…the law increasingly means whatever President Obama says it does on any given day. His latest lawless rewrite arrived on Monday as the White House decided to delay the law’s employer mandate for another year and in some cases maybe forever. …last summer the Treasury offered a year-long delay until 2015 despite having no statutory authorization. …Now the new delay arrives amid a furious debate about jobs after a damning Congressional Budget Office report last week, only this time with liberals celebrating ObamaCare’s supposed benefits to the job market. …Oh, and the Treasury also notes that, “As these limited transition rules take effect, we will consider whether it is necessary to further extend any of them beyond 2015.” So the law may be suspended indefinitely if the White House feels like it. …The text of the Affordable Care Act specifically says when the mandate must take effect—”after December 31, 2013″—and does not give the White House the authority to change the terms. Changing an unambiguous statutory mandate requires the approval of Congress, but then this President has often decided the law is whatever he says it is.
I admit that part of me wants Obamacare delayed as much as possible.
That was the bad news. The good news is that the Institute for Justice sued to block the IRS/H&R block scheme.
And the great news is that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just drop-kicked the IRS thugs into a dumpster.
Here’s part of the Court’s decision, as reported in the Washington Post.
It might be that allowing the IRS to regulate tax-return preparers more stringently would be wise as a policy matter. But that is a decision for Congress and the President to make if they wish by enacting new legislation…. The IRS may not unilaterally expand its authority.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the Courts do the same – by defending the rule of law – on future Obamacare decisions.
One of the many differences between advocates of freedom and supporters of statism is how they view “rights.”
Libertarians, along with many conservatives, believe in the right to be left alone and to not be molested by government. This is sometimes referred to in the literature as “negative liberty,” which is just another way of saying “the absence of coercive constraint on the individual.”
Statists, by contrast, believe in “positive liberty.” This means that you have a “right” to things that the government will give you (as explained here by America’s second-worst President). Which means, of course, that the government has an obligation to take things from somebody else. How else, after all, will the government satisfy your supposed right to a job, education, healthcare, housing, etc.
Sometimes, the statists become very creative in their definition of rights.
Austerity programmes agreed with the troika of international lenders (the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) are in breach of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, according to a German legal expert. …under the EU charter of fundamental rights, a legal text which became binding for member states in 2009, several austerity measures enshrined in the MoUs can be fought in courts. …His study highlights that the MoUs “have seriously limited the autonomy of employers and trade unions to negotiate wages.” …Education and health care reforms prescribed in the memorandums are also questionable because they are focusing too much on cutting budgets, he said. …He noted that the concept of “financial stability” was put above all other considerations. “But financial stability cannot be achieved without social stability,” he said.
But it’s not just one oddball academic making these claims.
…the Council of Europe’s social rights committee noted that public policies since 2009 have been unable to stem a generalised increase in poverty on the continent. The committee identified some 180 violations of European Social Charter provisions on access to health and social protection across 38 European countries. In the bailed-out countries, the committee found several breaches – particularly in terms of wages and social benefits. Ireland was found in breach of the social charter for not ensuring the minimum levels of sickness, unemployment, survivor’s, employment injury and invalidity benefits. Greece and Cyprus have “inadequate” minimum unemployment, sickness, maternity and old age benefits, as well as a restrictive social security system. Spain also pays too little to workers on sick leave.
This crazy thinking also exists in the United States. A former Carter Administration official, now a law professor at Georgetown, has written that countries with good policy must change their systems in order to enable more tax revenue in nations with bad policy.
Do states like Switzerland, which provide a tax haven for wealthy citizens of developing countries, violate internationally recognized human rights? …bank secrecy has a significant human rights impact if governments of developing countries are deprived of resources needed to meet basic economic rights guaranteed by the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. …The Covenant explicitly recognizes individual rights to adequate food, clothing, and housing (Article 11); health care, clean water, and sanitation (Article 12); and education (Article 13). The Covenant also imposes obligations on member states to implement these rights.
And the right to redistribution isn’t just part of the U.N. mission.
There’s also a European set of Maastricht Principles which supposedly obligates nations to help each expand the burden of government.
Articles 19 and 20 of The Maastricht Principles call on states to “refrain from conduct which nullifies or impairs the enjoyment and exercise of economic . . . rights of persons outside their territories . . . or which impairs the ability of another State to comply with that State’s . . . obligations as regards economic rights.” …recognizing the fact that secrecy for offshore accounts makes it difficult for developing countries to implement Covenant obligations. It therefore seems indisputable that offshore accounts impede the fulfillment of internationally recognized human rights.
You may be thinking that all this sounds crazy. And you’re right.
You may be thinking that it’s absurd to trample national sovereignty in pursuit of bad policy. And you’re right.
And you may be thinking this is a complete bastardization of what America’s Founding Fathers had in mind. And you’re right.
But you probably don’t understand that this already is happening. The IRS’s awful FATCA legislation, for instance, is basically designed for exactly the purpose of coercing other nations into enforcing bad American tax policy.
P.S. And the Obama Administration already is pushing policies to satisfy the OECD’s statist regime. The IRS recently pushed through a regulation that says American banks have to put foreign tax law above U.S. tax law.
Last June, in response to a question about indiscriminate spying by the National Security Agency, I made two simple points about the importance of judicial oversight and cost-benefit analysis.
I want – at a minimum – there to be judicial oversight whenever the government spies on American citizens, but I also think some cost-benefit analysis is appropriate. Just because a court has the power to approve snooping, that doesn’t mean it’s a sensible use of law enforcement resources.
Nothing since then has changed my mind.
Indeed, I’m perhaps even more skeptical of untrammeled government power and ability to spy on citizens for the simple reason that I don’t trust politicians.
On the other hand, I know there are people out there who hate America. And they don’t just hate us because we’re intervening in the Middle East. I suspect many of them would want to kill us even if we had a perfect libertarian foreign policy of non-intervention and peaceful global commerce.
Now we learn from a report in the Washington Post that government has become bigger and more powerful and that our privacy has been violated as part of the NSA’s spying, yet there have been no benefits. As is zero. Nada. Zilch.
Here are some excerpts.
An analysis of 225 terrorism cases inside the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has concluded that the bulk collection of phone records by the National Security Agency “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.” In the majority of cases, traditional law enforcement and investigative methods provided the tip or evidence to initiate the case, according to the study by the New America Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group.
But perhaps, you may be thinking, this is merely the predictable conclusion of a group that is predisposed to be skeptical. That’s a fair concern, but the article also has some very compelling corroborating evidence.
The study, to be released Monday, corroborates the findings of a White House-appointed review group, which said last month that the NSA counterterrorism program “was not essential to preventing attacks” and that much of the evidence it did turn up “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”
So not only do outsiders find little to no value in NSA spying, but even hand-picked insiders couldn’t come up with any evidence to show that the program was effective.
But you won’t be surprised to learn that defenders of the NSA have come up with a can’t-miss way of defining success.
Senior administration officials…say it has been valuable in knocking down rumors of a plot and in determining that potential threats against the United States are nonexistent. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. calls that the “peace of mind” metric.
Yes, your eyes did not deceive you.You actually read correctly. The government wants us to acquiesce to a loss of privacy because we will learn that there are no threats and we’ll have “peace of mind.”
That has to be the lamest justification for government power that I’ve ever read.
That being said, supporters do have a somewhat powerful comeback.
Michael Morell, a former acting CIA director and a member of the panel, said the program “needs to be successful only once to be invaluable.”
Indeed, I suspect this is the main reason why ordinary people might support the NSA.
But I disagree with Mr. Morell because he asserts that a single example of success would be invaluable. The article, for instance, cites one “victory” for the NSA surveillance program.
…the program provided evidence to initiate only one case, involving a San Diego cabdriver, Basaaly Moalin, who was convicted of sending money to a terrorist group in Somalia. Three co-conspirators were also convicted. The cases involved no threat of attack against the United States.
I’m glad that a foreign terrorist attack was blocked, but is that really “invaluable”? Does that “victory” justify a very expensive and very intrusive NSA monitoring regime?
As I’ve acknowledged before, I don’t know enough about terrorism to offer an informed viewpoint. But I have studied a similar issue, money laundering laws, and that research leads me to be very suspicious about the NSA.
These laws were put in place with the excuse that government would collect and analyze large amounts of data to help deter crime.
P.P.S. Keep in mind that the NSA is just one cog in the machinery of government. So if you’re worried about the NSA’s intrusion and power, then you should also worry about the power of the IRS. If you’re concerned about the IRS’s authority, then you also should fret about the Obamacare exchanges. And if you think the Obamacare exchanges give the government too much knowledge and power, then you should be agitated about “know-your-customer” laws that require banks to spy on their customers. And if you’re not happy about those money-laundering rules, then you surely should be dismayed about asset-forfeiture rules. And if you don’t approve of government stealing property, then maybe you don’t like government accumulation of power for the Drug War. And if the failed War on Drugs rubs you the wrong way, then perhaps you…I better stop now. I think you get the point.
