This really annoys me. What exactly do you think a red alert means, anyway? If the government declares a red alert, a terrorist attack is underway, or will be in about five minutes. That's what "severe risk" means. The government will be deploying emergency personnel, including armed forces, throughout the area at risk. That could mean anything from ambulances and Sheriff's cars to tanks and F-16s. Maybe you think it would be a good idea to be out on the street, shopping for imported coffee or working on your tan, while these guys are looking for terrorists. I don't.

When a fire engine rips down your street, sirens blaring and lights flashing, do you get out of its way and hope it gets to the fire in time to put it out, or do you insist on your legal right to move about and associate? You don't really know that the fire engine is on its way to a real fire, do you? Maybe the guys got bored and decided to shake up the locals for a change. Maybe the Fire Department felt they needed to justify their budget. You don't actually see any fire, do you? I've never seen a fire on my street, and I've got four fire stations in a five-block radius of my house. But they can't deny my right to cross the street just because they say there's a fire somewhere. No, sir. I know my rights.

And when the state declares a hose ban, telling you there just isn't enough water in the aquifers, do you try to conserve water and hope your garden will survive, or do you crank it up and swear about the lousy crooked politicians trying to cheat you out of your right to a well-kept lawn? You have only their word about the aquifer, and who can say how honest they are? You've never seen the aquifer. I've never seen the aquifer. I bet that aquifer is full of water, nice wet water that the politicians are saving for their own gardens. What the hell is an aquifer, anyway? I bet they made that shit up.

Let's get back on track. Is the system open to abuse? Sure it is. Every system can be abused. The American people can be misled. We know that, we've seen cover-ups, covert ops, scandals and conspiracies throughout American history. This is no different. Sure, the Department of Homeland Security has more power than it should. But what are you suggesting, that the Red Alert should be compliance-optional? That in the event of a "severe threat of a terrorist attack" or during an actual attack, we should be out on the street with our Walkmen and our celphones, checking out babes down at the dog run, while buildings down the street crumble, and buses explode, and every soldier and Guardsman from here to Kentucky starts looking for suspicious characters? You might think that's one of your "rights and freedoms and democratic institutions". I think I'm staying inside.

I feel for you. It's rough, suddenly discovering that you live in a world where not everybody likes your country. It's distressing to discover that your Constitutional rights are not the absolute most important thing in the world, that even the nice men in your own government say you can kiss your rights goodbye because all they want is the bottom line, and the bottom line is saving lives, not rights. It's harsh. But you know what? The world is like that.

Please note, it's not that I think the government is a bunch of saints. I think the best of them are crooks and the worst of them are absolutely evil men. I think we're about to embark on one of the most unjustified wars ever, and I think that individual freedoms in America are going down the toilet, and have been for quite a while now. I think we're all in very deep trouble. But, as you said yourself, that has nothing to do with the Homeland Security advisory system. This is a matter of survival procedure.

Red Alert is really martial law? Well, yes, as a matter of fact it is. Red Alert means you're under attack. It almost sounds like you don't believe that. Maybe the whole "terrorism" thing is a scam, some kind of trick to give Bush the extra power he wants. Maybe there aren't any terrorists. And maybe there is no fire.

I'll say it again. Yes yes YES the system is open to abuse, and YES the decline of civil rights, privacy and liberties in America is a terrible, terrible thing. althorrat has completely valid points on those issues, and I am not trying to deny them.

And yes, if the government decides to put the nation on red alert for an extended period, democracy will suffer. I admit that such a situation might arise. But that's not what the red alert is supposed to be, and I believe that if they did try such a thing they would find very quickly that people will not stand for it. Even if all "non-essential personnel" were willing to stay indoors for three or four days, a week or a month or a year, the entire country would fall apart if they tried it. The red alert status is simply impossible to maintain for more than a few hours, and if Bush was stupid enough to give it a go, he would soon be left without a country to run. I seriously doubt that he is that stupid.

What I'm trying to address here is the fact that, when used properly, a red alert is simply the official notification of a crisis situation, a state that perhaps most Americans are not used to. I understand that this is a hard thing to bear for the first time, and comes as a shock. But it is something that people are going to have to adjust to. Terrorism is real, regardless of your political opinions. Whether you support Bush's crusade against it or not, you need to be ready to deal with the reality of things exploding and people dying. This is a reality that America managed to ignore for most of the Twentieth Century, while other nations have had a lot more time to get used to it. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to pretend that "it can't happen here." It has happened here, and it will happen again. And when it does, it's best if we all know and follow the proper procedures.

Regarding your idea that "the government is the only entity that can tell us if there is or is not a terrorist threat" - BULLSHIT. I can tell you myself, having personally witnessed quite a few terrorist attacks. There is a threat. You may think the term "threat level" is some smoke-and-mirrors military jargon, but the only real variable here is the severity and immediacy of the threat, not whether or not there is one. This is what the Homeland Security Advisory System measures.

And please don't try to patronize me with your opinions on how terrorist attacks are or are not like invasions. I know exactly what terrorist attacks are like. As I said, I've seen more than my share of them.