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Automated Targeting, Cruise-Control for What Hitler Had to Do By Hand

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I’m mad as hell. I’ve written in as moderate and civilized a manner as is possible (for me) for seven years now about this evil band of co-conspirators we call an administration. No matter, the gloves are off. I am like Howard Beale, the newscaster in the 1976 film Network. Grab some dialogue;
We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy.

It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."

Well, I'm not going to leave you alone.

I want you to get mad!

I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write.
All I know is that first, you've got to get mad.

You've gotta say, "I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!" So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"

Good old Howard. We should all watch that film every ten years or so along with Dr. Strangelove. Required viewing.

Anyway, the issue that finally yanked my chain is an article that ran in my morning copy of the venerable Washington Post. Ellen Nakashima wrote it, with a research assist by Julie Tate and it first had me nodding, ‘yeah sure, that again’ and proceeded from there to chill my blood.
U.S. Effort More Extensive Than Previously Known--The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.

Michael Chertoff, who has been unable to get anything right as he bumps into the  furniture of terrorism on the world set, and who I wouldn’t trust to take my kids to the dentist, has turned his fascist homeland security crowd loose with something called an Automated Targeting System.

You and I, our wives, sweethearts, husbands off making a living, kids on holiday and neighbors off on a  trip to Portugal they saved a lifetime for--are the targets. Mad Mike needs help, so that his underpaid, undertrained, weapons carrying, reflective sunglasses wearing, goofus border officials can distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country--our country.

Now—personally following Beale’s admonition that I had not taken thirty years ago—I am opening my (still openable, thank god) online window and calling the Bush administration exactly what it is—
An increasingly fascist motivated government, modeled on Hitler’s Germany.
In a climate of fear that George Bush himself created, he has taken for himself unprecedented powers. Let me be clear. When I say ‘Bush himself created,’ I am not subscribing to any conspiracy theories about the demise of the World Trade Center, but focusing on the unending demagoguery of his false reference to those acts to keep us in a suspended state of fear.
Four hundred thirty years before Christ, Pericles told those who cared to listen; “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.”
I refuse to be intimidated from making a comparison between this administration and the events in fascist Germany between 1923 and 1945. They are comparable. It is time, perhaps long past time, to compare them in public discourse without fear of consequence.

Hitler and Hitler’s times have been so distorted by the incredible ferocity and horror of the Holocaust that it is nearly impossible to understand either the man or his rise in a then stable democracy. Every step of the way to the destruction of Europe and the killing of Europe’s Jews, Gypsies, intellectual elite and individually selected ‘inferior types’ was agreed to either by plebiscite or within Hitler’s elected government.
(Wikipedia) At the end of July (1932) the Nazi party gained almost 14,000,000 votes securing 230 seats in the Reichstag. Energized by the incredible results Hitler asked to be made Chancellor. Papen offered the position of Vice Chancellor but Hitler refused.

Hermann Goring, in his position of Reichstag President, asked that decisive measures to be taken by the government over the spate in murders of national socialists. On August 9 amendments were made to the statute on ‘acts of political violence’ increasing the penalty to ‘lifetime imprisonment, 20 years hard labour or death’.

Special Courts were announced to try such offences, when in power less than half a year later, Hitler would use this legislation against his opponents with devastating effect.

Those ‘amendments’ were marshaled through by Herman Goering, then the Speaker of the Reichstag as well as president. Everything legal and above board. ‘Special courts were announced’ has its own ring of today’s Bush-Cheney operation. Remember, this was 1932 and economic depression in Germany was every bit the equal of terrorist fear in America.

Both are red meat to the demagogue.
The Nazi party lost 34 seats in the November 1932 election but remained the Reichstag's largest party.
In November (Chancellor) Papen left office and two months later secretly told Hitler that he still held considerable sway with Hindenburg and that he would make Hitler chancellor as long as he could be the vice chancellor. On January 30 Adolf Hitler is appointed chancellor of a coalition government comprised of the NSDAP-DNVP-Centre Party. The SA and to a lesser extent the SS lead torchlight parades throughout Berlin. In the coalition government three members of the cabinet including Hitler and also Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick and Hermann Goering as Minister Without Portfolio are Nazis.

