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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

lost liberty

The NY Times reports in an article by Nina Bernstein that the federal government is now asking people for their papers on the Lake Shore Limited, an Amtrak train that doesn't actually cross or really go particularly near the Canadian border. The questioning is strictly "voluntary" because the government doesn't actually have the right to ask an entire trainful of people for their papers. Though of course not many people are going to refuse to answer questions from an ICE/border patrol officer shining a flashlight in their face, and the officers don't tell you that you've no obligation to answer.  The officers doing this are assigned to a customs station originally set up to handle a ferry across Lake Ontario that hasn't run for some time, yet the station just kept growing and growing. Such authority to do this as can be mustered comes from rules that allow the US to enforce immigration rules within a "reasonable distance" of the border, which is set at 100 miles.

I started asking myself as I read along "now isn't the entire coastline of the US an international border?". And the article then gets around to this very point. The answer is yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Under the authority the government is claiming here, the vast majority of people in the United States, anyone standing within 100 miles of the Atlantic or Pacific or Gulf coasts, in all of Florida or Alaska or Hawaii, could have a border patrol officer ask "voluntarily" about their citizenship.

And all you need to do is plant your feet within 100 miles of our borders. You think this doesn't effect you because you're from Kansas?  Guess again.  If you visit the Space Needle or the Liberty Bell, you too can be "voluntarily" questioned.

You go to Times Square on New Year's Eve, the NYPD carefully pens everyone in for crowd control, and then as you leave your pen at 12:15 AM, you are asked whether or not you happen to be an American citizen. Can you prove it?  Do you have your papers?  Do you want to leave the pen where the government is holding you?  Do you ever want to see your family or friends again?  How "voluntary" does that feel to you??

When I grew up we were fighting a war, a long cold war, against a tyrannical enemy. And one of the things that enemy did, the Reds, the Communists, that were the bane of our existence and our mortal enemy for 40 years, one of the things we were supposed to abhor, was it made people keep their papers with them at all times.  Not the USA. Not Americans.  We were free. We had the right to go and do as we pleased.

If we become more and more like the Soviet Union, surround ourselves with an Iron Curtain of fear, we have much bigger problems than Mexican illegals cleaning our hotel rooms or even -- or even -- a terrorist successfully bombing Times Square or the subway system.

When I left my apartment on September 12, 2001 to walk into a very empty and very shaken Manhattan with literally and sadly an odor of death wafting over, for a memorial service at my synagogue, I did so in part because I needed to go into Manhattan that evening, to show that I could and that we were going to outlast the enemies that had attacked the day before.

And now, in order to defeat our enemies we allow ourselves bit-by-bit and step-by-step to become what we once struggled to defeat.

I feel less secure reading an article like this one in the NY Times than I did journeying into Manhattan on 9/12.  


Michelle Sagara said...

You don't often post political statements, but I really liked this one, and thought it enormously germane. So, thank you.

Jeremy said...

Beautifully said.

I never even knew about that fact concerning Soviet Russia, and it’s very saddening to see that we are that close to them now.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

Maria said...

And it somehow happens without a vote, without a discussion. Just one day, there they are asking for papers.

Or in the sad case of certain western states claiming they'll only ask those of a certain skin color, they pass an ugly law.

Fear, lack of jobs, insecurity--hatred--all used to push a dangerous agenda.

The Brillig Blogger said...

but if it happened with a vote people would vote for it

Maria said...

re: vote.

So the polls say. And while I would like to believe the polls are wrong and that if it came to an actual vote wiser heads would prevail...I know it could go either way.

The point is--it could go either way. Without a vote it is simply propaganda that has been sold without understanding the price.

Ron Robertson said...

Yes, people would vote for it. People will happily vote for any restriction to their freedom, and even more quickly to restrict other people's freedoms. Proposition H8 in California proved that resoundingly.