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AMERICANS HAVE LEGITIMATE BEEFS AGAINST THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

FORGET WACO. FORGET Ruby Ridge. Forget Whitewater. Americans have so many legitimate beefs against the federal government that one scarcely knows where to begin.

Even when they're blameless, Uncle Sam may seize their assets on mere suspicion. "In order to seize and forfeit property," explains Ventura County District Attorney Michael D. Bradbury, "there is no requirement that an individual be arrested or charged with a crime."Bradbury was called on to review the case of Donald P. Scott, shot to death when local and federal lawmen broke down his door to serve an illegal warrant. The police were motivated, Bradbury concluded, "at least in part by a desire to seize and forfeit the (Scott) ranch."

Here are other examples of roughshod justice compiled by the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif.

A self-employed truck mechanic in Morrisville, Pa., hauled away 7,000 old tires and scrap metal and dumped clean fill on his property. Washington took the view that cleanliness was next to lawlessness. For failing to get a federal permit, the mechanic was fined $202,000 and sentenced to three years in prison.

A landowner and his son in Santa Rosa County, Fla., served more than 11/2 years in a federal penitentiary for dredging out a drainage ditch and dumping the sand on their property.

The Endangered Species Act is an especially flagrant source of abuses, in part because of quirky interpretations. Last month, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Interior Department's ruling that "harm" includes "habitat modification" even if no harm is inflicted.

Marj and Robert Krueger planned to build a house on their lot in Austin, Texas, but Interior objected. Though the lot had only one scrub tree on it - an uninviting habitat for nesting birds - several golden-cheeked warblers had been spotted in a nearby canyon. The Kruegers had intended to plant 20 trees on the lot, but the government wouldn't let the "habitat" be disturbed.

Americans are not anarchists. They comprehend, most of them, that submission to government authority is necessary if we are to enjoy the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

All the same, many people suspect - not without reason - that many federal and local agencies have strayed far from the business of securing rights and have marched off in the direction of meddlesome overregulation.

Instead of addressing the problem, Washington's reaction has been to blame people for complaining. The president for one has insisted strenuously in recent weeks that anyone who is critical of federal law enforcement, whose cover-ups and excessive use of force have been lately in the news, must be swinging by one hinge.

Stow it, Mr. President. The state is not infallible, and no free people owe it uncritical allegiance.