David Hines
Cents of entitlement
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By David Hines
March 30, 2010

Some items, both new and not so new, have come to my attention recently. At first glance they may seem unrelated, but if one takes a step back they start to add up.

Ben Bernanke has called for more regulation of banks by the Fed. This can't make much sense even to Helicopter Ben. Bernanke has demonstrated a distinct lack of predictive ability. He was saying that everything was fine in banking and mortgages, as little as a month before they were deemed disastrous. Given further regulatory power, there is little reason to believe that it would be used wisely to prevent further problems. More power doesn't come with a grant of prescience — a quality in which Ben and his Fed cohorts have been severely deficient.

California issues protected license plates to selected government workers, originally police and prosecutors. Those driving a vehicle with with such plates, including family members, have been granted de facto immunity to some laws. They zip with impunity through camera-controlled red lights. Parking tickets are often dismissed because of the difficulty in piercing the shield law. Police officers sometimes let speeding violators off with a warning, viewing the driver as a member of an elite club.

The original intent of such laws was to prevent felons from getting the home address of a law enforcement officer and seek retaliation. That reason has ceased to exist; The California DMV long ago stopped releasing such information to the public on any driver at all. Yet protected plates thrive. Ever more state officials have been included in the program — 22 million of them. Measures to expand the program typically pass without opposing votes.

At a time when many people are losing jobs and homes, government employees — federal, state, and local — are getting raises and increasing entitlements. Towns have been bankrupted by government employee benefit packages. Those few still working and those few still owning homes must be taxed more to get less, as budgets are skewed toward greater employee benefits and away from public services.

Asset forfeiture has been a cash cow for police departments. Cops are very often expected to augment their budgets in this manner, leaving more money for other priorities — such as government employee benefits. Confiscated money has gotten cops more than cars and guns; it's funded trips, seminars, and in one reported case an espresso machine.

While some states earmark forfeiture funds for specific purposes, there are ways around the requirement. For example, rather than do the deed themselves, local police cooperate with the feds, who return part of the forfeiture proceeds to the local department. Since the DEA rather than the local cops did the confiscation, state law doesn't apply.

Is a profit motive really good for law enforcement? In one documented case cops preferred not to confiscate drugs, but rather to let the deal go down. Drugs made it onto the street, but the police got higher forfeiture proceeds, in cash.To get back assets confiscated by the DEA, the goods had better be worth more than $25,000. The cost of the proceedings and lawyer fees would eat up anything less. A lot of private possessions can be taken with impunity, knowing that the confiscatees won't find it worthwhile to pursue justice.

People speak of a two-tiered society — corporate officers and ordinary people. It's not quite so simple. There are revolving doors between the boardroom and government bureaucracy, and between Congress and the lobbyist's office. To expect government officials to cut the strings of their own golden parachutes is patently a losing proposition.

The real divide is between government employees and the rest of us. Inside the Beltway they consider themselves to be our rightful lords. Like a medieval baron demanding the right of primae noctis with a peasant's blushing bride, they feel entitled to take what they want. And we are expected to pay, no matter what.

Taken one by one, each depredation costs us mere pennies — though the bankster bailouts went into four digits for each of us. In the aggregate they cost us more than mere money. They foster a sense of entitlement among our theoretical servants, who deem themselves masters and go to great lengths to demonstrate that they are. Ever more people are starting to feel like that blushing peasant bride.

What can one expect of a system in which the government controls all things? The expanding Federal Register — over 80,000 pages and growing — regulates nearly every aspect of life. According to author Harvey Silverglate, each of us commits three felonies a day; we remain unincarcerated only because prosecutors get to pick and choose whom and when to prosecute. (Writing stuff like this doesn't increase my chances of getting away scot-free. In the system we've created, free speech is a hazardous pursuit.)

People always seek freebies from government. Recently it was cheap mortgages; now it's health care. But nothing comes without cost. Whether rewarding corporations for their cooperation with government, or creating a new lordly class within government, we the peasants will always pay — either with our money, our labor, or our liberty. Though the benefits may seem to cost mere pennies, the balance sheet doesn't tell the whole tale. In our pursuit of common cents, we have abandoned the common sense of our forefathers who limited government.

© David Hines

 

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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)

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