Americans suffer from the so-called âtyranny of choice” every time they step out the door and enter a market place. Doesn’t seem to affect them. And yet, somehow, when presidential primaries have more than one or two candidates, the pundit class pretends like it’s a national crisis. They must drop out! Too many choices!
According to federal government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, federal and local law enforcement agencies are using incredibly sneaky technology to track you as you drive the nation’s streets and highways. Their goal? Stealing your car.
This latest scandal — a mash-up of privacy violations on a wide NSA-like scale, corrupt asset forfeiture programs that make a mockery of the U.S. as a nation that respects private property rights, and brazen targeting of lawful gun owners — is a perfect political storm, an outrage that ought to bring liberals, libertarians and conservatives together in an alliance of freedom-loving people against an out-of-control government.
Given the collective shrug elicited by the Edward Snowden revelations, however, expecting a big reaction may be unrealistic.
In the shell of a nut: the ACLU has learned that the DEA and local police departments are scanning every motorist’s license plate as they drive down American streets. The NYPD and LAPD have each already collected hundreds of millions of time- and place-tagged license plate scans. One private security corporation sells its composite list of 2 billion scans to any police department or government agency that wants it. The Department of Homeland Security is teaming up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to build and maintain a national database of license plate data to be shared with other parts of the U.S. security state apparatus.
Aggregated and analyzed, license plate tracking data forms a sophisticated model of your, and my, and everyone else’s habits, associations, shopping habits, friendships, and other activities. If you visit a porn store, they know — and their algorithms can predict when you’ll go again. But blackmail is not what’s on the cops’ minds…not for now, anyway.
They want your cash.
“Asset forfeiture” programs have become big business for law enforcement. Relying on dubious interpretations of the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, American police agencies are taking in billions of dollars a year from people they arrest. “Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing,” according to The Washington Post.
Total take: $5.3 billion.
If you think they’re confiscating the mounds of coke and machine guns they find in a drug kingpin’s trunk, think again. Pulled over for DUI? They take your car, sell it at auction and pocket the proceeds, or keep it for the cops’ own use. That’s on top of whatever jail time and fine the judge hands you if you get convicted.
Even if you’re found not guilty, they keep your car. And/or your cash. And/or jewelry. Anything valuable. Anything they want.
“No criminal charges are necessary for such seizures, and under federal and state laws, authorities may keep most or all seized assets even in the absence of formal charges. Countless innocent Americans have been victimized by what critics call legalized government theft,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” says the Post. “Police spent the seizure proceeds with little oversight, in some cases buying luxury cars, high-powered weapons and military-grade gear such as armored cars.”
Talk about un-American: these renegade robber-cops are traitors.
Police have been so pleased with the money and other goodies they nab through asset forfeiture programs that they send officers to seminars that teach them how to maximize their take. Some victims have complained, and successfully proven in court, that they were targeted and entrapped by police whose motivation to detain and arrest them was solely to steal their possessions — but it’s expensive and time-consuming.
Among the money-making schemes cooked up by greedy cops was a 2009 plan by the DEA to “work closely” with officials of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) “in attacking the guns going to [redacted by government censors] and the gun shows, to include programs/operation with LPRs [license plate readers] at the gun shows.”
But the DEA and ATF didn’t care about gun violence. “One internal email acknowledged that the tracking program’s primary purpose is civil asset forfeiture,” the Journal reports. They planned to set-up checkpoints around gun shows, search attendees’ cars using the pretext of a traffic stop, and arrest drivers on whatever charge they can come up with — some legit, others ginned up, in some cases no indictment at all — as an excuse to take their money and their cars. Which, even if they beat the rap, the cops get to keep.
Note to self: carry $5 in cash, use a debit card.
The UK Guardian reports: “According to DEA documents, the primary goal of the program was to seize cars, cash and other assets belonging to criminals. However, the [license plate reader] database’s expansion ‘throughout the United States,’ as one email put it, also widened law enforcers’ capacity for asset forfeiture.”
