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James Bovard

The War on Terror Presaged Covid Mania

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This week is the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. America never recovered politically from those attacks, and government responses to the Covid pandemic are repeating many of the same follies of the War on Terror.

Three days after the World Trade Center towers tumbled down, President George W. Bush promised to “rid the world of evil.” After making an outlandish promise that should have earned him derision in perpetuity, the media and the political elite rallied around Bush to give him unlimited power to purportedly achieve that goal. The fact that the 9/11 attacks were preceded by the biggest intelligence failures since Pearl Harbor became irrelevant. 

Nowadays, presidents are expected to rid the nation of all risks. Politicians who promise to keep citizens safe have been permitted unlimited power to shut down businesses, churches, and almost any other activity. The Democratic Party is echoing this theme in its campaign message that President Trump is practically guilty of murdering 180,000 Americans because he failed to prevent the Covid pandemic. The fact that stunning errors by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration compounded the Covid death toll did not stop the rush to sacralize all government experts.
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Why I Write

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I was born in Iowa, raised in the mountains of Virginia, and attended Virginia Tech sporadically from 1974 to 1976 before dropping out to try my luck writing. At some point in the late 1970s, individual liberty became my highest political value and I resolved to do what I could to defend it. I had seen the federal government sabotage the currency, ravage southeast Asia with an unjust war, and tumble into disgrace with the Watergate scandal. The pratfalls of the Carter administration, following the depravity of the Johnson and Nixon administrations, spurred a sense of impending political and economic collapse.

After moving to the Washington area in 1980, I was appalled to see what passed for good writing inside the Beltway. The prevailing standards seemed designed to make magazine and newspaper subscribers regret ever learning to read. Many articles resembled a numbing four-hour politburo speech. Voiceless prose with a low-watt righteous drone was the tacit ideal. “Go team, go!” was the epitome of literary excellence. There was nothing to learn from the vast majority of pieces except which side of a dispute the author favored. Alternatively, some writers prided themselves on being perpetually overwrought—a blight that reached epidemic levels after the election of Donald Trump.

If I was expecting mental stimulation in Washington, I came to the wrong place. “Political thought” consists of making accusations or making excuses, and not much more. DC’s “mental currents” usually let only the froth rise to the top. Any idea not immediately profitable to one of the political parties or major interest groups usually sinks without a trace. As French essayist Paul Valery warned, “At every step, politics and freedom of mind exclude each other.”
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Deceit and Demagoguery in Montgomery County, Maryland

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Across the nation, politicians and bureaucrats have invoked the COVID pandemic to seize dictatorial power to ban activities they disapprove. One of the most brazen examples recently occurred in super-lefty Montgomery County (MoCo), Maryland, where local health czar Travis Gayles announced last Friday that he would impose a $5,000 fine and up to a year in prison on private school teachers that teach students in person between now and October 1.
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Political Legitimacy Dies in 2020

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The American political system may be on the eve of its worst legitimacy crisis since the Civil War. Early warning signals indicate that many states could suffer catastrophic failures in counting votes in November. The election will occur amidst the vast economic devastation inflicted by a political class that responded to COVID by seizing almost unlimited power. And Deep State federal agencies have already proven that they will trample the law to sabotage election results. 

America could soon see a hundred-times worse replay of the Florida presidential balloting 20 years ago in the Bush-Gore showdown. Some Florida counties had antiquated voting equipment while others had harebrained ballot designs that confounded voters. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a manual recount of disputed votes but the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision, stopped the recount because it could result in “a cloud upon what [George W. Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Two days, the same Supreme Court majority blocked any subsequent recounting because it was “not well calculated to sustain the confidence that all citizens must have in the outcome of elections.” Unfortunately, “legitimacy via blocked recounts” may also be the epithet for the 2020 presidential election. 

Because of the pandemic, many states are switching primarily to mail-in voting even though experiences with recent primaries were a disaster. In New York City, officials are still struggling to count mail-in ballots from the June primary. Up to 20% of ballots “were declared invalid before even being opened, based on mistakes with their exterior envelopes,” the Washington Post noted, thanks largely to missing postmarks or signatures. In Wisconsin, more than 20,000 “primary ballots were thrown out because voters missed at least one line on the form, rendering them invalid.”
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After 30 Years, Did the Disabilities Act Work?

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Thirty years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed [7/26/1990] the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was supposed to create a new era of equality and justice. Instead, the ADA often turns disabilities into assets, encouraging far more people to claim to be disabled to receive special treatment or privileges. The ADA’s breadth and vagueness have spurred a deluge of absurd federal decrees and more than half a million lawsuits that risk stigmatizing people the law sought to assist. 

The ADA is essentially a federal command for people to treat certain other people “nice”- with harsh penalties for any behavior considered not nice – and with niceness defined on a case-by-case basis through endless court cases and complaint settlements. Anyone who is disabled acquires a legal right to request accommodations from employers and others, with the federal government and private lawyers waiting to sue anyone who fails to “accommodate.” Congress defined “disability” far more broadly than most Americans recognize, including anyone who claims they have significant trouble standing, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, or thinking. 

The ADA is known as “Attorney’s Dreams Answered.” According to lawyer Mark Pulliam, the ADA “may be the most widely-abused law in our history…. Nationwide, a cottage industry has developed among a bottom-feeding element of the plaintiffs’ bar that specializes in bringing a high volume of cookie-cutter lawsuits against small businesses for technical violations of the ADA, and extorting quick settlements of several thousand dollars each.” Federal judges have characterized mass-produced ADA lawsuits as a “sham” and “an ongoing scheme to bilk attorneys’ fees from the defendant.”
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The REAL ID Act Ravages Our Liberty

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National ID cards have been atop the command-and-control political wish list for decades. In the 1990s, Republican Congresses shot down efforts to move toward national identification cards. However, after 9/11, “everything changed” and politicians seized the chance to unleash far more snooping and create potentially hundreds of millions of dossiers on American citizens.

