[That’s right: one final digression before I conclude my series on identity politics...]
“National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney… believes domestic surveillance has become more expansive under President Obama than President George W. Bush. He estimates the NSA has assembled 20 trillion ‘transactions’ — phone calls, emails and other forms of data — from Americans. This likely includes copies of almost all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States.”
– from the April 20, 2012 edition of Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow!
“And we uncovered widespread surveillance of different, you know, peace and justice groups, environmental groups, all kinds of different groups. And that, in turn, started an inspector general investigation that was just released in September of 2010 that showed that the FBI was opening these investigations with what they called factually weak predicates, sometimes even speculative predicates. So it wasn’t that they thought that the groups were involved in any criminal activity now, but just that it was a possibility in the future they might be… And that was the sole criteria that the FBI was using to open preliminary inquiries… those investigations remained open for years, with no evidence of wrongdoing… the victims of these investigations would be put on terrorist watch lists.”
– Mike German, former FBI agent, National Security Policy Counsel for the ACLU (from the June 14, 2011 broadcast of Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow!)
[The point of opening with the previous two excerpts from Ms. Goodman’s excellent news program will be evident shortly, so please bear with me as I begin by sharing a little personal information.]
…However seriously I may seem to take myself on these pages, in my personal life I have generally tried to add humor to most settings (when appropriate, I mean). I’m nearly always a hit with the kids, and usually the adults, too. In short, I think I’m funny. When someone remarks to me that “great minds think alike,” I sometimes respond, “ours, too!” I’ve a taste — and an occasional knack — for puns, irony, sarcasm, outright silliness, and dry wit. For instance, when I learned that Hemingway’s favorite example of his own work was a “six-word novel,” I came up with a six-worder of my own, funny (I thought), and eloquent of our times: Privately, each lemming had contemplated revolt.
Those who know me best know that I like to riff, mug, tell stories, affect voices, and even invent songs (in addition to concocting a jazzy beat every now and again, I’ve been making up song lyrics since I was a kid — also something I did at the CODE PINK house in Washington, D.C., a few years back, to help those outstanding advocates for peace try to affect change from the nation’s capital).
But so far as the riffing and singing, such diverting silliness has buoyed me even during moments of solitude (on road trips, for instance) or when my only companion is my Siamese cat, who loves the patter, especially when he’s being sung to.
SO this morning, after some reading, I’m blathering some nonsense to my cat, who has decided to join me in the kitchen — and RACE is kicking around in my subconscious. Before going to bed the previous night, I’d watched a few clips of political comedy, including an SNL excerpt featuring a fairly racist impression of Rev. Al Sharpton — grossly exaggerating his inarticulateness and lack of expertise (just the latest example of the MSM’s crude caricature of Sharpton, which denies his frequent eloquence and informed views). An enormous, simultaneously solicitous and supercilious mound of tan-and-black fluff at my feet, I was about to let fly with my mocking impersonation of the SNL impersonation of the good Reverend (and get that stupid, bored look off my cat’s face), when it occurred to me that my cell phone’s microphone could be recording me…
Sure, the odds were probably against it, but…
(Okay, I don’t like feeling paranoid any more than the next person, but I did spend nearly half a year at the CODE PINK house in D.C. and I’ve been a political activist/artist since the late 1990s, in and out of the U.S. — currently supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement, regularly attending meetings and rallies in my state. I even helped shut down the Oakland port, which is just the type of civil disobedience that’s currently being redefined in Washington as “terrorism.” What I’m trying to say is that it is actually reasonable for me to suspect that my “government file” has a few more red flags on it than the average Joe’s, and it’s a lot more likely that the NSA and friends have more of an interest in me than, say, my apolitical neighbor, the exterminator.)
So it is POSSIBLE, at least, that my cell phone’s microphone was being used by the federal government to spy on me this morning… possible (especially considering how goddamn entertaining I am — how can those NSA and FBI chair-sitters resist the James Show?). That being the case, when the “paranoid” thought occurred, I had to ask myself: Do I want the FBI or NSA or whomever to have a recording of me sounding like some ignorant white jerk mocking an African-American icon?
