Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Unfree Country Chronicles, Part I: When You Pay Down Your Debt, the Terrorists Win

If you ever want to see me choke on my own bile, then suggest to me, in all seriousness, that "it's a free country!" Seriously, just try it. Four little words, that's all. Four little words that make me want to break furniture with my bare hands or repeatedly kick an effigy of Sean Hannity where the naughty bits should be.

People who say such things are either profoundly, incurably ignorant, or colossal fucking morons. There's very little room for reasoned debate on this issue. Sorry. The anecdotal evidence of our unfree status is so bleedingly, indisputably apparent, that this is one of those issues where the devil's advocate can pretty much go fuck himself.

In a shockingly vainglorious attempt to make this truth abundantly clear, herewith I present the first installment of what I hope becomes an ongoing series: The Unfree Country Chronicles:

(Oh what, title not clever enough for you? YOU come up with something pithy and urbane, Socrates. Maybe then I'll use it.)

Walter and Deana Soehnge were recently red-flagged by the Department of Homeland Security. What heinous act of sedition alerted the state to the possible threat the Soehnges posed? Their credit card payment was too high:

They just paid a hefty chunk of their credit card balance. And they learned how frighteningly wide the net of suspicion has been cast.

After sending in the check, they checked online to see if their account had been duly credited. They learned that the check had arrived, but the amount available for credit on their account hadn't changed.

So Deana Soehnge called the credit-card company. Then Walter called.

"When you mess with my money, I want to know why," he said.

They both learned the same astounding piece of information about the little things that can set the threat sensors to beeping and blinking.

They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted.

It shouldn't take an anarchist smartass like me to point out that, when the state forces financial institutions to act as spying proxies, we've pretty much forfeited most reasonable claims to a 'free' society.

And the Kafka-esque nature of the Soehnges' predicament is stunning: send in no payment and their credit score suffers, harming their prospects for future loans. Send in too small a payment and accrue more interest and debt. Send in too large a payment and raise the suspicions of the feds despite not one scintilla of evidence of criminal activity. I'm just brimming with questions at this point:

  • How are they to read the minds of bureaucrats to know how much is the "right" amount?
  • Does a 'free country' freeze its citizens' assets until the unfairly applied label of 'threat alert' is lifted?
  • Isn't that tantamount to being forced to prove your innocence, a concept pretty noxious to all notions of a free society?
  • Had the Soehnges not called to find out why credit for their payment was delayed, would they have ever been notified that DHS had to vet the transaction?
  • If not, how would the 'threat alert' ever have been lifted? Wouldn't this require some kind of DHS monitoring or investigation of the Soehnges without their knowledge?

This is a pretty heavy-handed way of dealing with people repaying a loan for things as innocuous as really high thread count sheets or perhaps a sweet retro stereo system with turntable. (I don't know what they actually bought. Just work with me here.) It is chilling that all the state has to do is invoke the specter of terrorism and presto! Innocent (even responsible) behavior becomes suspect, and outrageous state snooping and intrusions are justified on the flimsiest of pretexts.

And it hardly needs to be pointed out where all this will end up: less and less privacy and financial freedom for us all, more state spying, and not one act of terror prevented from any of it.

Free country, my arse.

(h/t to Lew Rockwell via newsalert)

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