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Posts Tagged ‘Government Thuggery’

When writing about money laundering laws, I’ll sometimes highlight gross abuses by government and I’ll periodically make the usual libertarian arguments about privacy.

But I mostly focus on how the laws simply don’t make sense from a cost-benefit perspective. Anti-money laundering laws and regulations impose large burdens on the private sector, which creates disproportionate hardship for the poor. Yet there’s no evidence that the laws actually hinder criminal activity, which was the rationale for imposing the laws in the first place.

I have the same attitude about the War on Drugs. Yes, I get upset that people are mistreated and it irks me as a libertarian that people aren’t free to make their own choices (even if they are dumb choices) about what to put in their bodies.

But what really gets me angry is the absurd misallocation of law enforcement resources. Consider this info from a recent WonkBlog column in the Washington Post about the ever-expanding efforts of government to harass drug users.

Federal figures on drug arrests and drug use over the past three decades tell the story. Drug-possession arrests skyrocketed, from fewer than 200 arrests for every 100,000 people in 1979…, hovering near 400 arrests per 100,000 people. …despite the tough-on-crime push that led to the surge in arrests in recent decades, illicit drug use today is more common among Americans age 12 and older than it was in the early 1980s. Federal figures show no correlation between drug-possession arrests and rates of drug use during that time.

But here’s the part that should upset all of us, even if we don’t like drugs or even if we think they should be illegal.

Instead of focusing on the fight against crimes that actually have victims (such as robbery, murder, rape, assault, etc), the government is squandering an immense about of time, energy, resources, and money on drug arrests.

…arrests for drug possession continue to make up a significant chunk of modern-day police work. “Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime,” the report finds, citing FBI data. “More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession, amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year.” In fact, police make more arrests for marijuana possession alone than for all violent crimes combined.

That last sentence is breathtaking. Does anyone think that busting potheads is more important than fighting genuine crime?!?

Do you want an example of law enforcement resources being misallocated?

Well, this story from New Hampshire tells you everything you need to know.

…an 81-year-old grandmother had been growing…the plant as medicine, a way to ease arthritis and glaucoma and help her sleep at night. Tucked away in a raspberry patch and separated by a fence from any neighbors, the plant was nearly ready for harvest when a military-style helicopter and police descended on Sept. 21. In a joint raid, the Massachusetts National Guard and State Police entered her yard and cut down the solitary plant…authorities are using budgeted funds, prior to the end of the federal fiscal year Saturday, to gas up helicopters and do flyovers. …“Is this the way we want our taxpayer money spent, to hassle an 81-year-old and law-abiding patients?” Cutler said.

Gee, I don’t know about you, but I’ll sleep more comfortably tonight knowing that lots of taxpayer money was squandered to seize a pot plant from this dangerous granny!

Still not convinced that law enforcement resources aren’t being wasted? And still not upset that lives are being disrupted and harmed by heavy-handed government.

Then consider this horror story from Reason.

James Slatic, a California medical marijuana business owner, found out all his family’s bank accounts had been seized by the government one day in January when his 19-year-old daughter tried to buy lunch at the San Jose State University cafeteria and her card was declined. Slatic’s wife tried to transfer money to their daughter, figuring she had simply overdrawn her account, as teenagers are wont to do, but her account wouldn’t work, either. What the Slatics soon learned was the San Diego police had frozen all of their bank accounts: $55,258 from Slatic’s personal checking and savings account; $34,175 from his wife Annette’s account; and a combined $11,260 from the savings accounts of their two teenage daughters, Penny and Lily. …The Slatics’ crimes? None. Or at least, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office hasn’t charged them with any in the nine months since it seized their accounts.

His business also was shut down, which wasn’t good news for him or his employees that are now out on the street.

The trouble for James Slatic began five days before his family’s accounts were frozen, when around 30 San Diego police officers and DEA agents raided Slatic’s medical marijuana business, Med-West Distribution, and seized nearly $325,000 in cash from a safe. …The raid was a crushing blow to Slatic—not to mention his 35 employees, who lost their jobs and benefits without notice.

Here’s a video detailing this disgusting abuse by government.

There is some good news. Voters in several states voted last week to decriminalize pot.

And for those who worry that legalizing marijuana will be a gateway to decriminalizing harder drugs, I encourage you to read this Cato Institute study on what happened after Portugal legalized all drugs early last decade.

This isn’t an argument about whether you should use drugs, like drugs, or approve of drug use. You can be the drug equivalent of a teetotaler like me and still realize that it makes no sense for the government to squander lots of money and hurt lots of lives simply because politicians want to control what people choose to put in their own bodies.

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What’s the worst development in economic policy of the Obama years?

Those are all good answers, but if you look at the data from Economic Freedom of the World, a major reason for the decline in America’s score is that the rule of law has eroded.

In other words, the United States is becoming a place where clear and neutral rules are being replaced by arbitrary and capricious government power. And this is not a trivial matter. Issues related to the rule of law account for 20 percent of a nation’s grade – the same level of importance as fiscal policy.

In another worrisome development, the United States only ranked #19 as of 2014 in a global ranking of how well nations maintain the rule of law.

There are several reasons why America’s ranking is going down. To cite just a few: The arbitrary rewrites of Obamacare. The Operation Chokepoint fiasco. IRS regulations that overturn existing law.

And it appears the Obama Administration wants to go out with a bang.

The Wall Street Journal opines on a new regulatory scheme from the Treasury Department to boost the death tax burden by arbitrarily inflating the value of certain assets.

