Am I the only one who thinks it’s extremely odd that we are sending “Homeland Security” agents to Afghanistan? Don’t we have a military that’s tasked with these sorts of chores? And if it’s just a “loan” of certain specialists, why is Janet Napolitano making the announcement instead of the proper foreign service or military spokesperson? Afghanistan isn’t in her portfolio — at least I didn’t think it was. I thought we were going to keep the new Homeland Security forces here in the … homeland.
That’s all rhetorical, of course, since it’s been obvious for decades that many of our allegedly “domestic” agencies like the DEA and the ATF are really para-military organizations which are deployed all over the world. But it looks as though we aren’t even going to pretend anymore that there’s a separation between the two. And that means that we have created yet another sacred police/military budget item that will be nearly impossible to scale back.
What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify severe inequality. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as justification for discrimination, exclusion, or social contempt. Rather, we use our criminal-justice system to associate criminality with people of color and then engage in the prejudiced practices we supposedly left behind. Today, it is legal to discriminate against ex-offenders in ways it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, depending on the state you’re in, the old forms of discrimination — employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, and exclusion from jury service — are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights and arguably less respect than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
…What caused the unprecedented explosion in our prison population? It turns out that the activists who posted the sign on the telephone pole were right: The “war on drugs” is the single greatest contributor to mass incarceration in the United States. Drug convictions accounted for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal prison system and more than half of the increase in the state prison system between 1985 and 2000 — the period of the U.S. penal system’s most dramatic expansion.
This kind of stuff is why I largely have no interest in political issues, at least not the sort that occupy most political bloggers. The ever-expanding police/military/surveillance state outweighs almost everything else in importance and in danger to the values we supposedly hold, yet unquestioned support for it is bipartisan, as is the inexorable upward transfer of wealth. Most progressive bloggers feebly note that supposed deficit hawks on the right have no interest in reining in military spending, but none of them are going to waste their time tilting at such windmills either, not when there’s a chance to pose for a picture with the president, or important progress to be made in making sure gays, atheists and fat people all get an equal opportunity to participate in our foreign conquests and occupations. And as Glenn Greenwald observes, even though Democratic politicians just as much as their Republican counterparts are going to keep prolonging the same “wars” on drugs and terror, progressives will meekly drop even the pretense of rebelliousness when election time rolls around.
Feh. If you need me, I’ll be doing some reading.