In a famous case of overreaching, federal agents twice raided the renowned Gibson guitar company of Nashville, TN, for supposed violations of laws of Madagascar and of India. Madagascar and India had actually approved the export of the wood in question, but the feds were operating on the basis of their own interpretation of those foreign laws.
Curiously enough, the Martin guitar company, which uses exactly the same woods, but which donated money to democrat candidates was never bothered. Gibson’s CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was in the habit of making donations to Republican campaigns.
Though firmly asserting its innocence, the Gibson company ultimately concluded that it could not afford to spend millions of dollars fighting the case and settled, paying a $300,000 fine and contributing $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation “to promote the conservation of protected tree species.”
The feds sanctimoniously kept the Madagascar ebony in question, contending that Madagascar officials were “defrauded” by a local exporter about the nature of the product. But Gibson did get back all the seized Indian rosewood.
Gibson is commemorating its own persecution by producing a special “Government Series II Les Paul” model celebrating the return of its materials, complete with “fingerboards… made from solid rosewood returned to Gibson by the US government.”
This week Gibson has announced the “Government Series” of guitars, to celebrate the end of its tussle with the eager enforcers of the U.S. Customs Department.
It’s a series of guitars made, purportedly, with the very same wood that was seized by the United States government, which was later returned at the end of the fiasco.
Ladies and gentlemen, Here’s a photo of the Gibson Les Paul Government Series II. The body is painted in a custom color the company has named “Government Tan”—suitably drab—a nod to the joyless reality of living under the heavy thumb of stifling bureaucracy.
Ol’ Remus predicts what life will soon be like here on the farm.
There’s a rabid raccoon circling your livestock.
You go to your gun safe and enter your sixty-digit code, press the fingerprint-verification pad, put your eye to the retina reader, wait for the Instant Background Check, open the safe and get out the .22 single shot rifle, unlock the child safety lock and remove it, install the bolt in the rifle, take two rounds of ammo from your legal nine round supply, chamber the legal maximum of one round, enter the serial numbers of both rounds and their removal time on your web-based log. You close the gun safe, reactivate all the security and run out the door.
You dispatch said rabid raccoon. He was moving slow.
Back to the gun safe, enter your code, fingerprint pad, retina reader, open the safe, remove the bolt and store it, reinstall the child safety lock and replace the rifle, log the replacement time, verify the serial numbers of the expended rounds and close the gun safe. Then down to the State Police to turn in the fired cases, get fingerprinted, get a blood test and have an ankle bracelet installed.
Next day an official container arrives. You take the required raccoon parts from your freezer and the twelve-page notarized incident report, attach photos, an annotated map, your blood test results, the standard request for two rounds to be credited to your ammo allotment, and send it all in. Your ankle bracelet won’t be removed and your gun safe won’t be reopened until the incident report is approved. It’s just common sense.
Your case involves the taking of a cute animal for non-game purposes and so it wends its way through local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies. A hearing is scheduled requiring your presence at a city three hundred and eighty miles away. Your name is now on the no-fly list so you drive. You make your case to the review board.
Try walking into a government building these days, and you’ll meet them.
In one of his best essays, Dan Greenfield, last year, explains how far we have come from the free country invented by the framers. Today’s America is a socialist, paternalist, dirigiste, thoroughly-regulated bureaucracy and police state, in which your personal habits and bank account are public property and in which you need to be searched regularly.
The average American still holds the fanciful belief that, if he isn’t annoying anyone, he should be left alone. To the people running his country, this is as bizarre and unworkable as Phrenology or the Geocentric theory or handing out universal health care without also compelling everyone to buy it.
This is not a nation where people are left alone anymore. This is a nation where they are hounded from the moment they are born until the moment they die by the arms of a regulatory state run by men and women weaned on Cleaver, Alinsky, Fourier, Marx, Wells and countless others. This is a nation where, accordingly, being left alone is the greatest of luxuries.
It takes a lot of money to be left alone. Regulatory space is much more expensive than physical space, and buying it requires investing in lobbyists, fundraisers and lawyers. If you make the right payoffs, then you can buy the privilege of being left alone, exempted from regulations, going uninspected and protected against the agents of the state. But once you do that, you are no longer neutral. You have bought yourself the privilege of not being considered the problem; instead, you have become part of the solution for the people you are paying off.