…the one place where a full-scale shutdown is being enforced is in America’s alleged “National Park Service,” a term of art that covers everything from canyons and glaciers to war memorials and historic taverns. The NPS has spent the last two weeks behaving as the paramilitary wing of the DNC, expending more resources in trying to close down open-air, unfenced areas than it would normally do in keeping them open. It began with the war memorials on the National Mall — that’s to say, stone monuments on pieces of grass under blue sky.
But it gets worse.
Not content with that, the NPS shock troops then moved on to insisting that privately run sites such as the Claude Moore Colonial Farm and privately owned sites such as Mount Vernon were also required to shut. When the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway declined to comply with the government’s order to close (an entirely illegal order, by the way), the “shut down” Park Service sent armed agents and vehicles to blockade the hotel’s driveway.
Think that’s bad? Read on.
..in South Dakota, having closed Mount Rushmore the NPS storm troopers additionally attempted to close the view of Mount Rushmore — that’s to say a stretch of the highway, where the shoulder widens and you can pull over and admire the stony visages of America’s presidents.
What happened in Yellowstone, though, is surreal. Like something from Cambodia during the Pol Pot years.
But perhaps the most extraordinary story to emerge from the NPS is that of the tour group of foreign seniors whose bus was trapped in Yellowstone Park on the day the shutdown began. They were pulled over photographing a herd of bison when an armed ranger informed them, with the insouciant ad-hoc unilateral lawmaking to which the armed bureaucrat is distressingly prone, that taking photographs counts as illegal “recreation.” “Sir, you are recreating,” the ranger informed the tour guide. And we can’t have that, can we? They were ordered back to the Old Faithful Inn, next to the geyser of the same name, but forbidden to leave said inn to look at said geyser. Armed rangers were posted at the doors, and, just in case one of the wily Japanese or Aussies managed to outwit his captors by escaping through one of the inn’s air ducts and down to the geyser, a fleet of NPS SUVs showed up every hour and a half throughout the day, ten minutes before Old Faithful was due to blow, to surround the geyser and additionally ensure that any of America’s foreign visitors trying to photograph the impressive natural phenomenon from a second-floor hotel window would still wind up with a picture full of government officials. The following morning the bus made the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the park boundary but was prevented from using any of the bathrooms en route, including at a private dude ranch whose owner was threatened with the loss of his license if he allowed any tourist to use the facilities.
No bathroom stops?!? Has the bureaucracy really become this punitive and vindictive? Sounds like the Park Service has the same training program as the IRS.
Ironically, American citizens now have less rights to “public land” than English peasants in 1217.
…in actual monarchies the king takes a more generous view of “public lands.” Two years after Magna Carta, in 1217, King Henry III signed the Charter of the Forest, which despite various amendments and replacement statutes remained in force in Britain for some three-quarters of a millennium, until the early Seventies. If Magna Carta is a landmark in its concept of individual rights, the Forest Charter played an equivalent role in advancing the concept of the commons, the public space. Repealing various restrictions by his predecessors, Henry III opened the royal forests to the freemen of England, granted extensive grazing and hunting rights, and eliminated the somewhat severe penalty of death for taking the king’s venison. The NPS have not yet fried anyone for taking King Barack’s deer, but it is somewhat sobering to reflect that an English peasant enjoyed more freedom on the sovereign’s land in the 13th century than a freeborn American does on “the people’s land” in the 21st century.
Yet all this abuse serves no purpose for open-air parks and monuments.
The geyser stasi of the National Park Service have in effect repealed the Charter of the Forest. President Obama and his enforcers have the same concept of the royal forest that King John did. The government does not own this land; the Park Service are merely the janitorial staff of “we the people” (to revive an obsolescent concept). No harm will befall the rocks and rivers by posting a sign at the entrance saying “No park ranger on duty during government shutdown. Proceed beyond this point at your own risk.” And, at the urban monuments, you don’t even need that: It is disturbing that minor state officials even presume to have the right to prevent the citizenry walking past the Vietnam Wall.
So what’s the bottom line?
The National Park Service should be out of the business of urban landmarks, and the vast majority of our “national” parks should be returned to the states.
But good news in the short run doesn’t mean good news in the long run if greedy politicians decide to loot the wealth accumulated in personal retirement accounts.
That’s already happened in Argentina and Hungary, and now it’s happened in Poland. Here’s part of a Financial Times report about the government stealing money from private pension funds.
Poland’s government on Wednesday took an axe to part of the country’s pension system in a bid to bolster public finances. Premier Donald Tusk said that part of the country’s obligatory pension system run by private funds would be dramatically revamped, with 120bn zlotys ($37bn) in government bonds held by the 14 funds being transferred to the government pension scheme and cancelled… The funds will keep control of the 111bn zlotys they hold in equities and current benchmarks will be loosened. The funds will be banned from investing in more government debt. Tusk said that the millions of Poles currently enrolled in the privatised system would have the choice of staying in the scheme or of transferring their assets into the government-run pension system. Market reaction to the long anticipated move was negative. The Warsaw Stock Exchange, where the private funds, known as OFEs, have a big presence, was down by more than 2 per cent. Yields on 10-year Polish government bonds jumped to 4.75 per cent, the highest in a year.
Is anyone surprised by the “negative” reaction?!? Of course markets are unhappy when politicians arbitrarily seize wealth for short-term political games!
Sounds like Poland wants to become the Argentina of Europe. Though there’s always plenty of competition in the contest for bad government policy.
But we do have a bit of good news.
Here is some interesting polling data from an article on the political preferences of young Americans.
…51 percent of Millennials believe that when government runs something it is usually wasteful and inefficient, up from 31 percent in 2003 and 42 percent in 2009: “Hardly a ringing endorsement for a bigger government providing more services.” There’s more: 86 percent of Millennials support private Social Security accounts and 74 percent would change Medicare so people can buy private insurance. Sixty-three percent believe free trade is a good thing. Only 38 percent of Millennials support affirmative action.
Wow, 86 percent of young people support personal retirement accounts. That’s very encouraging, particularly since the general population supports this pro-growth reform by a more-than 2-1 margin.
Here’s a video that explains why a privatized or “personalized” Social Security system is the only way of dealing with the current system’s bankruptcy without screwing younger workers.
I think the video is a good summary explanation, but I also invite you to look at these two charts, one showing the impressive private wealth being accumulated in Australia thanks to personal retirement accounts and the other showing the staggering future shortfalls for America’s pay-as-you-go Social Security scheme.
If those charts don’t convince you, I suspect you’re a genetic statist.
P.S. The thievery of the Polish government is a helpful reminder of why it’s good to have some of your money offshore, preferably managed by a non-US company. After all, does anyone doubt that American politicians are capable of the same venal behavior? They’re probably looking at the money in IRAs and 401(k)s and salivating at the thought of how many votes they could buy with all that money. If (or when) that tragic day arrives, the Americans who have their money beyond the grasp of the federal government will be very happy.
P.P.P.S. You can see President Obama’s proposed “solution” to the Social Security crisis by clicking here. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that it means a big shift of money from taxpayers to politicians.
I spoke earlier today at the 2013 Liberty Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. But I don’t think anybody is going to remember my speech about the collapse of the welfare state, even though I presented lots of powerful data from the BIS, OECD, and IMF, and also shared a very funny cartoon showing what happens when there’s nothing left for interest groups to steal.
Escaped the North Korean gulag
At a normal conference, my remarks may have resonated, but I freely admit that I was completely overshadowed by the presentation of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who is the only person to have successfully escaped from the North Korean gulag.
In the future, if I ever get discouraged and think the fight for freedom is too difficult, I will watch this video and realize that nothing in my life will ever compare to the horror of living under communism. It’s not nearly as powerful as today’s first-person presentation, but the video will give you some sense of the utter barbarity of the North Korean government.
If you want more information, here is his Wikipedia entry, but I also suggest you watch this short speech by Blaine Harden, a journalist who wrote the story of Shin’s escape.
Keep in mind, by the way, that North Korea is an awful and repressive country even for the people who aren’t in the gulags. Malnutrition is such a problem, for instance, that children are stunted and the North Korean army had to lower its requirements to allow soldiers as short as 4’8″.
Well, we now have something that may be even more absurd.
Radley Balko reports in the Huffington Post about “a massive police action last week that included aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search.”
Sounds like the cops must have been up against the mafia. Or a bunch of bank robbers, right?
Not exactly. They raided an organic farm.
…the real reason for the law enforcement exercise appears to have been code enforcement. The police seized “17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants … native grasses and sunflowers,” after holding residents inside at gunpoint for at least a half-hour, property owner Shellie Smith said in a statement.
The cops claimed that they were looking for marijuana. Even if that was the actual goal, why not just send a couple of cops to the door? We’re talking about an organic farm, after all, not a crack house run by the Hell’s Angels.
But let’s at least be thankful the cops seized okra plants. The people of Arlington, Texas, can now walk the streets safely, freed from the danger of vegetables running amok.
So what triggered this raid?
…authorities had cited the Garden of Eden in recent weeks for code violations, including “grass that was too tall, bushes growing too close to the street, a couch and piano in the yard, chopped wood that was not properly stacked, a piece of siding that was missing from the side of the house, and generally unclean premises,” Smith’s statement said. She said the police didn’t produce a warrant until two hours after the raid began, and officers shielded their name tags so they couldn’t be identified.
