Thursday, August 21, 2008

“First We Take,” the Lessons of 1933 Germany

1933germanstreetscene As may be apparent from the title, I am going to make comparisons to the early years of Hitler Germany, when he demanded and took various powers by entirely legal and democratic methods. Hitler ended up a dictator, but he was enabled to that ultimate goal by a population terrified by an economic maelstrom and the ever growing lawlessness across Germany.

Conservative, disheartened and increasingly desperate Germans repeatedly went to the polls and elected National Socialist (Nazi) candidates.

Pelosicartoon The Holocaust has taken Nazi Germany as ‘off the table’ of political discussion as Nancy Pelosi’s unilateral removal of impeachment and perhaps for similar reasons; sensitivity. It’s just too divisive, says Nancy, as though we were frightened children needing to hide our faces in her skirt.
Never again, say the Israelis, as 800,000 Rwandans are massacred and Stalin kills (by some estimates) 25 million of his own people, Mao another 35 million and the carnage goes on, uncompared.

Forbidding the discussion of parallels is to make them invisible. Invisibility is the workplace of those who would do us wrong, not in the light of discussion and criticism, but behind closed doors, in secret session. Every attack against our constitutionally guaranteed rights, since 9-11, has been whisked behind the opaque door of ‘top secret’ and ‘national interest,’ thereby kept from the public view.

Heildemocracy Comparison? We are denied comparison as well. Nazi, has been made yet another N-word; unspeakable in polite society and therefore far more dangerous to our civil rights and the lessons history has to teach. Author Aldous Huxley cautioned us that "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored"

Unable to debate the similarity between America today and Hitler’s 1933 Germany, those who oppose authoritarian presidencies in place of constitutional balance are disarmed. Relegated to the pillow-fights of uncritical media, we stand impotent while our country is slid out from under us. If you value Nancy Pelosi’s sensitivity above and beyond the lessons of history, go turn on MTV and leave this column to the less frightened.

(Washington Post, August 16th, U.S. May Ease Police Spy Rules, by Spencer Hsu and Carrie Johnson)

The Justice Department has proposed a new domestic spying measure that would make it easier for state and local police to collect intelligence about Americans, share the sensitive data with federal agencies and retain it for at least 10 years.

The proposed changes would revise the federal government's rules for police intelligence-gathering for the first time since 1993 and would apply to any of the nation's 18,000 state and local police agencies that receive roughly $1.6 billion each year in federal grants.

Forget 9-11 and put aside the past eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration, clear your head of various blue-ribbon panel recommendations and recognize that this ruling is made at the exit-gate, by an organization on its way out the door. It’s publicly announced by the Justice Department on a Saturday in mid-August.

Swatpolice With Germanic precision, Bush’s Department of Homeland Security has put the nation’s police departments on the intravenous-drip of federal money. Did you ever suspect that one day America would be called a Homeland. Did you ever in your most Orwellian dream believe that Americans would stand for that? Not only stand for it, but wave the flag?

You guys need night-vision, armored personnel carriers, automatic weaponry, training, anti-terror camps? Line right up at the fed spigot and drink deeply. It’s the nationalist thing to do, patriotic to the core, swinging into step for God and country. Nice new toys, huh? Shiny and cool, you bet. Manly and preparedness-friendly, yessir.

For the Phoenix police? For Detroit? We need armored personnel-carriers and machine-guns for Phoenix and Detroit? This, for a response to a terrorist act? Crowd control against American crowds? Gimme a break.

Now, says the Fed, we don’t want to see you lose all that great stuff and we don’t want to intimidate—not us. But, remember where those toys came from. Quicker’n a sub-prime loan, they can be taken back. 18,000 police departments that grab a part of that $1.6 billion (and more to come), lose most of their autonomy (noun: Immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority: political independence).

Quietly unveiled late last month, the proposal is part of a flurry of domestic intelligence changes issued and planned by the Bush administration in its waning months. They include a recent executive order that guides the reorganization of federal spy agencies and a pending Justice Department overhaul of FBI procedures for gathering intelligence and investigating terrorism cases within U.S. borders.

Taken together, critics in Congress and elsewhere say, the moves are intended to lock in policies for Bush's successor and to enshrine controversial post-Sept. 11 approaches that some say have fed the greatest expansion of executive authority since the Watergate era.

Bushcheneycartoon They are also, without a shred of doubt, setting groundwork and legal precedent to protect Bush administration abuses from actually sending officials to prison. Prior to January 20th, look for Bush to provide blanket immunity for all acts against terrorism—however that term may be defined. The Reagan administration, choir-boys by comparison, suffered 61 indictments.

