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COLUMN RIGHT/ PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

The Spiraling Gestapo State Is Among Us : Bureaucrats and forfeiture laws are taking away our liberty.

August 29, 1993|PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS | Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant Treasury secretary, is chairman of the Institute for Political Economy.

What will become of "law and order conservatism" now that we know that our law-enforcement agencies--from the Justice Department to local police forces--can be as criminal as the miscreants that they are supposed to pursue?

Unspeakable acts of cold-bloodied murder and fabricated evidence now routinely characterize everyday acts of law enforcement in the United States.

In Malibu, a 30-person raiding party of sheriff's deputies, federal drug agents and the California National Guard broke into the home of Donald Scott and shot him dead. Scott, it turns out, was a reclusive man, heir to a European fortune, whose $5-million, 200-acre ranch was targeted by federal agents under drug-forfeiture laws. No drugs or marijuana plants were found, but an alert Ventura County prosecutor, Michael Bradbury, did find that the raiding party had an appraisal of Scott's ranch, along with notes on the sale price of nearby property. Gideon Kanner, a Los Angeles law professor who has examined the case, concluded that the feds thought Scott might have a wife who indulged in drugs and decided to see if they could bag a $5-million piece of property for the Treasury.

In pre-democratic times, this was known as "tax farming." Government officials simply seized whatever they could and raked off a commission. Today, the commission is in the form of the bureaucracy's budget. Ever since President Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, invented "budget savings" from tougher IRS and drug enforcement, the pressure has been on these marauders to farm more revenues. The results are mounting abuses of citizens and occasional deaths.

What will be done about it? Nothing. Scott, awakened from sleep by the sound of his door crashing in, made the mistake of walking out of his bedroom with a gun in his hand. The military force got off with a self-defense plea. Shades of Waco, where the FBI and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms folks killed 86 men, women and children, while the attorney general took all the credit to show how tough she is.

Noted defense attorney Gerry Spence told the Montana Trial Lawyers Assn. in July that he had never been involved in a case with the federal government in which the government had not lied and manufactured evidence to gain a conviction. "These are not the good guys," he said. "These are people who do what they believe is necessary to do to bring about a conviction." The law gets hung with the victim.

What, you might protest, about the Los Angeles and Detroit convictions of policemen who beat black motorists? Aren't these signs that checks and balances work and that we are free from the arbitrary application of power that medieval serfs had to endure? Alas, these policemen were not done in because they abused their power, but because they were charged with racism and violating the civil rights of a member of a "preferred minority." As incredible as it may seem, in the United States only blacks have any protection from abusive state power. They have a special, racial civil-rights shield. The rest of us must make do with happenstance.

Formerly, a person could protect himself by getting rich. But today that just makes you more of a target. Witness the fates of billionaires Michael Milken and Leona Helmsley--and of Donald Scott. Politically ambitious prosecutors need drama, and they don't get that from the local drug pusher. Federal drug agents are not going to waste their time and risk their lives rounding up Jamaican drug gangs (who shoot back)--especially when inner-city juries may not convict either out of fear or feelings of racial solidarity--when they can pick soft targets like Scott.

Nothing makes it clearer that the United States is no longer a "nation of laws" than federal wetlands regulations. These "laws" have been created entirely by bureaucrats and courts. All over America, people are finding their use of their property circumvented and themselves in jail because of these regulatory police and their "laws."

Recently, the Clinton Administration said: "Congress should amend the Clean Water Act to make it consistent with the agencies' rule-making." And Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) have introduced a bill to codify all the wetlands regulations that are being enforced without any legal basis.

Note that the two senators did not introduce a bill to stop unelected bureaucrats from illegally creating laws and running all over our constitutional protections. Not even a wrist slap. To hell with the U.S. Constitution, say the senators. Let's pass a law that future courts will use to give carte blanche to the regulatory police. Let's ennoble the bureaucrats. Divine rule cannot be blocked by special-interest lobbying.

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