Oh. My. God. These criminals had improperly stacked wood? And insufficiently mowed grass? No wonder they needed a SWAT team!
If you read Radley’s entire story, it seems clear that the real issue is that neighbors didn’t like the messy conditions of the farm and they pressured the local government to do something about it.
I probably wouldn’t like living next door to somebody who kept a piano in their yard, so I’m sympathetic to their concerns.
Stories like this are why I picked my license plate
And even though I’m libertarian and much prefer that neighborhood standards be determined by private agreements, even I’m not going to get overly agitated by zoning rules about couches in the front yard.
But why deal with this trivial conflict by ordering “aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search”?
Sounds like the local police force has a bloated budget and tries to justify its wasteful practices by concocting needlessly risky operations.
He starts with how Obama seems to be a run-of-the-mill leftist.
Obama has been called many things — radical, socialist — labels that may have him dead to rights at the phylum level but not down at his genus or species. His social circle includes an alarming number of authentic radicals, but the president’s politics are utterly conventional managerial liberalism.
But Kevin then suggests that there’s something different about the President.
President Obama is nonetheless something new to the American experience, and troubling. It is not simply the content of his political agenda, which, though wretched, is a good deal less ambitious than was Woodrow Wilson’s or Richard Nixon’s. Barack Obama did not invent managerial liberalism, nor has he contributed any new ideas to it. He is, in fact, a strangely incurious man. …Obama’s most important influences have been tacticians such as Abner Mikva, bush-league propagandists like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and his beloved community organizers. Far from being the intellectual hostage of far-left ideologues, President Obama does not appear to have the intellectual energy even to digest their ideas, much less to implement them.
Then we have some examples of Obama’s “managerial liberalism.”
The result of this is his utterly predictable approach to domestic politics: appoint a panel of credentialed experts. …IPAB is the most dramatic example of President Obama’s approach to government by expert decree, but much of the rest of his domestic program, from the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law to his economic agenda, is substantially similar.
While this may appear to be incremental statism, Kevin argues that it represents something quite radical.
…it amounts to that fundamental transformation of American society that President Obama promised as a candidate: but instead of the new birth of hope and change, it is the transformation of a constitutional republic operating under laws passed by democratically accountable legislators into a servile nation under the management of an unaccountable administrative state. The real import of Barack Obama’s political career will be felt long after he leaves office, in the form of a permanently expanded state that is more assertive of its own interests and more ruthless in punishing its enemies.
…he also has advanced it without legislative assistance — and, more troubling still, in plain violation of the law. President Obama and his admirers choose to call this “pragmatism,” but what it is is a mild expression of totalitarianism, under which the interests of the country are conflated with those of the president’s administration and his party.
For all intents and purposes, we are now governed by a leftist bureaucracy.
…the United States is not going to fall for a strongman government. Instead of delegating power to a would-be president-for-life, we delegate it to a bureaucracy-without-death. You do not need to install a dictator when you’ve already had a politically supercharged permanent bureaucracy in place for 40 years or more. As is made clear by everything from campaign donations to the IRS jihad, the bureaucracy is the Left, and the Left is the bureaucracy. Elections will be held, politicians will come and go, but if you expand the power of the bureaucracy, you expand the power of the Left, of the managers and minions who share Barack Obama’s view of the world. Barack Obama isn’t the leader of the free world; he’s the front man for the permanent bureaucracy, the smiley-face mask hiding the pitiless yawning maw of total politics.
And the law apparently doesn’t mean much in this new world.
…he has decided — empowered to do so by precisely nothing — that the law will not be enforced until after the elections. Neither does the law empower him arbitrarily to exempt millions of his donors and allies in organized labor from the law, but he has done that too. This is a remarkable thing. The health-care law gives the executive all sorts of powers to promulgate regulations and make judgments, but it does not give the executive the power to decide which aspects of the law will be enforced and which will not, or to establish a different timeline from the one found in the law itself. For all of the power that Congress legally has given the president in this matter, he feels it necessary to take more — illegally.
Kevin shows that lawlessness goes far beyond Obamacare.
In a similar vein, President Obama has refused to cut off foreign-aid funds to the Egyptian government, though he is required by law to do so in the event of a coup d’état, which is precisely what happened in July in Egypt. …The law also prohibits the president and his allies from using the instruments of government to persecute their rivals, but that is precisely what the IRS has been up to for several years, as it turns out. And not just the IRS: Tea-party activist Catherine Engelbrecht was subject to an IRS audit, two FBI visits, an OSHA investigation, and an ATF inspection of her business (which does not deal in A, T, or F). …The president not only ignores the law but in some cases goes out of his way to subvert it. …He has attempted to make “recess appointments” when Congress is not in recess and has been stopped from doing so by the federal courts, which rightly identified the maneuver as patently unconstitutional.
Indeed, Kevin explains that the White House’s disdain for the law is even worse than Nixon’s.
…what is particularly disturbing is the quiet, polite, workaday manner with which the administration goes about its business — and with which the American public accepts it. As Christopher Hitchens once put it, “The essence of tyranny is not iron law; it is capricious law.” Barack Obama makes a virtue out of that caprice… President Nixon’s lawlessness was sneaky, and he had the decency to be ashamed of it. President Obama’s lawlessness is as bland and bloodless as the man himself, and practiced openly, as though it were a virtue. President Nixon privately kept an enemies list; President Obama publicly promises that “we’re gonna punish our enemies, and we’re gonna reward our friends.”
So what’s the bottom line? According to Williamson, we have a might-makes-right White House.
He has spent the past five years methodically testing the limits of what he can get away with, like one of those crafty velociraptors testing the electric fence in Jurassic Park. Barack Obama is a Harvard Law graduate, and he knows that he cannot make recess appointments when Congress is not in recess. He knows that his HHS is promulgating regulations that conflict with federal statutes. He knows that he is not constitutionally empowered to pick and choose which laws will be enforced. This is a might-makes-right presidency, and if Barack Obama has been from time to time muddled and contradictory, he has been clear on the point that he has no intention of being limited by something so trivial as the law.
In other words, the ends justifies the means.
Do I agree with this analysis? I think Kevin is spot on in terms of policy. Obama unambiguously has expanded the power of the political class in Washington.
The more interesting question, though, is whether the President is following a deliberate plan to change the nation. Or is government expanding – as it normally does – because of corruption, incompetence, politics, ideology, greed, and self interest?
I’m not a big believer in secret plans, so my normal instinct is to accept the conventional explanation for ever-growing government. On the other hand, Kevin points out that Obama is quite open about “fundamentally transforming” America and he pursues his agenda even when that means running roughshod over the law.
All I can say is that you should read the entire article. You’ll have a greater appreciation of the challenges we face if we want to restore the American ideal of economic liberty and personal freedom.
Two weeks ago, Schulze was working in the barn at the Society of St. Francis on the Kenosha-Illinois border when a swarm of squad cars arrived and officers unloaded with a search warrant. “(There were) nine DNR agents and four deputy sheriffs, and they were all armed to the teeth,” Schulze said. The focus of their search was a baby fawn brought there by an Illinois family worried she had been abandoned by her mother.
My first reaction when reading this was “what the @#$*?” Is he public sector really so bloated that 13 bureaucrats have nothing better to do than to serve a search warrant for a baby deer?
And why on earth were they heavily armed? Were they expecting Osama Bin Bambi?
But don’t answer yet, because it gets more absurd.
The Department of Natural Resources began investigating after two anonymous calls reporting a baby deer at the no-kill shelter. The warden drafted an affidavit for the search warrant, complete with aerial photos in which he described getting himself into a position where he was able to see the fawn going in and out of the barn.
I’m not sure what part of this excerpt gets me more upset, the fact that some snitch informed on the shelter for having a baby deer, or the fact that the government is so wasteful that bureaucrats went through the cost of arranging aerial surveillance!
Dangerous criminal executed
As a taxpayer, I get agitated about the waste of money. As a decent human being, this next part bothers me even more.
“I was thinking in my mind they were going to take the deer and take it to a wildlife shelter, and here they come carrying the baby deer over their shoulder. She was in a body bag,” Schulze said. “I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said, ‘That’s our policy,’ and I said, ‘That’s one hell of a policy.’”
The local cops justified the overkill approach by equating an animal shelter with a crack house.
“Could you have made a phone call before showing up, I mean, that’s a lot of resources,” WISN 12 News investigative reporter Colleen Henry asked. “If a sheriff’s department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don’t call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up,” Niemeyer said,
Horrified citizens are complaining and fighting back, though I’m not holding my breath that justice will be served.
Schultz said she plans to sue the DNR for removing Giggles without even a court hearing. She also questioned what such an operation costs taxpayers. “They went way over the top for a little tiny baby deer,” Schultz said,
Remember, though, that this type of government thuggery is hardly unusual.
Beware the sledgehammer used to crack the nut. In this case, the nut is the U.S. government’s laudable goal of catching tax evaders. The sledgehammer is the overreaching effect of legislation that is alienating other countries and resulting in millions of U.S. citizens abroad being forced to either painfully reconsider their nationality, or face a lifetime of onerous bureaucracy, expense and privacy invasion. The legislation is Fatca, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
Ms. Graffy provides a very powerful example of why FATCA is an absurd extraterritorial application of bad U.S. law.
