Friday, January 28, 2005

The Purpose of Government

( Originally written October 25, 2003, which means I need to go visit my folks very soon. A telephone call and a letter are not as good as sitting down to dinner with them. I had a lot of fun with the "links"; that is, all except for the link to the 911 attack which brought tears to my eyes.)

I get a kick out of talking with my sister, especially when it involves government and our mutual distrust of such a powerful entity. I was never a very good student, history and government classes would bore me to tears back when I was in high school.
It wasn’t until I started to understand my role as a citizen, my responsibility to become aquatinted with the purpose of government, that I made it a point to read up on our great country.

I’ve read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights along with some of inaugural speeches. I immersed myself in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, his essays and letters to friends regarding various topics relating to the formation of the basic thoughts, those thoughts that are a part of the originating documents. George Washington’s Farewell Address, where he summoned up his innermost feelings for this great country, should be required reading. I’ve read the Federalist Papers, the writings arguing for or against various institutions that are government.

It is my belief that there are only a few justifiable reasons for having government; the most important being to defend this country from those who would injure, hamper or otherwise destroy it, and then only from those outside the borders of this country. The founding documents clearly convey the message that the citizens may alter or destroy the government, in an orderly manner, by use of their electoral power to change the fabric of law even unto the most basic constitutional issues. If you don’t believe this, take a look at what “activist judges” have been doing for the past forty or fifty years. If we do not hold these folks accountable for their actions and decisions they will have destroyed our country. If we do not constantly compare our present crumbling foundation against a more perfect past we will have lost our bearings and the standards by which to gauge our successes or failures; key word is “foundation”.

This brings me to the past weekend. I went to visit my folks living in Florida; taking advantage of a last minute airfare deal and was able to save quite a tidy sum. I made sure to arrive at Houston’s IAH airport a good hour and a half ahead of my scheduled flight in order to pass through the necessary security.. The cowardly act of terrorism inflicted upon our soil on 9-11-2001 brought into focus the fact that the United States of America is vulnerable to attack. I am grateful to our elected and appointed officials for taking steps intended to prevent, or at least deter any similar attacks.

The security agents looked over my photo identification and made sure that it matched my boarding pass, the screeners made sure that I didn’t set off the metal detector and used some fancy technology to peer inside my carry on luggage. I would have to say that their efforts would catch most dangerous items or cause a person intent on doing harm to recalculate their evil efforts.

My experience on the way back at Palm Beach International airport is the reason for my concern. After having gone through the same basic screening as I mentioned above, there were secondary invasions. I call them invasions because they went beyond any possible security screening; these were invasions of privacy and dignity. I watched as rubber gloved Gestapo trained guards removed individuals from their seats; individuals who had already “passed” the previously mentioned screening measures. There was no particular reason for these extra searches, what we call probable cause here in the United States of America. These traveler’s names had come off a randomly printed list. They were searched with a fine tooth comb of electronic gadgets while their personal belongings where taken out of purse, wallet and overnight bag one item at a time. This was all done in plain view of any and all who might want to observe. I watched as one passenger’s undergarments were picked from his luggage, held into the light where they might find a hidden hand grenade or machine gun. The indignity of it might have been excusable had there been probable cause to believe that that individual’s actions or recoverable intelligence history indicated a threat; however, no such information or action was the basis of these searches. The security personnel smiled and carried on conversations much like a barber with a new customer passing the time in idle chit-chat.

When I was working in the jail as a police officer in the early 70’s I met a NASA physicist . He’d been arrested for disorderly conduct. ( He’d taken his son to put him on a Greyhound back to college. The bus had been overbooked and so they tossed his son off. He lost his cool and one thing led to another…) Anyway, I noticed him right away, sitting in the drunk tank, the proverbial square peg in a round hole. I started a conversation with him after looking at the booking slip showed NASA as place of employment.

He explained that his job had to do with those cameras, the ones that could take a picture of the football’s laces from 25 miles up. I mentioned that the Academy of Sciences had been sending me a monthly publication full of interesting scientific articles; a courtesy membership given to me by my grandfather. The NASA fellow assumed, wrongly, that I understood the math as he rattled off formulas for achieving orbit, compensating projectile mass with fuel consumption with its own added weight and on and on. I had to explain that I was not good at math. He paused and then pointed to a wino lying on the floor.

“That fellow weights, oh, about a hundred sixty five, sixty six pounds. If we were to place him in a payload for orbit it would take…”, figuring the added fuel as he looked at the chalkboard floating in his head. He had spoken loud enough that the wino’s ears had picked up on our conversation. The wino began to ease away, sliding backwards to a corner of the holding cell. “You aint putting me in no space ship!”

I think I’ll read some George Orwell and relax, then watch that movie, “Enemy of the State”, before drifting off to sleep. I sure hope that’s a weather satellite passing over just now. Go Big Brother; save us from ourselves.

No comments: