Two-Faced Power

I love my country but my government confuses the hell out of me.

Maybe consistency is too much to demand from policy makers, but 2003 closed with such a jumble of mutually exclusive directives and pronouncements that mass psychosis may be the actual goal.

Consider the ban on the diet supplement ephedra, a mild stimulant that humans have used for thousands of years. The Food and Drug Administration could not cite any grave threat to human health posed by ephedra, merely an opinion that bureaucrats in Washington would not use the stuff.

OK, fair enough. If absolute suppression of all possible threats to human health is the goal, then let's roll with the ephedra ban. Except that across town from the dire warning on ephedra, another group of bureaucrats was busy changing the federal rules on how much sleep truckers need.

The Bush administration, after much lobbying from trucking firms, decided to let truckers drive longer provided they sleep more. The usual safety brigade says this change will lead to all manner of carnage on the highways. But average citizens, once they process the fact that the federal government requires truckers to keep a log of their sleep habits, might notice the bigger picture.

Right now you cannot turn around in a truck stop or convenient store without bumping into a display of something made with ephedra. So, at the same instant the feds allow truckers to drive longer, they ban something truckers manifestly use to keep awake. Or was the idea to make ephedra as easy to get and use as crank?

As a measure of just how wrong the coming reality seems, consider the exact opposite policy. Doesn't it sound simpler and safer to let truckers drive as long as they want, provided they take ephedra? Is that any less nuts?

But while wacky policy on the ground leaves me shaking my head, recent moves in the air leave me shaking with rage. Once again the public is left to try and parse out the secret, hidden policy in the face of obvious nonsense.

First, what seems to be going on: Absent what it deems sufficient on-board security measures, the U.S. is using fighter aircraft to escort flights from overseas to their American destinations. In effect, the U.S. is saying to foreign governments, "Put flight marshals on all your flights or watch us park F-16s on your wingtips."

So, in the name of fighting terrorism, the U.S. itself resorts to a form of low-grade terrorism, certainly purposeful intimidation. Threatening to blow plane-loads of innocents out of the skies unless your demands are met is insane, not to mention incredibly rewarding for your enemies. Just imagine what a chuckle Osama and crew get from the knowledge that they can depend on the Pentagon to put hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans and Europeans under threat of violent death merely by ramping up al Qaida telecom traffic. Talk about force multiplication.

But even talking about your crazy government is no longer a sure thing. A brace of members of the House Agricultural Committee just pulled a doozy of a flip-flop, one that may just scamper down the memory hole thanks to our new definition of free speech.

After the nation's first mad cow case was discovered, Congress hastily moved to reverse itself and ban the sale of sick or "downer" beef for human consumption. In doing so, several members reversed votes they had just made weeks before on the same issue. I'm no cattle expert, but the distinguishing characteristic seems to be that during the first vote no one was paying any attention except the beef and dairy interests who gave money to the members of Congress, whereas the second vote led the evening news.

Such crass political opportunism isn't the confusing part, here. It is how the public is supposed to respond to it that has me flummoxed. If I were to get together with other interested citizens to form Beef-eaters Against Fraud (BEAF) with the express goal of removing the flip-floppers from office, the Supreme Court says I have to watch out. I can't do anything too effective in changing votes or I lose my First Amendment protections and violate the law.

Policy makers, it seems, must be shielded from answering for their policies, assuming we even understand what these policies might be. The tin hatters and raving moonbats have long posited a secret, gnostic government driven by hidden goals and aims. I'm beginning to hope they are right, just so something will make some sense.

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