Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Complaining About Water: Why We Must Be Vigilant About Those Being Vigilant About Terrorism

I'm not one of those wacko conspiracy enthusiasts, who think every move the government makes is specifically designed to take all our rights and all our guns away, put any dissenters in concentration camps or turn America into North Korea without the charm.

Still, there's been some things in the news lately that demonstrate why we need to pay attention to those who would misuse anti-terrorism laws and regulations.  Apparently, a few people are too tempted to mess around with those.
One Tennessee idiot says complaining about
the quality of a water supply is an act of terrorism

Here's one:

There's a federal law that in part says that anyone who poisons a public water supply, or even just says they did so, is committing a terrorist offense.

That's reasonable enough. You don't want everyone going into a panic because they think some yahoo put arsenic in the water supply or something.

But here's how such a law can be taken to an extreme in a terrible un-American way.

In Maury County, Tennessee, residents have been complaining about the water quality in the drinking supply. I don't know if they're right that there is a problem, but that's besides the point.

What happened at a meeting was creepy, uttered by creepy Tennessee Department of Conservation Deputy Director Sherwin Smith.

According to the Tennessean, via The Consumerist, Smith said the following:

"We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously......but you need to make sure that when you make water quality complains you have a basis, because federally, if there's no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security to be an act of terrorism."

So Smith says merely expressing an opinion about water quality, and expressing their concerns about it to a government officials, is an act of terrorism. So much for the First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech.

If the reporting on what Smith said is accurate, he is using a reasonable enough terrorism law to quash legitimate debate, and scare people into not petitioning or confronting the government. If he said this, Smith is un-American, un-patriotic, a moron, abusive and wrong, morally and legally.

The Tennessean said people at the meeting were at least as annoyed with Smith as I am:

"The comment shocked and outraged attendees, who saw it as an attempt to silence complains, said Brad Wright, organizer for SOCM in Middle Tennessee, (referring to a citizens' group worried about the water. )

"I think it's just to quash us complicating life for them," he said. 

Smith's bosses said they are looking into his comments, saying he later clarified his comments. Let's hope so.

There was a detail in an article by Marissa Taylor and Jonathan Landlay for McClatchy about how the Obama administration is really intent on squelching leaks, particularly from the Defense Department. 

In it, there's a reported detail of how people within the DOD should look for others among them that might be dissatisfied or prone to leaking information to the press or public that they don't want leaked.

Among the signs of a suspicious person is if they read salon.com or theonion.com

Salon is a news commentary site that is often skeptical of the Powers That Be. The Onion is a humorous satire site that often skewers what the government is doing.

So, you're suspect depending on what you read?  You'd be driven out of the Defense Department if you read the wrong stuff? As the McClatchy article points out, this would tend to lead to the type of groupthink where people miss stuff. You do need a variety of thinkers.

The Tennessee water controvery and the weirdness at the defense department are probably odd aberations that we can all hope will be dealt with.

But this type of thinking, of ostracizing people for what they think, read, see and do, is something that we need to be hypervigilant about. Yes, investigate people thought to be involved in wrongdoing. But must we all conform to what some "expert" says makes us innocent?

The scary thing about this is, could someone extend this hypervigilance on what people read and do and say to the greater world?

What if corporations take the cue from the government and also start analyzing us on what we criticize, what we read, what we say to whom?

In many ways, corporations have more power than the government.   Could there be spying, legal or not, where companies will end up making (often false) conclusions about us, so we're not hired, not given loans, not allowed into places,  not allowed to buy certain things, all because we were laughing at some silly article in The Onion?

There's got to be a better way to control terrorism and crime than to make criminals of all of us who dare to criticize, or dare to read something that someone in power doesn't like.


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