Reflecting on lost freedoms on July 4

JULY 1, 2011

By STEVEN GREENHUT

This morning the Armstrong and Getty talk-show hosts were reporting on proposed new California legislation — opposed by many of the usual law-and-order  types — that would overturn the current state of affairs, in which police can undertake an open-ended search of our cell phones if we are arrested for any reason. Cell phones these days are not just telephones, obviously, but contain nearly an endless array of personal and professional information. If I get arrested for some picayune offense — and there are so many offenses on the law books today, that we’re all vulnerable for arrest on any number of fronts — then the police can peruse all my personal data, email conversations, photographs, text messages, work files, audio records, half-finished news stories, rolodex, etc. They can go on a broad fishing expedition.

This is a small reminder of the type of society that we’ve become. So many people I know believe that “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear” from overly intrusive police, nosy regulators, federal agents, whatever. This is the mindset of a police state, or at least of those who live in an authoritarian society. Unfortunately, the July 4 holiday is getting more difficult to enjoy enthusiastically given the increasing reach of the State and the increasing power of the functionaries who work for the government.

Increasingly, the people who work for government have become arrogant and unrestrained in the pursuit of their authority. That’s because our government is continually shifting authority from the private sphere of individual choices to the government,or the force-based community, as I like to put it. Government agencies and agents know that the law protects virtually anything they do.

This Thomas Jefferson quotation should be a litmus test for any society: “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

Which way is it in modern America? We know the answer. Our government does not fear us. We must fear the government. If we do not conform to every jot and tittle of the law, then we can face prison sentences, court battles, fines and regulatory nightmares. Our freedom these days comes mainly from the fact that government lacks the resources to enforce all the laws on the books, although it endlessly seeks out these resources, and the public is often eager to comply with the requests.

Go and try to start a business in this state, or any other state for that matter. The property you buy is regulated to the hilt. The business you start must conform to a thick stack of laws governing the amount you pay your employees to how you dispose of your garbage to the number of seats you have in your restaurant. Conditional Use Permits tell you the subjective conditions placed on your business by officials. You can only serve those items approved by the government in the quantities acceptable to regulators. You must conform to the eight-hour work day rules, regardless of what deal you have struck individually with your employees. Government regulators can stop in and shut you down at any time and for a vast array of reasons.

We can be searched and harassed and detained for virtually any reason, subject mainly to the discretion of those who search and harass. There used to be a time when police in particular had a healthy understanding of the limitations of their power, but increasingly those who exert government power view themselves as having absolute authority, rather than limited authority. If you don’t think so, try being rude to a regulator or an officer of the law. The government can take your property through regulatory taking and pay no compensation or through eminent domain, and even give that property to another private owner.

The Left and Right have both created this mess. The Left wants to uplift and improve human nature. It recognizes no natural rights. These positivists believe that virtually every area of our life (personal sexual relations mostly exempted) are their business. But the Right is so in love with law and order that it continually increases the power of government agents, who end up enforcing all the Nanny State laws conservatives rail against. The Right claims to believe in freedom, but it generally only believes in your right to do the things conservatives approve of. Witness the Right’s views on, say, gay marriage and drug legalization.

As a journalist, I operate in one of the few areas that has few regulations. But even speech is increasingly regulated, as we look at all the rules governing political speech and campaign giving. The founders believed first and foremost in political speech being free, but in America such speech is less free than other forms of speech. If you run for office, you better be able to afford the consultants and lawyers to help you navigate your way through the arcane election process.

Try doing anything these days. Don’t you dare drink a beer while floating down the American River or sip some wine or have a cigarette on a public beach, to name just a couple of small pleasures that are off-limits. At least we can retreat to our own property, but the government has more and more sway over what we do there, too. Not long ago, my daughter caught a postal inspector walking all over my land and scolding my daughter when our dog started barking at the intruder. He didn’t need a warrant and he was less-than-apologetic when he finally figured out that he was at the wrong house for his inspection (of a dog-bites-postman situation).