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005 as part of an enormous piece of legislation dealing with military appropriations and tsunami relief. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), one of the few opponents, warned that the REAL ID Act granted “open-ended authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to require biometric information on IDs in the future. This means your harmless-looking driver’s license could contain a retina scan, fingerprints, DNA information, or radio frequency technology.”

While Ron Paul was often derided by the media as paranoid while he was in Congress, the bandwagon against REAL ID was quickly boarded by both liberals and conservatives. Twenty-five states passed resolutions objecting to the law or signaling that they would not comply. The Electronic Frontier Foundation declared in 2007, “A federal law that aims to conscript the states into creating a national ID system … is precisely the kind of scheme that the framers expected that federalism would guard against.” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff fanned fears after he wrote an op-ed that boasted that “by embracing REAL ID, we can indeed cash a check, hire a baby-sitter, board a plane, or engage in countless other activities with confidence.” But why should federal bureaucrats have any role in certifying babysitters?
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Sham Bailout Statistics Shroud Shutdown Tyranny

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Last month, I wrote a piece here condemning the Trump administration for refusing to disclose the beneficiaries of bailouts authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The following day, the Trump administration reversed course and promised to reveal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan recipients. 

On July 2, Trump proclaimed that PPP is “saving and supporting the jobs of tens of millions of American workers” and the program “has been a tremendous success, levels that nobody has ever seen before.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin boasted last month that PPP is “supporting an estimated 50 million jobs.”

We don’t need to worry because benevolent, damn-near-omniscient saviors will rescue the economy from the shutdown ravages that frightened and demagogic politicians have inflicted, right? 

But the Trump team’s data is farcically inaccurate. Last month, the Small Business Administration, which administers the PPP, told the Associated Press that it was “too consumed by the urgent effort of helping small businesses through the economic downturn to provide” data on where the loans went. But the SBA has now specified how many jobs were retained for each PPP loan. While Congress slumbers, the Washington Post speedily crunched the numbers.
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Independence Day in the Midst of Dictatorship

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How many Americans will greet July 4th Day with gratitude that their governor is no longer compelling them to “shelter in place” or “stay at home” so they can celebrate their freedom? Most of the media is ignoring the fact that this Independence Day is occurring under the most dictatorial restrictions of the modern era. But anyone who values their liberty must recognize the Great Political Unleashing that has occurred this year makes a mockery of the Founding Fathers’ intentions.

Earlier this year, more than 300 million Americans were constrained by “stay-at-home” decrees by governors and mayors. These restrictions were justified by mortality predictions from COVID-19 that turned out to be wildly exaggerated. But most of the media has presumed that the dictates were legitimate because they were supposedly based on “science and data” – regardless of pervasive wrongheaded forecasts.

The Centers for Disease Control estimated last week that 24 million Americans may have been infected with COVID – making a mockery of lockdowns designed to force citizens to pay any price for the slightest potential reduction in infections. 

Do America’s politicians and media have any special suggestions on how the tens of millions of people who lost their jobs due to the shutdowns should celebrate Independence Day? How should small business owners who have been bankrupted mark July 4th?
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Impeachment Reminder of Our Toxic Foreign Aid

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Foreign aid to Ukraine helped spur the Democrats’ effort to impeach and remove President Trump earlier this year. Ukraine was supposed to be on the verge of great progress until Trump pulled the rug out from under the heroic salvation effort by US government bureaucrats. Unfortunately, Congress has devoted a hundred times more attention to the timing of aid to Ukraine than to its effectiveness. And most of the media coverage pretended that US handouts abroad are as generous and uplifting as congressmen claim.

US foreign aid has long fueled the poxes it promised to eradicate — especially kleptocracy, or government by thieves. A 2002 American Economic Review analysis concluded that “increases in [foreign] aid are associated with contemporaneous increases in corruption” and that “corruption is positively correlated with aid received from the United States.” Windfalls of foreign aid can make politicians more rapacious, which economists have dubbed the “voracity effect.”

Early in his presidency, George W. Bush promised to reform foreign aid, declaring, “I think it makes no sense to give aid money to countries that are corrupt.” Regardless, the Bush administration continued delivering billions of dollars in handouts to many of the world’s most corrupt regimes.
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The Media Has Conveniently Fogotten George W. Bush's Many Atrocities

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Former president George W. Bush has returned to the spotlight to give moral guidance to America in these troubled times. In a statement released on Tuesday, Bush announced that he was “anguished” by the “brutal suffocation” of George Floyd and declared that “lasting peace in our communities requires truly equal justice. The rule of law ultimately depends on the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system. And achieving justice for all is the duty of all.”

Bush’s declaration was greeted with thunderous applause by the usual suspects who portray him as the virtuous Republican in contrast to Trump. While the media portrays Bush’s pious piffle as a visionary triumph of principle, Americans need to vividly recall the lies and atrocities that permeated his eight years as president.

In an October 2017 speech in a “national forum on liberty” at the George W. Bush Institute in New York City, Bush bemoaned that “Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” Coming from Bush, this had as much credibility as former president Bill Clinton bewailing the decline of chastity.
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