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A Government That Fears Its People Is In Trouble

By James Donahue

A frightening aspect about the United States is that things going on in Washington closely resemble the events leading to the fall of the old Roman Republic.

Indeed, the Roman Republic had its origins after the overthrow of the last Roman king by Lucius Junius Brutus in 509 BC. After that, the complex but highly successful form of a government ruled by a senate survived over 450 years until Julius Caesar came into power in 44 B.C. Caesar subverted the Roman rule into what became the Roman Empire ruled by a succession of dictators.

Our forefathers created what was once a republic, although this concept was quickly lost in a quagmire of "democratic" ideals promoted by minorities and special interest groups. We think Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and all of the others who framed our government just over 200 years ago thought that with any luck, this new nation would survive much longer than the Roman Republic.

By broad definition a republic is a government that is not ruled by a monarch, but rather by elected representatives of the people. Indeed, the American political system appears to match this description, but because they need so much money to get elected, and because of the way they behave, we strongly suspect our elected “leaders” are not really in charge. By their actions, and the fact that they are surrounded by lobbyists with rolls of cash in their pockets, it is obvious that our leadership is controlled by big business interests (alias organized crime bosses).

Unfortunately, nobody could foresee the inventions of bureaucracies, back-room power brokers and secret winks among the "good-old-boys" that slowly eroded the underpinnings of our government. Even though we briefly enjoyed the distinction of thinking we were the last remaining "superpower" on the planet, we came under deadly attack on Sept. 11, 2001. Did it happen because we became complacent, lazy and over-confident? Whatever the reason, we discovered in one terrible act that our enemies are gathering both at and within our borders.

You can tell when a government is in trouble when it begins to fear its people. Such a government takes steps to control the people it is supposed to serve. It forms a police state. It develops a complex internal spy network, even encouraging neighbors to report on neighbors and children to report on their parents. It controls the media. It takes away the right to bear arms. It breaks down individual human freedoms "for the good of the whole." All of this is happening, or politicians are promoting these ideas in the United States today.

Before the 9-11 attack, the erosion was already going on in subtle ways that went almost unnoticed. The official news media didn't bother to report our losses of liberties. You learned about each onset of the invasion through underground reports published on the World Wide Web. Because it is international in scope, nations have had to resort to the extreme of total prohibition of personal use of the Internet to control the free dissemination of information.

When the United States was hit by the worst terrorist attack in our history the shock of what happened weakened most public resistance to an obvious plan to take away our constitutional freedoms. What citizen would dare to speak out against our nation's efforts to stop terrorism in the weeks following 9-11?

We worry that the national patriotic wave mounted by the Bush Administration in the weeks and months after the attack set Americans up for intense government suppression that will be difficult to reverse now that it is in place. The Patriot Act is a prime example. That this complex document appears to have been drafted and ready to present to our legislators even before the 9-11 attacks makes us suspect that we were all duped.

We are only now learning just how close we came to nearly having a dictatorial take-over. President Bush violated federal law when he ordered the CIA and other intelligence agencies to tap telephone, Internet and fax messages without court approval. Unfortunately, many of these practices have not been reversed by President Obama. We have increased security at our airports and borders to such an extreme that the very act of boarding an aircraft is a lengthy ordeal.

Because Congress never declared war against the unknown force identified only as terrorism and it was done only by executive order, the rules involving civil liberties have been radically bent. Also the free exchange of government information has dramatically been affected. Information that the public has a right to know has been strangely withheld under the umbrella of the so-called interest of national security.

When Mr. Bush sent troops into Afghanistan and Iraq, launching wars against people that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks, few, if any, news reporters were allowed on or near the battlefield. As it was during the Gulf War and the recent bombing campaign over Bosnia, our war news was mostly handed out at daily news briefings in military headquarters, located miles from the action. Some reporters were allowed to go with troops in armored vehicles in the field. Many paid with their lives attempting to get the story. It was only after President Obama took office that photos and reports of the bodies of dead soldiers returning home were allowed. Except for the work of a few hard working reporters in the field, the public has been mostly spoon fed the news that government officials want them to have.

President Bush’s creation of a new Office of Homeland Security had another ominous feel about it. Mr. Bush said the office would "co-ordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism and respond to any attacks that may come." Without explaining exactly how it would be done, the President said the office will direct the various federal police and intelligence gathering agencies, pulling them all under one roof.

The late Arizona radio personality and government critic William Cooper suggested in an editorial on his web site that the Office of Homeland Security will merely be "another expensive layer of government to coordinate the other expensive layers of government. That way the other incompetent agencies and the new incompetent agencies will all have a dedicated budget. We the people will have new protectors who will not do any better job than the old protectors."

Of course the critics of the Bush Homeland Security plan have since been able to say “I told you so” after the agency failed to provide much assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The department operated so poorly under the Bush Administration it was declared a “dysfunctional, poorly managed bureaucracy that has failed to plug serious holes in the nation’s safety net.” Yet President Barack Obama has chosen not to tear down the massive system. He has chosen Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona, to pull the agency together and make some sense out it.

The Patriot Act, also known as the anti-terrorism bill, was whisked through both the House and Senate within weeks of 9-11. It is believed that few legislators read the document before voting for it. President Bush signed it into law on October 26, 2001, just under two months after the attack.

The act allowed law enforcement agencies to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial and other private records, eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering in the U.S., expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, and enhanced the power of law enforcement and immigration officers to detain and deport immigrants suspected of terrorist related acts.

Since becoming law, the Patriot Act has gone through extensive modifications and amendments, many of them taking some of the teeth out of the power of law enforcement agents to violate American civil liberties.

Fortunately, our elected leaders appear to have come to their senses after overcoming the fearsome days following the 9-11 attack.

The thing that has made the United States a great nation is our guarantees of constitutional freedoms. Cooler heads realized that in our rush to protect ourselves from unseen and unknown terrorists, we were in danger of giving up the very freedoms that make us unique.

After nearly two years under Mr. Obama we are beginning to see some relaxation of those restrictions. The change to normalcy, however, appears to be occurring all too slowly. The undeclared war in Iraq is shutting down, but the damage we caused there will haunt us for years to come. Also the Afghan war continues, it is being escalated, and our troops are still dying. The Patriot Act remains in effect. The Office of Homeland Security is just as large and as cumbersome as ever. And Americans are under as much security, if not more of it than ever before.

Our situation under a government that has become disfunctional might have been best described by the late American cartoonist Walt Kelly the day his character, a swamp possum named Pogo, announced: "We have met the enemy and he is us."