The Americans bushwacked by ObamaCare, the scam artist’s dream of a tax paid to a third-party in exchange for benefits accrued to a fourth party, still thought they had the freedom to take the middle, to despise meddling politicians in both parties, ignore most things the government did, while living their own lives. They had seen their savings devalued, their homes seized, their lives bedeviled by a thousand regulations, but they still thought that it was possible to take a middle-ground, to reject the solutions by asserting that they are not the problem.
They did not understand that in Cleaverland, in Alinskytown and in Obamaville—no one opts out. Either you volunteer of you get drafted. Raise your hand or you will be called on anyway. Not volunteering to be part of their agenda means that you are the problem.
You, sitting right there in your chair, watching these words move across your screen, are the problem. A problem 311,591,917 human souls strong. You eat too much or you don’t pay enough taxes, you drive your car too often, you haven’t bought solar panels for your roof, you browse extremist websites when you should be browsing government informational sites for tips on how to do or not do all of the above. But most of all… you still don’t understand what a great problem you are for the people running this country into the ground between the Atlantic and the Pacific. They keep trying to solve you, but you don’t go away.
There is no neutrality when dealing with people who reject the very concept of neutrality. Who draw everyone into the long columns of their spreadsheets and catch everyone in their spider’s web. There is no middle ground with people who don’t believe there is a middle ground, who believe that every human on earth is part of the problem and can only opt out of being the problem by joining up with them and following their directives.
That is what we are up against. We confront the Great Solvers of the Human Problem who are determined to arrange everyone and everything to their liking. They began by controlling everything that people did. Now, they have moved on to controlling what people don’t do. If you live, if you breathe, if you stir, move your muscles, track moving objects with your eyes, then there are obligations imposed on you.
ObamaCare is one of the final declarations that there is no opting out. Even if you don’t drive, own a home, own a business, own a dog, or do one of the infinite things that bring you into mandatory contact with the apparatus of your local, semi-local, trans-local, national or global government, you are committed to a task from maturity to death. Your mission is to obtain health insurance, and, in a system in which you become the ward of the government as soon as you taste air, it is the price that you pay for being alive.
In a free country, you are not obligated to do things simply for the privilege of breathing oxygen north of the Rio Grande and south of Niagara Falls. But this isn’t a free country anymore; this is a country in which you get things for free. And there is a big difference between those two things.
The 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air was a no frills model which cost a mere $2500.
My dad bought one of the above Chevrolets brand new in 1960. He eventually passed it along to me and it was still running in 1971 with 150,000 and I got something like $500 for it when I sold it upon returning to Yale.
In the pre-WWII period, you could go to Morris Garages (MG) in Oxford, England and have a custom automobile, your choice of engine, your choice of body run up for you.
Eric Peters explains how it came about that today’s automobiles cost more than working men’s houses did when I was a boy, and why buyers’ choices shrink every year. Our most recent BMW came lacking any sort of spare tire whatsoever. Someone in the federal bureaucracy decided that you could always just phone for roadside assistance when you got a flat and thought that eliminating the spare tire would reduce automobile’s rolling weight and save energy. “So let it be written, so let it be done.” Auto companies, like BMW, happily clicked their heels, fell into line, and stopped providing spare tires.
In this economy, can anyone seriously doubt that there is a market for simple, reliable – and inexpensive – transportation?
In any case, why not let the market operate? Why not allow (god, how I hate that term) Tata or Cherry (or whomever) to offer their basic, low-cost cars for sale here – and see whether people are interested?
You and I know why this will not be allowed, of course. Precisely because people would buy such cars – and that would impose pressure on the industry at large to simplify their offerings, too – and reduce the cost.
Can’t have that.
It is critical to keep people perpetually in debt. Why allow them to buy a new $6,000 car outright – or pay it off in two or three years (as was common once – and within living memory of any person older than 40) when you can effectively force them to buy a $30,000 car (the average price paid for a new vehicle as of last year) and sign them up for 5 or 6 years of payments? And force them to spend $1,000 annually to insure it, too?
That’s the truth of the thing.
It’s not about “safety” – or any other such altruistic palaver.broke picture
It is about power – control.
And, of course, money.
I’ve written about air bags before. Classic example, so worth repeating. They were first put on the market – in the early-mid 1970s by both GM and Chrysler – as optional equipment that people could buy. Or not.
