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Alarmist. Irresponsible. Doomsdayer. Chicken Little. Fear monger.

These are just a few of the epithets used to describe my recent
columns on the possibility that the Y2K millennium bug crisis could be
used by government to curtail and infringe Americans’ basic civil
liberties.

Letter writers tell me I’m jeopardizing my own credibility as a
journalist by focusing as much attention as I am on this issue. A
growing chorus of critics say I’m overblowing the problem. Some have
even accused me of somehow profiteering from scaring people.

I must be doing something right.

While I have avoided making dire predictions about what might befall
the world on Jan. 1, 2000 — or even before — I remain more persuaded
than ever that the smart money is on preparing for the worst.

And the worst for me isn’t living without electricity, phone service,
gasoline and other conveniences of modern life. The worst for me is the
grave potential threat this crisis represents to our freedom.

I’m prepared to live without the frills. It won’t be easy for me or
my family. But I’m ready for the challenge if that is what the future
holds. What I will not accept is any encroachment on my basic civil
liberties.

For all those out there who think I’m some kind of lone nut on this
crusade, let me assure you that, while I may be one of the very few
publicly addressing these issues, there are many others in positions of
authority who are equally, if tacitly, concerned.

Just yesterday, for instance, I received an e-mail from a friend and
member of Congress, who, I’m sure, would prefer to remain anonymous.
Here’s what he said: “I have been focused on trying to be prepared for
electrical outages due to government-mandated power-pooling and
rationing. Of course, the civil liberties aspect that you were writing
about is very real and of genuine concern. And, no, I’m not at all
comfortable with having a man like Bill Clinton able to exercise the
so-called ‘emergency powers.’ That thought is truly disturbing.”

What I wonder is, if members of Congress are concerned about this
threat, why aren’t more ordinary Americans with none of the perks and
privileges of elective office?

Many well-intentioned friends have suggested that the U.S. military
would never accept illegal orders from Clinton in the event of real
crisis. I’m not so sure.

The Defense Department has been conditioning troops and commanders to
do just that for a number of years. Operations designed for “disaster
relief,” enforcement of drug laws, to eradicate a pesky religious group
in Waco, Texas, and to combat terrorism have all helped blur the
constitutional line between legitimate and illegitimate domestic uses of
the military.

The Posse Comitatus Act provides a broad proscription against the use
of soldiers in domestic law enforcement. But Congress and the executive
branch have quietly chipped away at the law with exceptions seldom
noticed by the press.

In a paper published in the Army War College’s journal Parameters in
the fall of 1997, Col. Thomas R. Lujan, a staff judge advocate at the
U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, noted the
“unprecedented number” of domestic deployments in recent years. While
cautioning military and civilian officers to understand and heed the
strict legal underpinnings that restrict such operations, he also
concludes that — when push comes to shove — nobody pays much attention
to the Constitution and the rule of law in emergencies.

“Strategic leaders can take solace in the lessons learned from
military participation in domestic disaster relief, for the record
indicates that legal niceties or strict construction of prohibited
conduct will be a minor concern,” he wrote. “The exigencies of the
situation seem to overcome legal proscriptions arguably applicable to
our soldiers’ conduct. Pragmatism appears to prevail when American
soldiers help their fellow citizens.”

The Founding Fathers unanimously feared and cautioned against the
advent of a standing army for precisely these reasons. Today, the
civilian side of the federal government commands some 80,000 armed
police agents. Contingency plans are being made to coordinate the
responses of local and state law enforcement agencies from Washington
and to deploy the U.S. military to enforce domestic laws in various
emergency scenarios.

With those developments, with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office and
with the Y2K millennium bug crisis less than a year away, aren’t you
just a little nervous?

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