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Rampant foolishness

Rampant foolishness

What government can do, what it can't and shouldn't, and the reasons why

While the "freemen" tie themselves down in their Montana fort, slaves in other places try to escape. Frequently, a call from a Los Angeles teenage hooker locked into a hotel room comes to the Children of the Night switchboard. Typical message: Her pimp has beaten her and threatens to do worse. She wants out. How can she escape?

The phone counselor is trained to respond quickly: "Give us your exact address. We can have a black and white [a Los Angeles police car] come to that room within five minutes. Do you want the cops to pretend to arrest you? That'll get you out safely."

This is standard operating procedure to Lois Lee, president of Children of the Night, an organization based in L.A. that runs a nationwide hotline and a shelter for teens escaping from prostitution. She knows how to get help from the government: "When we call the police, we ask the person at the front desk to connect us with the watch commander. The people at the front desk are there because they're not competent. But others are. They move quickly."

Mrs. Lee wants the government to move quickly to prosecute the marketers of sexual exploitation. She wants the government to protect her shelter from enraged pimps attempting midnight reclamations of their teenage meal tickets: "The police can have a 'copter in the air shining lights down on us in five minutes." She wants the police to help her keep the shelter drug-free: "The LAPD brings its drug-sniffing dogs over for training exercises. If there've been any drugs in a dresser during the past two weeks, dogs will sniff it."

Mrs. Lee has seen how the government can help. She also saw in 1992, when her shelter opened, how the government can hurt: "Regulations were a problem: They wanted us to have handicapped-access rooms. I told them that all the kids here were prostitutes, they don't need handicapped rooms. Kids in wheelchairs carry dope."

Mrs. Lee's logic was impeccable but the government was unmovable. She finally agreed to put in a ramp that would connect one door to a yard area. (To this day, it never has been used.) But there was more: Until the ramp actually was in place, she had to agree that no one would ever open that particular door to go into the yard.

She promised that if a handicapped teenage prostitute were to show up, the young woman and her wheelchair would be carried down the three steps. No, officials insisted, no one can go out that door-and they had their way.

The Los Angeles rampists were not singling out Children of the Night for special treatment; idiocy seems to be standard operating procedure. In 1994 a city commission forced a striptease joint to close a "shower stall" on its stage because the stall would not be accessible to strippers in wheelchairs, were there to be such.

Children of the Night's travails did not end with the closed-door-until-ramp-arrives policy. The shelter was ready for occupancy, and teens were waiting to enter, but a licensing official did not show up for a final inspection. Not until Mrs. Lee scheduled an opening day for the center and told the official, "I will hate to tell the press that we can't open because you won't come," did the inspector come and give her blessing.

Government can do some things well: Lois Lee has used the police to ensure domestic tranquility. She has also seen government make charitable organizations jump through its hoops. A Los Angeles Times article in 1981, just as Mrs. Lee was getting started, reported that "Children of the Night typically shuns government money because, in the words of Lee, 'there are not strings, but ropes attached to state and federal funds.' She argues that with smaller amounts from private individuals the integrity of the program can be preserved, and administrative costs will remain small." A decade and a half later, the same logic applies.

We should apply Lois Lee's experience with government help and government hindrance to our political understanding. The Freemen of Montana are anti-government, but truly free citizens should be more discerning.

Our problem is not just that we have too much government, but that we have not enough of the right kind-firm and fair use of the biblically approved power of the sword. The Bible and the Constitution give civil government some carefully defined powers, with a particular emphasis placed on preserving law and order. Let's stick to that, vote out the power-coveters, and cut out the mischief.