The gang mentality strikes the Capitol, as two pieces of legislation illustrate

The other day I was having a phone conversation with my uncle Joe. He is a bit of a curmudgeon, but he is graced with a sense of humor, and, though we don't always agree, the great thing about him is he is willing to listen. Listen--as in hear what the other person is saying.

This particular exchange was typical of our talks over the years because Joe dropped another of his memorable quotes. "Gangs are all the same," he said, "whether they are street gangs or government gangs."

Though his observation may appear cynical to those who believe beneficent elected officials work together toward the common good, he is basically correct. Not that there aren't some politicians driven by ideals rather than deals, but the fact remains: power corrupts, and only the most exceptional human can transcend its influence.

After my palaver with Joe, I started ruminating on the role of government, the history of nation-building, the idea of law as compared to custom--thinking sure to produce much sound and fury signifying nothing.

Certain this perilous line of thought could lead to elevated blood pressure and indigestion, I returned to my preferred mode of non-activity. My reverie ended when I received a frantic phone call, followed by an equally frantic e-mail from someone else. The distraught caller and e-mailer, decrying the actions of our illustrious Arizona Legislature, asked me to check out two recent actions of that benighted body.

Rousted from my bird-watching perch, I learn their concerns are valid: the Legislature, rife with lawmakers suffering from early-onset dementia, is in the process of wasting time and resources on two bills that could only be products of the brain-dead. (There are other bills in this category, but no one wants to write, publish or read a column as long as a Dostoyefsky novel.)

Taking my uncle's comment into consideration, I try to puzzle out what gang-like thinking would lead a legislator to introduce bills clearly not in the public's best interest. In an epiphanous moment, I realize gangs depend on popularity and fear. Though it seems contradictory, think back to high school. The most popular clique was the most feared (for their capacity to make one feel like a non-person), envied and, relative to the non-clique members, seemingly powerful.

Take that logic a step further and consider the political process. Popular doesn't always mean liked; it can mean widely accepted or, my dictionary tells me, suitable to the majority. So when the Senate Transportation Committee passes a bill allowing speed limits to be raised to whatever 85 percent of motorists are driving, you can bet neither common sense nor the common good inform this bill.

Just because the majority of motorists operate their vehicles with no thought to safety, sanity or gas consumption does not mean the state should sanction this behavior. Instead of providing a green light to speeders, I'd like to see a legislator with the chutzpah to introduce a bill based on the Finnish model.

In Finland speeders are fined according to their ability to pay. This makes perfect sense. A $200 fine for persons making $500,000 a year is pocket change. But sock them with a $50,000 penalty, and they just may think twice about doing 90 mph in their Lexus SUVs.

While the raise-the-speed-limit-to-the-stupid-majority measure may never make it to the highways, a second bill--twice vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano--has been exhumed in the form of a House amendment to SB 1166.

Not content with the Senate version, some House members want a strike-everything amendment to change a chapter heading in the Arizona statutes from Organized Crime and Fraud to Organized Crime, Fraud and Terrorism. This gang-like appeal to fear goes on to lump so-called animal terrorism or ecological terrorism under the definition of racketeering.

The vaguely worded and dangerous amendment equates animal-rights activists to mobsters and lunatics who fly planes into buildings. Under this provision, an activist who makes his or her way into an animal-research facility to document abuse can be charged with a felony, labeled a terrorist and subjected to the draconian measures state and federal governments tell us are necessary to ensure our fear-based security.

According to an Arizona government Web site, the FBI defines terrorism as, "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." What this means is indisputable: The nation's founders were nothing more than a gang of terrorists determined to further their political agendas by whatever means necessary.

Of course, my uncle could have told you that.

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