Monday, June 25, 2007

Are we FREE?

Op/ed from OCRegister:


Every few years, I write a column that updates the erosion of our freedoms. It mostly deals with simple, everyday stuff, but it's rather telling. Here is my latest installment:

If I want to build a new house, I need to petition any number of government agencies and commissions, and can build only what they allow. Those agencies decide not only if my project conforms to some basic, easily understood rules, but whether it conforms to their own preferences regarding style, color, historical influences, size, number of stories, and so forth. If I ever want to add on or improve that house, I must wait until a government inspector approves it. If I am a developer, and want to build a larger number of properties on a site, I must fight for years to get approvals – and usually the final project will bear little resemblance in style or design to my original vision.

If I want to start a new business, I not only will have to pay a large portion of any earnings to the government, but I must first get all the necessary approvals from myriad governments. I must pay my employees a minimum rate determined by the government. They may only work the number of hours set by the government. If it's a restaurant or business that serves the public, I must get a conditional-use permit – a long list of conditions that micromanage exactly how I run the place, from the hours to the number of tables, based on the whims of the commissioners who must approve the business.

The government can, at any time, take my home or business and give it to someone else if officials, for any reason, prefer the new use to my use. The government can, at its discretion, steal all the value from my property by declaring it a wetland or by finding on it some "endangered" rodent or other species. No compensation need be paid as long as I still have any use of the land.

The government's officers can launch a "no-knock" raid of my home (if they get a tip about, say, a drug deal) and can shoot and kill me if they say that they viewed me as a threat. Abusive federal agents or local police officers can, by law in California, keep all their disciplinary records secret. Those same agents can arrest me and throw me in jail for decades for possessing those "drugs" that the government determines to be illegal. Meanwhile, the government maintains files on all my personal and financial data and will use them to assure that I pay the amount of taxes the government determines that I must pay.

If I refuse to pay the full amount, I will become a ward of one of the biggest growth industries in the country: the government-run prison system. I am free to pay about half of all my earnings to the government, which will use those taxes to erect a multitude of offices and pay its workers salaries and benefits that are far more than most of us will ever earn. The government's "child protective services" workers are free to take anyone's children away from them based on their discretion. Parents are then forced into a totally secret court system, in which they must prove their innocence rather than having the government being forced to prove guilt.