March must be a bad month for civil liberties. In addition to the third anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Both have sliced away freedom in the United States, and their stories are intertwined.
Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, congealing 22 agencies of the federal government into a single department with a mission to safeguard the American people.
Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5, also known as HSPD-5, in 2003. The stated purpose was “to enhance the ability of the United States to manage domestic incidents by establishing a single, comprehensive national incident management system.”
In addition to overseeing 22 federal agencies, the secretary of Homeland Security was now tasked with the responsibility to make sure “all levels of government across the Nation have the capability to work efficiently and effectively together, using a national approach to domestic incident management.” Specifically, “The Secretary will coordinate with State and local governments to ensure adequate planning, equipment, training and exercise activities.”
The private sector was pulled in, too. “The Secretary will coordinate with the private and nongovernmental sectors to ensure adequate planning, equipment, training, and exercise activities and to promote partnerships to address incident management capabilities,” HSPD-5 stated.
The president directed the Homeland Security Secretary to develop and administer the National Incident Management System for “domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size or complexity,” so the nation would be under a “unified command.”
The president had no power to order state, local or tribal governments to comply, but that hurdle was easily overcome by threatening to withhold federal funds. All federal departments and agencies were ordered to make adoption of the NIMS a requirement for providing “Federal preparedness assistance through grants, contracts or other activities.”
No NIMS, no money.
Perhaps this is why authorities responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least at the beginning, seemed like a weirdly psychic chorus. They were singing in unison from the “guidance” invented by the permanent administrative class in Washington, D.C., enforced by the threat of losing federal funds.
While it may be impossible to get every decision right in a crisis, during the pandemic the ability to correct mistakes seemed to be lost, especially in California. Schools were closed for too long, with the worst consequences for the most vulnerable students. Small businesses were shuttered and crushed while big-box stores stayed open. Restaurants were forced to close, then told they could open for outdoor dining, then told they couldn’t, all without evidence that COVID-19 was spreading in restaurants. No evidence was cited to support any of the closures.
It was as if the entire country had become one big TSA security line, both a constant advertisement of danger and a ludicrous exercise in futility. Passengers shuffle through, never raising an objection because the people with the badges won’t like it and they can make trouble for you.
And that’s exactly what happened to a lot of people who spoke up or resisted.
One of the greatest tragedies of the COVID-19 response is the censorship, suppression and attempted destruction of the careers of highly credentialed, respected, published, even world-renowned doctors and scientists. That’s what happened to cardiologist, epidemiologist and internist Dr. Peter McCullough and to Dr. Pierre Kory, a pulmonologist, critical care specialist and educator. Employing their never-before-questioned skills, training and analytical ability, they determined that early, outpatient treatment of COVID-19 was helpful, then witnessed their reputations savaged for it. Why?
Because government health agency administrators had decreed that there was no treatment for COVID-19. Patients were told to stay home until they practically turned blue, at which time they could come to the hospital and take their chances on a ventilator, a type of life support that itself can cause death if not well managed.
Medical boards threatened doctors with the loss of certifications or licenses for prescribing early treatment. That was enough to silence many. Government-funded censorship of social media platforms, recently revealed in the Twitter files, silenced many more, and doctors employed by health organizations could be intimidated with the threat of job loss. Government money pays for a significant percentage of health care, and with that money comes control.
So, what did we learn from three years of COVID in California?
Lesson from the COVID pandemic: don’t forget about common sense and personal autonomy
With the COVID emergency over, the Legislature should limit governor’s emergency powers
LAUSD unions have a callous disregard for the education of LAUSD students
Harsh responses and harsh outcomes of COVID
The system failed us. Patients should have had the “right to try” if their doctors thought their illness could be treated with existing FDA-approved drugs. Instead they were told they must wait for a vaccine, which coincidentally could receive emergency use authorization under federal law only if “there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.”
When the vaccines became available, the system failed us again. Pharma companies raked in staggering profits while countless individuals who experienced severe adverse effects were ignored, censored or deplatformed. Journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger uncovered evidence in the Twitter files that the U.S government funded and controlled a massive censorship effort that included the removal from online platforms of “stories of true vaccine side effects.”
But more than inquiry is needed. It’s time to dissolve the Department of Homeland Security and return the 22 agencies to their original homes. DHS was structured to impose near-military command of civilian authorities. The Constitution, and the lessons of history, counsel that government power must be divided and limited, and never turned against the liberty it was chartered to protect.
Write Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley