Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Yes, that's a cheesy title for a blog post, but I'm gonna go with it.

Like generations of parents before me, I find that I worry about the world that my children will live in as adults. I know a lot of people who worry about global warming, or nuclear war, or antibiotic-resistant flu. But I'm worried about the government.

I should clarify that I and my family are all legal residents of the United States of America. Which is, as countries go, a pretty good one. We live better than 99.9% of all humans who've ever lived: hot showers, meat 7 days a week if we want it, air conditioning - we daily take for granted thousands of comforts that simply weren't available to even the most powerful of 18th century kings. Even today, living in the USA, we have stuff that you'd need to be stinking rich to have in many parts of the world (cars, computers, plentiful food, etc). An old friend of mine from high school and college used to proclaim "I already won the lottery: I'm a white American male!" It may not be politically correct, but there's a fair amount of truth to that.

But I worry about my country, and the way things appear to be moving. A funny thing about the way laws are made in this country: someone proposes a law, it gets voted on, and it either becomes law or not. That's grossly simplified, I know, but what I see happening is that "bad" laws -- laws that undermine our basic civil liberties, laws that unfairly benefit special interests, laws that take away our privacy -- more and more of these things are becoming law. It's just a consequence of how The System works: a bad law is proposed by someone. With luck it gets voted down. But then the same law or a varient is proposed again. And again. And again. Until it finally passes. It's considered a truism in American politics that if you have enough money and time, you can get a law made.

And the kinds of laws that are being made are just plain scary. Here's a Wall Street Journal article on the growing number of federal criminal laws. What's especially disturbing is that many of these laws don't require the government to prove criminal intent:

Last September, retired race-car champion Bobby Unser told a congressional hearing about his 1996 misdemeanor conviction for accidentally driving a snowmobile onto protected federal land, violating the Wilderness Act, while lost in a snowstorm. Though the judge gave him only a $75 fine, the 77-year-old racing legend got a criminal record.
Eddie Leroy Anderson of Craigmont, Idaho, is a retired logger, a former science teacher and now a federal criminal thanks to his arrowhead-collecting hobby.
In 2009, Mr. Anderson loaned his son some tools to dig for arrowheads near a favorite campground of theirs. Unfortunately, they were on federal land. Authorities "notified me to get a lawyer and a damn good one," Mr. Anderson recalls.
There is no evidence the Andersons intended to break the law, or even knew the law existed, according to court records and interviews. But the law, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, doesn't require criminal intent and makes it a felony punishable by up to two years in prison to attempt to take artifacts off federal land without a permit.

And so we are effectively caught in an ever-tightening skein of bad -- sometimes downright insane -- laws that are progressively limiting or removing our basic liberties and civil rights. It's all done in the name of "anti-terrorism" or "save the children" or "the war against drugs" or whatever. So yeah, here's the part where I quote Benjamin Franklin: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Sadly, I foresee a future America that is a lot more totalitarian than Communist Russia ever was. One that really does bear more than a passing resemblence to Orwell's 1984.

I can see the future, and it's grim. The time will come when:

  • Use of cash will be illegal. All financial transactions will be electronic and recorded.

  • Every citizen will have a National ID Card. You'll be required to produce it upon demand by any law enforcement officer or agency.

  • A national database of everyone's DNA, fingerprints, and other biometric information will be online.

  • All public areas will be under camera surveillance.

  • All computers / internet usage is monitored and tied to one's National ID Card.

  • There will be a publicly-accessible national criminal and arrest database containing information on everyone who has had any kind of brush with the law.

  • National databases containing all medical and financial information on everyone will be online.

  • All of the data and databases above will be accessible by any government agency without any requirement for a warrant. And this will (of course) be widely abused.

  • All computers and encryption schemes must legally provide a government-accessible "back door".

  • Criticism of politicians or their policies is criminal libel. Ie, the First Amendment is simply ignored.

  • Possession of hand-guns by private citizens will be illegal.

  • Everyone will technically be a criminal -- and thus subject to arrest and all that comes with it -- all the time.

  • "One strike and you're out": all it takes is a single "incident" with authority and you lose your job, your medical insurance, your home, your money -- your life.

Like I said: grim. In short, it's an America where Order comes before Justice and Freedom.

Is it possible to live in such a state and be happy?

I hope I'm wrong. It's been said that American civil rights law has always been a "pendulum", slowly swinging left and right and back again. I hope so. But I'm not sure how we can avoid the seemingly inevitable accretion of bad laws that will occur over the years and the decades. Kids: if you're reading this sometime in the indefinite future, I want you to know that I'm doing what I can, writing to congress about bad laws etc. I don't want you to live in the future I envision -- and I sincerely hope you don't.

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