Sunday, October 5, 2014

Security State: All Deposit, What Return?

War economy gave birth to the security state and the promotion of endless fears. Terrorism without borders is the latest on the war front, very possibly aided and abetted by international cyber-crime.

Billions of US dollars have been spent annually to put our soldiers in harm’s way and weapons in the hands of foreign armies, both allies and their enemies. To some extent, United States foreign policy has done more to destabilize than to stabilize the Middle East. Our involvement there has been more about oil and money than the advertized promotion of democracy, much less human rights. By contrast, our involvement in Africa has been next to nil, never mind that human rights are being trampled all over the place and genocide is on the march. There isn’t, apparently, enough money in caring about what happens in Africa. This American disinterest in the plight of African nations has been a boon for China, which has all but moved in to mine the minerals and themselves, bringing their own workers, to the impoverishment of each local populace where they make an agreement with the local despot.

On the home front, billions of US dollars are spent annually to incarcerate people and to militarize our domestic law enforcement agencies. To some extent, United States domestic policy has done more to destabilize than to stabilize our inner cities. The law has seen fit to uphold many of the most egregious cases of police brutality. In large part, allowing civilians the opportunity to stockpile small arsenals has promoted the notion that police have the right to shoot at “suspects” in the kill zone, and ask questions only when the bodies are on the slab. Frequently, what looks like a brandished weapon is no weapon at all; sometimes it actually is a weapon, at others there is absolutely no weapon. The militarized police are claiming, and taking pride while doing so, that they are being “frightened” into what is later called “effectiveness,” and the courts are upholding that position in many, too many cases. While the police are “looking out for their own,” are they also looking out for the rest of us? Shall we bring race relations into this discussion?

Police and Fire unions are among the biggest supporters of local government officials’ election campaigns, followed closely by big development companies. Police and Fire contracts, with heath and pension benefits, take a huge chunk out of any municipal government’s general fund. Some contracts allow officers to become vested in their pension within between five to ten years of service. Some officers “retire” after they are vested. Some of these officers apply for lucrative contracts in other municipalities. Double-dippers, sometimes even triple-dippers abound in a pay and pension system that is not regulated and is completely unsustainable. You have only to look at the rising number of municipal bankruptcies to know that this is true.

Taxpayers contribute most of the money that supports the security state, but are we more secure? My thought is that we wouldn’t need to have “Security Officers” posted outside our grocery stores, if we were really secure. Too many of these jobs are just for show. How can it not be so? Most of the security officers I have seen lately weigh in at over three-hundred pounds, and are attentive mostly to their electronic media. Would such a person be able to apprehend a fleeing wrong-doer? You can’t just be dressed for the part; you actually have to be able to deliver something that recruiters, these dates, call “proven effectiveness.” The world of privatized enforcement seems to include anything in a spectrum defined at one end by the small, well-armed private army (working sometimes outside the law) to the $13/hour actor from central casting, at the other.

There have been too many high profile cases, of late, where people had been arrested, tried and convicted of crimes they did not commit. Better late than never to be exonerated, I suppose, but these costly mistakes would never have been uncovered if it had not been for the growing database of forensic DNA. Meanwhile, innocent lives have been broken and wasted, and some have died before the truth could be uncovered.

The average person’s notion of how police do their work comes from the television. From what is shown on TV, most people would think that every law enforcement agency works methodically from an extremely strict set of protocols. TV police protocols say that you cannot arrest someone and hold them in custody without strong probable cause including evidence. In my town (in real life), two people were arrested for committing a string of arsons. The two do not know one another, and one was at work at the time the fires he is accused of were set; one has jobs and family and ties to the community, the other is a transient. The evidence the police have to bind these two people over has yet to be disclosed in the courtroom, but Columbo would never arrest two people just because someone said they saw the person or because a surveillance tape showed a figure that might just look like the person someone said they saw near one of the fires, if there weren’t so much shadow. There might well be a number of people on the street, if there is a fire in the neighborhood, observing. I do not know how this particular situation will play out; only time will tell. But I find it disquieting that the police do not need evidence and probable cause to bind a person over for trial. The person can be arrested, and the police then conduct their investigation while the one arrested is taken off the street, and isolated from contact with family. I would put a question forward: Does it serve justice and does it prove “effective” to set bail nearly twice as high for the transient as for the workingman? There will be no person raising bail for the transient, so what is the purpose and what does it achieve? Meanwhile, to some extent, the men have been tried in the press: the Mayor of the town has promised to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. The Mayor is up for reelection. The Mayor’s platform is, of course, “proven effectiveness.”

Where did I get the information for this blog entry? I read the newspaper everyday. I hope you do, too.  Much of what we see is a theater, a masquerade meant to imply order, which may not exist, at all. All of the issues and stories I touch on here are related; they do not occur in one-off or in isolation. We need to ask the hard questions about the money we pay for “security.” We need to have better determinations about deadly force. We need to get guns off the streets, period. We need to vote for people who might really do something about all this, rather than shoo in the incumbent rubber-stampers, whose campaigns are paid for by security unions and big business interests. Only today, the new head of the FBI, James Comey, said in interview that cybercrime is the biggest terrorist threat to our security. An argument could be made that it is the biggest threat to world order, but no one wants to go that far. Those claims will only come when economies topple, and then it will be too late.

There is a lot of investment being made in armed security. There is not nearly the same investment being made in people and justice. Major infrastructure changes needed to insure greater electronic security are “too expensive” for big business; it is cheaper for big business to send out new credit cards and pay off insurance claims than to invest in better, more secure systems. What investments are made benefit big business and all the trappings that support big business, including “security guards.” This investment maintains a crippling status quo of economic divide, but what are the returns?

Things will not change until big business gets hurt, and hurt badly. In the event, politics will not be able to save big business, and neither will security guards. For all that we may want to change the balance power, we do not want to see what happens when the hackers bring down the firewalls.