L. Neil Smith's
Number 182, July 15, 2002


Petty Little Tyrants: Or,
How to Counter the Threat of Spontaneous Human Combustion

by Rick Gee

Special to TLE

Even some people who are critical of the centralization of power in DC's federal leviathan labor under the delusion that local government is somehow less repressive and more responsive to the needs of its citizens.

What these people forget - or simply ignore - is that people who seek positions in government, whether elective or appointive, have a depraved desire to wield power over others. This is just as true at the local level as it is inside the Beltway. Otherwise, they would be involved in free enterprise satisfying the needs and desires of others in the marketplace.

Put Down That Phone!

Edward Abbey said, "The more corrupt a society, the more numerous its laws." That is certainly true of my city of residence, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Because it is the capital city, it is overrun by petty little tyrants from the state, the county and the city. The power mongers who serve on the Santa Fe City Council technically work part-time (imagine the damage they could inflict if they worked full-time!). Despite this status, they nonetheless manage to add to the mountain of laws on a regular basis.

Of course, when these public "servants" do act, it is always "for the public good" or "to protect the people." If, in the course of protecting the sheeple, the rights of the individual must be trampled, well, it's for your own good.

Earlier this year the Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of hand-held cellular phones while driving within city limits. Apparently, an avalanche of anecdotal evidence proved that this common practice is extremely dangerous. Never mind that numerous scientific studies have indicated more accidents are caused by drivers tuning their radios, eating their drive-through lunches, talking to their passengers and gawking at miniskirt- clad pedestrians. All of which are legal activities. For now.

A driver has two options if he wishes to make a cell call while complying with this new edict. One, he can pull off to the side of the road and talk until his battery runs out. Second, he may use his phone while in motion as long as he uses a "hands free" device, i.e., a speaker phone or headset. The former loophole creates a situation in which the shoulders of various roads are clogged by parked cars, which presents its own dangers. The latter loophole ignores the fact that the phone must still be manually dialed. Hence, the "public safety" canard is exposed as so much bureaucratic babble.

Like most laws, the cell phone ban is arbitrary and capricious. If holding the steering wheel with one hand while clutching a small phone with the other is so dangerous, why not pass a law requiring drivers to place both hands on the wheel at all times? Why not prohibit eating while driving? Why allow car manufacturers to install radios and CD players?

The fact of the matter is most jurisdictions already have laws on the books that punish "distracted driving." In a just world devoid of busybody politicians, one would be responsible for any damage caused while he is driving, regardless of the supposed cause. Only in our current statist world of byzantine laws and regulations is the simple act of talking on the phone considered a crime.

This Is Your Trail - Stay Off It

Sometimes, the body elected to write and pass laws can be bypassed by a simple decree from the executive arm. Such was the case when Santa Fe mayor Larry Delgado abruptly closed the recently constructed Dale Ball trail system.

The case is a microcosm of how government works. First, the city appropriates money from the productive to buy the land, or, even better, simply uses its coercive monopoly to annex the land. Second, the city steals more money to build the trail system, despite the fact a small minority of the city's population will ever use it. Next, more pilfered tax dollars must be spent to maintain the trails. Finally, to use the trails is now a criminal offense.

Despite my aversion to government and my pledge to myself to avoid using its "services," I have run on these trails to train for a race I am competing in later this summer. Believe me, if a private entity provided a similar system of trails and allowed only those who had paid a fee to use it, I would be the first one in line. But in an area where the U.S. government, the State of New Mexico, Santa Fe County and the City of Santa Fe own the vast majority of land, such an option doesn't exist.

Options for hikers, runners and mountain bikers narrowed even further when the Feds shut down the Santa Fe National Forest, citing extreme fire danger during our perpetual drought. The City quickly followed suit by closing the Dale Ball trails.

Such is the sad reality of one-size-fits-all government "solutions." Because one person might carelessly flick a cigarette into the woods, everyone must be banned. Everybody is assumed to be a threat. The fact that the vast majority of hikers, runners and mountain bikers don't smoke, let alone while they are exercising, matters not to the bureaucrats at City Hall.

Wildfires: Government Monopoly

This is not to say the fire danger is exaggerated. Forest fires do occur, especially in the arid climate of the Southwest. But most of them are started by natural causes, namely lightening. Not surprisingly, those that are started by humans are often started by humans who work for government. Exhibit A is the horrific Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos, New Mexico in May 2000. That conflagration, which consumed nearly 50,000 acres and over 200 homes, was started as a "controlled burn" by the US Forest Service at nearby Bandelier National Monument. The fire has become a monument to government incompetence; anyone who has lived in New Mexico more than a year knows the spring windy season makes the concept of a "controlled" burn oxymoronic. Within days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was in town doling out dollars confiscated from you and me to compensate victims of the horror wrought by another government agency. It reminds me of something Harry Browne used to say: "Government breaks your legs, gives you a pair of crutches and then says, 'See, if it weren't for us, you wouldn't be able to walk.'"

So the trails that I involuntarily helped to fund are now closed to my use, despite the fact that when I run on them, I carry no means to start a fire. Perhaps the petty little tyrants who rule the city fear that I will run so fast that I will burn a hole in the trail, starting a massive forest fire. Wait, that only happens in cartoons, and I'm not nearly as fast as The Roadrunner, even when chased by a coyote, wily or otherwise. Maybe fate will conspire to place me on the trails at the exact moment I suffer a fatal case of spontaneous human combustion. And maybe pigs really will fly one day. Maybe politicians will honor their oath to uphold the Constitution.

Civil Disobedience

Mahatma Gandhi taught us that people are under no moral obligation to obey unjust laws. I will take this lesson to heart as I attempt to live free in the government-dominated cesspool of Santa Fe. On my drive to the Dale Ball trails for my daily run, I shall talk on my cell phone if I need to. I will run on those trails. And if one of the petty little tyrants, who pays his mortgage with money extorted from me at the business end of a gun, attempts to stop me, I shall become The Roadrunner to his Wile E. Coyote.

Rick Gee is a freelance writer. His series "The Great Anti-War Films" can be found at LewRockwell.com.

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