…before President Obama leaves office, his Treasury Department is rushing to implement a de facto increase in the federal estate tax. Since Congress does not agree that the Internal Revenue Service should suck more cash out of family firms, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is up to his usual tricks, trashing established interpretations of tax law to bypass the legislative branch. Not even Mr. Lew has the gall to claim he can raise the federal death-tax rate of 40% without congressional approval. So the game here is to contrive ways to expose more of the value—or imagined value—of an estate to IRS revenue collectors. Last month Mr. Lew’s Treasury announced a proposed rule to close what it calls an estate and gift tax “loophole.” Until now, the IRS permitted realistic values for portions of closely held corporations and partnerships. …consider a minority stake with limited rights in a family business. While the business as a whole may have considerable value, how much would an investor be willing to pay for a small, illiquid piece of a private business that she can’t control? The typical answer is not much. On the other hand, the investor might pay handsomely for a controlling interest. The IRS has long recognized this reality and has allowed the discounting of interests in closely held businesses to more closely reflect what they could fetch on the open market, rather than simply assigning a percentage of a firm’s overall estimated value.

In other words, Obama’s Treasury Department wants to force heirs to pay tax on what they think an asset is worth rather than what it would fetch on the open market.

This regulatory scheme – if ultimately successful – will make a bad tax even worse.

And it also will be bad for the economy.

…what seems like a reasonable interpretation to some looks like a wasted revenue opportunity to the Obama Treasury. …As always, Mr. Lew and Treasury are happy to seize more wealth from the private economy. …But voters may ask how much economic destruction is acceptable in the name of such fairness. …the tax clearly encourages people to consume now rather than invest in the future. This means lower GDP over time and fewer opportunities for the poor, some of whom might want to work for family businesses. The Tax Foundation reckons that the economy would be 0.8% larger over a decade without the estate tax.

Here’s another example.

The Obama Administration has been shaking down banks for money because of supposed misdeeds leading up the government-caused financial crisis.

The various fines may of may not be legitimate, but what’s really troubling is that a big chunk of the money is then being steered to left-wing groups. Many of which are seeking to impact the political process.

Andy Koenig of Freedom Partners has a column in the Wall Street Journal with some of the unseemly details.

The administration’s multiyear campaign against the banking industry has quietly steered money to organizations and politicians who are working to ensure liberal policy and political victories at every level of government. The conduit for this funding is the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, a coalition of federal and state regulators and prosecutors created in 2012 to “identify, investigate, and prosecute instances of wrongdoing” in the residential mortgage-backed securities market. In conjunction with the Justice Department, the RMBS Working Group has reached multibillion-dollar settlements with essentially every major bank in America. …Combined, the banks must divert well over $11 billion into “consumer relief,” which is supposed to benefit homeowners harmed during the Great Recession. …a substantial portion is allocated to private, nonprofit organizations drawn from a federally approved list. Some groups on the list—Catholic Charities, for instance—are relatively nonpolitical. Others—La Raza, the National Urban League, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and more—are anything but. This is a handout to the administration’s allies. Many of these groups engage in voter registration, community organizing and lobbying on liberal policy priorities at every level of government. They also provide grants to other liberal groups not eligible for payouts under the settlements. …The settlements also give banks a financial incentive to fund these groups. Most of the deals give double credit or more against the settlement amount for every dollar in “donations.”

Needless to say, diverting money to political allies sounds like the kind of chicanery you’d find in a banana republic, not an advanced western society.

But it gets worse.

Here’s another Wall Street Journal editorial on an additional bit of regulatory/tax overreach by the Treasury Department. It deals with the Obama Administration trying to stop “inversions” by unilaterally changing the rules in ways that will hamper sensible business practices for all multinational companies.

The Treasury Secretary…wants to prevent “earnings stripping,” in which companies allegedly make loans from their overseas businesses to their U.S. subsidiaries to minimize taxes. The feds succeeded in destroying the proposed merger of Pfizer and Allergan. But we warned in April that the Treasury plan would be “ugly for everybody,” imposing new costs and paperwork burdens on companies that never had any intention of moving overseas or stripping earnings. And sure enough, from small S corps all the way to Exxon, the afflicted have been explaining how the new rules will make it more expensive and difficult to do even routine business functions like cash management. …the banks hate this rule too. By limiting their ability to move money across borders to meet customer demand and respond to market stress, it could force them to violate other regulations, or worse. A July letter from Citigroup, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase to Treasury officials warned the rules could make “financial services groups more fragile in times of financial stress, thereby creating risk to the financial stability of the United States.” …If Mr. Lew were reasonable, he’d drop this misguided assault on American business and work with lawmakers to craft a corporate tax reform that ensures U.S. companies never want to leave the U.S.

A report in the New York Times highlighted some of the legal issues involved in this issue.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit on Thursday to block new rules issued by the Obama administration that prevent American corporations from merging with foreign-based companies and moving their headquarters abroad to save on taxes. The business group, along with the Texas Association of Business, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Austin, Tex., saying the administration was overstepping its authority in issuing the rules. …“If the defendants’ rule is permitted to stand, it is not just mergers that will suffer — it is the rule of law, and the certainty and stability required for effective commerce, markets and economic growth, that are truly threatened by the defendants’ unauthorized and unlawful action,” the plaintiffs said in their filing. …“Although it might seem esoteric, this action is a clear case of federal executive branch officers and agencies bypassing Congress and short-circuiting legislative debate over a hotly contested issue,” the lawsuit says.

Ugh. At least Hillary Clinton is proposing to change the law in pursuit of bad policy on inversions. Obama just waves his magic wand.

Let’s wrap up by refocusing on why the rule of law is a fundamental building block of a free society. Back in 2014, I shared a very good video from Learn Liberty about the importance of the rule of law.

That video is a compelling explanation of why it is good to have clear rules, along with limits on the arbitrary power of government officials.

Indeed, it’s probably no exaggeration to assert that rule of law is the greatest contribution of western civilization.

Here’s a movie clip (courtesy of FEE) that makes this point.

Based on the Obama Administration’s unilateral and capricious actions, maybe a new movie should be made about the rise and decline of western civilization.

P.S. On the topic of Obama and movies, here’s some humor to offset today’s dismal topic.

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While I dismiss conspiracy theories that presume there’s a plan in Washington to strip away our rights, I do think there’s a natural “public choice” explanation for ever-growing, ever-more powerful government. And that can lead to ever-expanding examples of abusive mistreatment of citizens.

If you don’t believe me, just ask people like Andy Johnson, Anthony Smelley, the Hammond family, Charlie Engle, Tammy Cooper, Nancy Black, Russ Caswell, Jacques Wajsfelner, Jeff Councelller, Eric Garner, Martha Boneta, Carole Hinders, Salvatore Culosi, and James Lieto, as well as the Sierra Pacific Company and the entire Meitev family.

Here’s something else to worry about, especially considering the way citizens are increasingly mistreated by callous officials.

Former Senator Tom Coburn, along with Adam Andrzejewski of OpenTheBooks.com, wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal about the militarization of the bureaucracy.

Special agents at the IRS equipped with AR-15 military-style rifles? Health and Human Services “Special Office of Inspector General Agents” being trained by the Army’s Special Forces contractors? The Department of Veterans Affairs arming 3,700 employees? The number of non-Defense Department federal officers authorized to make arrests and carry firearms (200,000) now exceeds the number of U.S. Marines (182,000). In its escalating arms and ammo stockpiling, this federal arms race is unlike anything in history. Over the last 20 years, the number of these federal officers with arrest-and-firearm authority has nearly tripled to over 200,000 today, from 74,500 in 1996. …During a nine-year period through 2014, we found, 67 agencies unaffiliated with the Department of Defense spent $1.48 billion on guns and ammo. Of that total, $335.1 million was spent by agencies traditionally viewed as regulatory or administrative, such as the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Mint.

Here are some of the strange example of militarized bureaucracy, along with my speculation as to why the paper pushers ostensibly need heavy weapons.

The Internal Revenue Service, which has 2,316 special agents, spent nearly $11 million on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment. That’s nearly $5,000 in gear for each agent.

Perhaps the IRS bureaucrats expected Tea Party groups to fight back after they were suppressed to help Obama’s reelection?

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which has 3,700 law-enforcement officers guarding and securing VA medical centers, spent $11.66 million. It spent more than $200,000 on night-vision equipment, $2.3 million for body armor, more than $2 million on guns, and $3.6 million for ammunition. The VA employed no officers with firearm authorization as recently as 1995.

Were the VA bureaucrats worried that angry veterans who were put on secret waiting lists might get violent instead of simply dying?

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service spent $4.77 million purchasing shotguns, .308 caliber rifles, night-vision goggles, propane cannons, liquid explosives, pyro supplies, buckshot, LP gas cannons, drones, remote-control helicopters, thermal cameras, military waterproof thermal infrared scopes and more.

I don’t even know what propane cannons and LP gas cannons are, but they sound almost as awesome as a tank, so why not get them if taxpayers are footing the bill?

The Environmental Protection Agency spent $3.1 million on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment. The EPA has put nearly $800 million since 2005 into its “Criminal Enforcement Division.”

Is the EPA’s assault on illegal ponds really that dangerous?

The Food and Drug Administration employs 183 heavily armed “special agents.”

What’s the point of having milk police if they aren’t well armed?

The University of California, Berkeley acquired 14 5.56mm assault rifles and Yale University police accepted 20 5.56mm assault rifles from the Defense Department. Texas Southern University and Saddleback College police even acquired Mine Resistant Vehicles (MRVs).

There are rumors that very dodgy characters sometimes show up on campuses, so who am I to question the need for heavy weapons?

And there are other bureaucracies to add to this list, which doesn’t make Corburn and Andrzejewski very happy.

Other paper-pushing federal agencies with firearm-and-arrest authority that have expanded their arsenals since 2006 include the Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, National Institute of Standards and Technology and many others. …the federal government has become a gun show that never adjourns. Taxpayers need to tell Washington that police powers belong primarily to cities and states, not the feds.

By the way, I have no objection to armed guards stationed at federal buildings. There are wackos out there. And I’m completely in favor of armed Energy Department officials guarding nuclear facilities.

But do we really need armed regulators interacting with the public?

Yes, bureaucrats occasionally have to deal with potentially dangerous people. And even if they’re enforcing rules that shouldn’t exist, I think they have every right to be protected. But in those rare instances, why not simply call up the local cops and ask for an escort? Would that really be asking too much?

Jeff Jacoby is similarly irked by the militarization of the bureaucracy. Here’s some of what he wrote for the Boston Globe.

…consider one domestic organization’s fearsome arsenal of military-style equipment. In the space of eight years, the group amassed a stockpile of pistols, shotguns, and semiautomatic rifles, along with ample supplies of ammunition, liquid explosives, gun scopes, and suppressors. In its cache as well are night-vision goggles, gas cannons, plus armored vests, drones, and surveillance equipment. Between 2006 and 2014, this organization spent nearly $4.8 million to arm itself. Yet its aggressive weapons buildup has drawn almost no public attention. …It is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency of the US Department of Agriculture, that has built up such a formidable collection of munitions. And far from being an outlier, it is one of dozens of federal agencies that spends lavishly on guns, ammunition, and military-style equipment.

I guess the APHIS bureaucrats must run into ISIS terrorists. Or something like that.

But the more serious point, which Jeff astutely addresses, is whether militarized bureaucrats send the wrong message.

Between 2006 and 2014, the report shows, 67 federal bureaus, departments, offices, and services spent at least $1.48 billion on ammunition and materiel one might expect to find in the hands of SWAT teams, Special Forces soldiers — or terrorists. …the arms race has metastasized to federal agencies with strictly regulatory or administrative functions. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, now spends more than $1 million annually on firearms, ammunition, and military gear, double what it was spending a decade ago. Since 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs — which has been sharply criticized for episodes of fatal incompetence in patient care — has poured nearly $11.7 million into guns and ammo. …Incredibly, there are now fewer US Marines than there are officers at federal administrative agencies with the authority to carry weapons and make arrests. …this federal arsenal alarms Adam Andrzejewski, the head of American Transparency’s OpenTheBooks.com, which researched and assembled the new report. “Just who,” he asks, “are the feds planning to battle?”

As I said at the start of this column, I don’t think bureaucrats are “planning to battle” anyone.

But I am concerned that a bloated government with vast and growing powers is a recipe for an ugly and unfortunate encounters.

Especially when we have a tax code and regulatory apparatus that make all of us criminals even when we’re trying to obey.

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Whether they call it global warming or climate change, activists on the left are acting as if the issue is just an excuse to extort money and expand the power of government.

  • In Part I, I wrote about kleptocrats exploiting the issue to shake down western governments for enormous amounts of aid money.
  • In Part II, I noted how then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, using tens of billions of dollars from American taxpayers, wanted to bribe third-world governments into adopting anti-energy measures
  • In Part III, I explained how the Kyoto Protocol encourages the destruction of jobs in western nations.

Let’s now a fourth installment on how climate change is a racket.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a legal scam concocted by left-wing activists to extort money from Exxon.

A key meeting in the new push unfolded in January behind closed doors… The session brought together about a dozen people, including Kenny Bruno, a veteran of environmental campaigns, and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, two activists who helped lead the successful fight to block the Keystone XL pipeline. The new campaign’s goals include “to establish in public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm,” according to an agenda of the meeting… This new legal strategy stems in part from environmentalists’ frustration at what they see as the inadequacy of recent climate deals. Their hope is to encourage state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department to launch investigations and lawsuits that ultimately will change Exxon’s behavior, force it to pay big damages.

And the scam paid off, at least in the sense that a bunch of Democratic Attorneys General have launched a legal attack on the company.

In an article for the Daily Signal, Hans von Spakovsky explores the implications.

…we now have a new inquisition underway in America in the 21st century—something that would have seemed unimaginable not too long ago. Treating climate change as an absolute, unassailable fact, instead of what it is—an unproven, controversial scientific theory—a group of state attorneys general have announced that they will be targeting any companies that challenge the catastrophic climate change religion. …The inquisitors are threatening legal action and huge fines against anyone who declines to believe in an unproven scientific theory. Schneiderman and Kamala Harris, representing New York and California, respectively, have already launched investigations into ExxonMobil for allegedly funding research that questioned climate change.

By the way, one amusing and ironic aspect of this attempted shakedown is that some of the left-wing activists are asserting that scientists for the energy companies are smarter than the ones mooching from the government.

Writing for National Review, Rupert Darwall explains.

Was ExxonMobil better at climate science than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? This is the bizarre position now being adopted by climate activists such as Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes and 350.org’s Bill McKibben. As early as 1977, Exxon researchers “knew that its main product would heat up the planet disastrously,” McKibben claimed in the New Yorker last month. …Had Exxon been up-front about the dangers of global warming, we might have started to decarbonize decades ago, Oreskes argues. Instead, Exxon had behaved like tobacco companies who had “long delayed” public understanding by suppressing the truth about the deadly nature of their products.

But there’s one teensy-weensy problem with the tobacco company/oil company analogy.

Scientists were able to prove the threat to health from smoking because there is a very strong statistical relationship between smoking and lung cancer. The strength of those initial findings was further validated by passing a tough predictive test. In 1953, Richard Doll, one of the first researchers to have found the link, predicted that in 1973 there would be 25,000 lung-cancer deaths in Britain. In fact, there were 26,000. By contrast, climate models have been systematically over-forecasting temperature rises this century, demonstrating that climate scientists know much less about the climate system than they would have us believe.

Needless to say, if the models are wrong about the weather we’ve already had, why should we believe their future predictions?

And the climate alarmists certainly have a long track record of flawed pronouncements.

And suppression of inconvenient data.

By the way, just in case these legal scams don’t work, some statists want to take the threats to the next level.

In a modern-day version of the Church imprisoning Galileo, the self-styled Science Guy apparently doesn’t think much of open and honest inquiry. Here are some passages from a report in the Washington Times about Bill Nye refusing to reject jail time for skeptics.

Bill Nye “the science guy” says in a video interview released Thursday that he is open to the idea of jailing those who deviate from the climate change consensus. …“In these cases, for me, as a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen,” Mr. Nye said. “So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they’re pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussions like this.”

Local governments also are joining the campaign.

Fox News reports that the City of Portland wants to censor dissenting views on global warming.

The Portland Public Schools board voted last week to ban any materials that cast doubt on climate change, the Portland Tribune reported. According to the resolution passed May 17, the school district must remove any textbooks and other materials that suggest climate change is not occurring or that says human beings are not responsible for it. …One commenter to the Portland Tribune story responded to the news, saying, “I have never seen a case for homeschooling more clearly put forward. This is further proof that public schools are not interested in education, only political indoctrination.”

Unsurprisingly, the Obama Administration is intrigued anti-science shakedown. Though at least there’s some resistance from Capitol Hill, as reported by the Washington Examiner.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch must drop all efforts to prosecute climate change skeptics or risk engaging in “prosecutorial misconduct,” a group of Senate Judiciary Committee members warned. “As you well know, initiating criminal prosecution for a private entity’s opinions on climate change is a blatant violation of the First Amendment and an abuse of power that rises to the level of prosecutorial misconduct,” five lawmakers wrote to Lynch on Wednesday. …In March, Lynch told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that the FBI was considering whether it was possible to prosecute companies or groups that promoted climate change skepticism.

By the way, the fact that some leftists want to stifle dissent and redistribute money doesn’t mean global warming/climate change doesn’t exist.

Heck the climate never stops changing. And it may now be changing in part because of human actions.

That being said, I’m sure the right approach for dealing with climate change shouldn’t include central planning and other forms of statism.

I have a hard time accepting the policy prescriptions of people who are nutjobs.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, consider these examples.

Then there’s the super-nutty category.

So it’s understandable why sensible people reject the agenda of radical environmentalists, even if there is some man-caused global warming.

P.S. To close on an upbeat note, we have some decent environmentalist humor here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.S. On a more serious note, other governments also have moved to criminalize dissent.

P.P.P.S. According to the political betting markets, the most likely V.P. candidate for Trump has a very shaky history on the topic of climate alarmism.

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It’s that time of year. Those of us who wait until the last minute are rushing to get tax returns filed (or extensions submitted).

So it’s also a good time to remind ourselves that there is a better way.

Economists look at the tax system and focus on the warts that undermine growth.

Other people focus on the immorality of the tax code.

Most of these problems have existed for decades and are familiar to people who have the misfortune of working for tax reform.

But every so often, policy wonks like me get surprised because we find out that things are even worse than we thought.

For instance, here are some excerpts from a very disturbing article in The Hill about the IRS’s we-don’t-care attitude about fraudulent use of Social Security numbers.

…illegal immigrants…use other people’s social security numbers (SSNs) to get jobs and then file their taxes with their IRS-issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). Although the tax returns contain false W-2 information, the IRS continues to process them, and the agency does not notify the people whose SSNs were used. …Koskinen said that in such cases “it’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.” …Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.)…told The Hill on Friday that he was “shocked” and “horrified” by Koskinen’s response. …House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)…said Friday that Koskinen’s comments about illegal immigrants’ tax returns are “just one more example of why Koskinen is doing such a poor job and should be impeached.”

As a quick aside, I’d be very curious to get some confirmation about Commissioner Koskinen’s assertion that illegals are net taxpayers. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn instead that they are a net drain because of “earned income tax credit,” which is a form of redistribution that gets laundered through the tax code.

But setting that aside, it’s completely outrageous that the IRS doesn’t let taxpayers know that their Social Security numbers have been stolen.

Congressman Jordan (and George Will) are right. There should be consequences for a government official who treats taxpayers with contempt.

Though Koskinen does deserve some credit for honesty about tax reform, as reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told lawmakers on Wednesday that implementing a flat tax would be simpler than the current tax system and would save the agency a lot of money. …Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R., Mo.) asked Koskinen whether a flat tax policy would save the agency money. …”clearly if you had a two-page form or a one-page form where you got rid of all the deductions and everything else and people just paid…a flat tax…it would be simpler for taxpayers and it would be much simpler for us,” Koskinen said. …Luetkemeyer asked Koskinen for more specifics about how much of the IRS’ current budget of $11.2 billion could be saved if a flat tax were implemented. “…it would be a lot,” Koskinen said. “It’d clearly be a sea change, a difference in the way the place operates.”

To call the flat tax “a sea change” is an understatement. As explained in this video, research from the Tax Foundation shows that the compliance burden of the tax code would fall by more than 90 percent.

And the economy would grow much faster since a key principle of the flat tax is that revenue should be collected in the least-damaging manner.

Though if you’re worried that a flat tax is too timid and you would prefer no broad-based tax for Washington, Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute shared this wonderful image.

Which is why October 3, 1913 may be the worst day in American history.

Some people claim that it would be impossible to have a modern society without an income tax.

Well, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and Monaco are very modern, and all those jurisdictions enjoy great prosperity in large part because there is no income tax.

And we could enjoy the same freedom and prosperity in the United States. But only if we reduced the size of the public sector.

In other words, we could free ourselves of the income tax if we could somehow get rid of all the programs that were created once the income tax gave politicians a big new source of tax revenue.

The challenge is convincing politicians to give up their ability to buy votes with other people’s money.

Incidentally, this is why we should be stalwart in our opposition to the value-added tax. The experience with the income tax shows that politicians will expand the burden of government spending if they obtain any significant new source of revenue.

Let’s close with a somewhat amusing look at how tax compliance works in India. Here are some blurbs from a story in the Wall Street Journal.

For five years, real-estate developer Prahul Sawant ignored government orders to pay his taxes. Then the drummers showed up, beating their instruments and demanding he cough up the cash. Neighbors leaned out windows and gawked. Within hours, a red-faced Mr. Sawant had written a $945 check to settle his long-standing arrears. Shame is the name of the game as India’s local governments try new tools to collect taxes from reluctant citizens. …Thane’s municipal commissioner, Sanjeev Jaiswal, is resorting to public embarrassment of tax scofflaws. …Since the drummers started work early this year in this suburb of Indian commercial capital Mumbai, property-tax revenue has jumped 20%, said Mr. Jaiswal.

It’s also safer for the tax bureaucrats to rely on drummers.

Tax collectors in Vitawa-Kalwa are glad the drummers, and some security officers, are touring the neighborhood with them. “When the staff show up to collect tax alone, people get angry and beat them up,” said S.R. Patole, the assistant commissioner, who is responsible for revenue in the area.

And if drummers don’t work, the municipal commissioner has a back-up plan.

Mr. Jaiswal…plans to deploy groups of transgender women, known in India as hijras, to perform mocking dances to shame tax delinquents. Hijras are widely believed to be able to impose hexes.

I’ll have to add this story to my collection of “great moments in tax enforcement.”

For what it’s worth, I’m on the side of the taxpayers because of the Indian government’s legendary ability to waste money.

P.S. If you’re a late filer and need some humor to get through the day, here’s my collection of IRS-related jokes: A new Obama 1040 form, a death tax cartoon, a list of tax day tips from David Letterman, a cartoon of how GPS would work if operated by the IRS, an IRS-designed pencil sharpener, two Obamacare/IRS cartoons (here and here), a sale on 1040-form toilet paper (a real product), a song about the tax agency, the IRS’s version of the quadratic formula, and (my favorite) a joke about a Rabbi and an IRS agent.

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For all his faults, you have to give President Obama credit for strong convictions. He’s generally misguided, but it’s perversely impressive to observe his relentless advocacy for higher taxes, bigger government, more intervention, and limits on constitutional freedoms.

That being said, his desire to “fundamentally transform” the United States leads him to decisions that run roughshod over core principles of a civilized society such as the rule of law.

Consider, for instance, the Obama Administration project, known as “Operation Choke Point,” to restrict banking services to politically incorrect businesses such as gun dealers.

It doesn’t matter than these companies are engaged in legal activities. In pursuit of its ideological agenda, the White House is using regulatory bullying in hopes of getting banks to deny services to these businesses.

For more information, click here to read about recent efforts to end this thuggish initiative. Also, here’s a very short video explaining the topic.

Well, there’s an international version of Operation Choke Point.It’s called “de-risking,” and it occurs when banks are pressured by regulators into cutting off banking services to certain regions.

The Wall Street Journal has a column on this topic by two adjunct professors from Fordham Law School.

…a widespread trend in banking called “de-risking.” Reacting to pressure by various government regulators…, banks are rejecting customers in risky regions and industries. Throughout 2014 J.P. Morgan Chase dropped more than 100,000 accounts because they were considered risky… Between 2013 and 2014, Standard Chartered closed 70,000 small and medium-size business accounts, and ended hundreds of relationships with banks in Latin America and Central Europe. …In yet another form of de-risking, the European Central Bank reports that banks have steadily cut their correspondent relationships—that is, the other banks they work with in sending money around the globe. HSBC alone closed more than 326 correspondent bank accounts between 2010 and 2012. …the banks’ actions are understandable. They face unprecedented regulatory penalties, unclear legal standards, high litigation costs and systemic risks to their business. In 2012 HSBC settled with the Justice Department, paying $1.9 billion in fines for such failings as “ignor[ing] the money laundering risks associated with doing business with certain Mexican customers.” …A bank with a single mistaken customer relationship could be put out of business. Banks have concluded that they will be punished anytime money reaches criminals, regardless of their own efforts. It’s better to drop all supposedly risky customers.

The authors explain that there should be “safe harbor” rules to protect both banks and their customers. That’s a very sensible suggestion.

And there are easy options to make this happen. I’m not a big fan of the Financial Action Task Force, which is an OECD-connected organization that ostensibly sets money-laundering rules for the world. Simply stated, the bureaucrats at FATF think there should be no human right to privacy. Moreover, FATF advocates harsh regulatory burdens that impose very high costs while producing miserly benefits.

That being said, if a nation is not on the FATF blacklist, that should be more than enough evidence that it imposes very onerous rules to guard against misbehavior.

Unfortunately, bureaucrats in the United States and Europe don’t actually seem interested in fighting money laundering. Or, to be more precise, it appears that their primary interest is to penalize places with low tax rates.

Many Caribbean jurisdictions, for instance, are being victimized by de-risking even though they comply with all the FATF rules. And this means they lose important correspondent relationships with larger banks.

To address this issue, the Organization of American States recently held a meeting to consider this topic. I was invited to address the delegations. And since other speakers dealt with the specific details of de-risking (you can watch the entire event by clicking here), I discussed the big-picture issue of how low-tax jurisdictions are being persecuted by harsh (and ever-changing) demands. Here are my remarks, with a few of my PowerPoint slides embedded in the video.

Now for the most remarkable (and disturbing) development from that meeting.

Many of the Caribbean nations offered a rather innocuous resolution in hopes of getting agreement that de-risking is a problem and that it would be a good idea if nations came up with clear rules to eliminate the problem.