To appreciate its breathtaking scope along with America’s unique “citizen-based” tax practices, imagine this: You were born in California, moved to New York for education or work, fell in love, married and had children. Even though you have faithfully paid taxes in New York and haven’t lived in California for 25 years, suppose California law required that you also file your taxes there because you were born there. Though you may never have held a bank account in California, you must report all of your financial holdings to the State of California. Are you a signatory on your spouse’s account? Then you must declare his bank accounts too. Your children, now adults, have never been west of the Mississippi but they too must file their taxes in both California and New York and report any bank accounts they or their spouses may have because they are considered Californians by virtue of one parent’s birthplace.
Sounds utterly ridiculous, but FATCA applies these rules to American citizens in other nations – with predictably awful results.
Extrapolate that example to the six million U.S. citizens living around the globe. Many, if not most, don’t know about these requirements. Yet they face fines, penalties and interest for not complying—even if they owe no U.S. taxes, own no U.S. property, have no U.S. bank account and haven’t lived there in years—if ever. …Foreign financial institutions trying to avoid these new requirements have two alternatives: to drop American clients, or don’t invest in the U.S. Neither scenario benefits America. …This infringement on the sovereignty of other nations has not gone down well abroad and has only served to reinforce the most negative stereotypes of America. …It forces honest people with affection for their ties to America to either keep quiet about their heritage, or spend potentially thousands of dollars a year to prove that they owe no U.S. taxes. Or, as is increasingly occurring, it forces them to give up their U.S. citizenship. The result is that the U.S. is turning millions of “good will” ambassadors into “bad will” ambassadors. Can any of this be good for America?
Of course it’s not good for America, but greedy politicians are perfectly happy to impose enormous costs on the private sector in exchange for trivially small amounts of additional revenue. And those projections of additional revenue almost surely won’t materialize because of Laffer-Curve effects on investment in the American economy, so even the politicians won’t come out ahead when the dust settles.
Maybe the crowd in Washington will even learn the right lesson and support Senator Rand Paul’s legislation to undo some of the worst parts of FATCA, but don’t hold your breath.
2. Here’s the second choice. I thought I had learned never to be surprised by examples of foolish government intervention, but even I did a double take when I learned that the federal bureaucracy was regulating rabbits in magic shows.
Not just regulating them, but even requiring disaster plans in case of calamities such as “Fire. Flood. Tornado. Air conditioning going out. Ice storm. Power failures”. I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from a Washington Post report.
This summer, Marty the Magician got a letter from the U.S. government. It began with six ominous words: “Dear Members of Our Regulated Community . . .” Washington had questions about his rabbit. Again. …Hahne has an official U.S. government license. Not for the magic. For the rabbit. The Agriculture Department requires it, citing a decades-old law that was intended to regulate zoos and circuses. Today, the USDA also uses it to regulate much smaller “animal exhibitors,” even the humble one-bunny magician. That was what the letter was about. The government had a new rule. To keep his rabbit license, Hahne needed to write a rabbit disaster plan. …For Hahne, the saga has provided a lesson in one of Washington’s bad old habits — the tendency to pile new rules on top of old ones, with officials using good intentions and vague laws to expand the reach of the federal bureaucracy. …“Our country’s broke,” Hahne said. “And yet they have money and time to harass somebody about a rabbit.”
What if regulators are committing crimes against common sense?
Just in case you think this is merely a case of bureaucrats concocting silly rules from their comfortable perches in Washington, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to learn that our fearless public servants are venturing outside the beltway.
Hahne…has been doing magic shows full time for 27 years, on cruise ships and on land. That means he has experienced most of the troubles a magician can expect… But he did not expect the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “She said, ‘Show me your license.’ And I said, ‘License for . . .?’ ” Hahne recounted. This was after a 2005 show at a library in Monett, Mo. Among the crowd of parents and kids, there was a woman with a badge. A USDA inspector. “She said, ‘For your rabbit.’ ” Hahne was busted. He had to get a license or lose the rabbit. …Hahne has an official USDA license, No. 43-C-0269, for Casey — a three-pound Netherland dwarf rabbit with a look of near-fatal boredom. The rules require Hahne to pay $40 a year, take Casey to the vet and submit to surprise inspections of his home. Also, if Hahne plans to take the rabbit out of town for an extended period, he must submit an itinerary to the USDA. The 1966 law that started all of this was four pages long. Now, the USDA has 14 pages of regulations just for rabbits. …the law applies only to warmblooded animals. If Hahne were pulling an iguana out of his hat — no license required. Now, he needs both a license and a disaster plan.
The good news – relatively speaking – is that rabbit regulations don’t threaten to drive investment and jobs from the U.S. economy. But for sheer stupidity on the part of government, can you think of a more pointless set of regulations?
3. Now let’s consider our final example, which manages to combine the nanny state with domestic protectionism with an attack on the First Amendment.
This trifecta of red tape insanity comes from Kentucky, where the local state-protected cartel of psychologists wants to stop a newspaper columnist from giving free advice.
John Rosemond has been dispensing parenting advice in his newspaper column since 1976, making him one of the longest-running syndicated columnists in the country. But some Kentucky authorities want to put him in a time out. In May, Kentucky’s attorney general and its Board of Examiners of Psychology told Rosemond his parenting column — which regularly offers old-school advice and shows little tolerance for any kind of parental coddling — amounts to the illegal practice of psychology. They want him to agree to a cease-and-desist order. In particular, they want Rosemond to stop identifying himself as a psychologist, because he is not a licensed psychologist in Kentucky.
To his credit, Mr. Rosemond is fighting back.
Rosemond, an author of 11 parenting books who has a master’s degree in psychology from Western Illinois and is a licensed psychologist in his home state of North Carolina, sees the board’s letter as an effort at censorship and is filing a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court seeking to bar the state from taking any action against him. …He is represented by the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which has filed multiple lawsuits challenging what they see as overreach by government licensing boards. Institute for Justice lawyer Paul Sherman says that under Kentucky’s logic, columnists like Dear Abby and television personalities like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are breaking the law any time they offer advice, because the content is aired in Kentucky and meets the state’s broad definition of psychological advice.
And the newspaper that publishes his column also is standing up for the First Amendment.
Peter Baniak, editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, which ran the column that prompted the psychology board’s cease-and-desist letter, said Monday that his paper has not been contacted by the board or the Kentucky attorney general, and that the paper intends to continue publishing the column. “I would find it troubling for a state board to suggest or think it has the ability to say what should or shouldn’t run in an advice column,” Baniak said.
By the way, if you watch this video, you’ll see that Rosemond’s home state of North Carolina also is guilty of trying to undermine the First Amendment as part of efforts to protect certain professions from competition.
Now it’s your turn to pick the most foolish example of regulation from this list.
By the way, just in case there are skeptics who think I’ve shared isolated examples and that regulation is generally beneficial, check out these staggering numbers.
That being said, while we may get irritated by government waste, senseless snooping, and onerous taxes, we’re actually lucky.
The people who really suffer are the law-abiding folks (like Martha Boneta) who wind up in the crosshairs of less-than-savory folks in government, which includes not just politicians, but also some law enforcement officials and oftentimes ambitious prosecutors.
And you could be next, even if you’re a goody-two-shoes type who actually obeys speed limits. Simply stated, government is so big and has so many laws that every one of us is probably guilty of something.
And if we cross the wrong bureaucrat, our lives may be ruined – particularly since there are very few checks and balances to restrain these petty tyrants.
Here’s some of what Professor Reynolds wrote, starting with a brief explanation of the underlying problem.
Prosecutorial discretion poses an increasing threat to justice. The threat has in fact grown more severe to the point of becoming a due process issue. …prosecutors’ discretion to charge—or not to charge—individuals with crimes is a tremendous power, amplified by the large number of laws on the books. …If prosecutors were not motivated by politics, revenge, or other improper motives, the risk of improper prosecution would not be particularly severe. However, such motivations do, in fact, encourage prosecutors to pursue certain individuals, like the gadfly Aaron Swartz, while letting others off the hook—as in the case of Gregory, a popular newscaster generally supportive of the current administration. This problem has been discussed at length in Gene Healy’s Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything and Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies a Day. The upshot of both books is that the proliferation of federal criminal statutes and regulations has reached the point where virtually every citizen, knowingly or not (usually not) is potentially at risk for prosecution.
Self-aggrandizing prosecutors seem more than willing to deliberately target certain individuals for unfair persecution, so we need some way of clipping their wings.
Glenn mentions the approach that you might find in a Civics 101 textbook, but he also notes that it’s not an effective check on government abuse.
Traditionally, of course, the grand jury was seen as the major bar to prosecutorial overreaching. The effectiveness of this approach may be seen in the longstanding aphorism that a good prosecutor can persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Grand jury reforms—where grand juries still exist—might encourage grand jurors to exercise more skepticism and educate them more. But grand juries are not constitutionally guaranteed at the state level, and reforming them at the federal level is likely to prove difficult.
So what, then, are the potential solutions?
Glenn’s first suggestion is that immunity for prosecutors should be relaxed.