Let’s not forget the obvious, either. The government takes about half of our pay, even more based on some calculations. It uses that money to provide services many of us never asked for and definitely don’t want (i.e., regulating our lives, paying huge pensions to government employees, invading countries that never harmed us). This is a country where you can end up in jail for selling raw milk — something that recently brought armed agents to the facility of one family.  Many of the supposedly free businesses have indeed locked arms with government and operate in much the same way as government (utilities, big banks, credit card companies, phone companies, etc.). It’s no wonder that even the marketplace is starting to operate in a manner similar to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

This isn’t to say everything is bad. There are good trends and the government seems unable to stay up with advances in technology so that many areas of our life are not overly regulated. We remain a prosperous society despite the government’s consumption of half our economy. There are still courts that uphold many of the rights enshrined in our Constitution. America still has many more freedoms than many other countries and a lot of our fellow citizens and even a handful of our politicians still get it. But the spirit of America has changed. Increasingly, Americans turn to the government to solve their problems, forgetting that every decision made by a bureaucrat is one less decision made in a non-coercive manner in the private sector.

Most of our fellow citizens don’t seem to care about the freedoms that we are frittering away. They don’t seem too sensitive to the rights being lost or the intrusions on our lives by government. Every government rests to some degree on the support of the governed. That’s true even in totalitarian societies. So perhaps Americans are getting the government they want and deserve. But we can do better. All is not lost, even in California. Good things happen and paradigms shift. Deep down, I believe, Americans still understanding the ideas that animated our Founding Fathers. People from all nations naturally want to be free.

But let’s not go celebrating our Independence Day freedoms without shedding at least a few tears for the many freedoms that we have lost, to the many we are losing and to the erosion of a national spirit that used to think of “Don’t tread on me” as its rallying cry. Let’s use the holiday to rekindle the ideas of liberty and to look for ways to make our society more free.

No comments

Write a comment
  1. Sol
    Sol 1 July, 2011, 18:46

    You are right and you didn’t even get into the asset forfeiture laws where the government can steal your property without ever charging you with any crime or even accusing you of doing anything wrong.

    And you are right that most Amerikans couldn’t care less. And many cheer these things on, even the vast majority when something like 9/11 happens.

    What’s incredible is that 9/11 could have been prevented if the government wasn’t so inept yet instead of holding the government accountable the people demanded that the government take even more power, money and take away more of our privacy and other rights, and Bush’s approval rating soared to in excess of 90% immediately after 9/11.

    The government won all the way around. Really makes you wonder if they knew about 9/11 all along and let it happen or were even behind it all.

    How can the people be so stupid?

    Reply this comment
  2. Sol
    Sol 1 July, 2011, 18:50

    If you want to read some asset forfeiture horror stories go here and check out the victim’s stories section.

    http://www.fear.org/

    Reply this comment
  3. Melissa
    Melissa 1 July, 2011, 23:45

    You’re right, and every day some pubic employee tells us what we can and cannot do with our property, our business and our children. Sadly, we now live in a Mother-May-I society.

    Oh and Sol, your conspiracy theory is amusing. You should consider making a list of all of the attacks by terrorists on Americans during the Clinton years. Attacks he and his administration did nothing about. The “It’s all Bush’s fault” response it not just inaccurate, it’s tired an old.

    Reply this comment
  4. Hcat
    Hcat 2 July, 2011, 10:10

    Francis Schaeffer, who died in 1984, predicted this. He write, as far back as 1968, that the two values of most of what was then called the “Silent Majority were not morality and liberty, but affluence and personal peace. And they would accept an authoritarianism that did not threaten those two values.

    Reply this comment
  5. LetThemEatCake
    LetThemEatCake 2 July, 2011, 11:03

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
    Benjamin Franklin

    Reply this comment
  6. Sol
    Sol 2 July, 2011, 12:28

    Melissa, I carry no water for Klinton. He was a tyrant. But that does not excuse George Bush and his regime’s criminal negligence on 9/11. (or was it more than just negligence?)

    You need to wake up and realize that Democrats are not the only tyrants in this country. Republicans, Democrats – they are all liars and thieves.

    Neither of them follow or believe in the US Constitution.