“It’s deeply concerning and creepy,” lawyer Clark Neily of the libertarian Institute for Justice told the newspaper. “We’re Americans. We drive a lot.”
It is also disgusting, cause for the immediate firing of every “law enforcement” official who has overseen an asset forfeiture program, and a perfect illustration of why only an idiot would trust the government.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Identity politics, a writer friend reminds me, is where liberalism goes to die.
The oceans are boiling, freelance journalists’ heads are getting lopped off, and there’s not the slightest sign of resistance to income inequality so out of control it would worry Cornelius Vanderbilt. Yet the Internet’s politically-correct “social justice warriors” are dedicating their formidable energies into attacking pissant trivialities.
Anyone who doubts that online slacktivists have their heads so far up their collective asses that they can’t see daylight need only read up on the controversy over Undercover Colors, which is a nail polish that allows women (or men, but they’re not the target audience) to discreetly discover whether their drink has been spiked by one of several common “date rape” drugs.
(My advice to women: if you’re at a party or with a guy so sketchy that you think you may have been slipped a mickey, don’t bother with the fancy polish. Just scoot. You don’t want to be there anyway.)
Better safe than sorry, right?
“Anything that puts the onus on women to ‘discreetly’ keep from being raped misses the point,” writes Jessica Valenti, a once-influential feminist blogger whose hammer-to-the-skull-obvious post-motherhood columns for The Guardian add to the case for automatically censoring any piece of writing by a parent about their children. “We should be trying to stop rape, not just individually avoid it.”
Valenti is serious about this: “So long as it isn’t me isn’t an effective strategy to end rape. ‘Undercover Colors’ polish and products like it only offer the veneer of equality and safety. And that’s simply not good enough.”
Which is true. And stupid.
Like: wearing shoes isn’t an effective strategy to stop assholes from breaking glass bottles on streets. Since assholes do leave shards of glass all over the place, however, walking barefoot isn’t smart.
Installing a car alarm or using an anti-theft device like The Club is an example of “individual avoidance.” One wishes that it were possible to leave one’s automobile unattended free of fear that someone might steal it. But reality dictates that, if you park in a high-crime neighborhood, you take measures to deter thieves. True, it’s a “so long as it isn’t me” strategy. But what else can you do? We’re not likely to see an effective strategy to eliminate car theft any sooner than “an effective strategy to end rape,” a crime endemic in every culture throughout history.
How removed from the real world are writers like Tara Culp-Resser of Think Progress, who also criticized the entrepreneurs who invented the anti-date-rape polish? “It would likely be more effective to focus on larger efforts to tackle the cultural assumptions at the root of the campus sexual assault crisis,” she wrote. “Like the idea that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk.”
To my horror, I have known men who bragged about having raped inebriated women. (Since their accounts were devoid of details, it would have been pointless to report them to the police.) They didn’t violate women because of “cultural assumptions.” They did it for the same reason that CEO pigs issue themselves huge raises the same day they fire thousands of employees: because they can.
This reminds me of the complaint against liberals who claim to support public education, yet send their kids to private school. If your local public schools are decrepit or dangerous, it’s unconscionable to subject your children to them if you can afford not to. Obviously, we should fight to ban private schools, and for that matter the capitalist system that separates American kids into pre-poor and pre-rich educational systems — but until the revolution is achieved, it’s every man and woman for himself and herself.
Feminist propaganda can’t stop rape. No marches, no poster campaign, no hashtag bullshit. Men will stop raping women when they no longer can.
Neither I, nor the social justice types, know how to achieve that better society. Until someone comes up with that Big Idea, anything women can do to protect themselves — self-defense classes, carrying pepper spray, even a nail polish — is just common sense.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out this week. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: L.A. officials are replacing parking pay stations due to complaints from motorists who struggle to remember their parking space numbers while paying.
