Sunday, April 20, 2008

"First they came for..."

Scott Greenfield today links to a blog post by Jonathan Turley discussing Elena Reichman, a "74-year-old grandmother and Holocaust survivor [who] spent the night in jail over an incident that appears to have been the result of a combination bad judgment and bad manners."

This article from the Palm Beach Post describes Reichman's arrest for "allegedly shoving a sheriff's deputy away" as she passed through security at Palm Beach International Airport, but it involved:

[S]omething about the U.S. Transportation Security Administration screeners asking Elena Reichman to take the safety pins out of her pockets - and the Holocaust survivor worrying about the money the pins held."

Reminds me of an article I blogged about last year involving a woman from Iceland who was detained at JFK in which she said:

"Last Sunday I and a few other girls began our trip to New York…We were screened and… I was told that I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995…. A detailed interrogation session ensued.

"I was photographed and fingerprinted... asked questions which I felt had nothing to do with the issue at hand... forbidden to contact anyone... [and] made to wait… on a chair before the authority for 5 hours.

"I saw the officials in this section handle other cases and it was clear that these were men anxious to demonstrate their power. Small kings with megalomania. I was careful to remain completely cooperative…"

I hear many people today say, "I don't mind if they [wiretap, detain, hold without charges, waterboard, etc.] because I don't have anything to hide." But the real question isn't whether we anything to hide, it's whether we have anything to fear from this surrender of rights as absolute power always corrupts absolutely.

There's a Russian proverb that says, "choose your enemies carefully for you will become like them" that rings very true today. [the link takes you to a sermon by Forrest Church, son of the great Senator Frank Church whose name was given the the Church Committee]

I'm also often reminded of the poem that begins "First they came for the communists and I didn't speak up for I wasn't a communist..." As the wikipedia article describes, the poem is about the "inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group."

But that couldn't happen here, could it? As one supposed "radical" put it back in 2004:

"The question is no longer rhetorical. We are not yet living in a total police state, but it is fast approaching. The seeds of future tyranny have been sown, and many of our basic protections against government have been undermined. The atmosphere since 2001 has permitted Congress to create whole new departments and agencies that purport to make us safer – always at the expense of our liberty. But security and liberty go hand-in-hand. Members of Congress, like too many Americans, don't understand that a society with no constraints on its government cannot be secure. History proves that societies crumble when their governments become more powerful than the people and private institutions."

The writer was former presidential candidate and current Republican representative Ron Paul.

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