Overall, the problem stems from a dynamic in which those charged with crimes have a lot at risk, while those doing the charging have very little “skin in the game.” One source of imbalance is prosecutorial immunity. The absolute immunity of prosecutors—like the absolute immunity of judges—is a judicial invention, a species of judicial activism that gets less attention than many other less egregious examples. Although such immunity no doubt prevents significant mischief, it also enables significant mischief by eliminating one major avenue of accountability. Even a shift to qualified, good faith immunity for prosecutors would change the calculus significantly, making subsequent review something that is at least possible.
In theory, lawyers (such as prosecutors) already can be punished for misconduct. But other lawyers are the ones in charge of determining whether misbehaving colleagues should be disbarred or otherwise penalized.
Needless to say, members of a club generally are reluctant to punish other members of the club.
So reducing immunity would be a good idea.
Glenn’s second option is to impose a variant of “loser pays.”
Perhaps the prosecution could be required to pay a defendant’s legal fees if he or she is not convicted. To further discipline the process, one could implement a pro-rate system: Charge a defendant with twenty offenses, but convict on only one, and the prosecution must bear 95% of the defendant’s legal fees. This would certainly discourage overcharging.
As an economist, I instinctively like this idea. It’s always a good idea to make people bear the costs of their own actions.
But there’s a catch. Prosecutors wouldn’t be bearing the costs. You and me and other taxpayers would have to cough up the money.
However, perhaps “loser pays” could be structured so the money comes out of a predetermined budget for salaries and benefits of prosecutors and staff.
The third option – and it’s a big one – is to get rid of plea bargains.
The “nuclear option” of prosecutorial accountability would involve banning plea bargains. An understanding that every criminal charge filed would have to be either backed up in open court or ignominiously dropped would significantly reduce the incentive to overcharge. …Our criminal justice system, as presently practiced, is basically a plea bargain system with actual trials of guilt or innocence a bit of showy froth floating on top.
I don’t know enough to opine on this proposal, but the status quo obviously isn’t any good, so maybe it’s time to think big.
Glenn also adds an additional point about narrowing the definition of a crime, or at least what “offenses” carry criminal sanctions.
It is also worth considering whether mere regulatory violations…should bear criminal sanctions at all. …with the explosion of regulatory law, every citizen is at risk of criminal prosecution for crimes that, as David Gregory’s defenders noted, involve no actual harm or ill intent. Yet any reasonable observer would have to conclude that actual knowledge of all applicable criminal laws and regulations is impossible, especially when those regulations frequently depart from any intuitive sense of what “ought” to be legal or illegal. Perhaps placing citizens at risk in this regard constitutes a due process violation; expecting people to do (or know) the impossible certainly sounds like one.
I’m a strong believer in federalism, but not because I think state and local governments are competent. Politicians and interest groups are a toxic combination in all circumstance.
But at least people have considerable ability to cross borders if they want to escape greedy and despotic governments at the state and local level. And when the geese with the golden eggs can fly away, this facilitates competition between governments and forces politicians to restrain their appetites.
But it’s not just stereotypically left-wing places where you find stupid and oppressive government. Here are three examples of bad government, and you get to pick the one that most exemplifies statism in action!
Option #1: The “Prove Your Gender” Requirement in Georgia
A Georgia mom was ordered by state workers to prove she was a woman after she found her birth certificate mistakenly listed her as a man. Nakia Grimes, 36, said she was left “in shock” after officials told her she must undergo an invasive Pap smear exam if she ever wanted the error corrected. …Grimes said the offensive proposition came about when she spotted her birth certificate had an “X” listed next to male while getting her driver’s license renewed. …a state worker said the only way for the Clayton County resident to get her gender changed would be to prove it properly. “She said I needed to go have the exam, have a doctor write a note verifying you’re a woman, and bring it back – notarized,” she added.
Shockingly, this story actually has a happy ending. According to the story, the government eventually “…altered her gender status after checking her son Zion’s birth certificate, where she is legally listed as the birth mother.”
Option #2: Squandering Money to Rip Up Flowers in Washington, DC
When government fails to fulfill one of its supposed obligations, there’s a natural tendency among some people to volunteer their time and energy to improve their communities.
But bureaucrats don’t like private initiative, particularly since it makes it rather obvious that government is a costly and inefficient way of doing things. And that’s why good Samaritans who clean parks and rescue people open themselves up to harassment and persecution.
…the transit system would look silly if it let perish 1,000 flowers planted secretly at the Dupont Circle station by local garden artist Henry Docter, the self-described Phantom Planter.I feared that Metro would merely neglect the flowers. Instead, last Sunday, it sent workmen to yank them out.The transit system regularly pleads poverty, yet employees devoted supposedly valuable time to remove more than 1,000 morning glories, cardinal flowers and cypress vines that Docter donated to the city — albeit without permission. The plants would have bloomed from August to October in a patriotic display of red, white and blue.Instead of greenery today and colors to come, the 176 flower boxes along the top stretch of the escalators at the station’s north entrance now feature dirt, a few straggling stems and the occasional discarded soda can. …“They paid people to tear out plants that everyone loves? Well, this is cause for insurrection. Talk about fixing something that’s not broken,” said Robin Diener, a member of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association board of directors.
Amazing. The bureaucracy claims there’s no money to plant flowers, but there’s somehow money to dig up flowers someone else has planted. That’s government in action!
Option #3: Thugs from Local Government Harass Organic Farmer
One of the most unpleasant features of big government is that bureaucrats have immense power to engage in vindictive attacks.
Since purchasing Liberty Farm in Fauquier County, Virginia, where she grows organic vegetables and has over 160 rescued livestock…, her life has been a series of harassment and bullying by people in power. The latest trouble is that her house…was vandalized. The same day, she was harassed at her farm by strangers in a Georgetown-registered car. Ten days earlier Martha had gone public about an IRS audit. Journalist Kevin Mooney broke the story that Boneta was audited by the IRS last year after a series of disputes with the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Fauquier County government. It was later shown that the audit was disclosed to at least one Fauquier County official, perhaps feloniously. Martha’s disputes brought her national attention because of her willingness to stand up to ridiculousness. She was cited and threatened with $5,000 fines for hosting a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls without an “events” permit from the county. …Asked about the IRS audit of Boneta coming on the heels of legal disputes between the farmer and the PEC, [former IRS Commissioner] Richardson said, “Coincidences do happen.” But this audit has shown to be no coincidence. A Fauquier County supervisor blabbed about the audit two days after the notice was signed at the IRS and six days before Boneta received it. That shows collusion. The supervisor is Richardson’s friend and neighbor, and a former PEC board member.
This is such a disturbing story that I’m incapable of making a snarky or sarcastic comment. But at least this is a good example to illustrate my point that politicians and bureaucrats at the state and local level can be just as evil as those from Washington.
Anyhow, not it’s time for you to throw in your two cents. Which story best symbolizes government?
Exactly three years ago, I posted a simple quiz about libertarians and patriotism.
The two questions in that quiz are illuminating since they highlight how libertarians in some cases may differ from conservatives (click here for more on that issue), but I also included this t-shirt, which seems to capture the mindset of a lot of Americans regardless of their political outlook.
Well, it seems that Mark Twain had the same attitude as the young lady in the photo, at least if we can believe the quote in this Steve Breen cartoon.
Simply stated, our loyalty should be to a set of ideals, not to any particular group of people who happen to hold power.
What makes the cartoon so effective, though, is the inclusion of an IRS thug and a snoop from the NSA.
Reminds me of this cartoon about Obama and the Founding Fathers.
But there’s a serious point to discuss. Are we losing our freedoms and giving the state too much power and authority?
According to a recent news report, a former lieutenant colonel for the infamous East German STASI spy agency says the NSA-type snooping ability “would have been a dream come true.”
Wolfgang Schmidt…pondered the magnitude of domestic spying in the United States under the Obama administration. A smile spread across his face. “You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,” he said, recalling the days when he was a lieutenant colonel in the defunct communist country’s secret police, the Stasi. In those days, his department was limited to tapping 40 phones at a time, he recalled. Decide to spy on a new victim and an old one had to be dropped, because of a lack of equipment. He finds breathtaking the idea that the U.S. government receives daily reports on the cellphone usage of millions of Americans and can monitor the Internet traffic of millions more.
We also need to be concerned about potential misuse of data, whether by people currently in the government or those that will have access to the information in the future.
This is what worries me the most. Simply stated, I don’t trust people in government. Which, rather ironically, means I’m in agreement with a former STASI bigwig.
Even Schmidt, 73, who headed one of the more infamous departments in the infamous Stasi, called himself appalled. The dark side to gathering such a broad, seemingly untargeted, amount of information is obvious, he said. “It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”
Hmmm… maybe being warned about the risk of unrestrained government by a former communist spy is the modern equivalent of being called ugly by a frog?
In any event, I suppose Herr Schmidt has first-hand knowledge of the danger of giving government too much information.
