Welcome to the United States of Paranoia

Interested in electronics, privacy? FBI says you’re a terrorist

So, what does a terrorist look like in a coffee shop? According to the FBI, they:

* Are overly concerned about privacy, attempts to shield the screen from view of others
* Always pay cash
* Evidence of a residential based internet provider (signs on to Comcast, AOL, etc.)
* Use of anonymizers, portals, or other means to shield IP address
* Communicating through a PC game
* Obtain maps or diagrams of transportation
* Download or transfer files with “how-to” content such as information about electronics

Think about that for a moment. You walk into a coffee shop and order a latte. Seeing no reason to whip out a debit card for a five buck purchase, you pay cash. This is a habit and something you’ve done often before—you always have $20 in cash on you for small purchases, as many smaller businesses charge an extra fee on small debit purchases, or may not allow the use of a debit card at all. It just makes good financial sense to pay cash.

Once you get your coffee, you take a corner table. You’re working on something private to you, like a novel or diary entry. You know no one is reading over your shoulder, nor do they care, but you still can’t stop the impulse to shield your screen when someone walks too closely by. Once you’re done you get online to your favorite social online game, whether that is World of Warcraft, Everquest, or a simpler game like Kingdom of Loathing. You chat with your friends in game a while.

As the time nears for you to leave, you realize you forgot to download the plans that showed how to make a TARDIS cat tree that you promised to give the friend you’re about to go meet. It’s too big to email, so you whip out a flash drive, download the plans, and transfer them there. Then you pull up Google Maps to get a quick reminder of how to get to the meeting location, as it’s a place you kinda remember, but only have been once or twice. You just want to make sure you have it right in your head.

As you pack up your items to leave the coffee shop, you notice the barrista who served you is on the phone. You overhear the word “tripwire” as you pass by and head out the door and think it’s strange thing to say, especially by itself like that and not as part of a sentence.

Congratulations, you are now a suspected terrorist. For, you know, wanting privacy, making logical financial decisions, being crafty enough to create your own goods, and not wanting to get lost. Oh, and having friends online. How DARE you have friends online!

And before you say, “Well, most people won’t hit that many entries on the list,” no they won’t, but neither will most terrorists.The anonomizer is hard to prove, as is logging onto a provider like Comcast or AOL, unless you happen to be looking at the screen exactly when they are taking these actions. And in the case of the anonomizer, you’d have to know what to look for. So what’s left are behaviors that are easier to see, such as a desire for privacy, an online gamer, someone who pays in cash, etc. So the setup seems tailor made not to catch terrorists, but to ensnare the everyday man.

This is the sort of McCarthyism/communist-Russian paranoia that had people reporting the “suspicious behavior” of their neighbors. You know, that paranoia we as freedom loving Americans say we don’t approve of? This is how people were pulled off the streets with little evidence, and sometimes disappeared for good.

But no worries, because we’d never do that. We’re the good guys. Right?


Nearly Half of Americans Poor or Low Income

U.S. Poverty: Census Finds Nearly Half Of Americans Are Poor Or Low-Income

There is no way to open this post except a quote:

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans – nearly 1 in 2 – have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

One in two. Half of America. Ponder that a moment. If you are standing with one other person in a room, there’s a pretty good chance one of you is living at or below the poverty line. In the Land of Opportunity. If you’re wondering what happened to us, you aren’t the only one.

But it’s easy to see what happened to us. In fact, this man sums it up neatly, echoing what so many of a conservative bent tend to say:

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income actually suffer material hardship. He said that while safety-net programs have helped many Americans, they have gone too far, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

First of all, someone needs to describe to me what a “decent sized” home is. Is it a trailer? A two bedroom home? One of the McHouses in the suburbs? Once we have that definition, then I’d like to know where these homes are located. I don’t care if you live in a five bedroom mansion, if you’re living on a side of town where you take your life in your hands just stepping out the front door, you’re probably not paying much in rent.

Also, when they look at the homes these people live in, do they compare how many people are living in the home? I’ve lived five to a two bedroom before, and I’ve seen families double or even triple up in larger places. But if you ask them, family by family, how large their place was, it could sure sound roomy if you don’t try to find out about little things like roommates.

As for cars—in many places cars are necessary. I know city folk tend to forget this, but for people in small towns, suburbs, and other locations, if you don’t have a car you don’t eat. Period. Zoning removed the ability to have a small neighborhood, one where you could walk to a baker, a grocer, a clothing store, a hardware store, and every other necessity you can think of, all within one to three city blocks. In fact, often they were on the same street. Instead we have what they call “food deserts,” miles of city or country where people have no access to grocery stores and so have to buy overpriced junk from convenience stores. You can also lay the obesity issues of the poor at the feet of this trend.

