Public attitudes about the coronavirus outbreak increasingly exhibit features of a collective panic. That development creates the danger that government measures designed to deal with a very real public health problem may lead to enormous collateral damage both to the economy and the freedoms that Americans take for granted.
Governments at all levels have taken ever more extreme (even outrageous) actions in an effort to stem the outbreak. The governors of New York, California, and other states have issued orders closing most private businesses and requiring residents not engaged in “essential” activities to remain in their homes. Nevada’s governor greatly restricted doctors from prescribing an anti-malaria drug that Trump administration experts suggested held promise for treating coronavirus, because in the governor’s opinion, such prescriptions might lead to hoarding. US Justice Department officials secretly asked Congress to give the executive branch the authority to seek orders from federal judges to detain indefinitely any individual during the current emergency or any future one.
Although appalling, such attempted eviscerations of constitutional liberties should not be surprising. Governments invariably exploit crises to expand their powers—often to a dangerous degree. That certainly has been the track record in the United States throughout our history. Worse, a significant residue of expanded powers always persists after the crisis recedes and life supposedly returns to normal.
The US Justice Department unsealed an indictment on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other government officials last week, accusing them of "narco-terrorism." The move is reminiscent of the 1988 indictment of former CIA asset and Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega. The Noriega indictment resulted in a US invasion of Panama that left hundreds – possibly thousands – of dead civilians in its wake. Attorney General William Barr took to the podium to announce Maduro’s indictment. Barr happens to be the same person who gave the first Bush administration the legal justification to invade Panama just over 30 years ago.
Barr first worked in the DOJ in 1989 when George H. W. Bush appointed him as head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Bush and Barr had some history together. The two first crossed paths in 1976 when Bush was head of the CIA, and Barr served as a congressional liaison for the agency. At the time, Manuel Noriega was also on the CIA’s payroll.
Noriega served as a useful tool for the CIA for decades, most notably known for helping the US send money and weapons to the Contras in Nicaragua. But after Noriega became more of a liability than an asset, the US turned on him. Noriega’s connection to drug trafficking became the pretext for his disposal, something the US government was undoubtedly aware of long before the indictment.
In 1988, the Senate subcommittee on terrorism, narcotics, and international operations said, "It is clear that each US government agency which had a relationship with Noriega turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing, even as he was emerging as a key player on behalf of the Medellin Cartel (Pablo Escobar’s infamous Colombian cartel)."
Rhode Island Governor Repeals Order Directing Police to Stop Cars With New York Plates, Replaces It with More Extreme Order
On Saturday, I wrote about Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo adopting a set of draconian orders in the name of countering coronavirus.
Rhode Island Governor Using Coronavirus Fear to Justify Sending the Military House-to-House
Military abuses, including house-to-house searches, were among the primary reasons Americans offered to explain why they sought to secede from Great Britain in the 1700s.
Los Angeles County Backtracks on Teen's Possible COVID-19 Death
Drama queens and authoritarians everywhere must be disappointed.
The Voice of a Tyrant: Los Angeles Mayor Tells ‘Nonessential’ Businesses ‘We Will Shut You Down’
The freedom of business owners to operate their businesses and of employees to continue working at their jobs is under attack in America in the name of fighting coronavirus.