Our Government is Worse Than Anthrax

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I've
already been accused by some of my newspaper readers of being a
coward and a traitor because I can't get too excited about the Endless
War on Terrorism. So I might as well go for the gusto and say what
I really think.

First,
despite the truly grievous attacks on innocent people in New York,
Washington, and Pennsylvania, I still fear my own government far
more than I fear Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaida network, and whatever
foreign governments may have aided and abetted his terrorist plots.
In my mind, the FBI is far more frightening than anthrax, and John
Ashcroft isn't much better than the Ebola virus.

Second,
while America's foreign policy – i.e., starving Iraqi children for
11 years because Washington no longer supports the dictator it helped
prop up – doesn't condone terrorism, it explains why some people
are supportive of it.

Third,
Americans have more to fear from the ideas expressed in a recent
neoconservative tirade in The Weekly Standard than they do from
the frothing U.S. flag-burners in Pakistan. Last week's cover story,
written by Max Boot of the Wall Street Journal, was titled, The
Case for American Empire, and is something well beyond satire. Read
it yourself for final proof that the neocons are insane.

Fourth,
if I have to hear one more commentator prattle about America being
targeted by bin Laden because of our nation's freedoms, I am going
to run into the streets of Santa Ana (where I work) yelling nasty
things about our government. Don't worry, no one will bother me
given that English isn't widely spoken around these parts.

As
part of my quiet protest against the jingoism and war-mongering,
most of my columns since the Sept. 11 attacks are dedicated to this
proposition: America ain't nearly as free as everyone seems to think
it is.

On
Sunday, I wrote about how the local children's services agency has
taken a young girl out of the care of her loving grandmother and
placed her with a foster parent who, according to court records,
owed $31,000 in back child support to his own kids, had a restraining
order placed on him so he couldn't see them, and was accused in
a sworn statement of swimming nude with his foster children.

I
was reminded that government bureaucrats can take anyone's kids
at any time for any reason, and they needn't even tell the parent
where the kid has been placed for 72 hours. Proceedings take place
in a special kangaroo court where what the bureaucrats say is taken
for gospel, and what parents and responsible adults say often is
ignored. After my column ran, I've been inundated with calls from
readers relaying similar tragic dealings with these agencies.

A
couple of weeks ago, I wrote about eminent domain abuses. In California,
most cities have what are called redevelopment agencies, whose officials
can declare any residential or retail area as blighted, and then
exert broad powers of eminent domain to take properties from owners
and hand them over to big developers. The real goal isn't blight
removal, but the creation of new shopping centers and hotel complexes
that bring in more tax revenues than the current residents or business
owners bring in.

Cities
are supposed to pay fair-market value for the properties they take,
but they try to outright steal them by making lowball offers, backed
by intimidating tactics worthy of the mafia. I wrote about how the
city of Garden Grove took a thriving multimillion-dollar car rental
business run by Korean immigrants, and offered them the whopping
sum of $16,000 for the enterprise. Small entrepreneurs are routinely
forced out of business by the government, and deprived of their
livelihoods – making it difficult to find the resources needed to
fight back in court. These aren't anomalies, but everyday occurrences
in California and other states.

In
another column, I wrote about Catholic school boosters who raised
funds and started building a privately funded school on one of the
few sites zoned specifically for schools in San Juan Capistrano.
Although the local public school district can legally build on most
any piece of property zoned in most any way, the public school officials
didn't like the idea of competition. So once they saw the private
school effort, they decided to try to use eminent domain to take
the site for their own school.

These
are just a handful of stories from one small, albeit rather loony,
corner of America over the last few weeks. After each article was
published, I received calls from other people telling about even
more egregious incidents of government abuse. These include developers
who have the total value of their property stolen from them after
officials discover some endangered bug on the land, property owners
who are forced to make their homes conform to bogus historical standards,
a city that is forcing some privately owned motels to shut down
because they cater to poor long-term residents rather than tourists,
and lots and lots of unfair takings examples. Sometimes people are
protected in the courts, but only after years of fighting.

We
live in a land where the government taxes more than half your income,
where officials can take your children or your property on a whim
and leave you little recourse, where government agencies have complete
power over what you can do on your own private property and when
you can do it. Yet we're supposed to be so proud of our free country
that we go around the world liberating other people with our Tomahawk
missiles. God bless America, my eye. God save it, is more like it.

October
18, 2001

Steven
Greenhut [send him mail]
is a senior editorial writer for the Orange County Register
in Santa Ana, Calif.

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