Most people chose not to buy.
Not because they were cavalier risk junkies – as people such as myself are often characterized by the Air Bag Nazis. But simply because the cost of the air bags was prohibitive. They added as much to the bottom line price of a car (this is back in the ’70s) as air conditioning did – and AC was just about the most expensive option you could buy in those days.
So, they failed in the marketplace. Which is why the car companies worked with the government to see them made mandatory. Now you cannot say no to air bags. And to many other “features” you may not want in a car. These features are not necessarily bad. The question is – or ought to be: Can you afford them? Many people cannot. Hence the now-common six-year payment plan. Soon – count on it – to be expanded to seven years.
Then eight. ...
The problem is most people are not outraged about this. They don’t seem to mind being told what they’ll buy – nor how much they’ll pay for it. They’d probably be annoyed if their next door neighbor marched over one day and told them they had to drive this type of car – and weren’t going to be allowed to drive that type of car. Their first reaction would be open-mouthed bewilderment. Their second reaction would be: Who the hell do you think you are? And then: Get the hell off my property – and mind your own business.
And yet, most people will accept the same damn thing when it’s done at once or twice remove, by “regulation” and in a city, far, far away.
This has been a building concern and certainty for me, that liberty and civilization are incompatible. That the more comforts, ease, and safety you get from civilization, the more liberty you must surrender. That the first casualty of civilization are the virtues that enabled the civilization to build and prosper to begin with. That the social contract moves too far into the shared benefits and safety and too far away from the liberty all men are born to, as time goes on.
A hundred years ago you might have been shot for suggesting you couldn’t build a campfire on the beach. Now people are surprised you can even attempt it. A hundred years ago all you needed to start a business up was the ambition and cash to do so, now you can’t even begin to plan it without consulting the government for permission, licensing, and tribute paid to the proper authorities.
We’ve become so steeped in this life, we don’t even notice what would have caused John Adams to go berserk.
This article by Jonathan Turley puts the impact of the rise of the Progressive Administrative State into perspective.
For much of our nation’s history, the federal government was quite small. In 1790, it had just 1,000 nonmilitary workers. In 1962, there were 2,515,000 federal employees. Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.
This exponential growth has led to increasing power and independence for agencies. The shift of authority has been staggering. The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.
The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.
This rulemaking comes with little accountability. It’s often impossible to know, absent a major scandal, whom to blame for rules that are abusive or nonsensical. Of course, agencies owe their creation and underlying legal authority to Congress, and Congress holds the purse strings. But Capitol Hill’s relatively small staff is incapable of exerting oversight on more than a small percentage of agency actions. And the threat of cutting funds is a blunt instrument to control a massive administrative state — like running a locomotive with an on/off switch.
The autonomy was magnified when the Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that agencies are entitled to heavy deference in their interpretations of laws. The court went even further this past week, ruling that agencies should get the same heavy deference in determining their own jurisdictions — a power that was previously believed to rest with Congress.
In the oligarchy the wealthy form a natural aristocracy, but it isn’t an aristocracy of talent, it’s the accretion of closeness to power. This aristocracy changes in composition with revolutions, but its nature remains the same. It is a collection of the people with the best lobbyists, the best bribes and the closest cultural ties to whoever is in power. Any member of the oligarchy can have his wealth and influence stripped away in minutes at the behest of the regime.
Even as American Exceptionalism declined, the remaining free enterprise aspects of the country kept the American Dream alive. For a while that American Dream, the ability to enter the country and move up the economic ladder became the sum of the nation. Generations of politicians reduced the meaning of the United States to a nation of immigrants where any new arrival could launch his own business and make money.
The rise of the oligarchy is foreclosing that dream leaving only the nation of immigrants struggling within a complicated political hierarchy for government handouts from a political movement that denounces some tycoons at the behest of other tycoons. It’s the oligarchy at war for control of the dead present, even as it kills the past and the future to accommodate its plans.
It is the end of America and the rise of an Obamerica. Obamerica will still have great reserves of wealth, but on average it be far poorer and far less productive.
