Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trading liberty for continuity

As recent events unfolded in Egypt, the government thrashed about in an effort to preserve the regime. In a nation that had been under "emergency rule" for three decades, we saw even more restrictions imposed -- curfews, wholesale censorship, closing banks and blocking access to the Internet, mobile-phone networks and more.

It's tempting to point to the departure of Pres. Hosni Mubarak as "proof" that those measures failed and, by extension, that the Egyptians' "people power" won. It's also incorrect.

Mubarak may be gone but the government, steered by the same military council that ran the show before the popular uprising began, remains -- and that was the goal from the start.

Virtually every nation, state and city has what's called
continuity of government or continuity of operations plans, crafted to make sure that the government emerges from a crisis -- whatever it takes.
Earlier this week we got a look at what the State of New York has in mind. In "A Legal Manual for an Apocalyptic New York," The New York Times reported on the release of an official guide for judges and lawyers in the wake of a terrorist attack, a major radiological, biological or chemical contamination, or a pandemic.

From the Times article:

"Quarantines. The closing of businesses. Mass evacuations. Warrantless searches of homes. The slaughter of infected animals and the seizing of property. When laws can be suspended and whether infectious people can be isolated against their will or subjected to mandatory treatment."
The New York State Public Health Legal Manual (pdf here) is as chilling as it is dispassionate. Here's an excerpt:
"...the chief executive of the locality is authorized to 'proclaim a local state of emergency.' ... Once having done so, local authorities may establish curfews, quarantine wide areas, close businesses, restrict public assemblies and, under certain circumstances, suspend local ordinances."
In other words, when the shit hits the fan, all bets (including the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) are off. A careful reading of the New York manual reveals that the mess made by "deprivation of liberty" will get cleaned up after the crisis has passed.

I'm sure that's what the Egyptian government said 30 years ago.

Thanks to continuity plans, the first casualties of a crisis will be our individual liberties. What's more, there's absolutely nothing that we can do to prevent the assault -- our government will do whatever it takes to sustain itself.

We'd be foolish to waste time now protesting the all-but-certain decimation of human and constitutional rights in a crisis -- really, it's futile. When threatened, a government always will act in its interest, under the banner of preserving the State for the People, no matter what the Constitution says.

That's what governments do.

For us, a better choice would be to get familiar with what our nation, states, counties and municipalities have planned for "emergencies" and, of course, to prepare ourselves accordingly.

That's what independent citizens do.