No, I did not. Instead, I just shut right up… in my own home… attended only by my cat.
And that’s the reality of living in a surveillance state: a grown man watching what he says and does in the privacy of his home, because he fears his government and knows that the corporations that run his government have been drafting — and passing — laws that equate lawful dissent with terrorism …and if he ever begins to take on the aspect of a thorn in the establishment’s side, that establishment will use anything that appears handy to try to discredit him; that is, after all, their modus operandi — just ask legendary Pentagon whistleblower (re: Vietnam lies) Daniel Ellsberg, CIA whistleblower (re: torture) John Kiriakou, NSA whistleblower (re: nearly a billion dollars in graft and systematic, mass violations of the Fourth Amendment) Thomas Drake, Academy Award-nominated, U.S. government-persecuted American filmmaker Laura Poitras, or truth-revealing WikiLeaks, to name but a few.
The truth is there’s no longer any denying that our government (Bush through Obama) singles out peace activists, journalists, Muslims, environmentalists, and others for blanket surveillance, infiltration, and even entrapment — even when the individuals being surveilled have given no reasonable cause to suspect them of illegal activity. Consider the power nexus that has been exposed in the British government’s and Scotland Yard’s collaboration over the last decade with corporate media-giant NewsCorp, hacking into the private records of news subjects and political enemies alike — Rupert Murdoch’s ideology and agenda, fused with the powers that be in England, America, and beyond…
Now that, my friends, is FASCISM.
* * *
NOW let’s talk about the other kind of “fascism” (the pretend kind). What was I afraid of when I stifled my improvisational self in my own home? The possibility that someone could potentially use a recording of me taken out of context in an effort to make me appear to be something I’m not (granted, it’s not likely that anyone’s too terribly interested in my activities today, as I’m hardly the most prominent activist on the scene… but one day I might appear on the establishment’s radar — and on that day, if past is precedent, their gloves will come off).
Folks on the right, however, would say I was afraid of “the true fascism:” the “Political Correctness (PC) Police.” The right — including plenty of people who consider themselves “liberal” or mainstream — often rebels against the notion that African-Americans can use the “n-word” when whites cannot, or that they can’t call women “dames” or “skirts” anymore. These social reactionaries see “oppression” in an evolved cultural sensitivity toward the victims of America’s history of actual oppression (new social awareness and mores that discourage their “jokes” and pithy commentaries, their “wisdom” based on stereotypes and ignorance).
Not that the right hasn’t tried to wield this “oppressive” correctness to achieve its ends… Last year, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart had to defend himself against (trumped-up) accusations coming from right-wingers trying to paint him as a racist, because he sometimes tried to capture the tone and cadence of the risible GOP candidate Herman Cain. Stewart’s montage of himself affecting every accent under the sun (an equal-opportunity satirist) provided a convincing enough rebuttal and that was that: a phony tempest dissipated in a tiny teapot…
But now we come to the point where we have to address that this problem (knee-jerk insensitivity/jealous defense of bigoted notions and practices) goes considerably further than the FOX News/Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck crowd… because it isn’t limited to black/white politics or America’s borders.
Many Americans (I hope not most) have apparently made themselves comfortable with the revolting term “Islamofascism.” Many apparently see “fascism” in Muslims’ sensitivity to the West’s unending plunder and desecration of their lands, people, culture, and religious traditions. Why can’t we draw Mohammed? these Americans naively demand, sincerely confused. What’s the big deal about a few smoldering or urinated-upon Korans? Why can’t we constantly depict Muslims as irrational, fanatical, barbaric, misogynist, and subhuman in our cultural, pop-cultural, and political realms? What’s the big deal?
But the answer is simple, and it relates to the same reasons we CAN’T (or some of us choose not to) dress up in black face or use the “n-word” in 21st-century America: Because it demonstrates an extraordinary insensitivity to an ongoing legacy of great historical wrongs, genocidal conduct (also ongoing), and systematic cruelty (the real fascist agenda, the .1%’s agenda, to the detriment of the whole world and freedom everywhere, near as I can tell).
And, no, there’s nothing funny about it…