Obamerica will be known as a party country, a good place to buy the good things if you are one of the sons of the rich or are a tourist from a rich country. Obamericans will be described as sensuous and spontaneous pleasure-loving people. Obamerican cities will be violent, dangerous and exciting places full of decadence. Its slums will be full of drug dealers and child prostitutes. Most Obamericans will not believe in the future, but will cheerfully accept the misery of the present. They will hate the rich, but long to be in their place so that they can stomp on the poor. The old prosperous nation will be gone and in its place will be the oligarchy.
Roger Kimball lives in one of the Fairfield County, Connecticut towns bordering Long Island Sound, and his neighborhood was hit by Sandy. He has to repair his home, and consequently ran into the nightmare regime of building codes and zoning regulation that prevails everywhere in developed portions of America.
Our first exposure to the town zoning authorities came a couple of weeks after Sandy. We’d met with insurance adjusters, contractors and “remediation experts.” We’d had about a foot of Long Island Sound sloshing around the ground floor of our house in Connecticut, and everyone had the same advice: Rip up the floors and subfloors, and tear out anything—wiring, plumbing, insulation, drywall, kitchen cabinets, bookcases—touched by salt water. All of it had to go, and pronto, too, lest mold set in.
Yet it wasn’t until the workmen we hired had ripped apart most of the first floor that the phrase “building permit” first wafted past us. Turns out we needed one. “What, to repair our own house we need a building permit?”
Before you could get a building permit, however, you had to be approved by the Zoning Authority. And Zoning—citing FEMA regulations—would force you to bring the house “up to code,” which in many cases meant elevating the house by several feet. Now, elevating your house is very expensive and time consuming—not because of the actual raising, which takes just a day or two, but because of the required permits.
Kafka would have liked the zoning folks. There also is a limit on how high in the sky your house can be. That calculation seems to be a state secret, but it can easily happen that raising your house violates the height requirement. Which means that you can’t raise the house that you must raise if you want to repair it. Got that?
One day, while I was still living on the SF peninsula in San Carlos, I went outside to get something from my car, and the pretty Oriental young lady who lived in the house across the street (whose name I did not even know, we had only been on waving-hello terms) ran crying into my arms.
She and her husband, a silver-haired, distinguée executive-type who drove an S-class Mercedes, had purchased the typical run-down 1960s-era California spec house across the street from our rental for something north of a cool million. They then proceeded to gut snd completely rebuild the place. Construction activity had been going for about two years, and seemed finally to be nearing completion. I thought these neighbors seemed likely to be about to take up residence just about the same time I was scheduled to depart.
My neighbor began sobbing out her story. A building inspector from the city of San Carlos had just left. He had disapproved of the nails used to attach the wire-mesh to the outside of the house which had already been covered with stucco cement and painted. Because the city didn’t like the contractor’s choice of nail, my neighbors were going to have to give up plans to move in. They would be obliged to tear off the entire new exterior surface of their house, and re-attach new wire mesh and stucco, and paint the whole thing all over again. It would take months to do the demolition and exterior covering again, and it would cost a lot of money.
Beyond the many tens of thousands of dollars all that extra construction was going to cost, they’d have to do an additional move (their lease was up) and pay thousands of unnecessary dollars a month for another rental house. My neighbors had been hit with six figures in extra expenses by the local building code enforcement system over a nail.
No wonder the poor girl was sobbing. She probably felt a lot like Richard III.
In all the suburban enclaves of the community of fashion, layers of officials have erected regulatory empires funded by the tax dollars of the generally oblivious ordinary citizen. No rational person would buy a home burdened with exorbitant levels of taxation which he can only actually use with the grudging permission of hostile and tyrannical officialdom, but one always discovers the character of one’s place of residence too late.
Really, the best choice is the complete reverse of what most people desire. Instead of living in the most toney neighborhood, surrounded by affluent neighbors with prestigious careers and elite educations, you want to live in a rural township: the kind of place lacking in prestige, fashionability, and good restaurants, where your neighbors are all rednecks and poor. That kind of township will have next to no government, taxes will be extremely low, your neighbors will be friendly, and you can hire labor at cheap rates.
The saga now playing out in La Jolla Cove is the epitome of regulatory stupidity. In a rocky area by the cove once open to people but now fenced off for safety reasons, the feces of cormorants and seagulls just keeps piling up, generating a stench that can carry as far as a mile. Dry conditions, a hot summer and other factors have made this a gross everyday problem for the cove area, not an occasional annoyance.