    Reply this comment
  7. Sol
    Sol 2 July, 2011, 12:29

    Lew Rockwell quotes Joe Sobran:

    “By today’s standards, King George III was a very mild tyrant indeed. He taxed his American colonists at a rate of only pennies per annum. His actual impact on their personal lives was trivial. He had arbitrary power over them in law and in principle, but in fact it was seldom exercised. If you compare his rule with that of today’s U.S. Government, you have to wonder why we celebrate our independence.”

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/90590.html

    Reply this comment
  8. Centurion
    Centurion 2 July, 2011, 17:50

    “Witness the Right’s views on, say, gay marriage and drug legalization.”

    The views of “the Right” on these two issues are pretty much in line with every other nation on the face of this earth. Using these two issues to depict “the Right” as repressive is ludicrous and lessens the impact of an otherwise pretty decent article.

    Reply this comment
  9. David from Oceanside
    David from Oceanside 3 July, 2011, 09:15

    Conservatives are first off the couch to proclaim American exceptionalism so it is tiring when they pull the every other nation does the same card. As a sober heterosexual I would find the US a much better place with full rights for gays and an end to the drug war.

    Conservatives should ask themselves several questions starting with whats wrong with peace and liberty.

    Reply this comment
  10. Sol
    Sol 3 July, 2011, 11:41

    “Conservatives should ask themselves several questions starting with whats wrong with peace and liberty.”

    Did Obama ask the same thing before he attacked Libya?

    DemoCrook, RepubloCon…none of them care about the Constitution, liberty, or peace.

    Reply this comment
  11. Centurion
    Centurion 3 July, 2011, 16:24

    Somehow David, I don’t think those of us that claim America is an exceptional nation have “gay marriage” in mind. Exceptionalism for it’s own sake, without any adhearance to tradiitional morality is as asinine as it is nonsensical.

    Reply this comment
  12. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 4 July, 2011, 08:50

    I prefer to reflect on the good fortune I have had to be born and raised in the greatest country on earth. America–the land of the free!

    Reply this comment
  13. john moore
    john moore 5 July, 2011, 08:10

    Here in Pacific Grove,since [email protected] was corruptly established in Fiscal 2003,the city has lost 51 million dollars of a 100 million dollar pension plan(Calpers). That is after the return of the stock market. Yet,the police, the biggest beneficiary of the illegal [email protected](they are the “police”) sat by and watched the crime. In our recent budget,they did not suffer any “cut”,but enjoyed a raise,all at the expense of other city services. If the unfunded deficit trend continues,it will amount to $100,000 per parcel in 6-7 years. Incredibly,in 2006,Calpers induced the city to issue pension bonds at 6% per annum interest for thirty years. If you borrowed money at 6% to invest in the stock market,you would lose money so fast you couldn’t keep track of it. And that’s what has and is happening to Pacific Groves’ pension plan. The city managers and city attys. who implemented these actions,simply blame it on Calpers,which in turn blames it on the economy.Evidently no “adult” was involved.

    Reply this comment
  14. David from Oceanside
    David from Oceanside 5 July, 2011, 09:36

    The fact that government tells us what we can keep from pour paycheck tells us we all work on the plantation and that our property is not our own. Governments use the resources extracted from us by force to promote government and to force upon us their way of life.

    Liberals are a lost cause in the hope for liberty. They would tell us how to live in every area but the bedroom. One might hope for better from conservatives but alas they too wish to tell us how to live in so many ways.

    When conservatives tell us how to live, some do so from religious values, others from traditional values but when they choose force over peaceful free choice they betray the cause of liberty and are no better than the liberals they blame.

    Reply this comment
  15. Nancy Lewis
    Nancy Lewis 6 July, 2011, 12:20

    Check out the website joeypinasco.com the dead can not fight for justice! It’s up to the living to do so for them Justice Fod Joey! Trial January 2012,
    Sacramento!

    Reply this comment

Write a Comment

Leave a Reply


Related Articles

Sen. Steinberg dumps carbon tax idea

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has given up on his plan to replace California’s cap-and-trade law with a carbon

De Leon rebuked for scrapping oversight office

In a curious action, new state California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, has scrapped the government oversight

Fairness prevails in union-dues ruling

July 2, 2012 By Steven Greenhut SACRAMENTO — For people who truly are interested in a just and fair society,