The War on Terror and the Privatization of Freedom
Frito-Lay Explains Why So Many Americans Are Fat
Naming the Next Hurricanes

January 19, 2006

The War on Terror
And the Privatization of Freedom

Gar Smith

Buying back your freedom: Keep your shoes on and avoid those metal wands and pat-down searches. All you need to maintain your dignity (and your First Amendment rights) is a check for $80.
On November 5, 2005, cartoonist and political satirist Gary Trudeau raised the issue of Georgia's poll tax in a Sunday edition of his comic strip, "Doonesbury." One of Trudeau's characters referred to the law as “an unconstitutional disgrace,” and went on to complain: “Georgia now requires citizens without proper ID to buy an ID card. Guess who’s affected most -- poor blacks! That’s right, forks. Mr. Jim Crow is back in the house. The Republican Georgia Legislature has covered itself in Shame!”

Meanwhile, in a controversial effort to “control the threat of illegal aliens,” Arizona has passed a law requiring residents to provide passports, birth certificates and other proof of citizenship before being allowed to vote. The immediate result was that 60% of Arizona citizens who were previously eligible to vote were disenfranchised -- they couldn’t find the required documents or had changed their names because of marriage or divorce.

At the same time, federal Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is now preparing to permit sales of a “Preferred Flyer Pass” that would allow qualified holders to speed through airport security in a matter of seconds. The new operative rule says: Buy a card for $80 and you will never again be asked to remove your shoes or hand your laptop over for inspection.

Each of these three cases highlights a new and troubling trend that is gaining traction in America. Increasingly, historic rights are being withdrawn from the political commons and redefined as special indulgences available to a select few. The USA PATRIOT Act has rendered traditional rights and freedoms "inconvenient" if not downright dangerous. In today's Fearful New World, citizens who wish to experience the freedom to vote, to travel, to assemble, to speak, are being forced to turn, not to safeguards of the Constitution, but to the vagaries of the Marketplace. In short, the Bill of Rights is being turned into a Bill of Goods.

A poll tax in Florida and a voter-documentation program in Arizona are disturbing developments but, at least, they are local. The No-Fly Lists and the Fly-Fast Cards, however, are federal programs that will affect the lives of millions. More importantly, these new practices are redefining what it means to live in "the Land of the Free."

What we are witnessing is nothing less than the privatization of freedom.

Come Fly with Me -- Avoiding the 'No-fly List'
Washington's Secure Flight program, the successor to CAPPS, aims to identify as many as 80,000 "suspect" individuals. Up to 40,000 names are listed on the Transportation Security Agency's No Fly List and another 40,000 or so names appear on the Selectee List. (Selectees are permitted to fly, but only after an extensive search of their persons and possessions.)

It is difficult to justify such an extensive list of names since the total population of anti-US terrorist suspects is not believed to number about [3,000]. If there are only a few thousand terrorists that we need to worry about, who are the other 60-70,000 whose names have been placed on the Terrorist Screening Database?

"The truth is, nobody knows," says Bruce Schneier, a former member of the government's Secure Flight Working Group on Privacy and Security. Schneier has written a book entitled Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World, and he does not mask his criticism of the TSA's security plan. "The program has been a complete failure, resulting in exactly zero terrorists caught."

Schneier faults these programs because they are "based on the dangerous myth that terrorists match a particular profile and that we can somehow pick terrorists out of a crowd if we only can identify everyone. That's simple not true."

When Schneier and his team took a good look at the Transportation Security Agency's (TSA's) programs, they found "a complete mess: poorly defined goals, incoherent design criteria, no clear system architecture, inadequate testing." In an article for Wired magazine, Schneier complains that these findings were recently removed from the TSA Web site (the agency says it has "refreshed" the site). In its place, the agency has posted an "executive summary" that Schneier says, "contains none of the report's findings."

