Many were hoping that once Barack Obama was out of office we would see less of this Big Brother surveillance nonsense, but instead it seems to be getting even worse. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has just announced that it intends to compile a comprehensive list of hundreds of thousands of “journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.”, and collect any “information that could be relevant” about them. So if you have a website, an important blog or you are just very active on social media, the Department of Homeland Security is going to put you on a list and will start collecting information about you. The DHS has already announced that it will hire a contractor to aid in monitoring media coverage, and they will definitely need plenty of help because it is going to be a very big job…
As part of its “media monitoring,” the DHS seeks to track more than 290,000 global news sources as well as social media in over 100 languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Russian, for instant translation into English. The successful contracting company will have “24/7 access to a password protected, media influencer database, including journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, bloggers etc.” in order to “identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.”
“Any and all media coverage,” as you might imagine, is quite broad and includes “online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media.”
If this sounds extremely creepy to you, that is because it is extremely creepy.
As Gizmodonoted, the DHS’ vagueness is also a concern. It leaves itself an opening for collecting “any other information that could be relevant” about these influencers, and there’s no hint as to what that could be. Is it strictly functional information like work histories, or sensitive data that could be abused? Either way, the database could be troublesome for bloggers and social media stars who aren’t usually under such close government scrutiny.
This is one of the reasons why I wanted to get to Washington. This kind of Orwellian monitoring of our freedoms is unnecessary, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars, and it violates our most basic freedoms.
So why does the Department of Homeland Security need to do this?
The explanation that they are giving the public is extremely week. The following comes from Forbes…
DHS says the “NPPD/OUS [National Protection and Programs Directorate/Office of the Under Secretary] has a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach Federal, state, local, tribal and private partners.” Who knows what that means, but the document also states the NPPD’s mission is “to protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyberinfrastructure.”
But we are not supposed to ask questions about government programs such as this. …
The images and stories now being reported from the southern border—families torn apart, children crying for their parents, parents with no idea where their children are—are disturbing and heartbreaking
The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy has obviously created chaos along the border, tasking already overburdened federal agencies with the seemingly impossible job of taking into custody everyone—men, women, and children—caught crossing the border illegally. The number of children taken from their parents and placed in federal custody climbed to about 2,000 from April 19 through May 31, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security. With border facilities overwhelmed, some teenagers are now being housed in temporary shelters outside El Paso.
But the reporting from the border has also been incomplete, misleading, and at times biased and emotionally overwrought. It’s no secret the mainstream media disagrees with Trump’s push to crack down on illegal immigration and tighten border security, but that shouldn’t excuse the lack of nuance and granularity in much of the reporting we’ve seen over the past week or so.
Illegal immigration and its attendant problems along the U.S.-Mexico border are vastly complex and defy easy solutions. With that in mind, here are four key aspects of the border crisis that the media has failed to report or adequately explain.
1. Prior To ‘Zero Tolerance,’ Families Who Crossed The Border Illegally Were Often Released
For a long time, the vast majority of illegal border crossers were single men from Mexico looking for work. Dealing with them was a fairly straightforward matter: most would be immediately deported to Mexico. It’s not that there weren’t families and unaccompanied minors also illegally entering, but they made up a small subset of illegal immigration.
Beginning in 2014, the situation changed. Large numbers of families and unaccompanied minors began showing up on the border in unprecedented numbers, many seeking asylum from dangerous criminal gangs in their home countries. Most of these foreign citizens were from Central America, not Mexico, and under a 2008 federal law designed to protect victims of human trafficking, migrants from noncontiguous countries have a right to a deportation hearing.
That meant the Obama administration had to figure out what to do with tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and families that could not be quickly deported. Some were placed in shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) along the border, but because shelter space was limited, many more were placed with family members while they awaited hearings. Thousands have waited more than three years for a hearing, and thousands more have been ordered to be removed from the country in absentia (they never showed up for their hearing).
A year earlier, a federal judge had ordered the administration to close two centers in Texas, citing the 1997 court settlement Flores v. Reno, which requires the government to hold children in the “least-restrictive setting” in places that are “licensed to care for children,” and to release them without delay to their parents or other adult relatives whenever possible. The Obama administration unsuccessfully appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the district court’s ruling that Flores applied to all children, accompanied or not. But the court also said the administration could detain parents who crossed illegally.
The Obama administration responded to these rulings with a combination of deportation raids targeting criminals and a “catch-and-release” policy for families apprehended at the border, who would usually be issued notices to appear at an immigration hearing at some later date. This “catch-and-release” policy is what the Trump administration is trying to end.
To that end, Trump has invoked Flores as the reason for separating parents and children, saying the settlement limits what federal agencies can do with children brought here illegally and apprehended at the border. He blames congressional Democrats for failing to negotiate on an immigration bill that would solve the problem—although saddling Democrats with all the blame is disingenuous. Republicans have also failed to act on immigration (although now they say they’re ready to pass a bill to keep families together).
The media have been nearly unanimous in contradicting Trump, arguing that Flores does not force the federal government to separate parents and children, and that the administration has discretion in how it treats these families.