Like Their Government, Americans Live on Debt
his State of the Union address President Obama repeated this ancient canard: “We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in,” he said. “That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.”
Republicans have used this “families balance their budgets, so should government” line for years. Now Democrats are doing it too. Everyone is jumping aboard the pseudo-austerity bandwagon. (Why pseudo? Neither party really wants to balance the federal budget because it can only be done by bringing home the troops, shrinking the Pentagon by 90 percent, ending corporate welfare, and soaking the rich—i.e. major campaign donors—with higher taxes.)
The family budget talking point is a fascinating meme that reflects a rarely considered national blind spot. As with other cases of mass denial (we think we’re generous do-gooders around the world, foreigners see us for the crazy mean torturers we also are), we give ourselves more credit than we deserve.
We Americans value thrift and personal responsibility. We believe we should live within our means. These cultural ideals stem from our Puritan history.
But we don’t live up to our ideals. Not even close.
Americans are up to the ears in debt.
Four out of five individuals have at least one credit card. The average family has an outstanding balance of $10,700. It spends 21 percent of its monthly income to pay interest on that balance.
The average American family has assets: It owns a house worth $160,000. But it owes $95,000 to the bank. As the housing market continues to crash, equity shrinks.
Our average family’s savings are virtually nonexistent: $3,800 in the bank, no retirement account whatsoever (for half of families, average retirement savings $35,000 for the other half), no mutual funds, no stocks, no bonds.
The claim that American families live within their means is a joke.
To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault. The typical American family only earns $43,000. It’s hard to buy much of anything, much less the house that embodies the American Dream, with that. And it’s impossible to save.
So they/we borrow.
As grim as a life of indebted servitude may seem, imagine what the American economy would look like if families really did live within their means, spending no more than they earned. No debt. No credit.
Markets for big-ticket items—homes, automobiles, major appliances—would crash and burn. Countless businesses would go under.
According to the National Association of Realtors 23 percent of homebuyers paid cash in January. That’s more than ever before but that still leaves at least 77 percent relying on mortgage financing. (Why “at least”? Most “cash” transactions include money borrowed from banks and credit unions.) Take 77 percent of purchasers out of the buy side of the equation and million-dollar homes would be worth five figures.
Pop! Credit is the biggest bubble of all.
If credit went away, most Americans’ biggest asset would vanish. Everyone would be “under water” to their lenders. The burbs would soon look like Afghanistan.
The same goes for cars: At least 88 percent of buyers take out a loan.
What would happen if these buyers had to save actual cash money before they could hit the showroom? They wouldn’t buy a car. Air would get cleaner but the economic collapse that began in 2008, which has put one out of five Americans out of work, would accelerate dramatically.
Two-thirds of the U.S. economy directly relies on consumer spending. People can only purchase goods and services using one of three sources: income, savings or credit. As we’ve seen, the average American family doesn’t have savings. Its income has been falling since 1968.
That leaves credit. If consumer credit vanished, the corporato-capitalist system currently prevailing in the U.S. would deteriorate from its current, merely unsustainable form into total chaos. Without credit cards and other loans citizens would seethe, trapped between the mutually irreconcilable forces of falling wages and the aggressive advertising and marketing of products they would never be able to afford. There would only be two possible long-term outcomes: revolution, or the ruling classes would be forced to pay substantially higher wages to workers. To corporate elites, the latter choice would be too unpalatable to countenance.
The typical American family cannot live within its means because it cannot earn enough to sustain its lifestyle. Were it to downgrade its living standards to a level it could afford, there wouldn’t be enough consumer spending to drive the economy. This would force further personal austerity. Eventually we’d all be living outside.
You know what’s funny? Unlike the American family, the U.S. government can spend less than it earns. It can increase revenues by raising taxes. Unlike families, it spends trillions of dollars on stuff—wars—that it doesn’t need and actually makes things worse.
It could even use its power to force employers to pay workers what they deserve. If the government did that, families might not need credit.
They could (finally) live within their means.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL