Saturday, August 18, 2007


Is the U.S. replacing the U.S.S.R.? Sure, we're a capitalistic country, but as China shows us, you can have an oppressive government and flourishing market-based economy. Of all the rights being curtailed and trammeled, the right to travel freely is, to me, one of the greatest.

I keep thinking of this because of the tightening restrictions on travel and identification. There's a news item about how people in states that rejected the REAL ID program might have to show their passports to travel domestically or visit National Parks. That comes on top of the hideous restrictions that have led to foreigners refusing to visit the U.S. I don't blame them. If a country demanded that I be fingerprinted and all data on my politics, my sexual orientation, my faith be transmitted, well, I'd skip visiting, thank you very much. One of the most haunting parts of visiting the USSR back when it was the USSR was the oppressive restrictions on travel -- for both foreigners and citizens. As a foreigner, you had to register where you were visiting. As a resident or citizen, you had to have internal travel papers that you had to show.

And even the USSR, for God's sakes, didn't go as far as fingerprinting people entering the country. And at least they let S come in even though he stupidly decided to read Richard Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" on the plane. Can you imagine someone named Ali Q Hussein from Egypt getting the same respect here if he decided to read the book on a plane from Cairo to New York? And if the feds play chicken with the states refusing to implement REAL ID, Ali Q Hussein traveling from Boston to Las Vegas might run into the same problem.

I also keep thinking of the Palestinian Kuwaiti we met in Moscow during Gorbachev's reign. He hated the USSR and refused to leave the hotel while his daughter was getting operated on by a famous Russian eye doctor because the USSR had such tight restrictions on travel. He described his last trip to the U.S. to us and how he rented a car in Chicago and traveled down the Mississippi River, visiting Graceland and wound up at Disney World in Orlando. "What a great country you have!" he exclaimed. I don't think he could do that trip today. If he's still alive, I wonder what he thinks of things of the U.S. now.

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