Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

domingo, septiembre 23, 2007

You Ain't Going Nowhere

cross posted at dailyKos

The US Government has the resources for surveillance of where I'm going and what books I'm taking with me when I leave the country, and it says it has the ability to keep all of this on file for 15 years. But it apparently doesn't have the resources in a timely way to renew my passport. Pardon me, but is this just a little bit messed up? And it probably means that despite my travel plans to go to Mexico in October, I ain't going nowhere.

On October 1, 2007, nobody, that's you and me if we're US citizens, is leaving the US for Canada or Mexico or getting back into the US from Mexico and Canada without a US passport. Period. We know this because that's what the State Department says:
beginning October 1, 2007, all U.S. Citizens traveling outside the United States will be required to present a valid passport to enter and depart from the United States. This accommodation does not mean that Americans are exempt from meeting the entry requirements of Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or countries in the Caribbean region.

Fine. In early September, my spouse and I sent passport renewal applications with the fees to be expedited and with return Express Mail envelopes. As of Friday, the State Department web site didn't even note that our applications had been received. But you already know about this insanity from this 9/11/07 diary by Annilow.

So are we leaving or not? Are we buying plane reservations or not? I just don't know. But it's entirely obvious that we're not going to Mexico without the renewed passports.

The government says it has tried to remedy this problem of inordinate delays. According to a New York Times article in July, 2007
To meet the record level of demand for passports that new travel restrictions have created, a State Department official said, the agency has asked its employees to work overtime processing applications and answering phones. The department has also asked retirees to help with the backlog.

That was 3 months ago. And just today, the Times reported
STILL waiting for that passport you applied for this summer? The State Department says it’s on its way. The time it takes to process a passport has returned to the usual six to eight weeks, a welcome change for many Americans whose travel plans were upset this summer as the department’s staff worked through a substantial backlog.

Did you get that? "The usual six to eight weeks". What a joke. Form DS-82, the instructions(pdf , paragraph 3) for applying for a renewal, which I downloaded when I got my application on line says
For faster processing, you may request expedited service. Expedited requests will be process in three workdays from receipt at a passport agency. The additional fee for expedited service is $60....

I'm not laughing.

Where are the "resources" to handle this supposed "security issue" of issuing renewal passports? Evidently, while there are apparently insufficient personnel for the entirely routine issuance of my renewal passport, there is more than enough personnel ready to root through my suitcases and to list the books I carry and their authors.
Homeland Security officials said this week they generally are not interested in reading habits. "I flatly reject the premise the department is interested in what travelers are reading," Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said. "We are completely uninterested in the latest Tom Clancy novel that the traveler may be reading."

But, Knocke said, "if there is some indication ... that leads the inspection officer to conclude there could be a possible violation of the law, it is the front-line officer's duty to further scrutinize the traveler."

OK. I'm carrying and have carried the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (a friend of Allende and a leftist), Robert Bolano (a friend of Allende and a leftist), Pablo Neruda (a Nobel laureate who was a communist). Is that subversive enough? And what about all of the others carrying books by the same authors? Do all of them, like me, have to be surveilled and does the government have to find out what the connections between us might be?

I know all this reading and literary analysis is hard, time consuming work. For all I know, the government may be hiring hundreds and hundreds of literature graduate students to read these books and decide whether particular books are sufficiently subversive to require making connections between their readers. It's a measure of how crazy the government has become that it hasn't been hiring enough people for the ministerial task of issuing renewal passports and it might need people with Masters' degrees to distill data about literature.

Even if one were to put aside all of the legal and Constitutional issues in this bizarre surveillance program, other than creating an even more seemless police state, exactly what is the point of saving all of this literary material for a decade and a half and continuing to analyze it?

Do we all have to watch the wonderful police-state surveillance movie, The Lives of Others, finally to understand what this is all about? And how restrictions on leaving East Germany were used to prop up the government?

Update (9/24): The government website says that my passport has been mailed to me and that I should get it today. I'm delighted. However, I don't withdraw any of the above.

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