Friday, May 23, 2008

First they came for the Latinos. . .

It's cool to dismiss fears about encroaching fascism as "tinfoil-hat" stuff. It's maybe too cool.

There's been a little hooha over on Feathered Bastard about whether the Homeland Security Department's published "Endgame" plan amounts to anything. Stephen Lemons writes:

Despite the occasional references to the humane treatment of detainees, and a meek, brief discussion of alternatives to incarceration, the plan seems perfectly suited to the paranoid mental playgrounds of left-wing tinfoil-hat types. But the document itself is all too real. And even if the conspiracy theories it has spawned are straight from planet woo, this post-9/11 detention and removal strategy still has a creepy, Orwellian feel to it.
I have two problems with the "planet woo" dismissal. One, no evaluation, no assessment, no measure of anything takes place in a vacuum. What's as important as the thing itself is its context. And two, what if the woo theorists are wrong?

What the tin-hat lampooners miss is the context. It's not just about a published plan to round up "aliens" entitled "Endgame." It's about the context in which this document was written and will be implemented. Who wrote it? What is the political ideology of the Administration charged with implementing it? Have any other of its actions warranted constitutional or human rights concern? Are current arrests, deportations, and detentions happening under this plan being conducted acceptably, with due process and respect for constitutional rights and guarantees? Are there racist, national supremacist, corporatist and other troubling taints in this plan? What does the selection of particular words like "Endgame" suggest?

This Administration has earned enormous concern about its pronounced fascist tendencies, and I'm hardly the first to note them. Given its disdain for the balance of powers, its fondness for torture, its demonizing of political opponents as "traitors," its channeling of vast federal resources to benefit large corporate crony interests, its confounding of fundamentalist ideology with the State, its partisan and policy attacks on liberals, progressives, women, GLBT people, and people of color, its private, Christianist mercenary army, and its penchant for privatized prisons with zero accountability, no rational person would regard the "Endgame" document as anything but alarming.

Not to mention this, from the Massachusetts ACLU:". . . Endgame uses tactics similar to the ethnic cleansing we saw in the Balkans during the 1990s -- lightning raids, mass arrests, packed detention centers, and mass deportations. . . ."

Or this from ICE spokesman Vinnie Picard about "Endgame":
"I would characterize it by saying that we’re focusing our priorities not so much on dates but on other kinds of goals. . . Like reducing the percentage of foreign-born criminals in the state jails here in Arizona.
Well, I've sure noticed that, haven't you? So tell me, if that's been the focus, how come Governor Janet had to redirect Arpaio's enforcers to that very purpose? If that was the priority, how come Arpaio was going after mere undocumented workers in their beds?

No small discrepancy, that. It indicates either that Picard is badly misinformed, or that ICE and Arpaio are wildcatting, or that the stated priority really isn't the priority after all. Deeds speak louder than words.

So much more could be said, about individuals who've simply disappeared in detention, or been molested or beaten; about a baby snatched out of a parent's arms in a public mall; about Mexicans deported to Guatemala and vice versa, without money or passport or papers; about unexplained deaths in detention centers; about the use of taxpayer funds to build detention centers for the exclusive profit of private, well connected individuals; about the nasty revolving door between the boards of the privatized prison industry and public officials.

And so much more could be said about the language in that document. "Endgame"? Echoes of "Final Solution" are hard to miss. That doesn't make the plan inevitably analogous to gas chambers, but it sure suggests that the powers who wrote and approved it wanted us to be mindful that history does repeat itself. I, for one, don't like attempts to intimidate me, particularly from representatives sworn to uphold our Constitution and Bill of Rights. So I take it fairly seriously when they do try to intimidate me. I regard that as a real and significant warning that those in power are veering sharply off track.

Two, what if the tinfoil-hat lampooners are wrong and those of us who smell danger turn out to be right? It'll be too late then to say, "I told you so." As that's the case, I tend to look at ridiculing the cautious among us as both unwise and unhelpful. Remember Pastor Martin Niemoeller?

A massive network of privatized prisons and a frenzy of official terrorizing and abuse directed at the nation's Latinos--not undocumented workers exclusively, at all-- is a situation that every one of us is required to look at in light of the Constitution and history. We have a duty to be skeptical and to be outraged when we see these abuses of power, and a duty to stop them.

As to what they portend for the rest of us, it wouldn't be the first time that this nation has rounded up potential political enemies, would it? It wouldn't be the first time that a prominent, civilized western government has been murderously deranged, either.

Somewhere in our founding documents it says that Americans have the right and the duty to remove any government that acts unjustly.

As I was browsing the Internet looking for that citation, I stumbled across the obscure story of a Breton priest named Lamennais (1782-1854)whom the Catholic hierarchy chose to condemn not once but twice.

Lamennais expressed eloquently the concepts our own founding documents express. These, therefore, are the only principles that should govern any genuine patriot in this country now. Take a look. I'm hoping that seeing them expressed in a different form will give them new meaning, and maybe inspire us to remember where we come from.

On freedom of conscience:

"Those who persecute in the name of Jesus, who probe people’s consciences with the sword, who torture the body in order to convert the soul, who make tears flow rather than wipe them do not have the spirit of Jesus."

On liberty: "Liberty should be equal for all, or it is assured for no one."

On the rights of the governed:

"When people speak to you of those who have great power and say: ‘Behold your master!’ Don’t believe it. If those in authority are just, then they are your servants; if they are not, they are tyrants. Everyone is born equal: no one coming into this world carries with him the right to command."