Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Tuesday, March 4, 2002


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Of all the stories that flooded the old mailroom in response to last week's column (about surveillance cameras, "predictive software," implanted I.D. chips, gag orders on booksellers and librarians), few were as alarming as a Guardian article from Great Britain about "plans to electronically tag juvenile offenders as young as 12."

Ah, carefree youth. The electronic devices will be attached to the arms and legs of offending kids and set to trigger an alarm installed in the children's home if they have broken curfew.

The reason for the tags, according to home secretary David Blunkett, is that "people are sick and tired of [child offenders] being put back on the street unsupervised, untagged and insecure, actually carrying on doing what they did before."

Right, let's lower the boom on children when we can't do our job! Adults aren't tagged because the procedure would not be "cost-effective."

But here's the scarier part: "Young offenders will not need to have a criminal record to be tagged and could feasibly be put on the scheme after being arrested for serious offences for the first time." No trial, no conviction needed: Now that is truly cost-effective.

And scariest: The plan, which may result in the tagging of 6000 child offenders, is underway as "a bid to restore confidence in the justice system." What a moron, oxy! The code name is "Operation Safer Streets," but hey, safer for whom?



The idea above, that government should act as parent or protector of the populace, comes up in a Mother Jones article (March-April issue) about Attorney General John Ashcroft by reporter David Corn.

Before 9/11 reporter David Corn writes, Ashcroft seemed to run the Department of Justice in a low-key, even egalitarian manner (given his reputation as a "full-fledged religious-right crusader").

But after 9/11, Ashcroft has been "sincerely self-righteous in his role as America's protector," a Department of Justice executive tells Corn.

It's no news, but chilling still, that Ashcroft used his "archconservative policy wonks" to draw up the USA Patriot Act and give new authority to the FBI "to search homes and offices without probable cause and to monitor phone conversations and email," (we won't get into the part about grand juries passing confidential information onto the CIA).

What is news and perhaps most chilling about the article is Ashcroft's plan "to pursue his values" by giving the FBI "additional surveillance powers" that may "even attempt to influence the shape of the Internet - demanding, for example, that all electronic traffic be forced through easy-to-monitor nodes."

Not my nodes, Doctor! Heavens, those I.D. implant chips are looking better and better...



Thanks, too, to the many readers who sent a copy of Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich's speech, "A Prayer for America," which ran in TheNation.com, CommonDreams.org, CounterPunch.org and other places recently (you can read it for example at http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0226-09.htm).

I had planned to hold Kucinich's "prayer" from last time (#303) because so many of the examples of government agents snooping and seizing and barging seemed to beg for an answer to this question:

What was Congress thinking when it gave Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice unprecedented (and previously illegal) power under the USA Patriot Act?

Indeed, Kucinich says: "Why should America put aside guarantees of constitutional justice," which the Patriot Act is "in effect canceling"?

To those who insist we must justify some abridgement of civil liberties for the sake of national security following 9/11, Kucinich replies:

"We cannot justify widespread wiretaps and Internet surveillance without judicial supervision, let alone with it.

"We cannot justify secret searches without a warrant.

"We cannot justify giving the Attorney General the ability to designate domestic terror groups.

"We cannot justify giving the FBI total access to any type of data which may exist in any system anywhere such as medical records and financial records.

"We cannot justify giving the CIA the ability to target people in this country for intelligence surveillance."

The point is that after 9/11, Congress gave the President "the ability to respond to the tragedy," says Kucinich. But it also reserved the right "to proportion the response, to challenge the response, and to correct the response."

This is what those great New York activists who are racing around mapping all the surveillance cameras and broadcasting the locations on the web are saying when they insist that people can set the conditions if the government starts snooping, barging and snooping beyond its powers.

As Kucinich notes, Congress may have passed the USA Patriot Act, but:

"We did not authorize the repeal of the Bill of Rights.

"We did not authorize the revocation of the Constitution.

"We did not authorize national identity cards.

"We did not authorize the eye of Big Brother to peer from cameras throughout our cities."

Nor did Congress authorize "the bombing of civilians in Afghanistan," "permanent detainees in Guantanamo Bay," "withdrawal from the Geneva Convention," military tribunals, assassination squads or "the resurrection of COINTELPRO," that nifty Orwellian surveillance program that helped President Nixon keep track of his enemies.

