Wednesday, June 29, 2011

America's bureaucratic oppressors

While 22-year-old Rory McIlroy was teeing up on June 16 during the first round of his historic victory at the U.S. Open, another drama unfolded outside Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

A Montgomery County inspector busted some kids for running a lemonade stand at which they were setting aside half the proceeds for pediatric cancer victims. The charge? No permit.

One of the dads involved got a $500 fine. After a TV station's tape of the bust went viral, the county backed off, canceled the fine, and let the kids set up on a side street. The children decided to donate the entire take to cancer kids.

Although it ended well, the incident became news because it illustrates how bureaucrats can abuse power and bully citizens – even kids.

Along the same lines, many Americans were outraged upon seeing footage in April of a Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) agent patting down a six-year-old girl at the New Orleans airport and an eight-year-old boy patted down in Portland (Oregon) International Airport.

But wait. TSA topped that in Kansas City, where they patted down an eight-month-old baby on May 7 after the infant's stroller caused the scanner to beep. A pastor, Jacob Jester, who was in line, snapped a photo, and Twittered it.

What got into those agents? As far as I can see from the picture, the baby was not dressed in a black burqa with a suspicious bulge, nor maliciously brandishing a bottle or pacifier. Jester, who said he respects the TSA for trying to ensure everyone’s safety, commented, "I'm not out to embarrass the TSA But I do believe there has to be a line drawn. I do not believe that an eight-month-old constitutes a security threat."

Public exposure and outrage is the best medicine for curbing overzealous bureaucrats. On June 22, the TSA said it would do less intrusive checks on children. This will reduce but not abolish such procedures. Wouldn't want al-Qaeda to get the green light to hot-pack the Pampers.

Another bureaucratic outrage is simmering in the Midwest, where a family has been threatened with a potential fine of $4 million for raising bunnies without permission from the federal government. Blogger John McCarty, who publishes on, has been following the story, abbreviated here:

John and Judy Dollarhite of Nixa, Mo. wanted to teach their teen-aged son about management, so they got a male and female rabbit in 2005 and let him sell the bunnies. In 2009, his parents paid him $200 for the business and took in about $4,600 a year selling bunnies.

Before you could say "What's Up Doc?" along came a woman from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who asked to inspect the operation, to which the Dollarhites say they readily agreed. The inspector found not only that they lacked a federal permit for selling more than $500 worth of rabbits in a year, but that the tidy, 30-inch by 36-inch cages were – wait for it – a quarter of an inch too small.

The FDA came back in January, 2010, and issued a warning. The case dragged on. On advice of an attorney, the couple went out of the bunny business, unloading their equipment on Craigslist. But the FDA sent them a certified letter in April 2011, assessing a fine of $90,643, which, if not paid, could result in civil fines of up to $10,000 for each violation (for about 390 bunnies sold), which adds up to $3.9 million. The FDA helpfully advised the couple to pay the $90,643 fine online with a credit card by May 23.

On May 25, at a rally outside the FDA's office in Ozark, Judy Dollarhite called the experience a "nightmare," telling the crowd that "it certainly wasn't what we expected when we got a few bunnies to try to teach our kid where money comes from, where food comes from, family farm values we grew up with." Here's the most chilling part. She said an FDA official told her by phone that even though they were out of business, the FDA was going to prosecute them anyway "to make an example of us."

Think about how often this happens with other federal agencies, such as newly empowered Environmental Protection Agency agents looking for carbon-related "crimes" and often dry "wetlands." Or Obama’s union-packed National Labor Relations Board, telling Boeing, Soviet-style, that it cannot operate a new airliner plant in right-to-work South Carolina.

The bunny saga is still unfolding, with the couple asking Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt to enter the fray. The FDA should back off, cancel the fine, and discipline any bureaucrat who abused this couple. This kind of thuggery should never be tolerated in a free country.

Let's all hope that reason prevails. From kid searches to lemonade stand shakedowns, bunny busts and EPA and NLRB goons, an informed, active citizenry and media exposure are crucial to thwarting tyranny.

Cutting back the deep, deep thickets of unconstitutional bureaucracy would be a more permanent solution.



Leftists hate the way the U.S. constitution hinders their power grabbing

Some clever people today ask whether the United States has really been "exceptional." You couldn't be more exceptional in the 18th century than to create your fundamental document -- the Constitution of the United States -- by opening with the momentous words, "We the people..."

Those three words were a slap in the face to those who thought themselves entitled to rule, and who regarded the people as if they were simply human livestock, destined to be herded and shepherded by their betters. Indeed, to this very day, elites who think that way -- and that includes many among the intelligentsia, as well as political messiahs -- find the Constitution of the United States a real pain because it stands in the way of their imposing their will and their presumptions on the rest of us.

More than a hundred years ago, so-called "Progressives" began a campaign to undermine the Constitution's strict limitations on government, which stood in the way of self-anointed political crusaders imposing their grand schemes on all the rest of us. That effort to discredit the Constitution continues to this day, and the arguments haven't really changed much in a hundred years.

The cover story in the July 4th issue of Time magazine is a classic example of this arrogance. It asks of the Constitution: "Does it still matter?"

A long and rambling essay by Time magazine's managing editor, Richard Stengel, manages to create a toxic blend of the irrelevant and the erroneous.

The irrelevant comes first, pointing out in big letters that those who wrote the Constitution "did not know about" all sorts of things in the world today, including airplanes, television, computers and DNA.