Meanwhile, we take a brief interlude from democracy and get into the serious business of limiting dissent, but hey, who’s noticing?
The Night of the Long Knives or "Operation Hummingbird," took place in Germany between June 30 and July 2, 1934, when the Nazi regime executed at least eighty-five people for political reasons. Most of those killed were members of the "Storm Division" (SA), a Nazi paramilitary organization. Adolf Hitler moved against the SA and its leader, Ernst Röhm, because he saw the independence of the SA and the penchant of its members for street violence as a direct threat to his power. Hitler also wanted to forestall any move by army leaders, who both feared and despised the SA, to curtail his rule. Finally, Hitler used the purge to act against conservative critics of his regime, especially those loyal to Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen, and to settle scores with old enemies.
There has to be order in the streets.
President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor on January 30, 1933. Over the next months, Hitler eliminated all rival political parties in Germany so that by the summer of 1933, the country had become a one-party state under his direction and control. However, despite his swift consolidation of political authority, Hitler did not exercise absolute power. As chancellor, Hitler did not command the army, which remained under the formal leadership of Hindenburg as its commander-in-chief. While many officers were impressed by Hitler's promises of an expanded army, a return to conscription, and a more aggressive foreign policy, the army continued to guard its traditions of independence during the early years of the Nazi regime.
And so there was virtually no one to stop him. Which is one of the most elegant arguments for the impeachment of Bush-Cheney in America, not the fact (and indeed it is fact) of impeachable offense, but the breaking of continuity between this presidency and those that follow.

Powers given are powers taken yet never given back.

It’s not out of order here to check in with Napoleon and his words from exile. Another man who could turn a phrase in the cause of self promotion;
“Those who failed to oppose me, who readily agreed with me, accepted all my views, and yielded easily to my opinions, were those who did me the most injury, and were my worst enemies, because, by surrendering to me so easily, they encouraged me to go too far... I was then too powerful for any man, except myself, to injure me.”
                                -Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France 1769-1821)

Those who fail to oppose in these times are
  • Democrats intimidated by the tag of ‘soft on terrorism,’
  • Disenchanted neo-cons who have waited for the rapture of undoing 75 years of American social welfare
  • Embittered Nixon-era survivors who feel that president was improperly brought down and have since hungered for presidential empowerment.
  • Those citizens intimidated by even the thought of a terrorist incident
No real need to name you, but I will, for the sheer hell of it;
Intimidated Democrats; the whole bunch, excluding perhaps Joe Biden, Barack, Dennis Kucinich and possibly Hillary.
Disenchanted neo-cons; William Kristol, Richard Perle, David Addington, L. Paul Bremer, Paul Wolfowitz for starters and the incredible number of wide-eyed new recruits Bush packaged off as ‘advisors’ to the agencies of government, fill out the group.
Nixon-era survivors; Donald Rumsfeld and the most dangerous vice-president this country has ever had to endure, Richard Cheney.
You can argue my effort to draw parallels between these present day occupants of the White House (and its Republican environs) and Hitler’s rise in Germany, but you may not tell me that the comparison is out of bounds. That won't sell any longer. That very argument, that national interest trumps national discourse, is itself fascist.

I will not be intimidated.

Which leads me to the thrust of this particular argument, that Mike Chertoff’s Automated Targeting System is Hitlerism without the need of a pen.
The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf.

. . . Officials yesterday defended the retention of highly personal data on travelers not involved in or linked to any violations of the law. But civil liberties advocates have alleged that the type of information preserved by the department raises alarms about the government's ability to intrude into the lives of ordinary people. The millions of travelers whose records are kept by the government are generally unaware of what their records say, and the government has not created an effective mechanism for reviewing the data and correcting any errors, activists said.

The activists alleged that the data collection effort, as carried out now, violates the Privacy Act, which bars the gathering of data related to Americans' exercise of their First Amendment rights, such as their choice of reading material or persons with whom to associate. They also expressed concern that such personal data could one day be used to impede their right to travel.

The Privacy Act says (in part) that “no agency shall disclose any record which is contained in a system of records by any means of communication to any person, or to another agency, except pursuant to a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains.”

Sounds pretty airtight until you take a look at the exclusions, one of which states “except for law enforcement purposes” and there goes the ball game. Everything in the post 9-11 fascism of George Bush’s administration is for ‘law enforcement’ and to ‘keep the terrorists from coming here.’ He looks into the camera, squints a bit and presents those stupidities as rationale for harassing writers as well as businessmen.

