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Portland Leads With Their (Skeptical) Noses

May 24th, 2013 by dk

Portland citizens this week went to the polls and came to their senses. The rest of the country should follow their lead. They turned their noses at fluoridated water. But the lesson is not about fluoride. It’s about trusting our noses.

In an age where government power is increasingly matched with stealth, citizens are being left with no better response than the broad skepticism tinged with paranoia that reversed Portland’s plan to fluoridate its water. “Something doesn’t smell right.”

Governments too often believe they know best. The pesky citizens who disagree are assumed to be uninformed or misinformed. This is not a new problem.

The troubling trend is for government to withhold information altogether, hoping not to arouse citizen suspicions in the first place. If voters remain unaware of how much control is being exerted over their lives, no one will be punished for any abuses.

The swirl of ill winds blowing in Washington D.C. — dubbed by Jon Stewart as “Hurricane Scandy” — has buffeted the Obama administration for the past two weeks. IRS officials targeted conservative groups applying for tax exemptions. The State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency swapped talking points to avoid blame for an assault on an embassy. The Justice Department secretly scooped up phone records from the Associated Press and email from a Fox News correspondent.

The inquiries have begun, but early moves point to secrecies piled on top of secrecies. Attorney General Eric Holder is recusing himself and refusing to answer questions. IRS official Lois Lerner has invoked her Fifth Amendment right, refusing to answer questions from a Congressional subpoena. The president is insisting that Justice Department attempts to identify a leak of classified material is warranted, although they didn’t seek a warrant.

We’re reminded often that it’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up. But more and more, the cover-up is itself being covered up. Candidates and press secretaries refuse to comment on hypotheticals. Once the matter is no longer hypothetical, they remain silent because of the pending or ongoing investigation. Once the investigation concludes, they ignore questions about what they call “old news.” They’ve assembled their own invisibility cloak.

Two bombings in the past month — one in Boston, another in Louisiana — quickly identified the accused with the help of a wide web of video surveillance cameras.

Drone warfare has accelerated the use of so-called “signature strikes.” These are lethal bombings based not on any knowledge about any of the targeted victims, but based solely on a pattern — signature — of behavior that looks nefarious to a drone operator in Omaha watching a video feed.

Stop and consider. A twenty-something soldier in the Midwest is authorized to bomb a gathering of men in the Middle East because they left their mosque through the back door. Or drove away in what looks like a caravan. Or stopped for tea at a cafe known to have connections with gun runners. All without knowing any details about his victims. Press the button. Boom. Then to Arby’s for lunch.

We used to ask, “What did they know and when did they know it?” That’s becoming quaint, as government races toward omniscience. Virtually everything is knowable, but only in retrospect.

Information is power, and we’re entering a dangerous time when government is trawling for more information to add to its power, while limiting the citizens’ ability to be informed about those actions. Behind the twin shields of state secrets and national security, government power is compounding itself.

President Reagan summed his Soviet negotiations as “trust, but verify.” Our government now is telling its own citizens, “trust us but you cannot verify.”

Portland residents finally articulated for us an appropriate response to these cloaked attempts to make us safer. It was championed first by the craft breweries that make Portland proud, but it was picked up quickly by the Pacific Northwest’s unique breed of liberal libertarians.

Denied the information they felt they needed for a reasoned response, they voiced their skepticism with a “signature strike” of their own at the polls, refusing a colorless additive to their water. They raised their glasses, voted no, and proclaimed, “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”


Don Kahle blogs.

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