Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Over Criminalized

I never can wrap my brain around the "don't just stand there, do something" mentality that persists in Washington.  For example, did you know that the House may be voting this week on "The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act," which "will codify into law a set of standards that broadcasters agreed on last month" regarding the LOUDNESS OF TV COMMERCIALS!?!?!?  (Sorry that was so loud.  Maybe congress should legislate the use of caps lock in blogs).

And not to be outdone, a few busy-body Republicans have decided to get into the mix.  Congressman Joe Barton has decided to have Congress get rid of that unfair Bowl Championship Series.  As David Harsanyi points out in his Denver Post opinion piece,
Barton's bill would, among other things, prevent the Bowl Championship Series from marketing a postseason game as a "national championship" unless it is the result of a fair playoff system open to everyone.
Why stop there? Why, for instance, is Major League Baseball allowed to manipulate us with this "World" Series claptrap for the last century when it refuses to open the competition to Venerables y Brujos de Guayama or even the Savannah Sand Gnats? Isn't that unfair?
The Oakland Raiders still exist. Is that fair? Phoenix has a professional hockey team but Vermont has nada. Fair? Sports can't always be fair. It can't be open to everyone. But it should be entertaining.
"It's like communism; you can't fix it," Barton went on after the testimony. As a person who frequently and recklessly refers to his political opponents as Marxists, I would remind the congressman that in communist nations sports were under the management of politicians.
Come to think of it, communists are always whining about unfairness. They are always nattering about the ills of money. Communists tend to do a lot of their best work on "committees," as well.

Which leads me to a brilliant piece by Gene Healy in the Washington Examiner.  In his opinion (and I believe he's correct), we've become over criminalized in this nation.  He notes that
The Founders viewed the criminal sanction as a last resort, reserved for serious offenses, clearly defined, so ordinary citizens would know whether they were violating the law.  Yet over the last 40 years, an unholy alliance of big-business-hating liberals and tough-on-crime conservatives has made criminalization the first line of attack -- a way to demonstrate seriousness about the social problem of the month, whether it's corporate scandals or e-mail spam.
There are now more than 4,000 federal crimes, spread out through some 27,000 pages of the U.S. Code. Some years ago, analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offenses on the books, and gave up, lacking the resources to get the job done. If teams of legal researchers can't make sense of the federal criminal code, obviously, ordinary citizens don't stand a chance.
You can serve federal time for interstate transport of water hyacinths, trafficking in unlicensed dentures, or misappropriating the likeness of Woodsy Owl and his associated slogan, "Give a hoot, don't pollute." ("What are you in for, kid?" your new cellmate growls.) Bills currently before Congress would send Americans to federal prison for eating horsemeat or selling goods falsely labeled as "Native American."
I have the same problem with the tax code.  When even Federal Employees can't get their taxes in on time, whether it's because they don't care about paying taxes (less likely) or that they don't understand how to do the correctly (more likely), and their bill is around $3 billion, then we have a major problem.

I am a small/limited government libertarian because all I see from Washington is excess.  I'm not opposed to health care reform, I'm opposed to "health care" reform that takes a 2000 page bill to accomplish.  I'm not opposed to tax reform, but it should make the tax code less complicated, not add more and more regulations.  I'm not opposed to any other government reform that people always talk about while running for office, but I am opposed to the ever expansion of government largesse at the expense of the American citizen.

Why is it exactly that the federal government must be the one to fix our "loud television commercial" problem?  Why doesn't someone just invent a device that will allow you to skip over the commercials, regardless of how loud or quiet they are?  Oh wait.

Why does Congress have to fix the Bowl Championship Series?  Why doesn't some entrepreneurial-minded person start a competing college football league that does have a playoff system for football?  If the current system is sooooooo terrible, then colleges will knock each other over getting in line to join this new league. Oh wait.

So, ultimately, I just have to remind myself that there is a constant struggle between "conservative/pragmatic/limited government" vs "let's fix every problem under the sun, regardless of the cost or debt we pass on to future generations government", and it is a struggle that will continue throughout time.

I just wish that our congressional members would remember that, as Montesquieu once noted, "useless laws weaken the necessary laws."  Is fussing about the volume of a television commercial really necessary?  Is fussing about the BCS really necessary?  Doubtful.

The cynic in me (oh, who am I kidding, I'm 93% cynic) wonders if there are actually ulterior motives to these bills.  Could it be that a 2000 page health care bill, or a bill on the approved decibel level of tv commericals, or a bill making it illegal for college football to market a "national championship" without a playoff system, or legislation making it illegal to drive while "texting", or legislation making it illegal to smoke a legal substance in a privately owned business are actually attempts to put more and more of our national economy under the thumb of government.  Are congressmen representatives of the little guy as they would have us believe, or are they actually power hungry rulers/thugs/tyrants slowly taking over more and more responsibility over people's lives, until, eventually John Q. Public will no longer be able to fend for himself, but will rely fully on government's supple teet? 

As Ayn Rand once said, "There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws."

Just remember that when broadcasting loud commercials is outlawed, only outlaws will broadcast loud commercials.

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