Friday, October 19, 2007

How It Begins

How had I never heard of this until now?

National Security Presidential Directive 51, otherwise known as NSPD-51 (original, that), is a measure to provide for "the continuity of Federal Government" in the case of a catastrophic emergency. In this directive, the term "catastrophic emergency" is defined as "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions." I would say that those two "or"s are a pretty big deal; if I didn't think this was all being done on purpose, I'd say it was a huge mistake or oversight, but I don't believe this government makes huge oversights any longer. I used to, but I can't. Catastrophic emergency would lead to a state of emergency, which, as far as I can see, it's pretty much the President's role to declare. Nor does anything in this document provide for the cessation of said state of emergency. Which is a little bit too Handmaid's Tale for my liking. Not to mention that we're seeing only the slightest bit of it, as the rest is classified. Given how prone this administration is to shrouding things in secrecy, I can only imagine the number of annexes actually in existence, and how select the number of people permitted to view them.

I came upon the directive through this article, which everyone should read, immediately. I am grateful for its presence now and nevertheless feel a minor tremor of alarm at the fact that this mothafuckah has been around since MAY and this is the first I, a person fairly politically well-informed, have heard of it. It's October. Obviously there's been an entry on Wikipedia since a couple of weeks after the bit of it that we can see was released, but it got caught up in everything else that people are thinking about.

And thereby hangs a tale. We hear about problems, like extraordinary rendition, and we hear about victories, like the precipitous decline of Bush's approval rating ("we" here would be members of the public whose views have some general overlap with mine), but we have not taken the time to connect problems into a system. And I'm becoming more and more convinced that there are minds deep in the administration making these connections, and that when we view incidents as isolated—such views arising both from our own nature and from media manipulation—or even treat them as isolated without consciously viewing them as such, we're making about the gravest mistake that we as independent political actors can make.

That's where Boal's right about catharsis. He's also wrong in a number of ways, which I realized through Six Feet Under and which I intend to write about soon, but the way he's right is that we think—we both are trained to think, and genuinely end up thinking—that one spurt of anger, one anti-war march, one stump speech, one victory in debate, one miniscule activist gesture or donation, is enough if it Makes Us Feel Better. If we've shaken out the anger through an established route, we figure it must be okay. Now NSPD-51 may not be as not okay as it feels to me right now, but it is definitely not okay. And writing this essay about it is not going to purge that.

The fact is, I don't think it's relevant to me whether this is a conspiracy theory or not anymore. If nothing comes of this, awesome. I'll be happy, and grateful if nothing comes of any of this (I admit, because T-bone would point it out, that the novelist in me will also be disappointed, but I also know I am not capable of writing the novel to truly compete with or even reflect the possible reality, so that's not a trail worth pursuing), but I really can't find the logic for making some of these changes if there weren't a few plans underway, and even if somebody else can find that logic, I want to have plans of my own. I don't want to be led to do anything I wouldn't otherwise do or care about, but I want to make plans, coordinations and central meeting places, with the people I love. I want to know where my stronghold or strongholds are going to be in the case of such a disaster; I want to know that I could find my way out of the country if I needed to, and that if I chose to stay within, I could have a center from which I could make real efforts to change things.

My faith in the Constitution as a document of leadership is unbridled; to say that would, I hope, make clear that in general I know the limitations of documents. Which is to say, the Constitution has been part of American history for two-hundred-odd years and there's still been a whole lotta fuckin' injustice in American history. It means that NSPD-51 is not the be-all and end-all, either. But in its vague wording, whether deliberate or stupid, it allows for the indefinite suspension of the Constitution (again, not explicitly, but as Rosenbaum and Corsi and Cohn point out, should the "Enduring Constitutional Government" come into existence, the President will have coordinating oversight over the other two branches, which makes it possible for him to, oh, do whatever he wants), and that was always what was really required for any dystopia involving the United States to make sense.

The above paragraph was extreme. I don't feel confident in my ability to determine whether the extreme is likely right now. But again, I'm also not sure it's relevant.

I also know that I really, really want to be able to cast a Patronus that can send messages to my loved ones. An inevitable truth, one that I do feel confident in my ability to consider and express, is that Americans are so spoiled as to be incredibly vulnerable, from within and without. We've already had the without exploited by September 11, and we've all seen the reports making clear that the specific vulnerabilities exploited by September 11 haven't gotten any better; from within, it occurs to me now that, for example, there's a whooooole lotta personal information about me easily within reach in my apartment, should a trumped-up search warrant ever come my way. There are many objects and documents in the room where I'm currently sitting that make clear who I love, where they live, what they mean to me, what intimacies I share with them and only them. It's all there in Harry Potter: loving people is an incredible strength and an incredible vulnerability. Should I be seen as any threat to a military dictatorship, which obviously would take a lot more than I'm doing now, I would be really bloody easy to manipulate. I love enough that there would be a lot of routes for keeping myself safe and a lot of leverage against me.

And could I live any other way and still be happy with it? Not now, not when I can't convince myself I have to. But it means there are possibilities I should probably spend a little time bracing myself for.

Conspiracy theory, as I'm feeling it right now, is only a problem when it takes over aspects of your life it doesn't have to. In other words, I don't mind having a conspiracy theory right now, as long as I do not make myself into a conspiracy theorist. I see enough of a risk, if not outright threat, that I want to make plans, and I want to be thinking about possibilities, and I also want to be living the life I'm living right now, which happens to be one that I like quite a bit.

So in that life, this is something interesting and important—not the only interesting or important thing, but one of many—and it's one that people should be talking about more. Please, please disseminate the links I posted above. Please have conversations about NSPD-51 with the people in your life, especially people who might not have heard of it, even if you don't agree with a word I've said about it here. Please send balls to Congress encouraging them to overturn it, encouraging them to demand that they take an equal role with the president in "coordinating" the government in a state of emergency, demanding better legislative definitions of catastrophe. Make plans, and if we're in one another's analog lives, include me in them. The worst that can happen as a result of such actions is that a Democrat will take office in 2008 and we will have clarified and prioritized our needs.


At 10:46 AM, Blogger Milligan said...

I seem to recall that it was about the time that Bush took office that my family settled on an emergency plan -- mostly agreeing where we all head to meet up if worse comes to worst. As this was probably before September 2001 it likely had as much to do with my sister moving away for college as anything else, but still there was that kernel of distrust.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure that the prime mind deep within the administration is named Dick Cheney. Best anyone can tell, he's been plotting these things since the Reagan era.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Connor said...

I'll grant you, that's pretty creepy.


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