Fascism Comes On Little Cat Feet

San Francisco Chronicle

Just wondering.

But this isn’t a column about the Gestapo, the Brownshirts and the Blackshirts. It’s about our new Homeland Security Department (due to be approved by the Senate today), government jobs and events in the state of Michigan.

In Michigan last week, federal agents started to use roving checkpoints to seek illegal immigrants, drug runners, weapons and terrorists.

Is this legal? Yes, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Under federal law,” the newspaper reported last week,” the Border Patrol can set up checkpoints up to 100 air miles from any international border, or from the shoreline. Within the first 25 miles, federal agents can stop drivers who seem suspicious, and they can search and conduct surveillance of private property.”

Who knew?

Think of the places within those 100-mile or 25-mile limits. To name a few: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Savannah, Jacksonville, El Paso, San Diego, Portland, Sacramento, Bangor, Buffalo, Detroit, Tucson . . .

So you can get up in the morning at home in Vallejo, drive out of your driveway and immediately be pulled over by a Customs agent who demands proof of your citizenship while he searches your car. Then, unsatisfied, he can search your house.

It’ll be like the colonial days, except the cops will be good Americans instead of tawdry British troopers. And forget the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The way they get around that is to declare all searches “reasonable.”

Is there, uh, something basically wrong with this in the land of the free and the home of the brave? No, according to the mostly conservative voices I’ve been hearing since Sept. 11, 2001.

“If you haven’t done anything wrong, if you have nothing to hide, what do you care if they search you?” they ask.

What I didn’t know, until I read the Free Press last week, is that federal cops have been setting up their little checkpoints all over the Southwest border for several years now.

In Texas, Arizona and California, the newspaper reports, “temporary checkpoints have become permanent, and agents now patrol neighborhoods in cars and on bicycles.”

The Free Press quotes Isabel Garcia, a public defender in Pima County (Tucson), Ariz.: “The situation is pretty bad here. We’re watched all the time in our churches and our barrios. Racial profiling becomes their No. 1 law-enforcement technique.”

The Border Patrol, as might be expected, defends its actions. “We routinely run into a lot of narcotics traffickers,” a patrol spokesman told the newspaper. “Because of those checkpoints, those narcotics are kept out of our schools and our streets. We also take a lot of criminals for nonimmigration offenses. We run into children who are kidnapped.”

Oh, they do it for the children! Ain’t that wonderful?

I suppose one could argue that there is merit in having federal police officers stop suspicious people at will. Perhaps they could go a step further and perform curbside colonoscopies, thus saving lives by finding heretofore undetected cancers.

Fascism doesn’t descend on a nation overnight. A nation has to be prepared for it first. In California, we long ago accepted checkpoints for imported fruits and vegetables. In the last decade or so, the whole nation has accepted sobriety checkpoints.

We are being prepared. In the Southwest, we now have an expanding series of checkpoints. As of last week, similar stations were introduced to the Upper Midwest.

Our fears support these checkpoints. In California, we fear tainted produce, which could destroy our agriculture industry. We all fear drunk drivers. We fear drug runners. We fear unchecked illegal immigration, and now we fear infiltrating terrorists.

The land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the partly free and the home of the fearful.

So we support El Presidente George W. Bush’s push for a national police force, to be named the Homeland Security Department. We want to be safe, and we think we’ll become safe if we have 170,000 various cops working for Mr. Bush, dependent on him and him alone for their salaries, their promotions and their job security.

If Congress thinks that’s a good idea, it’ll probably go along with Mr. Bush’s latest scheme, to remove 850,000 federal workers from civil service protection and farm their jobs out to private contractors.

This is called an economy move. What “economy” means in this case is fewer jobs, lower wages and reduced benefits.

Bush seeks to win the daily double, reduced union strength combined with a labor force dependent on him and his Big Business supporters.

And we’re going to give him that winning ticket, while we trust him to use his incredible powers judiciously.

As I said at the beginning, this is not a column about Brownshirts, Blackshirts and the Gestapo. Not yet.

Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist and liberal iconoclast. His column appears Mondays. E-mail him at harleysorensen@yahoo.com

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