This may seem like a clever new gambit but, like many clever new gambits, it is a rehash of arguments made long ago. Back in 1908, Woodrow Wilson said, "When the Constitution was framed there were no railways, there was no telegraph, there was no telephone,"

In Mr. Stengel's rehash of this argument, he declares: "People on the right and left constantly ask what the framers would say about some event that is happening today."

Maybe that kind of talk goes on where he hangs out. But most people have enough common sense to know that a constitution does not exist to micro-manage particular "events" or express opinions about the passing scene.

A constitution exists to create a framework for government -- and the Constitution of the United States tries to keep the government inside that framework.

From the irrelevant to the erroneous is a short step for Mr. Stengel. He says, "If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it certainly doesn't say so."

Apparently Mr. Stengel has not read the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Does the Constitution matter? If it doesn't, then your Freedom doesn't matter.



Why rents are so high

A recent article in the Washington Post discussed the current cost of rental housing. The article, citing a Harvard study on the topic, claimed that 26% of all tenants spend more than half of their income on rent and utilities. That’s the highest percentage in the last 50 years!

The article attributes the shortage of low-cost rentals to two principal factors: The cutback in residential development due to the deterioration of the economy in 2009, and the claim – at least according to a report produced for Congress by the Obama Administration – that financing is more readily available for high-end rental properties.

The Harvard study, the Obama report, and the Washington Post all display an appalling ignorance of the real estate market – or worse, participation in a cover-up intended to (again) protect their the political allies responsible for this mess.

Here are some of the real reasons for the rental housing shortage:

1. Government at all levels meddles in the market, forcing anyone who wants to build rental housing to jump through endless hoops, thereby causing interminable delays.

2. All this meddling causes significant cost increases, only to drive up the construction cost of each unit and the resulting monthly rent for the tenant.

3. Governments charge excessive fees under the misguided notion that the “deep-pocket developer” is bearing the cost when it is actually the tenant who pays a higher monthly rent.

4. Governments demand that developers pay for unrelated city enhancements such as street lights or parks. These are nothing more than bribes paid to public officials to complete their pet projects; again causing the development cost – and the resulting monthly rent – to increase substantially.

5. In many areas, politicians appease their union friends by requiring work to be done at what is referred to as the prevailing wage (union wage levels), thus further exacerbating construction costs.

6. Governments impose price restrictions (rent control) on apartments, limiting the ability of a developer to generate sufficient revenue to justify a project.

The fact that the Obama Administration wasted money on a study to tell Congress that financing is only available for higher-end apartments just boggles the mind. Even novices in the housing market can identify the real culprit: Government has made affordable housing impossible to achieve – and therefore no responsible lender will finance these projects.

That is why the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LITHC) Program was established in 1986. This program utilizes private equity for the development of housing for low-income Americans, and today accounts for the vast majority of affordable housing developed in the U.S.

I recently spoke with Roger Davila, a developer I have known since my involvement with the LITHC program in 1992. Roger continues to this day to construct residential real estate for low-income Americans, but he has regrettably concluded that government wonks and politicians have twisted this program to once again make it difficult to develop any housing in a cost-effective manner.

The LITHC program was established by the federal government, is run by state governments, and requires that local government approve each project. Davila stated over the years, California State Treasurers (like other state treasurers) lowered the acceptable income level for potential renters, which (because of increased risk) resulted in a demand for additional financing by local redevelopment agencies. That just means more delays, more governmental oversight, and less ability to profitably produce quality affordable housing.

Davila also told me that construction and financing requirements have further impeded the prospect of getting a project off the drawing board and into the building stage. Requiring nicer projects with greater facilities may be admirable, but it costs money and limits the ability of a developer to make the project work economically. When local government forces you to include new social engineering programs – like after-school programs, ESL classes and computer training for seniors – you begin to wonder if “affordable” is actually in the terminology of the bureaucrats involved.

We have a significant housing problem in the United States. Most of it is caused by do-gooder politicians sticking their noses into an area where they have little or no knowledge, and imposing rules that undermine their actual objectives. If history repeats itself, future “solutions” will only involve more meddling and result in less affordable housing. That will only change when the American people get rid of professional politicians and bureaucrats, and assign the task to responsible adults who actually want to fix the problem.




Cluelessness continues at the TSA: "Yesterday, the TSA defended its patdown of 95-year-old cancer patient forced to remove her adult diaper as part of its enhanced search of what surely must have appeared a serious suspect to someone with no mother. The leukemia patient on her way to an assisted living facility not only had her adult diaper taken away, but as she had no spare, had to continue her journey wearing no underwear"

NJ: Christie Signs Pension and Health Reform Bill Into Law: "Gov. Chris Christie today signed into law controversial legislation that will force public employees to pay more for their pension and health insurance. Starting on Friday, public employees across all levels of government will pay an additional percent of their pay into the pension system. The legislation will save at least $132 billion dollars over the next 30 years. Christie said the legislation will not only save the state billions, but is an assurance to government workers that they will have a pension to collect when they retire.

Congress moves forward on free trade deals: "The Senate will officially take up three trade deals and a scaled-back version of a jobs retraining program for laid-off workers on Thursday. Senate negotiators will have to start pounding out the details of the trade deals, as well as funding for the jobs retraining program -- whose funding ran dry in February"

Paternalism and the drug war: "The U.S. Supreme Court has declared a California law banning the sale of violent videos unconstitutional. That’s fine, but how about going further and declaring laws banning the possession and distribution of illicit drugs by adults to be unconstitutional too? After all, if we’re going to treat minors like adults, what would be wrong with treating adults as adults too? Don’t drug laws treat American adults as little children?"


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


No comments: