Government Searches: Be Very Afraid

MSNBC reports that government wiretaps and searches are up 75% (emphasis mine):
Since passage of the Patriot Act, the FBI can use such warrants in investigations that aren’t mostly focused on foreign intelligence.

Operating with permission from a secretive U.S. court that meets regularly at Justice headquarters, the FBI has used such warrants to break into homes, offices, hotel rooms and automobiles, install hidden cameras, search luggage and eavesdrop on telephone conversations. Agents also have pried into safe deposit boxes, watched from afar with video cameras and binoculars and intercepted e-mails.
This is, of course, what happens when an irrational and fearful electorate and a cowed opposition party give the controlling party unlimited powers to enact legislation like the Patriot Act.

As I’ve said before, I find directly equating Bush and Hitler to be unnecessarily inflammatory and, hence, unproductive. However, there is indeed a use for using our knowledge of history to draw comparisons between what happened in Germany in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, as is slipped from a democracy into a dictatorship, and what is happening in America today, because the similarities, unfortunately, warrant it.
Most Americans have forgotten that Hitler came to power legally. He and the Nazi Party were elected democratically in a time of great national turmoil and crisis. They themselves had done much to cause the turmoil, of course, but that's what makes the Bush comparison so compelling.

Similar to the Bush administration, the Nazis were funded and ultimately ushered into power by wealthy industrialists looking for government favors in the form of tax breaks, big subsidies, and laws to weaken the rights of workers. When the Reichstag (Germany's Parliament building) was set ablaze in 1933 (probably by Nazis), the Nazis framed their political rivals for it. In the general panic that followed, the German Parliament was purged of all left-wing representatives who might be soft on communists and foreigners, and the few who remained then VOTED to grant Chancellor Hitler dictatorial powers. A long, hideous nightmare had begun.

History teaches us that it is shockingly easy to separate reasonable and intelligent people from their rights. A legally elected leader and party can easily manipulate national events to whip up fear, crucify scapegoats, gag dissenters, and convince the masses that their liberties must be suspended (temporarily, of course) in the name of restoring order.
The reaction to the burning of the Reichstag was the Ermächtigungsgesetz, or the Enabling Act, which was officially called the “Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich.” It, too, permitted the encroachment upon the people’s civil liberties in the name of national security.

At the time of the passage of the Patriot Act, opponents claimed it would be used for ulterior means than protecting national security, under a cloak of secrecy. The ACLU noted:
Many parts of this sweeping legislation take away checks on law enforcement and threaten the very rights and freedoms that we are struggling to protect. For example, without a warrant and without probable cause, the FBI now has the power to access your most private medical records, your library records, and your student records... and can prevent anyone from telling you it was done.
Compare with this from MSNBC’s report:
Details about some FBI surveillance efforts last year emerge from court records spread across different cases. But only a fraction of such warrants each year result in any kind of public disclosure, so little is known outside classified circles about how they work.
Scary stuff.

(Of course, as noted by John at Big Brass Blog, in another useful look at what the past can tell us about the present, Germany's leader served his country's working class well and actually did support his troops, giving them more than lip service, so, in a great irony, treating his own people worse than Hitler did may serve to keep Bush from ever being as bad for the rest of the world as Hitler was.)

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