Special to TLE
As I write this, the recovery efforts for those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita continue. Hurricanes are powerful natural engines that can wreak considerable destruction. The good news about hurricanes is that they're slow moving and, as a result, we have plenty of warning to get out of the way. Unfortunately, some people chose to remain in the target area of Hurricane Katrina. Of those, a few were well prepared and knew just what they were doing. The majority, however, sat and waited for the government to provide transportation, shelter, food, and more. When it didn'tfor whatever reasonthose people were in real trouble. Still, imagine how much worse things could have been if hurricanes blew in without notice!
Another natural disaster has now struck, this one on the other side of the world. In what was termed by geologists a "major" earthquake (early estimates as to the quake's strength range from 7.6 to 7.8 on the Richter scale), some 30,000 people are currently believed dead in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Obviously, the death toll is so high because of population density. But there are also many dead because earthquakes don't provide much, if any, warning.
Of course, talking in such general terms about hurricanes and earthquakes is simplistic. Certainly there were issues in New Orleans concerning levees; there are doubtless matters involving structural failure where much of the earthquake damages occurred. But however many deaths are caused or how much infrastructure is destroyed, the real difference between the two events is just how much time people have to prepare or to take evasive action. In the event of a hurricane, the answer is often a couple of days while in earthquakes, the warnings, if they come at all, are typically unclear.
Natural disasters, as we've seen all too clearly in recent weeks, can prove deadly. But the single most efficient killer on the planet doesn't involve plate tectonics or (as some would suggest) global warming. No, by far the biggest death tolls have been the product of government. While natural disasters kill thousands, governments manage death tolls in the millions.
Even such gargantuan death tolls might be made somehow more palatable if those who died had had no warning. After all, while some blame (at least in part) many of the Katrina victims for their own predicament, I suspect most will not be placing blame on the dead, injured, or homeless in Asia for their harm! But, like hurricanes, governments are often very big, very slow moving, and offer plenty of warning as to what lies ahead if only those in the target area are inclined to heed the warnings.
Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman wrote a book entitled The State vs. The People: The Rise of the American Police State. In the book, the pair take note of a variety of warning signs that our own government is well along on the road to a police state. The book was published four years ago not long after the 9/11 attacks. The pair all too rightly point out that the immediate actions taken by the government at virtually all levels are targeted not at terrorists but at law abiding Americans. But some other warning signs have also reared ugly heads since then, including:
- Censorship: From suggestions that those who oppose the War in Iraq are essentially terrorists themselves, to "free speech zones" for political venues and on campuses, to so-called Campaign Finance Reform, to laws prohibiting "hate speech," government censorship is running rampant.
- Propaganda: Whether the spin is generated by a government spokesman or the media itself, it's the rare news story today that doesn't comprise more editorializing than reporting. And for all its many ACLU membership cards, Hollywood plays a role as well (a recent episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, for example, had audiences rooting for the cops to ignore the Fourth Amendment)
- Curbs on Essential Freedoms: By some estimates, there are more than 20,000 gun laws on the books in the United States (virtually all of which abridge the Second Amendment merely in the fact of their existence). It's become impossible to get a job, open a bank account, even rent a car without various forms of ID, including a Social Security card; beginning in 2008, a "voluntary" national ID card will be required for virtually every aspect of day-to-day life. Many forms of travel, including air and rail, are either already restricted or about to be.
- "Temporary" Curtailment of Rights: Thanks to what Wolfe and Zelman call the "war on everything," the federal government has instituted such "temporary" measures as the USA PATRIOT Act. Aside from the many obvious problems with the Act itself, that "temporary" measure is, barring a miracle, about to become permanent. Any dissent is being argued vehemently by the administration. The Fourth Amendment is in tatters after years of exceptions being made in the name of the War on Drugs and now the War on Terrorism. The First and Fifth Amendments are being narrowed thanks to the War on Terror (and in the latter, thanks also to the greed of government entities for more tax dollars).
- "Disappearances:" If there's anything more horrifying than the so-called "disappearing" of citizens, I'm not sure what that might be. South American countries including Brazil and Argentina were infamous for snatching people off the streets and out of their homes, and funneling them into prisons or interrogation facilities where they were often never heard from again. China reputedly does so today; the Soviets and the Nazis did. Now the US government takes people to holding facilities outside our borders (Guantanamo Bay) and holds them incommunicado from even legal representation. The Supreme Court has fortunately stepped in and addressed a few of these issues, but in the main, the entire process is perilously close to that which we've always condemned.
- A Biased Judiciary: The judiciary is supposed to be impartial. It is to treat all fairly in accordance with the highest laws. To ensure equal treatment, evidence must be considered and weighed on a case by case basis. The only question to be asked and answered by nominees should be whether or not he will uphold the Constitution. And yet members of the administration, Congress, and even the American public at large demand "litmus" tests for judges prior to approving of an appointment. Is the candidate pro-life? Is she in favor of civil rights (in this context, usually referencing such things as affirmative action)? What does the candidate think of the death penalty? And different factions demand different answers to those questions before getting on board. But any judge who would indicate how he or she would decide in advance of hearing the evidence in a case is not qualified to be a judge. Yet many already insist that judicial candidates do just that, and politicians at virtually every level do their best to ensure judges are biased toward their own beliefs and agendas. This process is only getting worse even as the need for truly unbiased judges becomes more and more crucial.
- Cooperation by Citizens in the Violation of Rights: Whether out of fear (probable in some cases) or out of an attempt to seem either patriotic or to curry favor (more likely in most cases), Americans are meekly going along with things that, just a few years ago, would have been unthinkable. They stand in line at airports to be searched. The submit to background checks to buy firearms. They look at each other with suspicion. They cheer on demand (a notable exception has been the plummeting approval ratings of President George W. Bush in recent weeks) even as their rights are being usurped because they're under the mistaken impression that they're trading those rights for some added security.
A sudden and catastrophic upheaval in a government is, much like a major earthquake, unusual and unpredictable. The citizens affected by such an upheaval can be excused for reacting rather than acting. Preparations can be made, and precautions can be taken, but concrete plans are almost impossible to make under such circumstances. Fortunately, most governments change very, very slowly. But like a tropical storm building up power and speed to become a hurricane, such governments can slowly accrue power and authority until such time as the damage they can do to freedom can prove devastating. Just like a hurricane, however, there are warning signs well in advance of the height of the storm, and that means there's time to take some preventative action.
Keep in mind the lessons learned so well and at such cost in the wake of the recent hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. If we wait too long like some in Texas did, we'll find ourselves trapped into going in one direction, slowed and then stopped in any progress we might otherwise have made. If we ignore the warnings or wait too long like some in New Orleans did, we could find ourselves in dire straits indeed, where everything we haveperhaps even our lives, and certainly our freedomis at risk. Only preparation and action together will get us through intact if not unscathed.
1900: A century of genocides
Augusto Pinochet and the Conservative Threat to America
The State vs. The People
The constitutionality of police-imposed 'free-speech zones'
Free Speech on Public College Campuses
"Campaign Finance Reform" Regulates Free Speech
Hate Speech (Wikipedia)
Second Amendment Foundation
National ID cards on the way?
US Congress votes to make Patriot Act permanent
Who is Harriet Miers?
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