Small towns are even worse. Rentals inside a small town are high, a hardship for the poor. Outside town the price drops, making it affordable, but only if a vehicle is owned. Without a vehicle you have no job, no food, and eventually, no home.

Plus, simply stating one owns a car is something of a straw man argument. What kind of car, what condition is it in, how much did they pay, when was it bought (for instance, in a time of plenty?), was it bought for convenience or necessity…all of these questions and more would be pertinent. Trying to imply that a $500 shitmobile that breaks down every hundred miles is the same as owning a $400,000 Lamborghini is just sleazy.

As for a big screen TV…has the man never heard of Freecycle? How about Craigslist? Has he never done work for a neighbor specifically to get an item like a TV, instead of money? Has he never bartered at all? Has he never lived in a college town where students—especially well off ones—have been known to place on the curb functional and sometimes expensive appliances, electronics, and furniture rather than pay moving and storage bin costs? Has he never gone dumpster diving? Has he not picked a broken appliance set out for garbage and brought it home to fix himself? Because that is how poor people get big screen TVs. We have the a society that considers everything disposable, including last year’s electronics—it’s hardly surprising that as the rich toss them out, the poor gobble them up.

But hey, they aren’t selling their own spleen just to survive, so they must be better off than they’re letting on. One in two Americans, riding the benefits train to happy town!

So what is more believable, half of Americans are crooked criminals milking the teat of of the Social Security system, or this man (and many more like him) have no idea what being poor is like, and have no compassion for things they don’t understand?

Mayors in 29 cities say more than 1 in 4 people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it. Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold – roughly $45,000 for a family of four – because of pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job. Housing and child-care costs are consuming up to half of a family’s income.

Yep, milking that teat hard, aren’t they?

Paychecks for low-income families are shrinking. The inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000. In contrast, higher-income brackets had significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000.

Yep, really hard. Bunch of liars, every one.

So what happened to us? Lack of compassion. Victim blaming. Bullying.

We have idealized the rich to the point of them being untouchable. We are the Egyptians of the past, worshiping at the feet of the rich and believing those who are poor are that way through some sort of sin. This is the ‘Land of Opportunity,’ so if someone is failing then they just aren’t trying hard enough, that’s how the argument goes. Forget the fact that half of America would have to be “not trying hard enough,” forget unemployment statistics, wage gaps, economic stagnation, or all factors that conspire to keep the poor in poverty, they “just aren’t trying hard enough.”

And those who are supposed to speak for us are bullies, planting thousand dollar boots on the necks of the elderly, the disabled, the powerless, and children. They step on people who can’t fight back, and we cheer them on, even while we have a story about one, two, five, twenty people who don’t deserve the draconian policies they’re enacting or the names they’re calling the poor. We cheer them because, out there somewhere, there might be one person, a criminal, who does deserve such slander, and persecuting that one criminal is more important to us than saving a thousand lives.

Instead of lifting each other up, helping one another succeed and fighting for our fellow man, we tear each other down. We scrabble like half starved dogs after a scrap, ripping each other to pieces to be the one to snap it up. And when the well fed curs pad into the yard, we show our bellies and run away.

I once thought we were better than feral strays.

These days I’m not so sure.

DNA Databases Created for Innocent People

DNA Database of Men Who Pay for Sex? The Strange Push to Make Cops Collect DNA from Suspected Johns

Let me start this post with a caveat:

I have no issues with people selling sex for money. I think the moralistic argument against it is not just insanely ludicrous, but also highly bigoted. We sell ourselves all the time. We sell our brain power, our time, the strength of our arms, our ability to listen, reason, create, teach, and more. All of these are skills intrinsic to our bodies and minds, and we never think twice about selling them, but selling sex is somehow…shameful.

Why? Good sex is a skill, just like any other skill. It requires people skills, money management, physical effort, creativity, and emotional intelligence, just like many desk or retail jobs. And most of the things wrong with the sex industry—disease, pimps, drugs, etc—are due to the fact it’s illegal. Legalize and regulate it and those problems will greatly decrease and, in some cases, vanish altogether. Plus, if you remove consensual, paid for sex between two adults as a crime, how much more manpower and time could that free up to chase the truly egregious abuses of sex work, such as those peddling children?

Logically, making this business illegal makes about as much sense as outlawing carpentry. So the idea of trying to further marginalize both those who sell and those who buy, further boxing them into horrific lives just for the crime of being lonely, or busy, or poor, or minority just makes me want to wring a few puritan necks.

But this idea walks right out of even that mess of idiocy and instead takes a plunge down the rabbit hole.

Let’s start with this:

For the last six years, police across the United States have been empowered by federal and state law to collect DNA from the people they arrest in order to build a government DNA database. The database includes those who have yet to face trial as well as people who are later found innocent.

What kills me is that there is controversy about whether or not this constitutes a 4th Amendment violation. How does it not? If they had to swab the rectum instead of the mouth to get the DNA sample, do you think people would be so permissive about it? What about if they had to remove your little finger?

