque separatist group.
“Angry parents complained, and the real police stepped in. They arrested two puppeteers, who could now face as much as seven years in prison on charges of glorifying terrorism and promoting hatred… Paradoxically, the puppeteers say in their defense, the police proved their point: that Spain’s antiterrorism laws are being misapplied, used for witch hunts.
“Far from an isolated episode, the arrests on Feb. 5 are part of a lengthening string of prosecutions, including two against a rap musician and a poet, that have fueled a debate over whether freedom of protest and speech are under threat in Spain and elsewhere in Europe because of fears of terrorism.
“Some European countries, with painful historical chapters of fascism and leftist extremism, have long placed stricter limits on political and hate speech than has the United States. For instance, denying the Holocaust can be prosecuted in Germany as well as France
“The widening application of antiterrorism laws related to speech extends beyond Spain, however, as countries across Europe struggle to balance civil liberties and security in the aftermath of two major terrorist attacks in Paris last year.”
“Even before those attacks, in November 2014, France reinforced a law similar to that in Spain, which punishes statements praising or inciting terrorism, as worries increased about homegrown radicalization and the influence of extremist groups online… French lawmakers toughened the penalties — to up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of 75,000 euros (about $82,000), or up to seven years and a $110,000 fine if the statements were made online.” NY Times.
And now, here in the United States as well, we are seeing a growing movement among government employees – notably local police officers – who believe that they have a right to pick and choose which speakers and performers they will or will not protect based on their political positions.
“Beyoncé and her dancers at the Super Bowl dressed in tribute to the Black Panther Party, known for its confrontations with police. As a result, some law enforcement officials say the mega star is out of line… ‘We're not going to put up with her anti-police message," Javier Ortiz with the Miami Fraternal Order of Police said… In parts of Beyoncé's new music video, a young black boy puts his hands up in front of police. The words, ‘stop shooting us’ appear in graffiti…
“Now some police union heads are calling on officers to refuse to work Beyoncé's concerts for her upcoming world tour -- which is sold out in 16 cities… The president of Nashville's Fraternal Order of Police said: ‘We ask officers to refuse to support the efforts of artists who promote a false narrative of law enforcement attacks on black citizens.’”, February 21st.
In the end, looking at the macro-trends, we are seeing a rather rapid growth of significant political groups circling their wagons, embracing exclusionary policies based on personal freedoms and choices, even at the expense of their own nations’ form of government. The parallels to the enemies they seek protection against are scary. To protect ourselves against “them,” we are increasingly willing to adopt policies and practices that make us look increasingly like them. Is there a limit?
I’m Peter Dekom, and until we embrace the protections and freedoms that made us great, we are going to unravel our underlying defining characters and begin to look more like those we oppose than the free and open America we once were.

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