The Normalization of Abusive Government


1) The Drug Enforcement Administration is attempting to seize a $1.5 million building owned as a retirement-investment property by a dentist and an engineer. Grounds are a $37 sale of pot an undercover one of the building’s tenants, a medical-marijuana dispensary.

As the judge in the case notes, the Obama administration (in 2009) sent a memo instructing federal prosecutors to not target medical-marijuana patients..before deciding to crack down and sending threatening letters to landlords. He even wondered aloud if President Obama would change his mind about marijuana again, after the building had already been seized.

This, in a country whose current President pretty clearly was himself a marijuana user, not to mention former President Bill Clinton, who “didn’t inhale.” Neither Obama nor Clinton are in any danger of having their property seized, however.

2) When financial questions arose regarding the Mountain Pure Water Company, Washington did not send a few staffers to inspect documents. Instead, last spring, some 50 armed Treasury agents breached the company’s headquarters in Little Rock, Ark. They seized 82 boxes of records, herded employees into the cafeteria, snatched their cell phones, and..according to reports..refused to let them consult attorneys.

“We’re the federal government,” Mountain Pure’s comptroller, Jerry Miller, says one pistol-packing fed told him. “We can do what we want, when we want, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

3) In Alexandria, Virginia, a 10-year-old was suspended and arrested for bringing a toy gun to school

4) In Tennessee, an Ohio couple was pulled over by  pair of black police SUVs. “They were very serious,” said the woman who was driving. “They had the body armor and the guns.”

On the back of the couple’s car was a Buckeye leaf decal, similar to the one Ohio State players have on their helmets.

“What are you doing with a marijuana sticker on your bumper?” asked one of the cops, who had apparently never heard of the First Amendment.

5) In 2005, an Iowa couple purchased a small lot. When they began to lay gravel on the land, which is located in a residential neighborhood, they were hit by an order from the Environmental Protection Administration informing them that the property had been designated a wetland under the Clean Water Act. They were ordered to stop grading their property and were told that they would face fines of up to $75,000 per day if they did not return the parcel to its original state. When the Sacketts attempted to contest the order, the agency denied their request for a hearing.

Last March, the Supreme Court overruled the EPA and stated that the Sacketts are entitled to appeal the EPA order, rejecting the agency’s claims to the contrary.

“The EPA used bullying and threats of terrifying fines, and has made our life hell for the past five years,” said Mr. Sackett. See my post A Defensive Victory Against Administrative Tyranny.

6) Bob Wallace and Marjorie Ottenberg, California residents in their 80s, started a business to make water purification devices for backpackers. Their enterprise has been crippled by the Drug Enforcement Administration and state officials, on grounds that iodine crystals–a key ingredient in their product–can also be used for methamphetamine production.


7) A woman with a shattered kneecap, who went to a CVS pharmacy to pick up a prescription painkiller, was arrested and thrown in jail overnight on suspicion that she had forged what was actually a completely legitimate prescription. She was on crutches, with a leg brace and a permanent IV line in her arm. Dallas police later dropped the charges after speaking with her doctor. The Dallas Police Department declined to talk to a TV news station about the arrest.

8) Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch, bought a boat in Canada. The boat had to go through US Customs, and when Arrington arrived to fill out the necessary paperwork, he found an error. The DHS had changed the currency from Canadian to U.S. dollars.

“I pointed out the error and suggested that we simply change the currency from US $ to CAD $ so that is was correct,” Arrington writes. “Or instead, amend the amount so that it was correct in U.S. dollars.”

Arrington says that the DHS agent didn’t care and insisted that he sign the form anyway…and that when he wouldn’t…correctly, since it was incorrect…the DHS agent seized his boat.

“A person with a gun and a government badge asked me to swear in writing that a lie was true today,” Arrington writes. “And when I didn’t do what she wanted she simply took my boat and asked me to leave.”

Many more instances such as those above could be easily cited.

Cassandra, referring to the incident of the couple pulled over because of their bumper sticker, notes that we should beware of drawing conclusions based on isolated instances, and that cops are human and we can’t expect perfection. It’s a valid point.

