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How To Protect Yourself From This Administration

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Perhaps it’s time to ask for your civil rights back. Many intelligent, well-meaning people argued that the Patriot Act was a necessary bargain; we gave away crucial freedoms, so that the government could ensure our safety. The premise here was that the government was competent to ensure our safety.

We now know, in the wake of Katrina, that this administration can’t hope to keep their side of the bargain — that they don’t know the first thing about keeping the populace secure. Are we still willing to offer up our liberties?

Now you’re welcome to argue that the same department that messed up so badly in New Orleans is more efficient when it comes to infinitely more difficult matters: anticipating and preventing terrorist attacks. I look forward to hearing that argument.

Meanwhile — as you’re preparing that argument — let’s explore reality.

Recognizing that these aren’t the most talented people, we might still insist that the Department of Homeland Security needs expanded powers to accomplish anything whatsoever. But considering what we’ve learned about this group in the last few days, can we even have faith in their calculus? How can we trust that they’ve made the right decision — that they’re capable of making the right decision — regarding which essential freedoms to restrict?

Better safe than sorry, I suppose… except that we’re manifestly anything but safe. So perhaps it’s time to be sorry. Sorry that we tossed aside the very foundation of our judicial system — habeas corpus — in order to give arbitrary powers to incompetent guardian angels. Sorry that we’ve locked up God knows how many innocent “enemies,” on the grounds that Mother Knows Best.

I allow that some of these detainees may or may not pose a great threat to the nation. The point is that we do not know. We are trusting that the people who are detaining them know — which is to say, the good people who know all about homeland security, and hurricanes.

Believe me, I’m not arguing that we should just open the prison gates, apologize, and wave goodbye. I’m simply suggesting that perhaps it’s time that we allowed these people lawyers, that we allowed them to know what they’ve been charged with, and that we tried them properly.

We should not put anybody’s fate in the hands of these all-knowing supra-legal inquisitors. They have been horribly wrong before, not simply regarding hurricanes, but terrorists: very recently — under similar “laws” — an innocent Afghani taxi driver was detained and tortured to death in an American-run prison.

Perhaps self-preservation is still what’s foremost in your mind — you’re willing to sacrifice the occasional innocent foreigner for the sake of national security (I’m not). Then let me remind you: if deemed an “enemy combatant” by one of these discerning arbiters, an American citizen can rot away for years in an American prison with no recourse to any form of due process. Even if you think that’s an acceptable way to treat foreign nationals, it might give you pause to consider that — given the competence of this administration — it’s only by the grace of God that one of those prisoners isn’t an innocent friend of yours, or a member of your family. Or you.

This is not an abstraction. It’s important to get a concrete mental picture of this. Somebody in this administration gets to make arbitrary decisions regarding the indefinite detention of American citizens. Try this little thought experiment: what if that somebody were Michael Brown, the director of FEMA? Or Michael Chertoff, his equally sagacious boss? Have that picture in mind? Good. Then consider this: it’s almost certainly a person much, much lower on the security totem pole. Which is to say, even less qualified.

While it does not favor the administration, this is hardly a partisan argument. If you are truly suspicious of swollen government powers and an intrusive judiciary — in short, if you are any sort of principled conservative — then this is your fight.

We erred on the side of safety: a commodity this government has proven itself incapable of purveying. Perhaps it’s time to err on the side of liberty.


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About visigoth

  • Aidan Maconachy

    With all due respect I think the comment that the administration “doesn’t know the first thing about keeping the populace secure” is simply absurd – especially as you appear appear to have reached this momentous conclusion based on Katrina.

    What kind of government would it take to offer blanket security to civilians in the wake of a force 5 hurricane or a sneak terror bombing? Some type of Stalinist type state where every move is monitored and investigated? Please, let’s at least be reasonable.

    The lamentable situation in New Orleans had more to do with shoddy local governance and planning, than it had to do with G.W. failing to don a Superman cape. Blanco and co were appallingly inefficient in preparing for this threat; they issued late warnings and the supplies at the Superdome were lamentable. States have to bear some responsibility for their own. They aren’t members of some nanny nation, continually sitting around sucking their thumbs until big daddy Fed decides to step in.

    Quite aside from the rampant corruption (let’s not go there) – there was a mindset in New Orleans that was aided and abetted by the recalcitrance of the authorities who were happier funneling cash into casino and other fun time investments than doing the intimidating levee upgrade.

    The night before the storm hit revellers were whooping it up in French Quarter and they clearly thought the media was hyping it out of all proportions. This was the attitude on the ground and Bush had nothing to do with it.

    After the storm hit, chaos followed. Communications went down and it was an unplugged wasteland. The Feds went into feverish overdrive, building up an adequate response force as the news came filtering in about the scale of the devastation – roughly equivalent to the size of United Kingdom. This was huge! Sure the Feds could have panicked and sent out a group of first responders who hadn’t a clue where to go or what to do, because everything was in a state of anarchy with no communications to speak of, but how much could they have realistically achieved at the point.

    People raise the levee issue in order to cast another stone at Bush. But the levee issue was well known during Clinton’s tenure also, AND HE PLAYED THE SAX and was the first “black” President. Why didn’t he act? But even if the levee had been upgraded, according to the experts it wouldn’t have saved New Orleans from being flooded given the power of this particular hurricane.

    I think trying nail the Feds to the cross on this is playing politics pure and simple, because I don’t think the facts on the ground (even though I agree they were behind the eight ball) are anywhere close to being THAT incriminating as far as their effort was concerned.

  • Fair enough. You think the federal response was adequate. Brownie was doing a “heck of a job.” Which I suppose is why he’s cooling his heels in Washington. Yes, “news came filtering in about the scale of the devastation,” but it filtered in just a little a bit slowly: Brown found out about the Convention Center about a day later than most of America. And even then he hardly went into “feverish overdrive,” did he, unless you count his nervous last-minute efforts at PR.

    All of this about issuing late warnings has been thoroughly debunked: that was administration spin, which even the White House no longer pretends to embrace.

    You hardly need a Stalinist mega-state to deal with a natural disaster: Clinton’s point man, James Lee Witt, did a superb job with hurricanes on his watch.

    Now, yes, you could argue that these guys are only stumbling blind men in the wake of a long-foreseen catastrophe, but they’re utterly brilliant when it comes to considerably more difficult things, like thwarting terrorists, or performing rescue operations in the wake of a massive surprise assault. You could argue that.

    No doubt, the two are generically different. It could well be that Chertoff’s boys are only inept when they’re dealing with the easier task, but the hard stuff brings them into focus.

    You sure you want to gamble your freedom on that?

  • Re: the canard that “Blanco and co were appallingly inefficient in preparing for this threat; they issued late warnings…”

    From the Washington Post: “Despite days of pleading, the White House argued that (Blanco’s) plea for more troops had come in only at 7:21 that morning.”

  • It’s not that the federal response was adequate or inadequate, it’s that for the government to be really, substantially more effective it would really have to become the police state you’re afraid of.


  • brittney

    you suck