One mother is hauled off to the police station. Another is clapped in handcuffs. The mothers’ offenses? They let their kids wait in the car while they ran a quick errand. Yes, these moms did just what yours probably did back when you were a kid. That age-old practice has been criminalized in 19 states in recent years, thanks to a world that seems increasingly unable to distinguish between negligence and normal parenting. …The impulse behind these laws is not evil, just excessive. Many people and politicians—I suppose the categories overlap—believe that whenever children are left alone in a car they could easily die of heat exhaustion or be kidnapped.
She then looks at the data. Kidnapping doesn’t even merit an asterisk, while death from heat is very rare and overwhelmingly caused by factors other than a quick stop to get a gallon of milk.
While the kidnapping fear is beyond absurd (doubters, please look up the stats), the heatstroke fear is based on the fact that cars do get hot. Just not in the time it takes to buy a gallon of milk. …each year about 40 children die of hyperthermia in automobiles. …But according a group that tracks these statistics, kidsandcars.org (“Love Them, Protect Them”), the overwhelming majority were either forgotten in the car for hours (54%) or climbed into an empty vehicle without anyone’s knowledge and got stuck (31%). This, in a country with 32 million children under age 8 taking billions of car trips annually. Any child’s death is a terrible tragedy. But the reflexive call to 911 the minute a child is spied alone in a car is lunacy. Why not wait a minute to see if the parent comes back?
I don’t necessarily blame strangers for calling 911. After all, maybe the time you see kids alone in a car is one of those one-in-a-million instances of tragic forgetfulness by a parent.
But I do blame cops for overreacting. Ms. Skenazy has a couple of examples in her column. Here’s the one that I found most outrageous.
A typical story is the one I heard about from a mother of two who lives in a small town near Utica, N.Y. Last summer, on a 69-degree night, she ran into a grocery store to get some chicken breasts at 6:54 (she had just spoken to her husband on her cellphone). In the car she left her 5-year-old girl and 6-month old boy, who was asleep. At 7:03 (it’s on record) a passerby called 911. Then he pulled a truck behind her car so she couldn’t drive away—which she dearly wanted to do when she emerged from the store moments later. Instead, she had to wait for the police. The officer, rather than informing the busybody stranger that he shouldn’t prevent the free movement of citizens, told the mother that she was in big trouble. He searched her purse for dangerous objects. Then she had to call her parents to come get the kids, because the cop was taking her to the police station. Her daughter cried as she left. After that? Three visits from child-protective services to her home. The workers found nothing amiss, but “they have told me if it ever happens again, they will move the courts to have my children placed in foster care,” she said.
First, what sort of jerk blocks the women from leaving? Since this happened in New York, I wonder if it was Michael Wolfensohn, who has a track record of being a certain unmentionable orifice.
More important, why didn’t the cop simply ask the women what happened, take a minute to ascertain that certain common-sense precautions were taken (such as the car doors being locked while she was in the store), and then let her go home after some friendly advice about being careful?!?
At least we should be relieved that the poor woman wasn’t arrested, though I can only imagine how galling it would be to have some bureaucrats come to your house over and over again with immense powers to disrupt your family if you don’t kowtow to them.
But apparently he wasn’t satisfied with screwing taxpayers and poor people, at least in the figurative sense of the word. Here’s some of a report from a local CBS station.
A state welfare worker is facing charges after allegedly offering benefits in exchange for sex. …According to the police criminal complaint, Geary also repeatedly asked the woman to smoke crack with him on the weekends when his wife was working and his children were asleep in their North Versailles home. …Police think there may be more victims as Geary allegedly told the woman that he had done the same thing with women in the past.
Gee, he sounds like a really swell guy and a model husband and father, wouldn’t you agree?
If you take a group of Democrats who are also unionized government employees, and put them in charge of policing political speech, it doesn’t matter how professional and well-intentioned they are. The result will be much like the debacle in the Cincinnati office of the IRS. …there’s no reason to even posit evil intent by the IRS officials who formulated, approved or executed the inappropriate guidelines for picking groups to scrutinize most closely. …The public servants figuring out which groups qualified for 501(c)4 “social welfare” non-profit status were mostly Democrats surrounded by mostly Democrats. …In the 2012 election, every donation traceable to this office went to President Obama or liberal Sen. Sherrod Brown. This is an environment where even those trying to be fair could develop a disproportionate distrust of the Tea Party. One IRS worker — a member of NTEU and contributor to its PAC, which gives 96 percent of its money to Democratic candidates — explained it this way: “The reason NTEU mostly supports Democratic candidates for office is because Democratic candidates are mostly more supportive of civil servants/government employees.”
Tim concludes with a wise observation.
As long as we have a civil service workforce that leans Left, and as long as we have an income tax system that requires the IRS to police political speech, conservative groups can always expect special IRS scrutiny.
The real issue is the expansive, expensive bureaucratic state and its inherent threat to any system of limited government, rule of law, and individual liberty. …the broader the government’s authority, the greater its need for revenue, the wider its enforcement power, the more expansive the bureaucracy’s discretion, the increasingly important the battle for political control, and the more bitter the partisan fight, the more likely government officials will abuse their positions, violate rules, laws, and Constitution, and sacrifice people’s liberties. The blame falls squarely on Congress, not the IRS.
…the denizens of Capitol Hill also have created a tax code marked by outrageous complexity, special interest electioneering, and systematic social engineering. Legislators have intentionally created avenues for tax avoidance to win votes, and then complained about widespread tax avoidance to win votes.
So what’s the answer?
The most obvious response to the scandal — beyond punishing anyone who violated the law — is tax reform. Implement a flat tax and you’d still have an IRS, but the income tax would be less complex, there would be fewer “preferences” for the agency to police, and rates would be lower, leaving taxpayers with less incentive for aggressive tax avoidance. …Failing to address the broader underlying factors also would merely set the stage for a repeat performance in some form a few years hence. …More fundamentally, government, and especially the national government, should do less. Efficient social engineering may be slightly better than inefficient social engineering, but no social engineering would be far better.
Notwithstanding the title of this post, this is not a story about a taxpayer fighting against the IRS. If you want that kind of story (and if you have a strong stomach), you can read about how an IRS thug named Robert Norlander tried to ruin the life of a guy named Charlie Engle.
As you can see from these cartoons, I’m very happy to be introduced to Jim McKee, particularly since he’s generating some great material about the IRS scandal. Let’s start with a cartoon he produced that calls attention to the fact that an IRS hack pleaded the fifth even though taxpayers don’t have similar rights when confronted by tax collectors.
So I wasn’t surprised to learn that it also has politically biased employees.
But some Americans probably are shocked. So I want to be the first to publicly thank President Obama for – at the very least – presiding over a culture that gave IRS bureaucrats the green light to engage in this kind of misbehavior.
Why am I thanking Obama? For the simple reason that this scandal means that more Americans now understand that the IRS is a venal agency. And that presumably means that more Americans now realize we should junk the internal revenue code and implement a simple and fair flat tax.
Since I’m in an expansive and sharing mood, I think we also owe some appreciation to some of the good people who are helping to publicize the IRS’s despicable behavior.
…the nature of Barack Obama’s administration is being clarified as revelations about IRS targeting of conservative groups merge with myriad Benghazi mendacities. …we are told that a few wayward souls in Cincinnati, with nary a trace of political purpose, targeted for harassment political groups with “tea party” and “patriot” in their titles. …Jay Carney, whose unenviable job is not to explain but to explain away what his employers say, calls the IRS’s behavior “inappropriate.” No, using the salad fork for the entree is inappropriate. Using the Internal Revenue Service for political purposes is a criminal offense.
Time was, progressives like the president 100 years ago, Woodrow Wilson, had the virtue of candor: He explicitly rejected the Founders’ fears of government. Modern enlightenment, he said, made it safe to concentrate power in Washington, and especially in disinterested executive-branch agencies run by autonomous, high-minded experts. Today, however, progressivism’s insinuation is that Americans must be minutely regulated because they are so dimwitted they will swallow nonsense. Such as: There was no political motive in the IRS targeting political conservatives.
How painfully true. Sheep are not famous for their intelligence. And as the American people learn to be passively dependent on government, presumably we will acquire more sheep-like characteristics.
But the firestorm of protest leads me to think we’re not at that stage. At least not yet.
…most Americans, myself included, become libertarians when a policeman is rude and swaggering during a traffic stop. Give me that badge number. It is precisely because police powers are essential to the public good that abusing them is so offensive. The same holds for overzealous or corrupt airport-security agents. And it is doubly true with IRS personnel who misuse their broad and intimidating powers. It is enough to bring out the Samuel Adams in anyone.
Past presidents have found the IRS an extremely useful piece of federal machinery for that purpose. A lot of what we know about that sordid history comes from the Senate Select Committee on intelligence abuses, chaired by Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, in the mid-’70s. As Chris Hayes wrote in the Nation in 2006, “Church and many Democrats…soon found that presidents of both parties were culpable: “Secret documents obtained by the committee even revealed that the sainted FDR had ordered IRS audits of his political enemies.” In “The Lawless State,” his account of the Church Committee revelations, Morton Halperin noted that “the first organized political ‘strike force’ was formed within the IRS in 1961, and was directed against right-wing political groups.” In this case, I doubt there was ever a JFK or Nixon-style direct command from on high to harass the Tea Party. It’s more likely to be a case of “proactive” bureaucrats inspired by presidential railing against the Tea Party and Citizens United: “Will no one rid me of these meddlesome right-wing freaks?”
