Impact of the Department of Homeland Security on local governance, commerce, individual rights and the balance of power

By Peter Duveen

PETER'S NEW YORK, Jan. 21, 2009--I recently submitted a position paper on the Department of Homeland Security to a local town board after briefly raising the issue at previous town meetings. Local government may be our last best hope exerting a positive influence on the political destiny of the United States.

INTRODUCTION

I recently approached the Town Board informally at its monthly meeting and expressed my concern regarding Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff’s remarks regarding the overriding of local government policy by Federal policy.

At that time, I called to the attention of the board a document entitled "Advancing the Management of Homeland Security: Managing Intergovernmental Relations for Homeland Security (2004; National Academy of Public Administration, Washington, D.C.)  The report indicated that, while issues of the balance of power between the Federal and local level were important, the local level would be overridden by Federal concerns. The report states, for example, that 

"The Founding Fathers intentionally designed the federal system to have checks and balances, even though that principle made government more complex to operate” (p.9-10).

Elsewhere in the document, however, the report shows another face.  It states:

"Notwithstanding best efforts, some city or local governments may not cooperate to the extent necessary when coordinating homeland security activities. When cooperation is necessary but elusive, the Panel believed that the Department (of Homeland Security) should compel cooperation with nationally legislated preemptions and mandates, or heavily influence it with grant conditions. Withholding highway trust funds from states unwilling to enforce federally-mandated speed limits and clean air goals are examples of effective controls" (p. 13).

It also states, in a similar vein, that:

"Congress and the Department must establish national standards in certain areas and then force or encourage state and local governments to adopt them" (p. 14).

Please note the use of the words "compel" and "force" in the aforementioned passages.

I also submitted a summary of a book by Prof. John Mueller entitled “Overblown” in which Mueller asserts that the terrorist threat within the United States has been exaggerated to the benefit of a variety of policy goals and the terrorism industry. I also referred to an article by Mueller, "Is There Still a Terrorist Threat?: The Myth of the Omnipresent Enemy," outlining the same assertions, which appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, the nation’s premier foreign policy journal.

Mueller, at the end of the article, summarizes his conclusions as follows:

"Although it remains heretical to say so, the evidence so far suggests that fears of the omnipotent terrorist...may have been overblown, the threat presented within the United States by al Qaeda greatly exaggerated. The massive and expensive homeland security apparatus erected since 9/11 may be persecuting some, spying on many, inconveniencing most, and taxing all to defend the United States against an enemy that scarcely exists."

Mueller's work was brought to the attention of the board in order to put into perspective the pretext for the legislation establishing the Department of Homeland Security, based on what was claimed to be a substantial terrorist threat in the wake of the incidents of September 11, 2001. The government’s version of “9-11” as outlined in the federally-mandated “9-11 Commission Report” has been taken to task by a legion of critics on a number of fronts. It is this report, and the commission behind it, that form the basis for much of the legislation that has been passed ostensibly to make America more secure, but which has, in effect, strengthened the hand of the federal government and weakened support for citizens’ basic constitutional rights.

If indeed the domestic terrorist threat is a "myth," as Mueller contends, then it must be admitted that the formation of the Department of Homeland Security and the establishment of a new and novel body of law in reaction to a security threat has another purpose entirely. Many commentators believe that this unstated purpose is to put in place an apparatus that will enable the Federal government to implement an aggressive, costly and militaristic foreign policy while brutally stifling dissent at home.

If the terrorist threat has been overstated, and is being used to undermine local governance through policies implemented by DHS, its effect will be to upset the balance of power that exists between Federal, State and local governments.

There is already a movement to absorb certain functions now reserved for towns and villages into the state and Federal government. This movement exists on many levels.

ISSUES ON THE LOCAL LEVEL

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
How many of us have been briefed on what we can do to protect ourselves against the threat of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons? Certainly, drills have been conducted with law enforcement, emergency medical teams, various agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, local police, etc. However, these drills have not involved the general public.

For example, the public has not been informed how to protect itself against biological attack. It has not been given information, for example, on how to obtain antibiotics to thwart an anthrax attack similar to the one that occurred in the weeks after 9-11. It has not been issued gas masks to protect against chemical agents during a chemical attack. It has not been encouraged to take precautions, as it was in the 1950s, against a nuclear attack.