So why can’t city work crews simply take care of the problem? Why can’t biodegradable cleaning products be used to make the stench disappear, as suggested by San Diego Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who represents the area? Why can’t any reason or common sense come to the fore?
Because of complex environmental rules stemming from the cove’s designation as a state-protected “Area of Special Biological Significance.” Officials say it could take two years to get various state agencies to OK cleaning procedures.
George Savage explains the “heads, we win; tails, you lose” character of liberal statism.
Nowadays in America, statists win even when they lose. More specifically, under our dominant cultural assumptions the failure of any left-liberal policy leads, inexorably, to its entrenchment and expansion.
For the Left, this is a feature not a bug.
The most striking example is public education, where a nationwide left-liberal apparatus directs a producer-centric system that delivers an objectively awful product at absurd cost. Our exquisite political sensitivities limit the mainstream debate to the input function: more resources, smaller class sizes, additional teachers’ aides. When education funding is increased, dues skimmed from union paychecks entrench leftist politicians responsible for the failing status quo. Win win.
As they say on late night television, “But wait, there’s more.” Sustaining an incompetent educational system yields a multiplier effect: the formation of poorly educated citizens ill-equipped to challenge misinformation and outright lies from their rulers. This is how, only thirty years after the Reagan Renaissance, Barack Obama could claim financial crisis and recession resulted from laissez faire government circa 2007. He was confident that a majority of voters would be ignorant of the facts. And he was correct.
He mentions Obamacare, but neglects to note that health care reform was advanced to solve the problem of out-of-control health services costs, and those extraordinary costs really came about as the result of cost transfer billing in response to Medicare price controls. Government intervention creates the problem, so you get an even greater government intervention in response to “the free market’s failure.”
The sound and fury will be over big fights on taxes and spending. They will look like replays of the last four years and not end up accomplishing much. The big changes to our economy will be the metastatic expansion of regulation, let by ACA, Dodd-Frank, and EPA. There will be no change on our long run problems: entitlements, deficits or fundamental reform of our chaotic tax system. 4 more years, $4 trillion more debt.
Why? I think this follows inevitably from the situation: normal (AFU). Nothing has changed. The President is a Democrat, now lame duck. The congress is Republican. The Senate is asleep. Congressional Republicans think the President is a socialist. The President thinks Congressional Republicans are neanderthals. The President cannot compromise on the centerpieces of his campaign.
Result: we certainly are not going to see big legislation. Anything new will happen by executive order or by regulation. ...
[T]he unfolding of regulation will be the big story. It is news to most Americans, but the ACA and Dodd-Frank are not regulations written in law. They are mostly authorization to write regulations. They are full of “the secretary shall write rules governing xyz” with a timetable. Most of that timetable starts today, November 7 2012. You don’t have to think the administration is a bunch of willy nilly regulators to foresee a metastatic expansion of regulation. You just have to look at the time-table of regulations already legally mandated and pending.
I fished around a little on the net. The EPA has regulations under development that by its own estimates will cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year. I’m all for clean air, but there is a question of just how clean and at how much cost. ...
In the year 2012, the Lord came unto Noah, Who was now living in the USA and said:
“Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me.”
“Build another Ark and save 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans.”
He gave Noah the blueprints, saying:
“You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights.”
Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard – but no Ark.
“Noah!,” He roared, “I’m about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?”
“Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed.”
“I needed a Building Permit.”
“I’ve been arguing with the Coast Guard about the need for a sprinkler system.”
“My neighbors claim that I’ve violated the Zoning Regulations by building the Ark in my back garden and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the Planning Committee for a decision.”
“Then the Town Council and the Power Company demanded a shed load of money for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark’s move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it.”
“Getting the wood was another problem. There’s a ban on cutting local trees in order to save the Spotted Owl.”
“I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls – but no go!”
“When I started gathering the animals the SPCA took me to court. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodations were too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in
a confined space.”
“Then the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that I couldn’t build the Ark until they’d conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood.”
“I’m still trying to resolve a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission on how many minorities I’m supposed to hire for my building crew.”
“The Immigration and Naturalization Department is checking the Visa status of most of the people who want to work.”
“The trades unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to hire only Union workers with Ark-building experience.”
“To make matters worse, the IRS seized all my assets, claiming I’m trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.”
“So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark.”
“Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.”
Noah looked up in wonder and asked, “You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?”