For those suspecting the federal government is making Y2K millennium bug contingency plans that include the suspension of civil liberties, fears were not allayed by the nation’s Y2K czar at his first summit last week.

In answer to a question about electrical-power failures caused by embedded chip problems and other millennium bug breakdowns, John Koskinen, the chairman of President Clinton’s Y2K council, said: “In a crisis and emergency situation, the free market may not be the best way to distribute resources. … If there’s a point in time where we have to take resources and make a judgment on an emergency basis, we will be prepared to do that.”

Now what does that mean? These guys don’t think the free market is the best way to distribute resources in the best of times. But this statement requires some explanation. This is a statement that should prompt congressional hearings — out in public, not in executive session. This is a statement that brings to mind a history of executive orders mandating emergency presidential powers that would make our Founding Fathers spin in their graves.

Yet, I saw the chilling statement reported only by Wired News, which covered the Y2K council’s first summit in San Francisco last Thursday. Nothing in the Associated Press. Nothing in the San Francisco papers. Nothing on the major networks.

Worse yet, even Wired News, which, thank heavens, saw fit to publish the quote, did not choose to lead its story coverage with it.

Now, I can understand government seizing an opportunity for more power in a crisis. It’s the nature of government to do just that. What I don’t understand is how we could receive so many warnings by government officials of their ominous plans for martial law beginning Jan. 1, 2000 without scrutiny by the press, civil libertarians and other so-called government watchdogs. Why am I like a voice crying out in the wilderness over this issue?

This is, by my count, at least the second major pronouncement by high-ranking members of the Clinton administration that preparations are being made to scrap the Constitution in the event of problems we know are coming on a date just over a year away.

The first, to refresh your memories, came in June, when Sen. Robert Bennett, chairman of the Senate’s Year 2000 committee, was interviewing a top Pentagon official, Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre. Here’s how that exchange went:

Bennett: “In the event of a Y2K-induced breakdown of community services that might call for martial law,” will the military be ready?

Hamre: “We’ve got fundamental issues to deal with that go beyond just the Year 2000 contingency planning. And I think you’re right to bring that up.”

Understand that Bennett, a Republican from Utah, wasn’t suspiciously asking Hamre if the military was secretly planning a hideous martial law scenario. He was knowingly asking him, apparently hopeful that the military would be prepared to carry out it out.

I know it’s too much to ask, but shouldn’t the members of the House Judiciary Committee at least have all this in the back of their minds today as they consider articles of impeachment against President Clinton? Is this a leader the nation can trust on the brink of a potential national crisis? Is this a man America can trust with emergency powers?

Americans have come to believe their freedom is a permanent state. When people take their freedom for granted, it is most in peril. Is it not possible, with all we now know about the character of Bill Clinton, that he would attempt to turn such a crisis into a semi-permanent presidency — one with imperial powers? And, with all we know about the character of the spineless Congress, is it unthinkable to imagine its members abdicating their authority and collaborating in such an
insidious scheme?

Am I being paranoid? I don’t think so. After all, it’s not me who is raising the ugly specter of martial law in the context of the Y2K crisis. It is the United States government — first in a public meeting between representatives of the legislative and executive branches and now in a public summit convened by the president’s Y2K czar. This is not a hallucination, folks. It’s reality. Hearings are being conducted. Plans are being made.

Further evidence of this plot comes in the form of Presidential Decision Directive 63,
issued by Bill Clinton last May. It calls for the development of a plan to ensure “essential national security missions” as well as general public health and safety by, you guessed it, the year 2000.

The carefully worded directive emphasizes the preservation of order, the delivery of minimum essential services and the maintenance of a “national infrastructure protection system” involving the military, intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the mandatory participation of the “private sector.”

Under the directive, the “National Infrastructure Protection Center,” which includes the FBI, the Secret Service, other federal law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense and the intelligence agencies, calls the shots. To me, the cynic, all this sounds like code for martial law.

Not interested in the federal plans? You may have to be. The document states that “it is preferred that participation by owners and operators in a national infrastructure protection system be voluntary.” Note that word “preferred.” You may be drafted.

The first set of plans from federal agencies were due on Clinton’s desk last month. You can bet he won’t be holding any press conferences on those details any time soon. I can tell you this news agency will be filing Freedom of Information Act requests for those documents. But, don’t hold your breath, this White House claims a broad exemption from the FOIA that none of its predecessors has claimed — just one more reason for impeachment, if you ask me.

Of course, maybe Y2K will come and go with no major calamities. Would you like to bet your freedom on that possibility?

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