But what I detect in the growing number of reports about incidents such as those cited above is not a set of isolated instances, but rather a pattern. Officialdom..across governments of all levels…is becoming increasingly and overweeningly arrogant. This is a predictable consequence of the endless increases in the scale and scope of government, combined with the related erosion of civil society.

See Glenn Reynolds’ article about Due Process When Everything is a Crime.

It was once possible for an American to go through life without ever facing a confrontation with a government official–especially an armed government official. But today, such confrontations are becoming distressingly common.

What is the psychological effect of schoolkids when they see one of their classmates dragged off by the police for the crime of having a toy gun? Isn’t the effect to inculcate them with the Old Country idea of officialdom as a feared, inexplicable, and implacable entity to which the ordinary citizen must be subservient?

In my post A Defensive Victory Against Administrative Tyranny, I quoted a passage which is often attributed to George Washington:

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

While Washington was probably not really the source of the quote, it remains a true and important statement nonetheless. Living with what has historically been a fairly benign government, Americans have become insufficiently sensitized to the inherent dangers of overweening government power. There is a serious danger that we’re going to find out the hard way.

Don’t think that what happened to the individuals mentioned in the above examples can’t also happen to you. As I noted in my “Defensive Victory” post, individual court victories such as Sackett v EPA are important, but true safety can be found only by breaking the back of the political philosophy which calls for unlimited and unending expansion in government’s role and powers.


28 thoughts on “The Normalization of Abusive Government”

  1. I spent some time last week reading, on my Kindle, Conrad Black’s book A Matter of Principle. I have read his other book and his columns in various sites, including newspapers he used to own. His encounter with government power is infuriating enough that I laid aside Amity Schlaes new Coolidge to finish it.

    Black is a former billionaire and founder of several large newspapers, including the National Post in Canada. Black had run afoul of what is called the “corporate governance movement” which had accused him of defrauding investors in his companies by taking excessive income and expenses. This was the era of Enron and Dennis Kozlowski where there really was malfeasance.

    His comments on his experience are here and my review of the book is here .

    He absolutely refused to admit to crimes he did not commit and defended himself until finally the US Supreme Court threw out all remaining convictions. He was denied bail while his appeal was making its way through the court system and served several years in prison. Incredibly, the USSC sent the case back to the 7th Circuit where Richard Posner was invited to correct his errors. Instead of doing so, he reinstated two of the reversed convictions by a Chicago jury.

    Black has vowed never to place himself at risk by visiting the US again. He had been an enthusiastic US defender until this. The affair was supervised by Patrick Fitzgerald who seems to be a killer Puritan in instincts. The companies, including the Sun Times, were of course, completely stripped of assets by the rapacious lawyers who appointed themselves in Black’s place. It is a horrifying story of lawless lawyering. It isn’t just the government agencies but their allies in the “private sector” who are a threat, such as the beneficiaries of the Kelo decision.

  2. Black has written several books, not “book,” and has another coming out this spring. In spite of the preview function, I still missed the plural.

  3. I’ll vote for any candidate who promises to abolish the TSA, Homeland Security, and armed divisions of the departments which have no business being armed (e.g., the Education Department). Let’s hope, unlike Reagan, these promises are kept. I don’t think any will be on the ballot, though.

  4. Can’t argue with the Washington quote. “Authority” is attractive for a lot of reasons, pretty much all of them bad. Where such people would normally be engaged in the harmless activities that are preceded by saying, “Hold my beer and watch this,” we now have them engaging in the appalling activities David recounts above.
    Rahm Emanuel is a good example of a man who has built a career as someone’s attack dog, biting whomever he is told. As a friend remarked, the only time Rahm ever sees the Bill of Rights is when he wipes his ass with it. As government grows at all levels, we encounter more and more of these people. I fear it will get worse before it improves.
    But, in answer to your question, David, about school kids seeing their classmates dragged off, a certain number will think to themselves, “That’s not right!” And a seed will be planted.

  5. A major part of the problem is the thugs don’t face any personal consequences. Until that changes it’s only going to get worse.

  6. David – I believe the gravel story is from Idaho, not Iowa, though there might be more than one. (And it may have been more a recreational area than a residential area.)

  7. Jim, there have been similar stories from California. I don’t recall the gravel part but wetlands and EPA are a common theme.

  8. Many years ago, during “Detente” in the ’70’s I think, a dissident was released by the Soviets, and was significant enough to be interviewed by some tv type after he got to the US.

    The interviewer asked the cliche’ question about what the new emigre’ found different here, and was clearly stunned by the answer.

    The people in the west, the emigre’ said, still have human faces. He went on to explain that he believed the major crime of totalitarian systems was that it crushed the normal humanity of the people subjected to it, and they gradually became stone-faced, which reflected the stone heart they had to develop to exist under such a system.

    He noted it was especially pronounced in the various levels of officialdom he had dealt with over the years of being classified as a trouble making dissident, and he was so relieved to meet people here, even government clerks and agents, who still looked and acted as ordinary human beings.

    But that was a long time ago, and the glacial accumulation of rules and regulations about every conceivable aspect of our lives has resulted in a crushing weight of legalisms that threatens to squeeze us, and our humanity, into something lifeless, just as the total state did to the stone people this man described.

    We have become the subjects of an administrative authoritarianism, a clerk’s autocracy, if you will, constructed from the endless minutiae of laws, agencies, rules, regulations, and good intentions, of our political class.

    The naivete’ of our distracted citizenry, foolish enough to believe that all those concerned pols and their supporters were actually accomplishing what they said they intended, have allowed the state in all its various permutations to stick its nose into every thing we do, from birth to death, with the utterly inevitable result that it now controls everything we do all through our lives.

    Dismantling this leviathon will be a long, complex, and tiresome task, requiring a level of determination and relentless consistency equal to that which authored its construction.

    But we must begin, and not allow ourselves to be distracted or diverted from the task. Our children, and theirs, may walk free if we succeed, but, if we fail, will surely walk only where they are told, by the stone-faced masters they serve.

  9. One more example. The Interior Department has now designated, for the first time in US history, an underwater wilderness area. It just happens to be a family owned oyster farm that has been there for years and which supplies 40% of the oysters consumed in California.

    It reminds me of Clinton declaring the huge Utah coal deposit a “national monument.”

  10. Oh well. Here ya go Micheal. I went to a competing school to our Connie. He is a product of TCS in Toronto while I was educated at the same school prince Andrew spent some time at.

    I played both football and hockey against TCS and it was a pleasure to beat up on some of the biggest scum bags our upper class Canadian society has ever produced. Conrad fitted in well there and went on to commit major crimes.

    I don’t fit in anywhere so the bush is my home, my crimes all minor … hi ho.

  11. “Conrad fitted in well there and went on to commit major crimes.”

    I guess you are your own personal supreme court. The US version didn’t agree.

  12. There are some psychological factors which I think are important here. Jobs which give a person arbitrary power over others will be attractive to specifically the kind of people who should always be *kept out* of such jobs…ie, those who enjoy having others at their mercy.

    Also, the increasing role of “progressive” political belief as a religion-substitute will tend to encourage government employment by ideologues who can justify callous behavior toward individuals in the name of their ideology.

    The two categories above being the Petty Tyrant and the Grand Inquisitor.

    There are surely very many good, honorable, high-integrity people working in all departments of government. But the endless expansion of government size and power will tend to dilute them out in favor of the types described above.

  13. @ErisGuy – we need a Congress in line with a President to start restraining this abusive power. Two of the most odious bureaucracies were signed into law not by Democrats but Republicans – EPA (Nixon) and Homeland Security (Bush 43).

    It is going to take the equivalent of a political earthquake on the 7 Richter scale to start to change some of this stuff.

    There are some psychological factors which I think are important here. Jobs which give a person arbitrary power over others will be attractive to specifically the kind of people who should always be *kept out* of such jobs…ie, those who enjoy having others at their mercy.

    @David – couldn’t agree more

  14. “Two of the most odious bureaucracies were signed into law not by Democrats but Republicans – EPA (Nixon) and Homeland Security (Bush 43). ”

    Both have metastasized far beyond what was expected. The Americans with Disabilities Act is another example of laws that went far beyond intent. I think it was Bush I who signed that one.

    Part of the problem is the out-of-control legal climate in the country. Clint Eastwood had a hand in slowing down some of the abuses.

    A key piece of evidence was a photo of the ranch registration office that the zum Brunnens said they took to show there was no wheelchair ramp. The picture was taken from some distance away on a sunny day.

