Totalitarianism, American Style


For three decades I have enjoyed reading science fiction books and watching science fiction movies. One thing that I didn’t understand was why the future was always portrayed as being bleak. Everyone is living under authoritarian rule and the landscape is usually barren. I finally found out why. There is a Chapter 0 that is not printed or filmed. And Chapter 0 starts “In 2001 AD the Republicans seized control of the Congress and White House in America.”

The things coming out of Washington, DC are unbelievable. One example is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which could be renamed the Enterprise Protection Agency. The Bush administration has allowed the EPA to loosen the restrictions on mercury, selenium, and arsenic emissions so that companies don’t have to spend their profits cleaning them up. Maybe the administration doesn’t understand that these substances end up in the food chain and our drinking water. The EPA is also allowing factory farms to pollute the land, and eventually the groundwater, with tons of manure-laden runoff. This is what your drinking water will contain.

Another disturbing trend is the laws being passed due to the “War on Terrorism.” The USA PATRIOT Act was the first. It allows the authorities to gain access to peoples’ homes without court oversight, or even the person’s knowledge, as well as enabling them to check library and book store records to see what a person is reading. But only terrorists. Who is a terrorist? Since domestic terrorism is defined as activities that “involve acts dangerous to human life that are in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State,” 1 pretty much anyone. What’s most disturbing about the USA PATRIOT Act is that it was passed without being read by our Congressmen, and with only one dissenting vote.

Another law that is making its way through the system is the Real ID Act of 2005. This act will establish a National ID system so that all the states will have the same standards. There are advantages and disadvantages to this system, on which I will allow others to expand. The portion of the act that I have trouble with is Section 302. This section amends the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. The amended act directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive any laws that stand in the way of building barriers and roads under this section of the law. If anyone objects or loses property they can always file a lawsuit, right? Wrong. The next paragraph states that there will be no judicial review by any court or administrative agency for any reason.

Congress is also working to bring another Soviet-style law into existence. It is H.R. 1528, Defending America’s Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2005. This law will force you to inform the authorities within twenty-four hours if you become aware of any drug activity that can be connected to minors or incompetent people. Then you have to help with the investigation and prosecution of the person. If your brother has children and buys a joint, you have to inform on him or you can be sentenced to two to ten years in prison. With the addition of incompetent people, you brother housing a senile or disabled parent will also get you two to ten years.

The situation is even worse under H.R. 1528 if the person who is using drugs is your child. If you find dope in your child’s room and don’t report it you can be sentenced to three to twenty years in prison. People used to snicker when Hilary Clinton said that it takes a village to raise a child. The Republicans seem to think that it takes a judge to raise a child. And don’t forget about the incompetent person part of the act. If you are the guardian of a person who can’t take care of himself due to a disability and you learn that he is using drugs and don’t inform the authorities, you get three to twenty years.

The Soviet-style politics don’t stop there either. If you are planning to travel on an airplane and want to research the regulations regarding ID checks and baggage searches, you are out of luck. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations on these issues are secret, as are the regulations allowing government employees to search passengers. So if you have a problem at an airport you can’t check to see if TSA employees have stayed within the law while searching you and your baggage.

Then there’s the war on drugs. The government doesn’t seem to understand that the war is over, and they lost. The attack on marijuana has to be the most ridiculous. Several states have enacted laws to protect the medicinal use of marijuana, but the federal government continues to prosecute patients who use it for pain relief and appetite stimulation. It’s bad enough that these people are sick, even terminally ill, without being prosecuted for trying to make their lives more bearable.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree with Rush Limbaugh’s statement that we need to put some rich white guys in prison for drug abuse. Unfortunately, Mr. Limbaugh means the set of rich white guys that doesn’t include him. Most of the excuses I’ve heard to justify his drug addiction focus on his back pain. But what about the people with terminal cancer who are in pain? Not only is it illegal for them to use marijuana, but the federal government is monitoring physicians to make sure they are not over-prescribing pain medicine. The only way physicians can protect themselves is to under-prescribe pain medicine, leaving the patients to suffer.

