A favorite standby of pundits and columnists is to predict what developments will transpire over the next 12 months. I've decided to take the reductio ad absurdum approach, and predict what might happen in 2006 should the most disturbing trends of the last few years with respect to liberty and personal freedom continue unabated.
You might find what follows to be a bit farfetched. Silly, even. But bear with me.
—Moved by terrorist fears and anti-immigrant fervor, we will move ever closer to a national identification card. Citizens of the United States won't be allowed to do something as simple as ride the bus without first showing "their papers," invoking comparisons to communist regimes in the former Iron Curtain countries.
Someone in Congress will introduce legislation calling for a national ID card, but with Orwellian panache, will attempt to assuage fears of civil libertarians by calling for the words "this is not a national ID card" to be printed on the actual national ID card.
—The drug war will continue apace. Police dressed in paramilitary gear will conduct multiple early-morning raids on the homes of nonviolent marijuana offenders, including using forced entry, stun grenades, and other combat tactics commonly used in urban warfare.
—In the name of public safety, some small town will install cameras on its streets that nab motorists who speed, then send them a ticket in the mail. But in a thinly disguised move to generate more revenue, said town will lower the speed limits after installing the cameras, in effect entrapping motorists into fines they don't deserve.
—Drug warriors will finally drop the charade, and arrest the Bill of Rights. On drug charges, of course.
—Staking out new ground in egregious corporate welfare, an American city will once again build a new stadium for the millionaire owners of a professional sports team, at taxpayer expense. This time, however, the millionaire franchise owners will get a bonus $50 million from the city's taxpayers for breaking the lease on the old stadium — which the city will do for the express purpose of building the new one.
Worse, the team will get half of all revenues from non-football related events held at the taxpayer-funded stadium. Worse yet, the city will seize land from businesses who've been in operation for decades — not just to build the stadium, but to build parking lots around the stadium. The proceeds from which, once again, will go to the millionaire franchise owners.
—In the continuing war on drinking and driving, police will begin forcibly extracting blood from suspected DUI offenders. Those who refuse, or merely ask to talk to a lawyer first, will be Tasered into submission.
—In the ongoing fight against childhood obesity, lawmakers will attempt to make teachers weigh themselves every day, in order to set a good example for students. The government will keep all teachers' weights in a public database.
On a related note, a major American newspaper will run an in-depth investigation comparing Oreo cookies to heroin. And a public health activist will call for the Surgeon General to start policing the amount of food restaurants are allowed to serve their customers.
—Family values conservatives will vehemently object to a vaccine for a common, potentially lethal sexually transmitted disease out of fears that with the threat of a fatal disease out of the way, people who get vaccinated might be tempted to have more sex.
—In their never-ending quest to niggle in every last facet of our lives, lawmakers will begin to monitor online dating services, insisting that government has an obligation to protect people from "heartache."
—A debate will break out on whether or not members of Congress should actually read the laws they pass before voting on them. Congress will refuse to adopt the measure.
—Having successfully scared us all about tobacco, alcohol, fatty foods, salt, and numerous other alleged threats to our longevity, the public health crowd will begin to make alarmist claims about the dangers of caffeine.
—Public health activists will warn that people can become addicted to suntanning.
—After years of criticizing Wal-Mart for destroying local communities, Wal-Mart haters will begin to criticize the retail giant for giving too much money to local charities, insisting that the company is only giving money to local philanthropies to help its image. They'll then prevent Wal-Mart from offering jobs and low prices for good foods in low-income urban areas.
—At least one American city will really get tough on tobacco, and start throwing people in jail for smoking a cigarette in public.
As you may have guessed (or discovered by clicking the links), farfetched as some of these predictions may sound, they aren't really predictions at all. All of the above actually happened in 2005. And that's not even touching on the awful Supreme Court decisions on eminent domain and medical marijuana.
It would be difficult to come up with a list of exaggerated predictions for 2006 because we've entered a peculiar time when it's not really even possible to exaggerate the threats to economic, personal, and political freedom. Perhaps the tide will turn this year. But don't hold your breath.
Radley Balko maintains the The Agitator weblog.