Archive for the ‘US government’ Category

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More of that cult of the Presidency

January 16, 2016

David Harsanyi write a good column about executive overreach.

Obama’s Legacy is Executive Abuse

Over the winter break, I finally got around to binge-watching Parks and Recreation. In case you missed the show’s seven-year run, it’s about a fascistic small-town councilwoman who believes it’s a politician’s job to impose her notions of morality, safety and decency on everyone, no matter what voters want or what the system dictates. She is justifiably recalled by the people of her town after attempting to regulate portion sizes at fast-food restaurants but ends up running a federal office where she can do big things without the consent of the people.

Now, I realize that most of the show’s fans see the narrative in a vastly different light and the protagonist, Leslie Knope, as the sort of idealistic, compassionate and principled politician Americans should love. […]

When I got back from my winter vacation, America was still being run by a two-term president who believes it’s his job to impose his notions of morality, safety and decency on everyone, often trying to work around the limits the system places on him. This week, Barack Obama is going to institute new restrictions on Americans unilaterally—expanding background checks, closing supposed “loopholes” and tightening the process for law-abiding gun owners—because Congress “won’t act” and also because he believes it’s the right thing to do. Neither of those is a compelling reason to legislate from the White House.

Perhaps no post-World War II president (and maybe none before) has justified his executive overreach by openly contending he was working around the lawmaking branch of government because it had refused to do what he desired. Whether a court finds his actions constitutional or not, it’s an argument that stands, at the very least, against the spirit of American governance. Today many liberals call this “leadership.” […]

But more consequential—and this may be the most destructive legacy of the Obama presidency—is the mainstreaming of the idea that if Congress “fails to act,” it’s OK for the president to figure out a way to make law himself. Hillary Clinton’s already applauded Obama’s actions because, as she put it, “Congress won’t act; we have to do something.” This idea is repeated perpetually by the left, in effect arguing that we live in a direct democracy run by the president (until a Republican is in office, of course). On immigration, on global warming, on Iran, on whatever crusade liberals are on, the president has a moral obligation to act if Congress doesn’t do what he wants.

To believe this, you’d have to accept two things: that Congress has a responsibility to pass bills on issues important to the president and that Congress has not already acted.

In 2013, the Senate rejected legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases and to ban certain weapons and ammunition, and it would almost certainly oppose nearly every idea Obama has to curb gun ownership today. Congress has acted, just not in the manner Obama desires.

If President George W. Bush had instituted a series of restrictions on the abortion industry—seeing as it has a loud, well-organized and well-funded lobby that wants to make abortions “effortlessly” available—without congressional input, would that have been procedurally OK with liberals? You know, for the children? I don’t imagine so.

G.W. Bush was guilty of this too but Mr. Obama seems to be more brazen about it. And I don’t know which is worse, someone who does it on the sly or someone who rubs your nose in it.

Executive fiat isn’t a “party thing”: many politicians will try to work the angles regardless of their party affiliations. IMO, it’s an “uphold your oath of office thing.”

Congress should take it to the courts or, in flagrant cases, consider impeachment.

The scariest notion, as Harsanyi hints at, is that this type of thing is popular with the people who support the sitting president. It’s as though many people don’t get (or don’t care about) the way the U.S. Constitutional system was intended to work.

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Busted for Intent to Garden

December 29, 2015

Radley Balko writes about the surveillance state again.

Paul sends the link along with the comment, "This has to stop."

Federal judge: Drinking tea, shopping at a gardening store is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home

In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn’t find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of “personal use.” They found no evidence of any criminal activity.

The investigation leading to the raid began at least seven months earlier, when Robert Harte and his son went to a gardening store to purchase supplies to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a school project. A state trooper had been positioned in the store parking lot to collect the license plate numbers of customers, compile them into a spreadsheet, then send the spreadsheets to local sheriff’s departments for further investigation. Yes, merely shopping at a gardening store could make you the target of a criminal drug investigation.