Let’s close with a couple of good cartoons.
The first one reminds me of the joke that “Service” is part of the IRS’s name, but only in the way that a bull services a cow.
The humor is a bit darker in this cartoon, but the message is the same.
“Take him from his parents and send him to a foster home!”
New Jersey police and Dept. of Children and Families officials raided the home of a firearms instructor and demanded to see his guns after he posted a Facebook photo of his 11-year-old son holding a rifle. …The family’s trouble started Saturday night when Moore received an urgent text message from his wife. The Carneys Point Police Dept. and the New Jersey Dept. of Children and Families had raided their home.
Thankfully, this absurd exercise in government overreach met with stiff resistance.
Moore immediately called [his lawyer] Nappen and rushed home to find officers demanding to check his guns and his gun safe. Instead, he handed the cell phone to one of the officers – so they could speak with Nappen. “If you have a warrant, you’re coming in,” Nappen told the officers. “If you don’t, then you’re not. That’s what privacy is all about.” …“I was told I was being unreasonable and that I was acting suspicious because I wouldn’t open my safe,” Moore wrote on the Delaware Open Carry website. “They told me they were going to get a search warrant. I told them to go ahead.” …The attorney said police eventually left and never returned. “He has a Fourth Amendment right and he’s not going to give up his Fourth Amendment right or his Second Amendment right,” he said. “They didn’t have a warrant – so see you later.”
But let’s not be too optimistic just because this story ended well.
…the person who reported the false allegations of abuse cannot be held liable, she noted. “You can’t be prosecuted for making an allegation of child abuse –even if it’s false,” she said. Nappen said what happened to the Moore family should serve as a warning to gun owners across the nation. “To make someone go through this because he posted a picture of his son with a .22 rifle on his Facebook page is pretty outrageous,” he said.
We should all be outraged by this story. You don’t need a vivid imagination to see that this type of nanny-state-meets-the-jackboot- state thuggery could become more prevalent – and a lot uglier – in the future.
Raising my kids right
I’ll be taking my kids out to the High Lonesome Ranch in May, and we’ll be doing some shooting. And when they were much younger, my kids enjoyed their opportunity to shred some soda cans with an AK-47. I can only imagine what might have happened if I had taken some photos and posted them (not that Facebook existed in the primitive 1990s).
Let’s close by being thankful for the Founding Fathers. They bequeathed to us a Bill of Rights that includes a 2nd Amendment and a 4th Amendment. I know my conservative friends appreciate the former, but I hope this story helps them realize that the latter is also important as a bulwark against government thuggery. It’s for that reason that I once had the unusual experience of siding with Ruth Bader Ginsburg over Clarence Thomas!
Meet the NoTo Mob, a group dedicated to fighting what they see as unfair parking tickets and charges. During the week they’re normal blokes (and the odd woman). …But on Saturdays they come together for a common cause. They follow council CCTV cars, or “spy cars”, then stand nearby holding signs to warn drivers about the presence of a CCTV vehicle and potential fine if they break the rules.Motorists pull over, wave or give the thumbs up in gratitude. Complete strangers have been known to hug them in support.
Having been victimized by revenue cameras (which inevitably are set up where speed limits are absurdly low), I would gladly hug one of these blokes if they operated in the United States.
These ordinary men and women fully recognize that these cameras are designed to generate more revenue for government, not to promote safety.
The group targets “honey pots” – high-ticket areas with confusing road markings or unclear signs where the CCTV cars are most likely to operate. …The NoTo Mob…feels motorists are being used as cash cows. “I was near a bus lane and asked drivers who pulled over, ‘Did you see that sign?’ They replied, ‘What sign?’ They didn’t realise. They’d have got a fine if they’d driven down it. “It’s exploiting the average motorist, it’s disproportionate and it’s plain wrong. It’s highway robbery.”
Since I’m praising our English cousins, I suppose it’s also appropriate to give credit to the English government for not outlawing the NoToMob.
I was a bit disappointed that I only scored a 94 out of a possible 160, but my excuse is that it was really a test of anarcho-capitalism. And as I explained when sharing this amusing video, I’m only in favor of getting rid of 90 percent of government.
But maybe the simplest test of libertarianism (and also the simplest test of whether you’re a decent human being) is to see whether you’re upset by the following story.
Here are some of the truly disgusting details from the OC Weekly. First we learn about the victims of this government abuse.
…he and his wife purchased the Anaheim building, which has suites for up to 12 offices, in 2003 and that her dental practice was located there. …Over the years, they’ve rented to a variety of tenants, from insurance companies to an immigration service.
This unfortunate couple rented space to a group that seemed to comply with federal and state legal requirements.
…on June 11, 2011, he began renting to a club called ReLeaf Health & Wellness. …Because of the Ogden memo, because medical marijuana was legal under state law, and because his tenants held business permits from the city, he figured he wasn’t doing anything illegal. “I am a law-abiding citizen,” he says. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.”
But the city of Anaheim and the jackboots at the Drug Enforcement Administration targeted the tenant, and then decided to try and steal the property of the landlord!
…On Dec. 2, 2011, an undercover officer posing as a patient with a legitimate doctor’s recommendation for cannabis—something required of all entrants to the collective—”purchased 4.2 net grams of marijuana for $37.” The investigation ended there, but the single sale…was enough evidence for the DEA to argue that the otherwise-harmless computer engineer and dentist should lose their retirement-investment property. …The lawyer for the engineer and dentist who may be in the process of losing their nest egg is Matthew Pappas. …”The only evidence in this case is a $37 purchase of medical marijuana and an anonymous comment on a website that anybody could have written,” Pappas says. “For this, they want to take a $1.5 million building.”
You may be thinking that you missed something, that certainly the federal government wouldn’t steal an entire building simply because a tenant may have broken a silly drug law. Especially when it’s very ambiguous whether a crime actually took place.
But you didn’t miss a thing. This is pure, unadulterated, evil government.
And if you’re not already feeling some libertarian blood flowing through your veins, here are some additional examples of government thuggery.
This sign was on a train I rode today. It is sponsored by the UK version of the IRS, and it pretty much symbolizes how the United Kingdom has turned into a predatory state.
The United Kingdom is in terrible fiscal shape. Government spending has reached record levels, and now consumes a larger share of economic output than the public sectors in failed welfare states such as Spain.
And what are taxpayers getting for their money, other than Orwellian signs?
Not much. They get an increasingly dysfunctional society filled with scroungers such as Natalija, Gina and Danny.
I’m a libertarian because I believe in individual freedom and greater prosperity, but what really motivates me is the desire to protect people from predatory government.
So even though the economist in me wants to reduce the burden of government spending and implement a flat tax because such policies will boost growth and lead to higher living standards, I also want those policies because I don’t like it when interest groups use the coercive power of government to obtain unearned wealth.
Heera Ballabh walks his youngest son, Pankaj, to school through two kilometres of narrow lanes. He hopes a good eduction will propel the boy out of the cramped lower-class neighbourhood they call home and into middle-class life. But this aspiration hangs in the balance because legislation will force the privately run school Pankaj attends to close as it does not meet the requirements stipulated by the government.
The Ballabh family is not unusual. Because the government schools do a terrible job, there are millions of poor families who are sacrificing to send their kids to private schools.
…Pankaj attends the Pioneer Public School. It is among 2,000 low-fee private schools in Delhi facing closure, threatening to displace more than 500,000 pupils, most of them in primary school. Across India, about 300,000 schools, with an estimated 15 million pupils, may have to close, said Shantanu Gupta, the associate director of the School Choice Campaign with the Centre for Civil Society, a non-profit research and educational organisation.
Apparently embarrassed by the fact that so many millions of poor families would rather pay for good private schools than go to free state institutions, the government is trying to regulate the private schools out of existence.
…The criteria for private schools to remain open include meeting a minimum requirement for the size of its premises, higher teacher salaries, and government certification. Mr Ballabh would rather pay several hundred rupees a month out of his meagre salary as a private tutor to send his son to Pioneer than to a government school. Although there are no tuition fees at state schools and textbooks and lunches are free, teachers are often absent and there can be up to 80 students per class, he said. Studies published by the Centre for Civil Society showed that schools such as Pioneer perform better than government schools.
Not surprisingly, the government doesn’t want to judge private schools on the basis of performance.
…Mr Gupta said…”The requirements should be performance-based instead of looking at how much land is available to build a school,” …One of the states that has managed to bridge the gap between the requirements of the act and the realities on the ground is Gujarat, said Mr Gupta, where the land requirement was done away with and schools are judged on pupils’ performance.
I’ve previously identified some truly despicable people on this blog (Robert Murphy, Michael Wolfensohn, Olga Stefou and the British moocher mom). Well, I think Ashok Agarwal may beat them in the contest to be the worst person in the world. He’s the one who launched the attack against so-called unauthorised schools.
…there are those who say such schools must be forced to close if the education system is to be improved in India. “We have an act that clearly defines what a school is and that must be respected,” said Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer and an education activist who filed a public interest litigation in 2006 seeking the closure of unauthorised schools.