    The zum Brunnens said in depositions they took the picture after their dinner on Jan. 21, 1996 – when it would have been dark – and later said at trial it was taken right before dinner.

    A surveyor testified that the picture was taken at 12:05 p.m., which Eastwood attorney Chuck Keller said proved the zum Brunnens merely drove by and snapped a quick picture for use in a lawsuit.

    The jury agreed.

    “We kind of didn’t think she was really there for dinner,” said juror Lorenzo Gutierrez, 37.

    Professional defendants are part of the ADA abuse. What Eastwood stopped was a practice of suing small businesses and offering a settlement. Eastwood had the resources to defend himself.

  15. Representative government doesn’t work because of rational ignorance on the part of the voters. The “representatives” discover they can usually betray their constituents with impunity to gain favors from “generous” contributors who want favors. The result is a system that becomes more and more tyrannical in the face of a public which cannot figure out how to stop it. Is there anyplace,except maybe Switzerland (which is a genuine federation) ,in which this situation doesn’t obtain?

    What to do? How about making gov’t agencies and the employees thereof,accountable by lawsuit. An agency could have its appropriation impounded,returned to the treasury, for abuses. Abusive employees could be fired and stripped of their pensions. I know that people are not thinking of anything like this now,but it is does appear that the end point of representative gov’t as now constituted is something like Venezuela or Argentina or Greece. It could even get worse than that. People are going to have to think of EFFECTIVE ways to stop abuses and get a Republic back. Now,for many in the gov’t,the abuses are a feature,not a bug. This will not get better until there is effective supervision of those who now rule us. The franchise,as now used, is clearly not up to the job and the problem will not go away on its own.

    Some suggestions. All Federal laws must be approved by a majority of the states.
    People who are not self supporting or who work for the gov’t don’t get the franchise. Possible exception for the military.
    People who have done useful work in the private sector could sit on special juries to nullify bad laws, defund corrupt agencies and remove corrupt gov’t workers. Above all, we must not tolerate an entrenched political class. That leads to disaster.

  16. Michael Kennedy,

    Both have metastasized far beyond what was expected.

    Expected by whom? The ADA, TSA, and DHS have become exactly what I and every other sensible person said they would.

    I was 25 years old when Bush 41 signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. I remember it well because it was painfully obvious even to a politically naive young man like myself that terms like “reasonable accommodation” were perfectly tailored to avoid political accountability for the Act’s authors in Congress, while simultaneously providing a windfall for lawyers.

    Anyone who says they are surprised by what the ADA has become is in effect saying that they have no serious conception of human nature or the nature of politics.

  17. Renminbi – Ignorance is only rational if the time needed to improve things for yourself is out of proportion to the benefit you get. Would you run a phone app that noted potholes and, at the end of the trip, allowed you to email reports via a clearinghouse to all the appropriate political offices in about 10 seconds? Right now, such a task is onerous and most people don’t report. But the difficulty of the task is a variable. Citizen Intelligence is the vehicle I’m creating to make databases, reports, dashboards, sensors, and apps to make it so that ignorance is no longer rational.

  18. Also, the increasing role of “progressive” political belief as a religion-substitute

    Well there is always religion as a “progressive” political belief substitute. Of course according to them (which ever them) they favor liberty. “My fears are real, yours are imaginary.” And it is that rule which is the deadly foundation of all our troubles.

  19. “Conrad fitted in well there and went on to commit major crimes.”

    I guess you are your own personal supreme court. The US version didn’t agree.”

    Well they put him in jail, for 42 months and he was fined $125,000. He did manage to weasel out but it’s what he dose best. Very many Canadians would like to see him sent back to England as he renounced his Canadian citizenship to acquire his title, Lord Black of Crossharbour. Only the super weasel Harper would have let him into our country and there is a serious effort to have him tossed out as it took an executive order to allow this criminal into Canada.

    Me they do catch and release on but I am not very big. ;)

  20. “Would you run a phone app that noted potholes and, at the end of the trip, allowed you to email reports via a clearinghouse to all the appropriate political offices in about 10 seconds”

    I like to write software sometimes and the fun I get from that is purely intellectual. Now the back half of that is trivial but to get a cell phone to notice and record potholes is an interesting problem.

    A lot of em’ have accelerometers and you could use that to notice bumps but we have a serious problem with different suspensions and the placement of the cell phone. My Lincoln on air will be very different to a compact car on struts and springs for instance. Still one could create a database somewhere to deal with the differences in suspension and establish a proper position for the phone. A bit of a hack but it could be made to work. As well people tend to automatically avoid potholes so it might not be the best method to notice them.

    One could record a video of the road but that is even more difficult as camera placement would be critical and although our app could use security camera concepts and discard useless video it would still eat up battery to a rather large extent. At least this would do the job, with a few caveats. A place to secure the phone will be needed to watch the road but a call will mess all that up unless it’s integrated into a hands free deal. Still not impossible but would require a lot of fairly dedicated people to use this to any great extent. The placement of the phone is difficult as well.

    An analysis of Google’s street view might be a useful method as it would not require so much human cooperation.

  21. Someone should explain in detail:

    -What did Conrad Black do that was illegal?

    -Why was it illegal?

    -Who was harmed and how?

    -Why were his convictions just, given that 1) no one on the jury had experience in the matters at issue, 2) it was obvious that at least some members of the jury didn’t understand the case and 3) some members of the jury didn’t even pay attention?

    -If the trial was reasonable and the convictions just, why were so many of the convictions overturned on appeal?

    -What happened to the value of Hollinger’s shares after Black was indicted?

    Let’s hear details, not mere reiterations of accusations made by corrupt prosecutors and repeated by Black’s media competitors.

  22. No election fixes our problems.

    Reform is not possible, it would not be possible for a reform ticket of Lucifer, Almighty God and the Founders Risen back to life by his hand.

    For you see all of them – God, the Founders, and Lucifer – have MAN to deal with, MAN has Free Will, and these men have POWER. Which almost none surrender freely. Certainly not these men.

    In any case The New Deal was through, this government cannot be reformed by elections. The purpose of a permanent government is to make it immune to politics. Or lawsuits. Remember who’s creature the law for informing the people they are quite well informed. You will notice they have stripped the entire country bare of firearms and ammunition, if you want a gun or bullets in less than 3 months you would have to go and deal with the online profiteers – and their 400% markup [at least]. I am reliably informed that both the American South and the State of Utah [!] are also out of bullets on shelves.

    The response of our able masters is to pass more laws or introduce legislation to ban firearms. Which caused the Powder panic of 2012/2013 in the first place. Let them place their desperate hopes [I think not all of them are blind] in legalism.

    The people seem to be placing their hopes in more sure concilatory measures.

  23. “If the trial was reasonable and the convictions just, why were so many of the convictions overturned on appeal?”

    Expensive lawyers. There were several convictions not overturned.

    The security cam video of Conrad and his chauffeur taking boxes of documents that had been sealed by the courts is very famous in Canada.

  24. As usual you ignore the main issues and merely repeat talking points. You haven’t the wit to tell us what Black did wrong or whom he harmed. I doubt you even know what he was charged with.

    It reminds me of how Milken was treated. People I discussed the case with were unconcerned that he had been coerced into a plea agreement. “He’s a nasty rich guy and must be guilty of something” was the sentiment. Yet none of those people could tell me specifically what crimes Milken had been accused of or whom he had harmed.

  25. “As usual you ignore the main issues and merely repeat talking points. You haven’t the wit to tell us what Black did wrong or whom he harmed. I doubt you even know what he was charged with.”

    Ah I see. You want me to google it for you. Business crime is complex and not always obvious to people who are not lawyers. It is still crime.

  26. “There were several convictions not overturned. ”

    Not true. The remaining four counts were reversed by the USSC. They remanded the case back to Posner who reinstated two. His malice is truly astonishing in an appeals court judge. The case was remanded to allow him to correct his own errors. He compounded them. The USSC did not hear the appeal from that act of banditry but it was moot as Black had served the sentence already. He was denied bail while his four convictions were on appeal. Chicago justice, I;m afraid.

    On the other hand, ICE released 30,000 illegal aliens held in custody today because of the alleged sequester. I expect Obama to shut down air travel Friday, except AF 1, of course. He wants to create as much chaos and pain as possible. He really doesn’t like us. The Mariel boat lift again.

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