The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

May 22, 2013

Zachary Hubbard | Americans are afraid – and for good reason

— We recently learned that an asteroid named 1998 QE2 will pass uncomfortably close to Earth on May 31. It will come within 3.6 million miles – a near miss in cosmic terms. 

Although the irregularly shaped space rock is relatively small (only 1.7 miles across), a collision with Earth could result in global extinction, according to some experts.

This comes in the wake of Earth’s similar near miss with asteroid 2012 DA14 in February. Some 820 near-Earth objects have been discovered orbiting the sun. Such close flybys are scary. 

Americans are becoming increasingly scared – but not of some cataclysmic cosmic event as one might suspect.  Rather, they are increasingly becoming afraid of their own government.

Recent polls conducted by Fox News and The Washington Post in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings both indicated Americans fear government abuse of power more than acts of terrorism. 

In light of recent events, these fears appear well placed.

It’s difficult to find anyone who hasn’t heard some horror story about the Internal Revenue Service. Many Americans would choose a root canal over an IRS audit. The agency’s recent scandal is even scarier than an audit. 

The current congressional hearings on alleged IRS abuses indicate it rejected applications for nonprofit status by some conservative groups, based solely upon the groups’ political leanings.

An IRS  field office in Cincinnati allegedly went so far as to demand that board members of a pro-life group seeking nonprofit status sign letters pledging not to picket abortion clinics. For anyone familiar with the history of Germany’s Third Reich, the IRS’s systemic suppression of political views deemed “unacceptable” by its leaders will seem eerily familiar.      

The recently revealed secret acquisition of Associated Press phone records by the Justice Department is also scary. According to the AP, over a two-month period in 2012, the department secretly collected the records for more than 20 separate phone lines used by more than 100 AP journalists. The AP leadership contends collecting such large amounts of information goes far beyond the bounds of any possible investigative requirement. It raises the suspicion that the Justice Department might somehow be attempting to suppress the AP.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Historically, repressive governments have sought to suppress and gain control of the domestic media, so as to eliminate voices of opposition to the government’s policies and actions. There are clear examples of this in the history of the former Soviet Union and today in the People’s Republic of China, where independent media outlets are allowed to exist, but face severe punishment if they speak out against the government. 

Thus far I’ve focused on the federal government, but there are plenty of reasons to be afraid of abuses by some state governments as well. For example, here in Pennsylvania, former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were sentenced to 28 years and 17 ½  years, respectively, in prison  for unjustly sentencing youths to incarceration in privately contracted juvenile detention centers. The pair accepted a combined total of more than $2.6 million in kickbacks from Robert Mericle, the owner of two private detention centers. As a result of the judges’ actions, more than 4,000 juvenile convictions over which they presided were overturned at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars.

There are recent examples from multiple states where eminent-domain laws have been applied for purposes other than their original intent. 

Eminent domain was designed to enable governments to take private property for public use, such as for highway construction or for public- safety purposes, like demolishing dilapidated buildings on the verge of collapsing. In such instances, the owner must be given fair compensation for his or her property.

Recently, however, there have been glaring examples where eminent domain has been used to take private property and transfer it to another private owner, such as a big box store, in order to increase tax revenue generated by the property. This is a clear and troubling violation of public trust. 

There are other examples in state and local governments where pension funds are on the verge of defaulting, placing the future retirement of thousands of public servants at risk because the elected officials responsible for the funds were not good stewards. The list of government failures and abuses goes on and on. 

It should surprise no one to hear that average citizens don’t trust Congress. Congressional approval ratings have been in the cellar for years. However, a recent Reader’s Digest poll revealed some truly shocking information about how much Americans mistrust their leaders. 

The magazine polled 1,000 citizens, asking them to rate the trustworthiness of a group of “opinion shapers, leaders and headline makers” in the United States. The list included actors, government officials and other well-known public figures.

The majority of those polled rated TV judges Judy Sheindlin and Joe Brown as more trustworthy than all nine U.S. Supreme Court justices. 

Actors Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Denzel Washington were ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the poll. President Obama finished in the bottom half, trusted by only 45 percent of those polled.

It is becoming increasingly evident that Americans are losing faith in government at all levels. Our nation’s history has two glaring examples of what can happen when citizens lose faith in government – the American Revolution and the Civil War. 

A recent Public Mind poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University indicated that 29 percent of the 863 registered voters polled believe that armed revolution might be necessary in the next few years in order to protect liberty. Of registered Republicans polled, the figure was 44 percent.  

American citizens today are purchasing and stockpiling ammunition at alarming rates. Let’s pray we can find a peaceful solution to our collective grievances this time.  

Zachary Hubbard is a retired Army officer and freelance writer residing in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

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