I don't support the concept of government taking property from private citizens or others for supposed "better use." Opinion surveys say the public feels the same way.
But two recent happenings illustrate the legal and moral complexities surrounding the concept of private property seizures.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a controversial ruling in which it essentially said government and government-controlled authorities in certain new situations have the right to exercise their powers of eminent domain and take property from private citizens.
The idea is that this seizure of property is OK if its taking is properly compensated, if it is intended to "improve" the property and its surrounding area, and if it results in a benefit to the wider community.
Hold off on the protesting e-mails for a moment. I admit I've boiled a highly complicated court decision down to layman's terms. But that's really the point -- to demonstrate how the issue is generally understood by the general public.
The property seizure decision was greeted with outrage by state legislators and many others across the nation. Almost immediately, many attempts at inventing new legal protections for property holders surfaced.
In most instances, this was smart politics. In many cases and places, it was also needed to preserve the public's staunch belief that the taking of property from an unwilling owner should be done only for some extraordinary public purpose. Prettifying a depressed area to boost land values isn't extraordinary.
Ironically, while the Court seemed to have opened the door for legal encroachment on the rights of homeowners and small businesses, a Swiss drug manufacturer was sticking to the concept that its rights -- in this case, to maintain a lucrative patent -- should be preserved, even in the face of a possible disease pandemic.
The pharmaceutical concern Roche holds the patent on a drug called Tamiflu. Only Tamiflu and one other drug offer true protection against the dreaded "bird flu."
To date, this potentially deadly strain of influenza has been confined to a few Asian countries. So far, it has been transmitted to people only by contact with infected birds and not from one person to another.
But it's possible the disease could mutate into a form passed among humans. Sensational international media coverage has posited this disturbing possibility.
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