That seems like a slam dunk, right?

Not exactly. The U.S. delegation actually scuttled the declaration by proposing alternative language that was based on the notion that other countries should put the blame on themselves – even though these nations already are complying with all the FATF rules! You can read the original declaration and proposed changes by the U.S. by clicking here, but this is the excerpt that really matters.

Wow, what arrogance and hypocrisy by the Obama appointees. These jurisdictions, most with black majorities, are suffering from ad hoc and discriminatory de-risking because the Administration doesn’t like the fact that they generally have low taxes.

But rather than openly state that they favor discrimination against low-tax nations, the political hacks put in place by the Obama White House proposed blame-the-victim language, thus ensuring that nothing would happen.

P.S. Perhaps the most surreal part of the experience is the strange bond I felt with the Venezuelan delegation. Regular readers know I’m not a fan of the statist and oppressive government in Caracas. But the Venezuelan delegation apparently takes great pleasure in opposing the position of the U.S. government, so we were sort of on the same side in the discussion. A very bizarre enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend situation.

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While I’m a big fan of federalism, this isn’t because I have a starry-eyed view of non-Washington politicians. Of course there is plenty of grotesque misbehavior by state and local governments.

And it’s most troubling when it involves law enforcement and the legal system.

David French of National Review has a very powerful and compelling article about thuggery at the local level.

…my experience with small-town government…pushed me in a libertarian direction before I even knew what a libertarian was. The public schools were dreadful. Focused on patronage more than education, the school system was a public jobs program… Our local government’s core mission was dispensing favors. If you were part of the local elite, the normal rules of life simply didn’t apply. Speeding tickets? No problem. You need a conditional use permit? You got it! …if you were poor or lacked connections, “the rules” applied to you with a vengeance. After all, someone had to pay the city’s bills. There was no escaping speeding tickets, zoning officials were ruthless, and each interaction with the unyielding authorities carried with it the threat of immediate escalation, sometimes without justification.

Some of the folks who protest police mistreatment see the issue through the prism of race, but maybe the real problem is that cops are expected to generate revenue for local politicians.

…It is entirely possible to believe (as I do) that the evidence indicates that “hands up, don’t shoot” is a fiction, even a malicious fiction, while also believing that the evidence indicates that Ferguson’s government was corrupt in exactly the way that government is typically corrupt.  We often take for granted the rule of law. If you are blessed to live in a town where the officials are relatively clean, or if you’re among the class of people that officials fear to cross, then public institutions seem benign — helpful, even. But there are millions of our fellow citizens who live a different reality, under the authority of different kinds of public officials — officials who view them as virtual ATMs, regardless of their ability to pay. And when the government imposes that mindset on police officers, forcing men and women who are trained to respond to (and anticipate) the most violent incidents to essentially become the armed tax collectors of a corrupt system, then that government is unjust.

Amen. Eric garner is dead today because New York City has cops act as deputy tax collectors.

Speaking of mistreatment and abuse, Debra Saunders has a must-read account of California’s immoral system for pillaging drivers.

California is filled with people who are one traffic ticket away from losing their means of independent transportation. They get a ticket for a busted tail light or a small-change moving violation. On paper, the fine is $100, but with surcharges, it’s more like $490. People who cannot pay often do not show up in court — which drives up the cost. According to the Judicial Council of California, about 612,000 Californians have suspended driver’s licenses because they didn’t pay fines. In 2013, more people — 510,811 — had their licenses suspended for not paying fines than the 150,366 who lost their licenses for drunken driving. “For a lot of people, the car is the only asset they own in this whole damn world,” noted Mike Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. …“We’ve turned too many of the police into tax collectors and wonder why they don’t have strong relations with the community,” Norquist said.

This is disgusting, particularly because of how the system is a nightmare for poor people.

I’m about as far from an advocate of class warfare as is possible, but I can’t help but be sympathetic to the notion that traffic fines should be tied to income. Maybe if the middle class and the rich had to pay fines that confiscated huge chunks of their disposable income, there would be pressure to fix this horrid system.

And what’s really outrageous is how the government adds all sorts of fees to the cost of a ticket.

It’s deceptive advertising: a $100 fine fronts for an extra $390 in add-ons. The price tag can grow exponentially if unpaid and lead to losing one’s license. The penalty is harsh and crushing on the poor, but these fees also are undeserved for the middle class. If Sacramento wants to levy a $490 fine for moving violations, let lawmakers put honest numbers on their legislation — instead of pretending that the fine is $100. Alas, the Legislature has found that hidden fees are a handy way to finance the court system without voting to raise tax revenue. …If a private corporation advertised a $100 payment for something that really cost $500, California Attorney General Kamala Harris probably would go after the corporation for false advertising. If a credit card company boosted its fees the way the courts do, activists would call those practices usury. If the police yanked people’s driver’s licenses because they didn’t pay a $100 fine, the public would regard such a harsh penalty as excessive force. Yet Sacramento has codified a system that commits all three sins and it’s perfectly legal. Really, is there anything more brutal than government.

The good news is that the state is offering an amnesty, allowing some drivers the ability to clean up their record at a reduced cost.

But there’s a catch. You have to pay a hidden fee!

…there is a $50 amnesty program fee. That’s right — if you want to pay off unpaid traffic fines that have ballooned because of hidden fees, first you have to pay another…hidden fee.

I guess coughing up $50 is a good deal if that can reduce other fines by a greater amount, but isn’t this typical of government. Making you give them some money in order to give them more money.

Low-income communities also bear the brunt of dubious police tactics.

The Washington Post has an in-depth report on how cops are conducting raids against residences even in the absence of any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Sallie Taylor was sitting in her apartment in Northeast Washington one evening in January 2015 watching “Bible Talk” when…D.C. police officers smashed through her door, a shotgun was pointed at her face and she was ordered to the floor. …Taylor, a soft-spoken 63-year-old grandmother who was dressed in a white nightgown and said she has never had even a speeding ticket. The heavily armed squad thought they were searching the residence of a woman arrested two miles away the previous night for carrying a half-ounce vial of PCP. …The search warrant executed at Taylor’s apartment cited no evidence of criminal activity there. Instead, in an affidavit to a judge, police argued that they should be able to search for drugs there based on their “training and experience” investigating the drug trade. They relied on an address they found in a court-records system for the woman arrested with PCP.

In other words, the government can bust into someone’s home, notwithstanding the lack of any evidence, simply because some cop has a hunch based on “training and experience’?

I suspect America’s Founding Fathers would not be pleased with this reinterpretation of the Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from “unreasonable searches,” generally requiring government agents to obtain a warrant from a judge by showing they have probable cause to think that they will find a specific item at a specific location. In recent decades, police have been given wide latitude by the courts… Attorney Alec Karakatsanis, of the nonprofit group D.C.-based Equal Justice Under Law, said warrants that rely on training and experience as justification for a search subject the black community to abusive police intrusion based on flimsy investigative work.

To make matters worse, the government oftentimes doesn’t bother to confirm addresses before launching these raids.

Failure to properly verify an address led police to the home of Patricia Dandridge on Jan. 27, 2015. She returned from work to find her apartment in Southeast ransacked. The door was beaten in and her bed frame was broken, she said. Clothes and personal papers were strewn across the floor. “I thought I’d been robbed, but my neighbor told me it was the police,” said Dandridge, 45. …Three officers had forced their way in to look for firearms. They left empty-handed. The warrant was based on a drug complaint at a housing complex in Southeast more than five miles from Dandridge’s apartment, according to the affidavit police used to justify the search. …Palmer lived down the hall with his parents in Apartment 103. Dandridge lives in 102. “103 does not look like 102,” Dandridge said. The apartments are on opposite ends of the building.

Last but not least, Kevin Williamson weighs in at National Review with a withering look at police misconduct and corruption.

Is it really so difficult to believe that there is widespread wrongdoing, and widespread lying about it, among U.S. law-enforcement agencies, particularly those in big, Democrat-run cities infamous for the corruption of their other municipal institutions? Why do conservatives find it so plausible — obvious, even — that the IRS and the EPA and the Atlanta public schools are corrupt and self-serving, but somehow believe that the Baltimore police department isn’t?

He has lots of examples.

There are a great many investigations of police misconduct in Baltimore, where the local police behave more like the militia of a third-world warlord than a police agency. …Today, it is the Los Angeles sheriff. Before that, it was the Los Angeles Police Department, whose anti-gang task force became a rolling crime wave of its own, with 70 officers eventually implicated in unlawful shootings, bank robbery, drug dealing, theft, planting false evidence, framing suspects, destroying evidence of their wrongdoing and the usual perjury, perjury, and perjury. Then came Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, NYPD detectives convicted in 2006 on a raft of charges — racketeering, extortion, drug-dealing, murder and conspiracy to commit murder, running an illegal gambling ring, obstruction of justice — as part of a 20-year crime spree that ranged from New York to Las Vegas. …In Fairview, Tenn., a new police detective was just fired after responding to a prostitution ad. An NYPD officer was awarded $15 million in damages for being kidnapped and beaten inside his own home by other NYPD officers with a score to settle. Honolulu announced that in 2015 it fired a record number of officers for misconduct.

Corruption, malfeasance, and misbehavior seem to be a natural part of the system.

…facts suggest that our police departments have the same problems as our other government agencies, exacerbated by the fact that police are, inevitably, in the business of violence. It isn’t a few scattered misdeeds when it’s the NYPD, the LAPD, the Baltimore PD, the Los Angeles sheriff’s department, and more. That’s not a few bad apples — that’s the orchard. And it needs pruning.

Kevin’s argument is very compelling, particularly his appeal to conservatives about being skeptical of all parts of government at all times.

This is similar to the argument I made that it’s especially important to monitor and resist government wrongdoing when “the good guys” are in power.

In other words, calling for the elimination of the Department of Education or the Department of Housing and Urban Development while Obama is in office is (or should be) the easy part.

By contrast, fighting against such wasteful programs when Bush was in the White House was much harder. Many supposed fiscal conservatives suddenly went silent, and that sin of omission helps to explain why the burden of federal spending increased so rapidly.

Yes, police protection is a legitimate function of government, so the issue isn’t whether police forces should be abolished (though Camden, New Jersey, got good results by doing exactly that). But skepticism of police budgets and police behavior is still very appropriate. Indeed, one obvious takeaway from Kevin’s article is that it’s especially important for “law and order” conservatives to be vigilant to make sure police forces operate honestly and efficiently (thus making life easier for the majority of cops who simply want to do a good job and protect their communities).

And that also means getting rid of laws that don’t make sense.

Just as defense hawks should be the ones most critical of wasteful spending by the Pentagon or misguided military commitments by politicians.

P.S. You can enjoy some police-related humor here, here, and here.

P.P.S. And don’t forget cops generally are on the right side on guns.

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