Paul Jacob

It’s in the nature of government to want to clamp down on information. You see it clearest in tyrannies.

In Burma, for example, the government aims to reduce the number of licensed teashops. Why? To decrease viewing of satellite television. Satellite TV dishes are already licensed in Burma, and the fee had recently been jacked up from $5 to $800. Teashops are just about the only place an average Burmese citizen can hear uncensored news. The Burmese junta really, really does not want Burmese people to be informed about freedoms — or dangers — elsewhere.

But we don’t need to go looking beyond our borders for this kind of over-reaching nonsense. Look no further than New York City.

The city’s deputy commissioner of counter-terrorism has this hankering to clamp down the private ownership of devices that measure toxins. You know, like anthrax, asbestos, ragweed. (OK, let’s give him credit — detectors that measure noise and pollen will likely be exempt.)

The mayor is all behind him. They have put forward a bill to license such devices.

Why? According to the Village Voice, after 9/11, lots of people bought toxin detectors. And “a lot of these machines didn’t work right, and when they registered false alarms, the police had to spend millions of dollars chasing bad leads and throwing the public into a state of raw panic.”

Scared now?

But the Voice went on to take it back as jest: “OK, none of that has actually happened.”

The scare scenario is just that, a cooked-up scenario.

Some politicians just fear the people. Though on 9/11 New Yorkers behaved very well, Mayor Bloomberg and his deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, Richard Falkenrath, didn’t learn anything from the outstanding citizen co-operation — from the vast horde of unregulated, unbidden boats driven to Manhattan shores to aid in the mass exodus, from all the volunteers — and instead see panic as likely and catastrophic.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.