Both sides have a point. Flores does indeed limit how long, and under what circumstances, federal immigration authorities can detain children. But it only “forces” the separation of families if the parents are detained and prosecuted for illegal entry. In that case, families are separated because children can’t stay with their parents if the parents are in criminal custody.
Before Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, families caught crossing illegally were often released within a few days and the parents fitted with an electronic ankle monitor to reduce the likelihood of them absconding. Back in March, when I was reporting on the border in McAllen, Texas, I met a number of people from Central America who were wearing an ankle monitor. Most planned to cut it off and throw it away when they got to where they were going.
2. Illegal Immigrants Who Are Released Often Fail To Appear At Court Hearings
Indeed, failure to appear at court hearings is a major problem in our immigration system—one the media is glossing over in its coverage of the border crisis.
According to the DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), the office that handles all immigration cases, a significant number of illegal immigrants who are released from custody never show up for their court hearings. Statistics from 2016 (PDF) show that “non-detained aliens,” which include those who were never detained and those who were released on bond or their own recognizance, failed to show up for court hearings in 39 percent of completed immigration cases—a 110 percent increase compared to 2012.
While the nation has been distracted by a media maelstrom dominated by news of white supremacists, Powerball jackpots, Hurricane Harvey, and a Mayweather v. McGregor fight, the American Police State has been carving its own path of devastation and destruction through what’s left of the Constitution.
Set in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C., The Andy Griffith Show portrays the two stars of the show—Sheriff Andy Taylor and his bumbling deputy Barney Fife—as peace officers in the truest sense of the word as opposed to law enforcers.
Both Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife dress in khaki uniforms, a far cry from the black, militarized Stormtrooper getups worn by police today. Andy refuses to wear a gun and only allows Barney to wear his gun on the proviso that he keep his single bullet out of the chamber and in his shirt pocket. Most of all, the two lawmen relate to those under their protection as equals, rather than as enemy combatants or inferiors.
Contrast the idyllic Mayberry with the American police state of today, where local police—clad in jackboots, helmets and shields and wielding batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, and assault rifles—have increasingly come to resemble occupying forces in communities across the country.
Thanks to Trump, this transformation of America into a battlefield is only going to get worse.
To be fair, Trump did not create this totalitarian nightmare. However, he has legitimized it and, in so doing, has also accelerated the pace at which we fall deeper into the clutches of outright tyranny.
Everything America’s founders warned against—a standing army that would view and treat American citizens as combatants—is fast becoming the norm. Certainly, this lopsided, top-heavy, authoritarian state of affairs is not the balance of power the founders intended for “we the people.”
Yet in the hands of government agents, whether they are members of the military, law enforcement or some other government agency, these weapons of war have become accepted instruments of tyranny, routine parts of America’s day-to-day life, a byproduct of the rapid militarization of law enforcement over the past several decades.
In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots, while an Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank.
Since 1990, $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies through the 1033 program, in addition to various other programs supposedly aimed at fighting the so-called War on Drugs and War on Terror. For example, the Department of Homeland Security has delivered roughly $34 billion to police departments throughout the country since 9/11, ostensibly to purchase more gear for their steady growing arsenals of military weapons and equipment.
Police departments are also receiving grants to create microcosms of the extensive surveillance systems put in place by the federal government in the years since 9/11.
For example, using a $2.6 million grant from the DHS, police in Seattle purchased and setup a “mesh network”throughout the city capable of tracking every Wi-Fi enabled device within range. Police claim it won’t be used for surveillance, but the devices are capable of determining “the IP address, device type, downloaded applications, current location, and historical location of any device that searches for a Wi-Fi signal.”
It’s a militarized approach to make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are finding themselves “gifted” with unnecessary drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield in order to fatten the bank accounts of the military industrial complex.
You know who gets stuck with the bill for all of this unnecessary military gear, don’t you?
“We the taxpayers,” of course.
First, taxpayers are forced to pay millions of dollars for equipment which the Defense Department purchases from megacorporations only to abandon after a few years. Then taxpayers get saddled with the bill to maintain the costly equipment once it has been acquired by the local police.
It’s like the old adage: “never look a gift horse in the mouth.” The catch is that this gift horse is an expensive and deadly boondoggle.
In addition to being an astounding waste of taxpayer money, this equipping of police with military-grade equipment and weapons also gives rise to a dangerous mindset in which police adopt a warrior-like, more aggressive approach to policing.
The danger of giving police high-power toys and weapons is that they will feel compelled to use it in all kinds of situations that would never normally warrant battlefield gear, weapons or tactics.
This “if we have it, we might as well use it” mindset, by the way, is also used to justify assigning SWAT teams to carry out routine law enforcement work such as delivering a warrant. That’s how you end up with SWAT tactics being employed when police are tasked with searching for a stolen koi fish and enforcing barber licensing laws.
Suffice it to say, we’re long past the days of Mayberry when cops were peace officers and recognized their role as public servants, a marked contrast to the climate of entitlement that has cops today acting like overlords and authoritarians.
Just look at Trump: he’s been on the police unions’ payroll from the moment they endorsed him for president, and he’s paid them back generously by ensuring that police can kill, shoot, taser, abuse and steal from American citizens with impunity.
Still, the responsibility rests with “we the people.”
The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with the same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee the cities and into the Dream. The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.