The man regarded as the most knowledgeable person in the U.S. Senate
on the impact of the Y2K millennium bug says people should begin
stockpiling food, water, prepare for major crises in the health-care and
banking systems as well as civil unrest triggered by the government’s
failure to send out welfare checks.

“Pay attention to the things that are vulnerable in your life and
make contingency plans,” says Sen. Robert Bennett, R-UT and chairman of
the Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. But don’t
panic, he adds. “Civilization as we know it will not end.”

Nevertheless, Bennett is seeking assurances from the Pentagon that
the U.S. military will be ready to respond if martial law is declared on
or about Jan. 1, 2000, as millions of 20th century computer chips
misfire because they do not recognize the dawning of a new millennium.

Uh, pardon me, but I have a question or two. Why isn’t this warning
on the front page of every newspaper in America? Why isn’t it leading
the network news? Why aren’t the nation’s most prominent civil
libertarians acting to head off the imminent government power grab that
will inevitably follow what Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has
described “the biggest train wreck in history”?

It seems to me the government is planning to make the most of the
chaos. After 30 years of fostering greater and greater dependency on
government for everything from medical services to food stamps,
officials are admitting they are going to be helpless to maintain at
least some mission critical services.

It’s going to be a clamorous wake-up call to a generation of fools
who really thought the government was their Mommy and their Daddy —
that it would always be there to take care of them. That might not be a
bad thing for the rest of us, except for the fact so many people will
not know what to do. Having been provided for like spoiled children for
so long, they are going to act like spoiled children denied for the
first time.

What do you suppose will happen? Just imagine what every major city
in America will be like the first time welfare checks don’t arrive.
Imagine inner city hospitals turning away people by the hundreds, banks
locking their doors, ATM machines inoperative, automobiles not starting,
no heat on cold wintry nights, barren supermarket shelves and potable
water scarce.

Add to that recipe sporadic power failures, telephone service
disruptions and shutdowns of major airline flights.

Remember Los Angeles after the Rodney King police beating trial?
Kids’ stuff. Picture scenes like that repeated in dozens of urban areas
throughout the country. Who ya gonna call? Don’t bother dialing 911 when
the angry mobs head for your door. It won’t be working. The police will
be plenty busy with other emergency calls, anyway.

I’m not even portraying a worst-case scenario. I’m accepting
Bennett’s optimistic projection that civilization as we know it is not
going to end. But listen to the way Bennett completed that thought: “But
if it were this weekend, it would.”

In other words, Bennett, like President Clinton is expecting a
miracle between now and Dec. 31, 1999. Clinton has set an unrealistic
goal of making government Y2K-compliant by March of next year — eight
months from now. It’s not going to happen. It won’t happen in 17 months,

So where does that leave us? Oh, don’t worry. The government has a
Plan B. There’s a hint of it revealed in what officials have permitted
the people to know about Presidential Decision Directive 63. The actual
directive is classified. But a white paper released for public
consumption is reassuring. The military, the intelligence agencies, the
Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local police are all
working together to ensure that during this period of planned chaos the
government will survive.

In fact, I strongly suspect many government officials — Republicans
and Democrats alike — see the potential cataclysm as something of an
opportunity. It might be a chance to smoke out all those pesky gun
owners, confiscate lots of property, hijack the means of production and
finally create government dependency among by those stubborn advocates
of self-reliance and individual freedom who will now be at the mercy of
the programmed mob.

Am I being paranoid? Maybe, but I prefer to think of myself as
characterized by a healthy streak of objective cynicism. This is one of
those ailments, whose treatment could be worse than the disease.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.