Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Government is dangerous. Handle with care

by Jeff Jacoby

THERE IS NO connection, of course, between the prosecution of notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger and the recent spate of scandals and revelations roiling the Obama administration. Or is there?

Law enforcement and criminal justice are essential functions of government. No civilized society could survive for long if it lacked tools to combat lawlessness or make dangerous villains answer for their crimes. And Bulger was certainly dangerous — "one of the most vicious, violent criminals ever to walk the streets of Boston," as Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak called him in summing up for the prosecution last week.

But Bulger wasn't the only one on trial in Boston's federal courthouse. So was the government trying him. Bulger and his henchmen may have been the degenerates who physically committed the gruesome murders and other crimes that jurors learned about during 35 days of sometimes stomach-churning testimony. But it was other degenerates, in the FBI and the Justice Department, who for so long enabled Bulger's bloody mayhem. They enlisted Bulger as an informant, protected him from police investigations, and warned him to flee when an indictment was imminent. "If the FBI had not made Whitey its favorite mobster, broken the rules, and rigged the game to his benefit," reporter David Boeri has concluded, "Bulger would never have reached as high as he did."

The corruption of the federal government was a key element in Bulger's trial, as it was in so much of his sadistic career. Officials charged with defending the public from gangsters like Bulger used their considerable influence to defend the gangster instead.

It would be comforting to believe that this was a one-off, that law enforcement agencies never abuse their authority, that the immense powers of the federal government are always deployed with scrupulous integrity. But no one believes that.

As Bulger's racketeering prosecution was playing out in Boston, other stories of federal overreach, secrecy, and obstruction were making headlines: The scandal at the Internal Revenue Service, which for more than two years had targeted conservative grassroots groups for intimidation and harassment. The Justice Department's unprecedented designation of national-security reporter James Rosen as a "co-conspirator" in order to trawl through his personal email, and its surreptitious seizure of telephone records from up to 20 Associated Press reporters and editors. The disclosure that the National Security Agency's collection of domestic communications data is far more intrusive than was previously known, with the NSA reportedly collecting billions of pieces of intelligence from US internet giants such as Google, Facebook, and Skype.

President Obama insists that none of this should undermine confidence in the federal government. "You've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity," he told Ohio State's graduating class in May. "You should reject these voices."

At a press conference in June, he likewise assured Americans that they needn't worry about the NSA's vast data-mining operation being abused. "We've got congressional oversight and judicial oversight," he said. "And if people can't trust not only the executive branch, but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution and due process and the rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here."

According to Gallup, nearly half of Americans believe that the federal government "poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens." A Rasmussen Poll asks whether the NSA's metadata is likely to be used by the government to persecute political opponents; 57 percent say yes. Maybe we do have some problems here.

Or maybe Americans are remembering that government is always dangerous, regardless of the party in power. "If men were angels, no government would be necessary," James Madison famously wrote. Alas, men are never angels, not even those entrusted with political authority. "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

The Bulger trial, the IRS scandal, our gigantic surveillance state – they are only the latest reminders that even the best government in the world depends on human beings, with all their human vices and appetites. Politicians, regulators, and law enforcement agents are as capable of villainy as anyone else. Government is dangerous, and should always be handled with care.



More Americans Going Galt

President Obama promised he would unite the world…and he’s right.

Representatives from dozens of nations have bitterly complained about an awful piece of legislation, called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), that was enacted back in 2010.

They despise this unjust law because it extends the power of the IRS into the domestic affairs of other nations. That’s an understandable source of conflict, which should be easy to understand. Wouldn’t all of us get upset, after all, if the French government or Russian government wanted to impose their laws on things that take place within our borders?

But it’s not just foreign governments that are irked. The law is so bad that it is causing a big uptick in the number of Americans who are giving up their citizenship.

Here are some details from a Bloomberg report.

Americans renouncing U.S. citizenship surged sixfold in the second quarter from a year earlier… Expatriates giving up their nationality at U.S. embassies climbed to 1,131 in the three months through June from 189 in the year-earlier period, according to Federal Register figures published today. That brought the first-half total to 1,810 compared with 235 for the whole of 2008. The U.S., the only nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that taxes citizens wherever they reside.

I’m glad that the article mentions that American law is so out of whack with the rest of the world.

We should be embarrassed that our tax system – at least with regard to the treatment of citizens living abroad and the treatment of tax exiles – is worse than what they have in nations such as France.

And while there was an increase in the number of Americans going Galt after Obama took office, the recent increase seems to be the result of the FATCA legislation.

Shunned by Swiss and German banks and facing tougher asset-disclosure rules under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, more of the estimated 6 million Americans living overseas are weighing the cost of holding a U.S. passport. …Fatca…was estimated to generate $8.7 billion over 10 years, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

I very much doubt, by the way, that the law will collect $8.7 billion over 10 years.

And it’s worth noting that President Obama initially claimed that his assault on “tax havens” would generate $100 billion every year. If you don’t believe me, click here and listen to his words at the 2:30 mark.

So we started with politicians asserting they could get $100 billion every year. Then they said only $8.7 billion over ten years, or less than $1 billion per year.