Justicedeptcartoon Bush, while still president (and, in his own mind, still able to preside by decree) will absolutely protect Cheney, Addington, Rumsfeld, Rice and whatever smaller fish threaten to fall into the nets of American justice.

1933 Germany was a parliamentary republic and thus the Chancellor was subject only to votes of confidence. Wobbly in his hold on office, Hitler chose to burn down the Reichstag (parliament), blame it on his nearest political enemy and take immediate dictatorial control in the heat of public panic. The Bolsheviks were at the gates.

We elect our presidents for a maximum of eight years, but there are those who fear an attack on Iran and a ‘temporary’ suspension of habeus corpus and a ‘necessary’ period of martial law ‘until the terrorist threat subsides.’ Terrorists rather than Bolsheviks at the gates. Easier perhaps, than a bogus fire within the Congress of the United States.

Dhscartoon America has already been scared half to death in preparation, but Blackwater stands ready to ‘assist’ local police, should there be any ‘outbreaks of terrorist activity.’ New Orleans was the prep event.

As in 1933 Germany, first we take the public confidence. Then we replace the democracy blamed for losing the public confidence by trains that run on time, a hustling off of dissenters, polishing the apple of modern media and possibly an additional sop such as a holiday on mortgage foreclosures. The banks will be massively subsidized for their inconvenience.

When first we have taken, then all else falls into place. Writers of columns such as this will be gone.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the administration agrees that it needs to do everything possible to prevent unwarranted encroachments on civil liberties, adding that it succeeds the overwhelming majority of the time.

Bush homeland security adviser Kenneth L. Wainstein said, "This is a continuum that started back on 9/11 to reform law enforcement and the intelligence community to focus on the terrorism threat."

Those statements, in and of themselves, ought to chill the most conservative blood.

Under the Justice Department proposal for state and local police, published for public comment July 31, law enforcement agencies would be allowed to target groups as well as individuals, and to launch a criminal intelligence investigation based on the suspicion that a target is engaged in terrorism or providing material support to terrorists. They also could share results with a constellation of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and others in many cases.

Privacyrightscartoon Allowed to target, with no more than a suspicion of providing support to terrorists. We have by that, just given over innocent until proven guilty to its direct opposite. Would be allowed to smash down your door at 2AM and hustle you (or me) off to Guantanamo and no one the wiser.

And last week, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said that the Justice Department will release new guidelines within weeks to streamline and unify FBI investigations of criminal law enforcement matters and national security threats. The changes will clarify what tools agents can employ and whose approval they must obtain.

Clarify. Ja, ve vill clarify, but first ve vill streamline.

Critics say preemptive law enforcement in the absence of a crime can violate the Constitution and due process. They cite the administration's long-running warrantless-surveillance program, which was set up outside the courts, and the FBI's acknowledgment that it abused its intelligence-gathering privileges in hundreds of cases by using inadequately documented administrative orders to obtain telephone, e-mail, financial and other personal records of U.S. citizens without warrants.

Constitution, poof! Ve haff already crossed that bridge and who obcheckted? No von, not von obchecktion from the Reichstag, uh, Congress. Vat critics remain, ve haff means to silence critics.

Jamie Gorelick cited the recent disclosure that undercover Maryland State Police agents spied on death penalty opponents and antiwar groups in 2005 and 2006 to emphasize that the policies would require close oversight.

Ofersight, ja. Ve haff no problems with oversight.

German, an FBI agent for 16 years, said easing established limits on intelligence-gathering would lead to abuses against peaceful political dissenters. In addition to the Maryland case, he pointed to reports in the past six years that undercover New York police officers infiltrated protest groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention; that California state agents eavesdropped on peace, animal rights and labor activists; and that Denver police spied on Amnesty International and others before being discovered.

"If police officers no longer see themselves as engaged in protecting their communities from criminals and instead as domestic intelligence agents working on behalf of the CIA, they will be encouraged to collect more information," German said. "It turns police officers into spies on behalf of the federal government."

Ja (chuckle), I qvote the vice-prezident; “So vat!” First ve take, then vill be plenty time to give.

Conspiracy theorist? Me? Please, that charge is so 1933.


Media comment:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for publishing this well reasoned opinion piece. One of the Bush Administrations attacks on free speech is codified in the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. This federal law criminalizes speech. Any speech or activity that negatively impacts (reduces profits) of an animal enterprise (puppy mills, research institutions, factory farms, fur farms etc) is now a federal felony. It is called terrorism to call for a boycott of Tyson because it tortures chickens and pollutes the earth. It is called terrorism to protest in front of a veal farm holding signs explaining the complicity of the dairy industry in the cruelty of the veal industry and the devastating impact both have on the environment.
    There is no doubt that if transported to 2008 Benjamin Franklin would be ashamed of what our country has become. I know I am.