Writers? He’s after the writers?
Zak Reed, a Toledo firefighter, said in an interview that he has been detained at least seven times at the Michigan border since fall 2006. Twice, he said, he was questioned by border officials about "politically charged" opinion pieces he had published in his local newspaper. The essays were critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, he said. Once, during a secondary interview, he said, "they had them printed out on the table in front of me."

Reed, an Air Force veteran of the first Gulf War and a convert to Islam, said that agents drew guns as they surrounded his car after scanning his passport. He and his wife said they were separated from each other and from their small children, one of whom remained without a needed diaper-change for hours.

Well, what do you expect, he’s a convert to Islam and we know they are all conspiring against us. Bush invokes 9-11 just as Hitler ranted against the conspiracies of the Social Democrats and Communists in 1933.
This very destabilization had been crucial in Hitler's rise to power, however, not least because it convinced many Germans that once Hitler became chancellor, the endemic street violence would end.
Free at last, free at last, great god almighty, free at last. Once Mike Chertoff has our histories locked up in his computers, we’ll all be safe from terrorists and he won’t even need Hitler’s laborious processing with pencil and pen.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in August 2006 said that "if we learned anything from Sept. 11, 2001, it is that we need to be better at connecting the dots of terrorist-related information.
That’s exactly the problem with guys like Chertoff, in over their heads. They think technology is going to save their sorry ass. The fact is, Mike, that 9-11 happened because no one at the FBI picked up their f*cking phone and listened to their field agent. Can’t connect those old dots if no one looks at those old dots, but it was a nice phrase and probably made a bunch of congressional weasels breathe easier—that at least it was someone else’s dots.
After Sept. 11, we used credit-card and telephone records to identify those linked with the hijackers. But wouldn't it be better to identify such connections before a hijacker boards a plane?" Chertoff said that comparing PNR data with intelligence on terrorists lets the government "identify unknown threats for additional screening" and helps avoid "inconvenient screening of low-risk travelers."
We are going to have terrorist events in this country. Every country in the world is experiencing this new and very effective protest vote on the part of those who disagree with us or our policies.
A DHS spokesman, added that the program is not used to determine "guilt by association." He said the DHS has created a program called DHS Trip to provide redress for travelers who faced screening problems at ports of entry.

But DHS Trip does not allow a traveler to challenge an agency decision in court, said David Sobel, senior counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued the DHS over information concerning the policy underlying the ATS. Because the system is exempted from certain Privacy Act requirements, including the right to "contest the content of the record," a traveler has no ability to correct erroneous information, Sobel said.

Who the hell believes there’s no ‘guilt by association?’ What other possible purpose could there be in associating us in the record books for 15 years?

When some customs agent in an obscure airport in an obscure country drags you off a plane because you ‘once sat next to Mohammed Atta on a flight to Prague,’ what are you going to do? Call Ghost Busters? Insist that an unknown ‘DHS spokesman’ promised you there’d be no guilt by association?

If you are unlucky enough to be pulled off that plane in America, you could—perfectly legally under laws currently (but recently) on our books—be declared a ‘terrorist’ and hustled off to an unknown prison, with no access to a lawyer and no one phoning home to mom or your wife and kiddies to tell them what the hell happened to you and why you never showed up for dinner.

That’s possible today. "Oh, but they'll never come for me."
Edward Hasbrouck, a civil liberties activist who was a travel agent for more than 15 years, said that his file contained coding that reflected his plan to fly with another individual. In fact, Hasbrouck wound up not flying with that person, but the record, which can be linked to the other passenger's name, remained in the system. "The Automated Targeting System," Hasbrouck alleged, "is the largest system of government dossiers of individual Americans' personal activities that the government has ever created."
Like having 2,000 ‘friends' on MySpace.
He said that travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left. "It's that lifetime log of everywhere you go that can be correlated with other people's movements that's most dangerous." 
And I will leave you to chew all that over and see if it needs to be spit out or swallowed. Two very wise presidents spoke to us on this subject, one a hundred years ago and the other two hundred. But wisdom has a terrific shelf-life.
Theodore Roosevelt cautioned that “to announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
That’s excellent advice, but what of prophesy? James Madison fills the bill in the prophecy department quite neatly, in a single sentence that might well take the place of this entire argument;
“The fetters (shackles) imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad.”
Real, pretended or imaginary.
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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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