If it's possible to stop "war without end" and "make nonviolence an organizing principle in our own society," says Kucinich, it's time to create a Department of Peace ("43 members of Congress are now co-sponsoring the legislation") and stop allowing decisions to be motivated by fear.

Sounds great, doesn't it? What astounds me is that only a short time ago, Kucinich's idea - simply to "challenge the rationale of the Patriot Act" - would have seemed traitorous to many. Now it seems, well, patriotic.

And if you wonder what all this has to do with books, that gag order on booksellers and librarians described in #303 is at the center of the USA Patriot Act's abuse of power. If we tolerate these conditions, the whole atmosphere of free expression for which books are our anchor will gradually disappear.



Dear Holt Uncensored:

Your reader's comments about Advanced Book Exchange as a great online place to go for book dealers and customers is a bit out of date and lacks mention of the huge controversy that has overtaken the used/rare/out-of-print book field. Here's an update:

Advanced Book Exchange has been by far the largest and most dealer friendly site since Amazon bought and closed down Bibliofind. That is all changing, ABE has hired corporate types to run the company and has announced that it is going to change the way that dealers are allowed to do business through their site.

Today the customer can go to ABE, find a book and contact the dealer to buy it. For this service the 7000+ listing dealers pay a fee that probably averages $40.00 a month (That's over 1/4 million per MONTH). Apparently ABE doesn't think that 3+ million a year is enough. The new system will continue to charge the same monthly fee but it will also impose a fee of about 5% on sales that come through the site. The used book dealer community is not happy with the new system. ABE is joining a long list of sites that went from being dealer-friendly to gouging them. Another is Alibris, which began as Interloc, a site where dealers could sell books direct to customers. When Alibris took over, the site demanded a 20% discount and refused to allow contact between the dealer and the customer. (The Alibris business model is "We give worse service at higher prices"). We also saw Amazon.com buy Bibliofind, which was tied with ABE as the leading site at the time. Amazon neglected Bibliofind for over a year before shutting it down to try to force their dealers into listing through the Amazon programs where Amazon could take 15% out of every sale and still collect a $40 monthly subscription fee. We saw Alibris get a reported $20 million investment from CGMI before the Internet bubble burst, they used part of it to buy out Bibliocity and shut it down.

A Reader

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Regarding your column on the continued loss of civil liberties, due in large part to USA Patriot Act:

The whole business is probably inevitable in some form, but I have a hunch a combination of ridicule, common sense and public disobedience -- in addition to lawyers -- will probably cut it down to size. Since most of us don't opt for law enforcement careers, I think we need to look for ways to get these guys and gals who do to enlist on our side by figuring out ways for them to feel we're all on the same side. Needless to say, I don't have any suggestions to make -- but it's a thought.

Gene Schwartz

Holt replies: Hey, what a great idea. I can't imagine that any FBI agent is comfortable demanding records from libraries and bookstores, just for starters. Maybe there's a way to make a formal or informal appeal to the ones who decide how investigations proceed and maybe move records about what people read (honest to heaven!) to the bottom of the list. I've written about the assaults booksellers have had to fight for 30 years - predatory chain stores and bestseller-stealing Costcos and discount-crazy superstores and Amazon.com incursions and sales-tax biased tax boards and soaring rents - all the while facing the "usual" problems of censorship and government demands for customer purchases (that rotten Kenneth Starr). But I never thought that booksellers, along with librarians, would have to fight the biggest threat to come for the rest of us: A gag rule that allows FBI agents to barge in and take what they want without accountability. But fight it they do.

Dear Holt Uncensored:

In his letter appearing in issue #303 Zac Unger wrote:

"Therefore, I propose the best of both worlds: powells.com and abebooks.com. These are both websites from indies that sell used books. These sites can be browsed just like Amazon, the money goes to support indies that have a bricks-and-mortar presence, and best of all, the books are used...and cheap! ....... What could be better? "

The answer to the final question is www.TomFolio.com. This is a website that is owned and operated by a cooperative of independent booksellers. The site lists over a million used books offered by over 200 independent book dealers. It also features a unique browse by category system. To list on the site a dealer MUST be an independent, chains and publicly traded corporations are banned in the bylaws of the cooperative. The CoOp currently has owners and listers from the US, Canada, England, Australia, South Africa, Germany The Netherlands and Israel.

Dennis Grannen
Vice President ABookCoOp / Tomfolio.com

Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

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