DEATH IS EASY
by
Russell Madden
 
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FREEDOM, As If
It Mattered
by
Russell Madden
 
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Softcover, $24.95
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Hardcover, $34.95
 
(Preview. Also available in a digital edition, $5.63.)

 



YOU ARE A CRIMINAL

by

Russell Madden

 

 



It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed? James Madison, Federalist Paper, #62.


Rachel Caine is a criminal. This vicious nine-year-old girl dared place herself above the law. Not only did she flagrantly violate the legal restrictions covering her heinous activities, she continued her illicit and greedy quest for money over extended periods of time.

The upright code enforcement officer -- Ralph Campanio -- of Eustis, Florida, cracked down on this ne'er-do-well and protected the public from the imminent dangers posed by this lawless urchin. Go! he ordered. Sell lemonade here no more!

Confused, puzzled, chagrined, Rachel packed up her supplies, "her cups, cooler, cardboard sign and peach-colored pitcher...her table, chair and shade umbrella" (as reported by the Orlando Sun-Sentinel) and walked away from the curb where she had earned money to save, to give to her church, and to pay for her treats and entertainment.

While the city's code and zoning administrator, Mary Ziegengeist, reversed Campanio's order, never let it be said that the government does not get the last word. They still forced Rachel to comply with a regulation mandating an eight-foot distance between her lemonade stand and the road. For safety's sake, of course.

We can all rest secure in our beds now knowing that one more lawbreaker has felt the heavy hand of the State early on in her criminal career. Why, no doubt this righteous intervention has halted Rachel's long, slow slide into depravity. After all, no one should question the fact that selling lemonade -- and water! -- is merely a "gateway" business to more serious wrong-doing. Without being aware of the dire necessity for obtaining the critical state-mandated licenses, fees, safety precautions, and equipment to conduct her business, Rachel might one day have degenerated into other forms of evasion. Why, she might even have founded a giant software company that surreptitiously sought to conduct peaceful commerce with her customers without paying appropriate obeisance to her masters in the East.

(And let us not overlook that other pint-sized desperado, Caitlin Rezak, age eleven, of Boulder, Colorado. This "Soda Girl" -- who served Italian sodas from her curbside stand -- also flouted the law. The Boulder County Health Department ended her crime spree and delivered her customers from the hazards created by her cold-hearted dodging of consumer protection regulations. Chastised, Caitlin paid $225 to the state and county to resume her nefarious doings. Luckily for her, a local business donated the compulsory hand sink this exploitative capitalist needed to satisfy the cries of those who would protect the purity of our essences.)

Poor Rachel and Caitlin are hardly alone in their malfeasance.

You are a criminal, as well.

Don't deny it! We are all guilty. Every one of us. Protest all you want that you obey the laws. I know better.

Have you ever gone a single mile over the speed limit?

When did you last fail to declare income from that garage sale? Ever fudge on your income taxes?

Perhaps you purchased an item online or in another state. Did you file the proper forms in your state so you could pay that sales tax you owe?

Did you dispose of that can of bug spray in accordance with the stipulated procedures? Use pesticides on your lawn as you should?

Pay someone in cash to cut your lawn, to babysit for you, to clean your house and not tell the State what you were up to?

Have you ever jaywalked? Crossed against the light?

Perhaps you painted a wall, remodeled a room, or added to your house without informing the fun folks in the building code office.

Did you dare to pick up a feather belonging to a threatened or endangered species and take it home? Don't you care about the survival of our feathered friends?

If you own a business, have you complied with every OSHA regulation? Discriminated in hiring employees? Ensured your building is accessible for the handicapped? Advertised solely for female waitresses or male bouncers?

If you are a landlord, would you prefer not to rent to unmarried couples? Couples with children? Homosexuals? Acting on those beliefs can land you in court.

Been frightened for your life and carried a can of mace, a knife, or a gun without the permission of your local or state constabulary?

Ever smoked a joint? Given a prescription painkiller to a friend or family member? Let your teenager drink a beer or a glass of wine with dinner?

In the modern nanny, social-welfare-warfare state, it is impossible not to be a criminal.

Let me repeat that: you -- who do everything you can to avoid entanglements with the police -- you have committed criminal acts. Simply because you have never been caught does not alter the reality of that situation.

You are a crook.

Feel ashamed? Are you remorseful? Ready to turn yourself in? Pledge never to stray again from the straight and narrow?

No?

Good for you.

Hundreds of thousands of city, county, state, and federal laws flow from the various seats of power and control in our society. On top of those innumerable and ever-changing legislative mandates, there are even more egregious and onerous rules laid down by the regulatory agencies in this country. OSHA, EPA, BATF... Name your alphabet stew. Each agency zealously guards its bailiwick and spews forth its interpretations of what you need to do (or not do) in order to comply with the edicts from on high.

Ever want to read about the nutrients in a bottle of beer? Forget it! Not as long as the BATF has its way. That information might encourage you to drink more of the golden brew.

Want to work at home in your pajamas without cleaning up the clutter on your stairs or the piles of books and papers scattered about your home office? Ah, but for a bit of bad publicity, OSHA would have loved to pay you a friendly visit and ensure you did not pose a hazard to yourself.

Care to fill in a low spot on your property? Build a lake for geese to visit? Cut down some trees to pay for your retirement? Mustn't alter the environment without the pertinent permission or the EPA will toss you in the clink. (And sometimes -- even if you've jumped through all the local loops -- the Feds will assert themselves and slap you down.)

The tangled web of laws -- many of them contradictory -- has created a cage you cannot escape. Simply living your life, pursuing ordinary, daily activities, and performing innocent behaviors will and must run afoul of the strictures our lawmakers and regulators have created to pen us in. Some of this nonsense is the result of ignorance and laziness; the law of unintended consequences creates havoc for all of us.

Much of this promulgation of legal prohibitions or mandates is deliberately designed to micro-manage your affairs. Foreign though such mind-sets are to those of us who cherish and seek to protect liberty, these censors, self-imposed guardians, and self-righteous do-gooders gain personal satisfaction from forcing you to live as they want you to do.

More insidious, frightening, and threatening are those laws imposed as mere excuses for constraining us while simultaneously increasing the power of our would-be masters. For example, "tax stamp" laws for illegal drugs are not meant to be obeyed. They exist purely to provide the State with another weapon against those who would defy it. Not only are you tossed into jail if you dare use or sell an illicit substance, you can be further punished for not paying the "tax" on your wares.

Or consider mandatory seat belt laws. Such requirements not only violate your right to engage in a peaceful activity of no threat to anyone else, they provide the cops another convenient excuse to hassle you, fine you, or arrest you. In my home state of Iowa, when such a law was originally being discussed, we were all assured by our legislators that we motorists would never be pulled over merely for not having a seat belt. No; if we were stopped for, say, speeding, then the nice police officer might write us a ticket for not being properly secured in our vehicle.

One need not be a Nostradamus to predict what happened next. We are now regularly subjected to special "seat belt" checks (akin to "safety" checks that are thinly disguised drunk traps). State troopers and local police routinely pull people over who are not wearing a seat belt. Such degenerate malefactors are then fair game for whatever other indignities John Law sees fit to inflict.

This story is wearingly familiar.

In the Nineteenth Century, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote the following in his book, Democracy in America:

"Having thus taken each citizen in turn in its powerful grasp and shaped him to its will, government then extends its embrace to include the whole of society. It covers the whole of social life with a network of petty, complicated rules that are both minute and uniform, through which even men of the greatest originality and the most vigorous temperament cannot force their heads above the crowd. It does not break men's will, but softens, bends and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits, action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much being born; it is not at all tyrannical, but it hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd." (Page 692; edited by J.P. Mayer; translated by George Lawrence.)

De Tocqueville characterized this situation as one of "orderly, gentle, peaceful slavery...with some of the external forms of freedom."

Here we face one of the prime paradoxes and ironies of modern life: the people of this country are simultaneously victims and victimizers. By supporting many of the laws that oppress their neighbors, they equally oppress themselves. By seeking to curtail the freedom of other people, they also delimit what they themselves can do. By lusting after the wealth and property of the rich, they impoverish their own existences.

The majority of citizens are legally criminals in the (morally) innocent fashion discussed above, i.e., they are unable to avoid breaking some unjust law merely by existing. Unfortunately, they are also criminals in a peculiarly and perversely inverse manner. They are true criminals when they aid and abet those elected and appointed thugs who legally plunder us, i.e., they are criminals in a moral but not a legal sense.

The one principle, of course, that should undergird and inform any and all morally valid laws is: no one may initiate direct or indirect force/coercion against another person.

All the rest is window-dressing, implementation, and arguing over borderline cases.

As Ayn Rand pointed out: "All laws must be objective (and objectively justifiable): men must know clearly, and in advance of taking an action, what the law forbids them to do (and why), what constitutes a crime and what penalty they will incur if they commit it." ("The Nature of Government," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 110, emphasis in original.)

The velvet-gloved potentates of today prefer the random, the unpredictable, the arbitrary. The plethora of laws under which we now labor helps them to achieve their goal of unquestioning obedience. Justice is too infrequently the goal of the State. Our political leaders have long abandoned and ignored the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson.

For him, government should exist only to "restrain men from injuring one another,... [and] shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government..."

Government -- at any level -- should first and foremost exist and act to protect our rights.

Any other action it seeks to undertake that violates our rights is, well, criminal.

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