But that’s different, you say. And I reply…how? They are still encroaching in your personal space to take a piece of your body away—no matter how small that piece is—and they are doing so before you have been proven guilty of a crime.

Let me give you another scenario. One evening, the police knock on your door and demand mouth swabs from everyone in the house. Would you feel kindly about that? What if they stopped you for one when you were just walking down the street minding your own business? Then why would it be okay if you happened to be misidentified as the guy who keyed another guy’s car, or one who peed in an alleyway? What if you got arrested for something silly, like being charged for assault when all you did was poke someone in the shoulder?

Heck, it’s a crazy old world we live in. In a place where two teenage girls can be successfully sued for surprising their neighbors with perfectly ordinary cookies, anything can happen to anyone. There is no “if you’re innocent you have nothing to fear.”

Of course, I rather like Fakhoury’s take on it:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is among those who have argued that the Fourth Amendment applies to DNA. EFF attorney Hanni M. Fakhoury explained that pre-conviction DNA collection runs the risk of reversing our legal standards of presuming innocence.

“Courts always say someone is innocent until proven guilty, and that up until that point, the law treats them as an individual. This practice requires that innocent individuals provide DNA samples without search warrants or any individualized suspicion — any reason to believe collection of DNA will lead to further evidence of a crime — just because the government says, we want it because we want it.”

What’s even better is their definition of risky men, ones who might buy sex. Here’s a hint, it extends to more than just those who purchase the services of a sex worker, though those buying sex worker services are the only ones they’re targeting. For now:

…the study claims to destroy “the common myth that any man might buy sex (i.e., that a sex buyer is a random everyman, an anonymous male who deserves the common name, john).” At the same time, this is how the research team defined a “non-sex buyer”:

We defined non-sex buyers as men who have not purchased phone sex or the services of a sex worker, escort, massage sex worker, or prostitute, have not been to a strip club more than one time in the past year, have not purchased a lap dance, and have not used pornography more than one time in the past week.

Because men—and women—don’t get lap dances at bachelor parties or out with the boys. Heck, my mother got one, and you never saw such a stuck up prude in your life. Her friends just thought it was funny to watch her turn red. As for porn, apparently most teenage boys (and probably most teenage girls) don’t pass their litmus test.

And, of course, those not passing the litmus test (ie, almost all of us) are, according to their questionable study, are significantly more likely to commit a crime. How much more likely? well:

Her own data shows that of those crimes, the most common is assault and battery, but the next most common are driving under the influence and marijuana possession. The number of men who reported that they committed one of these crimes is, even for the study’s size, not quite “lots.” Six men of the 100 identified as sex buyers reported they had committed assault and battery, as compared to the two men of the 101 non-buyers. Four sex buyers had possessed marijuana, versus two non-buyers.

And, just to point out, this is only for their control groups. There is no measurement given for how many people in society as a whole actually use sex workers, so we have no way of comparing this against the greater population. But I can tell you this; you are more likely to wind up in a car accident than be a victim of assault and battery from someone who’s used the services of a sex worker.

And, of ocurse, since minorities are targeted more by law enforcement and receive harsher penalties overall, some have called this “building Jim Crow’s database.”

Just as people of color are disproportionately represented in arrests, so would a DNA database overrepresent samples from people of color. In an editorial for the New York Times this week, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance alluded to the issue of racial profiling in law enforcement, claiming that “DNA is truly color blind.” It’s evident, however, that the policing required to collect the DNA overwhelmingly targets people of color.

And, of course, none of this is strictly legal to begin with, even before the question of 4th amendment rights:

"Constitutional considerations are apparently beyond the scope of organizations like Demand Abolition, which advocates for extra-legal means to, as it claims, abolish the sex trade, but which, in practice, threaten and jail people involved in the sex trade.„In addition to increasing the number of people arrested for soliciting sex for pay, Demand Abolition also advocates for a range of programs that use not the legal system but public shame against people who pay for sex: placing their mugshots on billboards and Web sites, or seizing their cars and property—before trial or conviction.”

So imagine you’re suspected of contacting a sex worker—say you look like a guy that did, or you broke down in the wrong side of town and were talking to one, or even that you took pity on a young one with no money to eat and offered her a few bucks out of compassion, asking for no sex acts in return (it has happened). Suddenly your face is plastered all over town and all your neighbors know what you’re accused of. Do you think that, even after all charges are dropped, your life will ever be the same again? I doubt it.

In most circles that would be called slander and libel. And be, you know, illegal.

But hey, there’s an upside to all this, right? We can stop two consenting adults from…exchanging…money…for sex?

Because that is so much more important than putting away rapists, murderers, burglars, wife beaters, gun runners, drug cartels, and anyone more dangerous than a half dressed woman in an alleyway.