And now it’s likely that revenues will fall because so many taxpayers are leaving the country. This is yet another example of how the Laffer Curve foils the plans of greedy politicians.

You may be tempted to criticize these overseas Americans, but I’ve talked to several hundred of them in the past few years and you can’t begin to imagine how their lives are made more difficult by the illegitimate extraterritorial laws concocted by Washington. Bloomberg has a few more details.

For individuals, the costs are also rising. Getting a mortgage or acquiring life insurance is becoming almost impossible for American citizens living overseas, Ledvina said. “With increased U.S. tax reporting, U.S. accounting costs alone are around $2,000 per year for a U.S. citizen residing abroad,” the tax lawyer said. “Adding factors, such as difficulty in finding a bank to accept a U.S. citizen as a client, it is difficult to justify keeping the U.S. citizenship for those who reside permanently abroad.”

Imagine what your life would be like if you had trouble opening a bank account of conducting all sorts of other financial activities. Things that are supposed to be routine, but are now nightmares.

I collected some of the statements from these overseas Americans. i encourage you to visit this link and get a sense of what they have to endure.

And then keep in mind that all of these problems would disappear if we had the right kind of tax system, such as the flat tax, and didn’t let the tentacles of the IRS extend beyond America’s borders.

P.S. Based on people I’ve met in my international travels, I’d guess that, for every American that officially gives up their citizenship, there are probably a dozen more living overseas who simply drop off the radar screen. Many of these people can’t afford – or can’t stand – to deal with the onerous requirements imposed by hacks, bullies, and lightweights in Washington such as Barbara Boxer.

P.S. Remember the Facebook billionaire who moved to Singapore to escape being an American taxpayer? Many of us – including me – instinctively find this unsettling. But if we believe that folks should have the freedom to move from California to Texas to benefit from better tax policy, shouldn’t they also have the freedom to move to another nation?

The same is true for companies.  If our tax law is bad, we should lower tax rates and adopt real reform.

Unless, of course, you think it’s okay to blame the victim.



Unions, Gov. Cuomo Protect State Workers Found Guilty of Abusing Disabled Patients

On Friday, The New York Times released a follow-up report, revealing that only 25% of NY state home-workers found guilty of abusing disabled and mentally ill patients are terminated from their positions.

The majority of workers found guilty of physical, sexual or psychological abuse receive written warnings, deduction of vacation days, or suspension; 25% of those found guilty are sent to other state-run homes.

The Time’s original investigation began over two and a half years ago, when they started exposing the quality of state-run care in over 2,000 New York homes for the disabled and mentally ill.

When Governor Cuomo (D-NY) was re-elected in 2010, he vowed to address this problem and make state workers more accountable. However, the review found “no discernible progress” made over the past two and a half years.

The cases uncovered by The Times are disturbing and truly harrowing. A few examples from the most recent report:

“One state worker bit a patient’s ear.

Another sent threatening text messages to a female co-worker, according to state records, including one that said: “I’m gonna gut you like a fish blondie. Don’t even try to call the police.”

A third, a nurse, left a patient naked and bleeding from a head injury on a bathroom floor, soaking in his own feces.

And a fourth knocked a group home resident out of a chair, hit the resident on the back of the head and squirted water from a bottle in the resident’s face.”

All of these employees were found guilty in internal disciplinary hearings; none of the employees were fired.

Why do 75% of state-workers found guilty of abuse retain their jobs? Why hasn’t Governor Cuomo come to the defense of the disabled and mentally ill?

The answer is (tragically) not surprising—the toxic relationship between left-leaning government officials and the public employee unions has protected abusive state-workers from getting fired or facing prosecution.

According to The Times, state employees working is disabled homes are rarely fired due to:

“Weaknesses in the arbitration process, the permissive attitude of state officials and the aggressive stance of public sector labor unions — particularly the Civil Service Employees Association.”

They also noted that, “one reason for the low dismissal rate is the wide latitude given to arbitrators who decide many cases, and who have a history of siding with the union.”

That’s right, The Civil Service Employees Association, one of the most powerful public employee unions in Albany, “(contests) just about every charge leveled at a worker… (creating) a system in which firings of even the most abusive employees are rare.” The union’s cozy relationship with government officials and arbitrators prevent state reform that would benefit the vulnerable and victimized, and ensure that public employees found guilty of violent crimes are never fully reprimanded for their actions.

By the way--Governor Cuomo struck a deal with the CSEA six months after he was re-elected on the platform that he would address the issue of abuse. The deal included “CSEA protection from broad layoffs,” as well as the implementation of a new “Select Panel on Patient Abuse” to specifically protect the disabled and mentally ill. Two years later, CSEA employees have avoided layoffs, and the man appointed by Cuomo to lead the Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs has a record of lobbying against employee accountability, and actually “lobbied against Jonathan’s Law, the legislation that forced the state to start disclosing abuse reports to parents, named after a teenager with autism who died after being asphyxiated by a state worker.” Meanwhile, the record for firing employees guilty of abuse remains at an abysmal 25%.

I wonder who got the better end of that ‘deal?’


There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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