What, then, is the purpose of the No-Fly list? People whose names show up on this database are never arrested as terrorists. They are merely pulled out of line and told to go home -- presumably to travel to their destinations by bus or train. It is exceedingly unlikely that the No-Fly list will ever catch a terrorist: In the aftermath of 9/11, no terrorist would be dumb enough to try and book a plane ticket.

Terrorists don't need to board commercial jets to cause havoc. It was a car bomb that was involved in the first attack on the World Trade Center and it was a car bomb that destroyed the Murra Federal Building in Oklahoma. Why hasn't the Department of Homeland Security distributed a No-Drive list to every Avis and Hertz truck rental counter in the country? Or, for that matter, forwarded its list to every agriculture supply house that sells ammonia fertilizer (the key element in the Oklahoma bombing)?

"What these programs do is create two different access paths into the airport: high security and low-security. The intent is to let only good guys take the low-security path," says Schneier, "but it rarely works that way." If the goal is security, "you have to assume that the bad guys will find a way to exploit the low-security path." Or they could simply pack an altitude-sensitive bomb into the luggage of a Preferred Passenger, since most luggage is still not inspected for explosives.

What is the purpose of a list that doesn't catch terrorists but denies air travel to Sen. Ted Kennedy, singer Cat Stevens, and two-year-olds whose names match those of adult suspects? Who benefits from a program that punishes a small population of travelers while inconveniencing millions?

There has never been a persuasive answer to this question: until now.

'Registered Travelers': Toll-Roads to the Skies
In December, San Jose International Airport announced that it would follow the lead of Florida's Orlando International and become the second US airport to offer a security-free-pass to anyone holding a special "preferred flyer" card. Pending the TSA's approval, anyone who can pony up the annual fee of $79.95 will be able to buy their way out of those annoying security checks, pat-downs and wand-rubs.

True, one would have to surrender a certain amount of one's dignity in exchange for enjoying a "convenience" that used to be a "freedom." It would become necessary to fill out an application form, pass a government-approved background check, provide fingerprints and photos of your eyes to permit computerized "retinal scans" to quickly establish your identity in the wink of an eye.

The TSA has begun flight-testing its own "Registered Traveler" identification program. Meanwhile, a private company called Verified Identity Pass, Inc. (VIP) has already taken off, and is actively promoting a similar device called the "Clear" card.

The “Preferred Flyer Pass” suggests a high-flying version of Toll Roads--those pay-as-you-go roadways that allow wealthier citizens to buy access to special highways. Freedom of movement, which was once a universal right, now can be purchased by the rich. Similarly, surveillance of the Internet, phones and cell phones has created a demand for a market-based “solution” where the wealthy can purchase encryption software to mask their private communications.

If there were any doubts that this is a class-based program intended to benefit the rich over the poor, it is dispelled by San Jose Airport Spokeswoman Marina Rennecke, who confided to the Los Angeles Times that the Clear Card "will be very beneficial, especially for our business travelers. That's whom it was designed for."

For Sale: Your Civil Rights
And why are wealthy people willing to pay for privileges that used to be rights? Because the government has created a situation that makes it increasingly uncomfortable to fly, drive and communicate. This enhances the value of activities that used to be free -- and this, in turn, drives up the price that can be charged to regain a measure of these lost freedoms. In short: freedom has been privatized.

Fear mongering is not only good for the Pentagon's budget, it's also a boon for corporate America. TSA Chief Kip Hawley is on board. He has promised to have a nationwide system "up and running... as fast as we can."

And if you want to see where this is all leading, take a look at the long-term game plan over at the offices of Verified Identity Pass. VIP's investors are looking forward to the day when its ID cards are required to enter stores, trains, sports stadiums, power plants, and work places. "This is just the sort of mission creep that moves us ever closer to a 'show-me-your-papers' society," warns Schneier.

The American Civil Liberties Union is skeptical, pointing out that there's nothing to prevent a terrorist from using false background information to join the program. Even former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge confessed to a reporter for Business Travel News that the Clear Card offered "no guarantee" that a terrorist couldn't slip through security.

Meanwhile, the smart money understands that there are fortunes waiting to be made in the process of turning an open society from a democracy into a police state.

"Registered Traveler programs are not about security," says Schneier, "they're about convenience. The Clear program is a business: Those who can afford $80 per year can avoid long lines." Of course, corporate types and other well-heeled Frequent Flyers already enjoy the security-free check-ins that come with expedited processing.

One of the more discouraging aspects of this ratcheting up of the Class War is the readiness of the well-off to be bar-coded by Big Business and the willingness of the Average Joe to shrug and accept his second-class status. According to LA Times reporter Eric Malnic, officials at LA International "said there was no more resentment shown by 'regular' passengers to fast-track passengers than there is to the first-class passengers who are allowed to board a plane ahead of coach-class passengers."

The fact that freedom of movement is now "up-for-bid" should be of concern to all Americans. With the introduction of the Clear card, it is not hard to imagine a situation where the Freedom of Assembly could be denied to anyone not holding a VIP security card (VIP marketers are already imagining this scenario).

Frito-Lay Explains Why So Many Americans Are Fat
The following statement appears on bags of White Cheddar Popcorn manufactured by Houston-based Frito-Lay.

To read the ad copy on the back, you might think you were buying a bag of PopCrack.
Is it really smart to let yourself get carried away by a snack? To find yourself longing for it LONG BEFORE LUNCH? To be thinking about it at three in the afternoon? To be needing it during the Nightly News?

OF COURSE IT IS! After all it's Smartfood Popcorn we're talking about here... We're still the same fresh-tasting, light-textured, totally natural air-popped popcorn smothered in smooth, white cheddar cheese flavoring you've grown to LOVE.

So why even try to resist the URGE? You know you want it. You know how to get it. Now go out there and be SMART about it.

Smartfood Popcorn. "Sign of an INTELLIGENT Life."

    Nutrition Facts (per serving)
  • Total Fat (10 grams) 15%
  • Saturated Fat (2 grams) 11%
  • Cholesterol (5mg) 2%
  • Sodium (320mg) 14%
  • Total Carbs (14 g) 5%
But there are SIX servings in each 5.5-ounce bag. If you were to eat the whole bag (and that's what the bag-copy proposes), you would be getting 60 grams of fat (90% of your daily max), 12 grams of fat (66% of your daily allowance), 84% of all the sodium you need per day and nearly a third of a day's load of carbohydrates.

If this ad copy offends your intelligence, you can direct your questions to:
Frito-Lay Distributor, Smartfoods, Inc. PO Box 35609, Dept. 148
Dallas, TX 75235-0009. 1-800-352-4477, Hours: 9-4:30 Central Time.

Naming the Next Hurricanes
With the growing frequency and ferocity of tropical storms and hurricanes -- and their likely link to increases in global-warming gasses -- some environmentalists have suggested that we might start have to start naming Atlantic hurricanes by naming them after oil, gas and car companies.

In an attempt to get a jump on the 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season, The-Edge is only too happy to provide the following list of Hurricane Names, designed to acknowledge the parentage of the oil industry's tantrum-tossing off-spring.

  • Amoco (Ashland) (Arbusto)
  • BP (British Petroleum)
  • Chevron (Conoco)
  • Duke (Dominion)
  • Exxon (Mobil)
  • Ford (Firestone)
  • Getty
  • Halliburton
  • Ivanho
  • Jaguar
  • Koch (Kawasaki)
  • Lexus
  • Mobil (Marathon) (Mazda) (Mercedes)
  • Nissan
  • Occidental
  • Phillips (Penzoil) (Petrobras)
  • Q8 (Pronounced "Kew-ate" for Kuwait Petroleum Int.)
  • Royal Dutch (Repsol) (Rolls-Royce)
  • Shell (Sunoco)
  • Texaco
  • Valero
  • Waco
  • Xcel
  • Yukon
  • Zapata

    For more information contact:

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