The State of Ohio has evidently learned that it can’t stop drug use using law enforcement and the judicial system. The have passed the enforcement of the drug laws onto Ohio’s employers. This has had a big impact on the construction industry, of which I am a part. If a company wants to perform work that is funded by the state, the company has to have a drug policy in effect. Drug tests have to be given after accidents, on a random basis, and if an employer suspects drug or alcohol abuse. If an employee tests positive, he or she is to be suspended from working immediately, has to attend a rehabilitation program at his or her expense, and then test negative on two drug tests, also at his or her expense, before being allowed to return to work. And the form that I had to sign as part of the plan that my employer and labor union use gives the administrators permission to examine all my medical records, past, present, and future. Of course, I could rescind the permission. I’d then have to find a new job since I’m currently working on four state funded construction projects.

The pain being inflicted by the federal government isn’t limited to physical pain either. The government is starting to take more control of the private lives of American citizens. They are trying to force homosexuals back into the closets by defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. Since marriage is a union that has been defined by humans it doesn’t have to exclude same-sex relationships. The only rationale for marriage being between a man and a woman is what is written in the Bible. Not everyone believes that the Bible is the word of God though, so it can’t be used as a basis for a law or Constitutional Amendment.

Another issue that the Republicans are dredging up again is reproductive rights. The only form of birth control that they want taught to teenagers is abstinence. But the teenagers who are being taught are physically adults, with all the urges that come with adulthood. They also want to force abortions back into the back alleys. While I feel that abortion is a poor choice for birth control given all the other forms with efficiencies greater than 90%, it does beat the possible alternative. The Republicans want women with unwanted pregnancies to deliver the child and then put it up for adoption. A lot of these women could become too attached to the child during the pregnancy to give it up. If the child proves to be too big a burden for the woman to raise, she could take out her frustrations by abusing the child. Also, there are a lot of children in foster care now who could use a home. Why don’t the couples who want to adopt a child adopt these children?

The Bush Administration’s military agenda is also alarming. The missile defense system is a misadventure that the administration has undertaken. The Soviet Union built a missile defense system in the late 1960s, and their system worked about as well as ours has so far. The only outcome was an increase in the arms race.

Since the Soviets could, in theory, destroy some of the nuclear missiles we launched at them, we would need to send more real missiles and decoys to penetrate their defenses. For example, if an area required two missiles to destroy before the defense system was put in place, it could require ten missiles to destroy the same area. Of course, the Soviets then increased their production of nuclear missiles. The missile defense system being developed now will surely lead to another arms race.

The administration also seems determined to develop and possibly use new nuclear weapons. This is an unthinkable situation since all that can be said about nuclear weapons is that they are bad. The United States does need to keep a nuclear stockpile as a deterrent to nations that have nuclear weapons, like China and North Korea, but we should never use them first. If we use “small” nukes there is nothing to keep other nations from retaliating in kind.

The administration also seems determined to develop and possibly use new nuclear weapons. This is an unthinkable situation since all that can be said about nuclear weapons is that they are bad. The United States does need to keep a nuclear stockpile as a deterrent to nations that have nuclear weapons, like China and North Korea, but we should never use them first. If we use “small” nukes there is nothing to keep other nations from retaliating in kind.

Now we come to the Iraq war. When the Bush administration was getting us ready for war they kept telling us about all the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had. Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Counsel that he had tons and tons of chemical and biological weapons in stock and was close to building a nuclear bomb. The last I heard they found one shell and a sarin gas test kit. The explanation is that the weapons were probably moved to other countries before the war. The United States is supposed to have the best intelligence services on the planet, we were able to detect these weapons with this intelligence, and yet we have no idea where they are now. A more plausible explanation is that the Bush administration cherry picked the intelligence that they wanted to use and then extrapolated to the desired result. If the reason that George W. Bush wanted to invade Iraq was to remove an oppressive dictator he should have said so.

One of the byproducts of the war on terrorism is the prisoners who have been taken into custody. The Bush administration has labeled some of these prisoners “enemy combatants,” and claims that they can be held indefinitely and without any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions. While it is true that these prisoners are not considered combatants since they have no formal chain of command, they have to be labeled either a combatant or a civilian. As a combatant they have protections under the Geneva Conventions, and if they are civilians they have to be tried in the penal system of the occupied territory. Placing the word “enemy” as a modifier for combatant does not change the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, nor does it make sense. Every combatant in a conflict, whether civilian or not, is either an enemy or an ally.