Mr. Agarwal admits that the government schools don’t work, but he thinks he should have the right to decide what is best for other people’s children. What a disgusting human being.
“We admit our education system has been derailed but we are trying to fix it, and if you are unhappy with how government schools are run then pressure the government to make changes but don’t put your children in substandard schools,” he said.
The same issues exist in the United States. Children from poor families often are in neighborhoods where the government schools are a dismal failure.
Leftists want to use this horrible performance as an excuse to throw more tax dollars into a failing system, but this amazing chart shows that huge increases in staff and money have not helped the system.
School choice is one of the best ways of giving poor kids an opportunity for a brighter future. But the teacher unions are opposed, largely because they want to protect their privileged status.
Some actions by government, however, belong in a different category. I’m not sure what word I would choose to describe them – perhaps venal, evil, despicable, reprehensible, or disgusting would be good options.
Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, but is there any other reaction when the government persecutes a family with possible jail time for rescuing Bambi?
When Connersville police officer Jeff Counceller first encountered the baby deer, she was curled up in the corner of a front porch.It was clear the fawn was injured. Counceller could see the wounds… If left to its own, the animal would surely die… So the Councellers took in the deer, which they named Dani, cleaned and dressed its wounds and nursed it back to health, all with the intention of turning it out into the wild once it was big enough and strong enough to have a chance on its own. …she was unable to stand, and her maggot-infested wound was ugly. The Councellers contacted DNR at the time but were told to return the deer to the wild and let nature take its course. “It would have been a death sentence,” Jeff said.
So the family did what any decent people would do. They nursed the deer back to health. But decency and government often are in conflict.
Trouble is, what the Councellers did is against the law. Now, more than two years after rescuing the deer, more than six months after conservation officers began an investigation, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources wants them prosecuted. …DNR officials began an investigation that entailed half a dozen visits to their home and numerous calls to local authorities. In July, the agency issued an eight-page report and asked for a special prosecutor from another county to handle the case. Why the charges are being sought now — six months later — isn’t clear.
Bureaucrats wanted to kill this baby deer
I think the answer is obvious. The bureaucrats from the Department of Natural Resources are sulking because their imperious demands weren’t obeyed.
So they’re lashing out at an innocent family, as indicated by the following excerpts.
…when the DNR came calling, the Councellers say they were almost ready to release Dani back into the woods. They were just waiting for the summer drought to pass and the nearby corn crops to mature enough to offer cover and food for Dani. They say they weren’t aware it was illegal to keep the deer.
That’s when the bureaucratic nightmare began.
When the DNR began its investigation, the Councellers say the conservation officer suggested they obtain a rescue permit. But that was denied. Soon, the DNR said the deer must be euthanized, that it was a safety threat to humans.
Fortunately, an unknown good Samaritan intervened and freed Dani before the government could kill the helpless animal.
But on the day of Dani’s scheduled execution, the deer turned up missing, its enclosure left open. The Councellers say they didn’t arrange the escape or know how the deer was freed but acknowledge that they didn’t probe too deeply to find out.
But no good deed goes unpunished when spiteful bureaucrats are involved.
…there was nothing but silence from the DNR until the Councellers received notice of the charges earlier this month. They plan to fight the case, even though jail is unlikely and the lawyer costs — which could reach $5,000 — are significantly higher than a likely fine. It’s a matter of principle, they say. They don’t want to plead guilty for trying to help an animal and when they had no criminal intent.
Not surprisingly, the rest of the community is on the side of the deer (and the persecuted family). Indeed, there’s even a Facebook page for folks who want to register their displeasure with this example of government thuggery.
“People are outraged at the DNR and that the government has nothing better to do than harass these people,” said John Waudby, an Indianapolis man who created the Facebook page after hearing about the story. “Anybody in their right mind would have done the same thing.”
All things considered, this story from Indiana shouldn’t be part of the government stupidity and incompetence contest. Given the venality of the bureaucrats, it belongs with this list of horrifying examples of government thuggery.
In a just world, a court will immediately dismiss the charges against the Counceller family.
I would urge that the family then be awarded damages, but that’s not the right response. The bureaucrats would merely shrug and let taxpayers pick up the cost.
The only good outcome is to unceremoniously fire every bureaucrat who played a role in this outrageous episode.
Like most bureaucrats, I suspect the pinheads at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources are overpaid. So losing their pampered positions would be genuine punishment and it would send a message to the rest of the paper pushers not to harass innocent and good people.
But I have to break the pattern. Check out these excerpts from a story about English bureaucrats deciding that a foster family no longer could take of kids because they support the United Kingdom Independence Party, which doesn’t believe in unlimited immigration.
The husband and wife, who have been fostering for nearly seven years, said they were made to feel like criminals when a social worker told them that their views on immigration made them unsuitable carers. …Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, described the actions of Rotherham borough council as “a bloody outrage” and “political prejudice of the very worst kind”. …The couple, who do not want to be named to avoid identifying the children they have fostered, are in their late 50s and live in a neat detached house in a village in South Yorkshire. The husband was a Royal Navy reservist for more than 30 years and works with disabled people, while his wife is a qualified nursery nurse. Former Labour voters, they have been approved foster parents for nearly seven years and have looked after about a dozen different children, one of them in a placement lasting four years. They took on the three children — a baby girl, a boy and an older girl, who were all from an ethnic minority and a troubled family background — in September in an emergency placement. They believe that the youngsters thrived in their care. The couple were described as “exemplary” foster parents: the baby put on weight and the older girl even began calling them “mum and dad”. However, just under eight weeks into the placement, they received a visit out of the blue from the children’s social worker at the Labour-run council and an official from their fostering agency. They were told that the local safeguarding children team had received an anonymous tip-off that they were members of Ukip. The wife recalled: “I was dumbfounded. Then my question to both of them was, ‘What has Ukip got to do with having the children removed?’ “Then one of them said, ‘Well, Ukip have got racist policies’. The implication was that we were racist. [The social worker] said Ukip does not like European people and wants them all out of the country to be returned to their own countries. “I’m sat there and I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is going off here?’ because I wouldn’t have joined Ukip if they thought that. I’ve got mixed race in my family. I said, ‘I am absolutely offended that you could come in my house and accuse me of being a member of a racist party’.”
What a disgusting mix of ideological bias and political correctness.
I agree that government officials shouldn’t place children in homes where there’s racism. So if the bureaucrats discovered that a household had people from the English equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan or the New Black Panther Party, then it’s understandable and appropriate that they don’t get to take care of foster children.
But I’ve met many people from UKIP and I keep close track of what’s happening in the English political world. From everything that I can tell, UKIP is a mainstream political party that seems most concerned about the loss of sovereignty to the European Union.
Are there some racists in UKIP? I’m sure that some exist, just as there racists in the Labour Party, Conservative Party, and Liberal Democratic Party. And, for what it’s worth, there are some racist Republicans and some racist Democrats. Like other collectivist impulses, racism is probably an inherent flaw in the human species.
But I’m digressing. The purpose of this post is to express disgust at bureaucrats in England who decided that belonging to UKIP automatically meant a foster family was racist. Even worse, these bureaucrats then took three children from this family, which means they put political correctness and ideological bias ahead of the best interests of the kids.
Let’s hope that those children aren’t now stuck in an orphanage or some other sub-standard form of institutionalized care.
P.S. If you want to be entertained and to learn more about UKIP, I’ve posted some remarkable videos of their MEPs as they speak at the European Parliament.
As a taxpayer, I’m not a big fan of international bureaucracies. They consume a lot of money, pay themselves extravagant (and tax-free!) salaries, and generally promote statist policies.
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is a prime example. Originally created for benign purposes such as gathering statistics, it now is a bloated bureaucracy pursuing an anti-free market agenda.
But international bureaucracies also have a nasty habit of operating in the shadows and using thuggish behavior to thwart critics. And I have the scars to prove it from my efforts to protect fiscal sovereignty.
A monumental session during the World Health Organization’s (WHO) convention on tobacco control turned into an alarming attack on transparency, accountability and press freedom. …delegates of the member countries of the conference stripped the media of the ability to cover the meeting and escorted public onlookers from the premises. The decision to meet behind closed doors occurred when a discussion began about efforts to decrease tobacco use by increasing the price of tobacco products. Specifically, the convention attendees were discussing the framework for an international tobacco tax. This is one of the most controversial topics for debate in Seoul this week.
This is what is called a “learning moment.” And the journalist clearly recognized both the WHO’s hypocrisy and its troubling policy agenda.
As a reporter covering this meeting, this was not only a frustrating stance, but it raises some serious questions about an organization that for years has operated largely behind the scenes and without the benefit of much public scrutiny. When is the media more necessary than when an unaccountable, shadowy organization that devours millions of tax dollars each year from people across the world debates getting in the business of issuing global taxes? This effort to silence the press is particularly chilling since it is in direct conflict with the U.N. — the WHO’s parent organization—claims to fight to advance “free, independent and pluralistic media” across the world. Apparently, U.N. and WHO leaders believe in media rights in all cases except when the media covers them.
And remember, you’re paying for this thuggish behavior.
If you want to learn more about the underlying issue, I wrote about the WHO’s push for global tobacco taxation back in both May and September.