One can draw the following conclusions from the above.
1.    The threat is not real, and the public does not need to be informed.
2.    The threat is real, but will be so severe that there will be no point in informing the public to take any precautions.
3.    There is no interest in protecting the public, but only in cleaning up in the aftermath of an attack.

AGRICULTURE AND COMMERCE
A number of onerous measures have been imposed on the agriculture industry in the name of national security, such as the tagging of animals and the submission of detailed information on agricultural assets. While these measures are being imposed on the Federal level, there is little that farmers and public citizens have been able to do to oppose these measures. Often, the agendas have been set by policymakers from extremely well-funded nonprofit “think tanks." They have been imposed under the pretext of countering a terrorist threat which in reality may not exist. These policies may have been crafted with other policy objectives in mind than the ones stated. For example, if government mismanagement leads to an economic disaster, these policies may be used to assist implementation of control of the food resources, and result in confiscation of assets.

INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS
The constitution protects citizens’ rights on a number of fronts in the Bill of Rights. Citizens rights are not only intended to help the individual. They are also designed to put in place a balance of power that prevents government from becoming corrupt or the tool of special interests at the expense of the electorate.

DHS has policies supposedly designed to protect against terrorism, but which may upset the balance of power and result in an undue concentration of power on the Federal level. This can have extremely dangerous consequences.

THE GOVERNMENT AS A THREAT
Balance of power in its many manifestations, whether it is a balance between state and local government, or the balance between the judicial , legislative and executive branches of government, or the guaranteed expression of individual rights and privacy, was established to prevent government power from becoming abusive. The implementation of “Homeland Security” and other legislation can dangerously upset the balance of power, and result in a case where the government itself may be more of a threat to civil society than the so-called “terrorists” it claims to be fighting. The Federal government has the motive, means and opportunity to conduct acts of terrorism and deception against its citizens, and such acts have occurred and are well documented.

Many citizens are of the belief that the Federal government has so insulated itself from the citizenry that it acts more as a private club, crafting its own goals and policies, and funding them on the back of the taxpayer, whatever the consequences, without regard to what the public thinks. Try to contact a congressperson on a matter of importance, and one will generally find that he or she has already made up his or her mind. The inquiry will be met by a form letter. In the meantime, policies are crafted that have an extreme and often negative effect at the local level. A case in point is the present economic collapse we are experiencing. This is primarily due to decisions regarding the nation's monetary policy, upon which the average citizen has had little or no leverage in effecting change.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
Government is established to be a great benefit to the governed. But it can only remain so when the balance of power is maintained. Moves to override local governance are direct challenges to the balance of powers, and should be resisted.

1.    The Town Board should pass a resolution affirming the importance of local government functions and their maintenance at the local level, and its intention to retain and expand upon its current levels of authority. Although these may not always be efficient, they are important in their function of retaining the balance of power between local, state and Federal governments. This resolution should be expanded, as much as possible, to neighboring towns and to the County.
2.    The Town Board should create a three-year plan to revitalize community activity and involve citizenry in local government affairs. This may include the promotion of functions which may not be governmental, but affect social and commercial interests. A town fair, town garbage pickups, newsletters, websites and other forms promoting communications among the citizenry and between the citizenry and government could be covered in such a plan.
3.    Greater efficiency in the performance of services will enable local governments to avoid the accusation, usually unfounded, that such services are better left to the state or the Federal government.
4.    Funds should as much as possible be retained at the local level, and should not be circulated through the Federal government, as such circulation results in an imbalance of power between Federal and local levels.
5.    The town should consider measures to safeguard the privacy of its citizens. Spying on citizens by Federal agencies can result in selective prosecutions and manipulations, and upset the balance of power originally enshrined in the U.S. constitution.
6.    The town should consider measures to reduce or eliminate Federal government operations that interfere with the constitutionally-protected rights of its citizens.
7.  The Town Board should act to represent the concerns of its constituents to members of the state legislature and members of congress, as well as to the county board.

SUMMARY
The Federal government, since the events of September 11, 2001, has tended to create laws to enable it to override local decision-making and unnecessarily conduct surveillance on the local citizenry. This had created an imbalance of power between local and the Federal government, and has led to an overly strong Federal decision-making apparatus insulated from local input. It has led to an expensive and dangerous set of policies in the economic and foreign policy spheres. All of this has appeared because local governance has been extremely weak. The antidote is, at least in part, to empower local governance, not as an appendage of Federal government, but, rather, as a robust independent body reflecting popular participation and support, and capable of helping to shape Federal policy.


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