More than half a year later, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department began investigating the Hartes as part of “Operation Constant Gardener,” basically a PR stunt in which the agency conducts multiple pot raids on April 20, or “4/20.” On several occasions, the Sheriff’s Department sent deputies out to sort through the family’s garbage. (The police don’t need a warrant to sift through your trash.) The deputies repeatedly found “saturated plant material” that they thought could possibly be marijuana. On two occasions, a drug testing field kit inexplicably indicated the presence of THC, the active drug in marijuana. It was on the basis of those tests and Harte’s patronage of a gardening store that the police obtained the warrant for the SWAT raid.

But, of course, they found nothing. Lab tests would later reveal that the “saturated plant material” was actually loose-leaf tea, which Addie Harte drinks on a regular basis. […]

DEA delenda est.


Update:

Orin Kerr (at the Volokh Conspiracy blog) writes a follow-up to Balko’s column. No, a federal judge did not rule that drinking tea and shopping at a gardening store amounts to probable cause.

Since I took Balko’s headline as hyperbole and since his column never mentioned such a ruling explicitly, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. But Mr. Kerr is keeping the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed for us.

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What he said (7)

December 24, 2015

Here’s a good article by John Stossel. RTWT.

Politicians Without Borders
Today’s politicians seem to have few limits.

When driving on treacherous roads, guardrails are useful. If you fall asleep or maybe you’re just a bad driver, guardrails may prevent you from going off a cliff.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel used the phrase “no political guardrails” to point out how many of today’s politicians seem to lack any constraints, any safeguards against their use of power. She’s onto something.

“Mr. Obama wants what he wants. If ObamaCare is problematic, he unilaterally alters the law,” Strassel writes. “If the nation won’t support laws to fight climate change, he creates one with regulation. If the Senate won’t confirm his nominees, he declares it in recess and installs them anyway.”

Hillary Clinton does it too. In fact, she promises that once she becomes president, that is how she will govern. If Congress won’t give her gun control laws she wants, she says she’ll unilaterally impose them. Likewise, if Congress rejects her proposed new tax on corporations , “then I will ask the Treasury Department, when I’m there, to use its regulatory authority, if that’s what it takes.”

Whatever it takes. So far, the public doesn’t seem to mind.

Donald Trump’s poll numbers go up after he promises “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” says that “there’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am,” says that he’ll make Mexico “pay for that wall” and so on.

Apparently lots of people like the idea of a big, strong mommy or daddy who will take control of life and make everything better. Constitutional restraints? They’re for sissies. We want “leadership”—someone “strong” to run America.

I don’t. I’m an adult. I don’t want to be “led.” I will run my own life. Also, a president doesn’t “run America.” The president presides over just one of three branches of government, and there are strict limits on what he can and should do.

The Constitution was written to limit political authority. Those limits left individual Americans mostly to our own devices, which helped create the freest and most prosperous country in the history of the world.

Now, advocates for both parties are off the rails. Some Republicans demand that the IRS audit the Clinton Foundation. Part of me wishes that it would. I suspect their foundation is largely a scam, a pretend charity that props up the Clintons’ egos and pays Hillary’s political flunkies. Heck, in 2013, it raised $144 million but spent only $8.8 million on charity!

Shut it down! But where are the guardrails here? As Strassel put it, “When did conservatives go from wanting to abolish the IRS to wanting to use it against rivals?”

Today, politicians act as if guardrails are just an annoyance. And they get rewarded for that. […]

I think Mr. Stossel nails it with the last two sentences above. Constitutional limits? Who needs ’em?

This article reminds me of Gene Healy’s Cult of the Presidency.


Update:
Here’s something John tweeted today. “What he said” for Mr. Read too.
stossel-quotes-read

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Faster, please (2)

November 27, 2015

Here’s an interesting article in today’s Washington Post.

The DEA has failed to eradicate marijuana. Now Congress wants it to stop trying.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is not having a great year.

The chief of the agency stepped down in April under a cloud of scandal. The acting administrator since then has courted ridicule for saying pot is “probably not” as dangerous as heroin, and more recently he provoked 100,000 petition-signers and seven members of Congress to call for his head after he called medical marijuana “a joke.”

This fall, the administration earned a scathing rebuke from a federal judge over its creative interpretation of a law intended to keep it from harassing medical marijuana providers. Then, the Brookings Institution issued a strongly worded report outlining the administration’s role in “stifling medical research” into medical uses of pot.

Unfortunately for the DEA, the year isn’t over yet. Last week, a group of 12 House members led by Ted Lieu (D) of California wrote to House leadership to push for a provision in the upcoming spending bill that would strip half of the funds away from the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Program and put that money toward programs that “play a far more useful role in promoting the safety and economic prosperity of the American people”: domestic violence prevention and overall spending reduction efforts. […]

Who knew the DEA had a special patch for this effort?
mj-eradication-eagle-has-landed

DEA delenda est!

H.T. USMP of Kentucky

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Know yer rights

October 10, 2015

I don’t know why, but I got a couple of links from Paul B this week related to rights when dealing with police officers in the US. (I hope this doesn’t mean that someone he knows has been busted.)

First he sent a link to this Fifth Amendment Flowchart by Nathaniel Burney. I’d never thought a lot about the topic — I haven’t needed to, luckily — but it surprised me how complicated dealing with the police could get when Miranda warnings and the Fifth Amendment are involved.

Then yesterday Paul sent a link to some podcasts made by folks at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. They’re a surprising resource to find. I hope their legal accuracy is as good as their convenience.

Continuing the 5th Amendment bit, I listened to the podcast titled Self Incrimination Roadmap. Not to take anything away from Mr. Burney’s excellent flowchart but I found the podcast a little easier to follow.

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Why we need limited government

October 4, 2015

Jeff sends a link to this documentary and writes, "I have to wonder how many examples there are across the nation where politicians and other guvmint [sic] officials illegally use the IRS to harass U.S. Citizens?"

It’s just shy of 30 minutes long.

I invite your attention to the 8:00 minute mark when an attorney named Mark Fitzgibbons says, "It started out as a good thing as you want local control over local issues. But you have people in county government who have all this power and no checks on their power. Of course they’re going to abuse it." (My emphasis.)

Well said, Mr. Fitzgibbons. Well said.

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More evidence for the limited-government argument

October 3, 2015

When government doesn’t have the power to "pick winners", it can’t practice cronyism. To use a recent example, how about Solyndra?

Why some billionaires are bad for growth, and others aren’t
Not all inequality is created equal

Over the past few decades, wealth has become more concentrated in the hands of a few global elite. Billionaires like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helú and investing phenomenon Warren Buffett play an outsized role in the global economy.

But what does that mean for everyone else? Is the concentration of wealth in the hands of a select group a good thing or a bad thing for the rest of us?

You might be used to hearing criticisms of inequality, but economists actually debate this point. Some argue that inequality can propel growth: They say that since the rich are able to save the most, they can actually afford to finance more business activity, or that the kinds of taxes and redistributive programs that are typically used to spread out wealth are inefficient.

Other economists argue that inequality is a drag on growth. They say it prevents the poor from acquiring the collateral necessary to take out loans to start businesses, or get the education and training necessary for a dynamic economy. Others say inequality leads to political instability that can be economically damaging.

A new study that has been accepted by the Journal of Comparative Economics helps resolve this debate. Using an inventive new way to measure billionaire wealth, Sutirtha Bagchi of Villanova University and Jan Svejnar of Columbia University find that it’s not the level of inequality that matters for growth so much as the reason that inequality happened in the first place.

Specifically, when billionaires get their wealth because of political connections, that wealth inequality tends to drag on the broader economy, the study finds. But when billionaires get their wealth through the market — through business activities that are not related to the government — it does not. […]

(My emphasis.)

I think we should to be a lot more jealous of our Constitutional prerogatives. How about enforcing 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.

To put perhaps-too-fine a point on it: constitutionally, the US government has no business concerning itself with funding basic scientific research, or with wealth inequality, or with any number of other things it does when those aren’t directly related to its role has protector and defender of the people.

And it shouldn’t matter what the policy wonks or special interests might think the government ought to be doing.

Via the always readable Coyote blog

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