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‘It’ll never get that far — right?’

If we had no armed central state to seize money from people against their will and fund the government schools, we’d have no tax-funded government schools.

Which means your public school teacher had a fatal conflict of interest when he or she taught you “why we need to have a central state, with the power to shoot or jail people who don’t pay up.” I’ll bet he or she never mentioned, as one of the reasons, “Because otherwise my paychecks would stop coming.”

Be deeply suspicious therefore of most of the reasons you’ve been given for “why we need a central state.” When stop signs are removed and speed limits raised or eliminated — when people stop depending on the false assurance that such “rules” will bind the drunk and disorderly — accident rates go down, not up (see John Staddon, in this month’s Atlantic.) When more potential crime victims are “allowed” to carry concealed handguns, violent crime rates go down, not up (See John Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime.”)

Feel free to extend this premise to most of the other reasons you’ve been told we “need” a powerful government regulating everything, most especially the notion that we “need” the guvgoons to jail hundreds of thousands of drug users. Nobody jailed them before 1914, and America was so safe that hardly anyone locked their doors.

One legitimate reason to have a government, though, is the provision of courts of law, where we can seek to be made whole by those who have wronged us. In recent weeks, the two houses of Congress — and now President Bush — have further eroded that justification for our support of government, by denying you and me access to the courts to seek compensation from private parties — in this case, phone companies — who broke the law and did us wrong.

“President Bush signed a bill today that overhauls rules about government eavesdropping and grants immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the U.S. spy on Americans in suspected terrorism cases,” The Associated Press reported on July 10.

That “in suspected terrorism cases” is a little generous, actually. These were blanket searches — no specific grounds for suspicion needed.

They’re talking here, quite openly, about “retroactive immunity.” The Congress and President Bush have now barred lawsuits against companies for actions which were against the law at the time they did them.

After all, if what they did was legal, they don’t need immunity — their defense is that what they did was perfectly legal.

They’re only vulnerable if what they did was wrong, because the government orders weren’t lawful. And the people pushing this amnesty must know those orders were wrong and unlawful, or they wouldn’t be demanding amnesty.

I seldom find grounds to agree with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. But Sen. Feingold had it right when he said — explaining his opposition to this bill — “It is inconceivable that any telephone companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program did not know what their obligations were. And it is just as implausible that those companies believed they were entitled to simply assume the lawfulness of a government request for assistance.”

Banks, phone companies, and others are capable of gathering confidential information about us. We provide that information only on the belief and assurance it will be kept confidential, that it will be shared — especially with the government, the worst enemy of our privacy since it alone has the legal power to use such information to seize our assets or put us in prison — only pursuant to a proper court order after an open public hearing in which the judge is supposed to ask the government to present signed affidavits setting forth its probable cause to believe each individual bank or phone customer targeted has committed some crime.

What’s that? “You have nothing to fear unless you break the law”? But the law keeps changing, doesn’t it? What law did Martha Stewart break, precisely?

If the government and their “Yes sir, how high should I jump?” agents at the banks and the airlines and the phone companies insist on treating us all like criminals, then out of self-defense we must all start acting more like criminals, communicating via anonymous, throwaway cell phones, moving more and more of our commerce into the hard-to-track “gray market” where transactions are handled via barter, the Internet, and cash purchases with pre-1964 silver coinage (now worth more than 10 times face value, thanks to their degrading of the greenback). Is this what they want? Because it’s what they’re going to get.

If we are to remain a free country where I feel free to trust my bank and my phone company and my employer with my private information, what I expect the officers of these outfits to do when presented with a secret request for my information is to say, “Interesting. Of course our client has a Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, and we as their delegated agents consider ourselves bound to protect their right to due process, the same as their lawyer would.”

If the government orders an American corporation to turn over private phone records — or to round up all the Jews or Japanese-Americans and put them in camps — the correct response in either case is, “That doesn’t sound legal to us. Let’s go into open court and have you show us how you have the legal authority to order us to do that.”

If private firms are not required to do that, under threat of lawsuit from their aggrieved customers — especially in time of peace, when no war has been declared — then how is our current system any better than the Third Reich, ordering their arms factories to make use of slave labor?

“You’re exaggerating, Vin,” some will plead. “It’ll never get that far.”

Really? Did you ever think it would get this far?

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of “Send in the Waco Killers,” “The Ballad of Carl Drega,” and the novel “The Black Arrow.” See www.vinsuprynowicz.com/.

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