All of this weapon development and nation building, along with the other programs the federal government is funding, costs money. The money that is spent is approved by Congress and the White House, and it comes from the taxpayers. And this spending is out of control. When the Democrats were in control of Congress the Republicans lambasted them for pork barrel spending. It makes sense that when the Republicans took control of Congress the pork would stop. The opposite is true. From what I’ve read, the budget for Fiscal Year (FY)2005 had almost 10,000 individual pieces of pork spending, and that number increased by roughly 10% for FY2006. Some of this spending makes absolutely no sense, like the bridge that will be built in Alaska that leads to a sparsely inhabited island and the transportation department in Alaska doesn’t want.

This irresponsible spending is leaving a massive national debt in its wake. The federal government is setting new records for budget deficits each year, with the deficit for FY2005 projected at $427 billion and the national debt almost $8 trillion. This means that every American citizen, including the baby born just now, owes over $26,000. Since there is no plan to reduce the debt this amounts to transferring wealth from the future to the present, proving that time travel is possible. The interest on this debt is a drain on the federal budget. In FY2004 the interest was $322 billion according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)2, and it will increase to $673 billion by 2015.

The bewildering part of the national debt is how much of it was acquired while George W. Bush has been President. Let’s put this in perspective (all figures are from the end of fiscal years, unless otherwise noted). In the last five years of the Clinton administration the national debt increased 14%, from $4.97 trillion to $5.67 trillion. Under the Bush administration the debt has increased from $5.67 trillion to $7.83 trillion (as of July 1, 2005). This is an increase of 38%. One possible explanation is that since the White House and Congress were controlled by different political parties during the last part of the Clinton administration, they couldn’t agree enough to spend enormous amounts of the taxpayers’ money. Since both the legislative and executive branches are controlled by the Republicans it’s far easier for them to agree.

And where does the money that Congress and the White House spend come from? The three major contributors are individual taxes, corporate taxes, and social insurance. According to the CBO, the actual amounts in FY2004 were $809 billion, $189 billion, and $733 billion respectively. In 2015 the amounts are projected to be (with percent change): individual taxes $2048 billion (+253%), corporate taxes $292 billion (+154%), and social insurance $1253 billion (+171%). On the surface it appears that taxes are going to increase for everyone. When taken as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) the story changes radically. The CBO’s figures as a percentage of GDP (actual FY2004 to projected FY2015, with percent change) shows individual taxes increasing from 7% to 10.4% (+149%), corporate taxes decreasing from 1.6% to 1.5% (-6%), and social insurance increasing slightly from 6.3% to 6.4% (+1.5%). So the brunt of the tax increases will be placed squarely on the backs of the individual taxpayers while the corporations’ tax burden is decreased.

You might be saying “Hey, wait a minute,” and you’d be right. Congress has proposed spending cuts. They are willing to cut spending on the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services. Notice that these benefit the individuals who are paying the majority of the taxes, so we’ll be getting fewer benefits while paying more for them. The cut that received the most publicity was when Republicans tried to cut $100 million from the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). This amount is hardly even a drop on the bucket when compared to the federal budget, and cutting this spending will not help with the national debt. I would propose that we take that money for the CPB from what is being spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course we’d have to shorten the war by $100 million then. Since we’re spending about $100 billion per year on these wars, this amounts to 8 ¾ hours.

There are many more issues that need addressed: our borders are not secure, Congress lowered its ethical standards so Tom Delay could retain his leadership role, and the voice of the labor unions is being silenced. The list continues to grow daily. It was just yesterday that the Senate voted to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which will cause even more jobs to move out of the United States, but should bring more low-paying service jobs back. Maybe they haven’t learned the lessons of NAFTA. But I have to stop at some point, and this seems like a good place.

The system of checks and balances that the United States has stood on is almost completely gone. All three branches of government are supposed to keep the others from abusing their power, but the power is now consolidated in one party and that party is running amok with it. If we don’t do something to curtail their power, like vote in another party, the warnings of George Orwell could easily become true. While I won’t suggest voting only for Democrats, I will state that I will never again vote for a Republican.

References

1 USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, H.R. 3162, Section 802 [a] [5] [A]

2 Congressional Budget Office. “Historical Budget Data” (2005) (Accessed July 1, 2005)

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