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Opening Arguments

Don't dare hide from us

Why Dennis Hastert's indictment should worry us all:

It isn’t illegal to withdraw money from the bank, nor to compensate someone in recognition of past harms, nor to be the victim of a blackmail scheme. So why should it be a crime to hide those actions from the U.S. government? The alarming aspect of this case is the fact that an American is ultimately being prosecuted for the crime of evading federal government surveillance.

That has implications for all of us…

Again, the payments weren’t illegal. But as it turns out, structuring financial transactions “to evade currency transaction reporting requirements” is a violation of federal law.

Yes, if he committed child molestation -- if that is what he is trying to hide -- that's an awful thing and it doesn't make him a sympathetic character. And, yes, he lied to the FBI, which was incredibly stupid. But this isn't just about him:

Imagine that a documentary filmmaker like Laura Poitras, whose films are critical of government surveillance, is buying a used video camera for $12,000. Vaguely knowing that a report to the federal government is generated for withdrawals of $10,000 or more, she thinks to herself, “What with my films criticizing NSA surveillance, I don’t want to invite any extra scrutiny—out of an abundance of caution, or maybe even paranoia, I’m gonna take out $9,000 today and $3,000 tomorrow. The last thing I need is to give someone a pretext to hassle me.”*

That would be illegal, even though in this hypothetical she has committed no crime and is motivated, like many people, by a simple aversion to being monitored.

What if the government installed surveillance cameras on various streets in a municipality and then made it a crime to walk along a route that skirted those cameras?

I'm running a Jonah Goldberg column on tomorrow's editorial  in which he writes about Charles Murray's new book about how out of control the government is. To quote at length:

The first third of the book is the best diagnosis of America's governmental sickness ever written for the non-specialist.

I say "diagnosis" but Murray might call it an autopsy. "The founders' Constitution has been discarded and cannot be restored," Murray writes. The framers never imagined — and would have never consented to — the massive welfare state we have today.

The demise of the founders' constitution was a death of a thousand cuts, but the fatal blow was arguably the 1937 Supreme Court case Helvering v. Davis, which made the phrase "promote the general welfare" in the Preamble of the Constitution into a license for runaway government. The New Deal court redefined "general welfare" to mean pretty much anything Congress wanted to spend money on, from Social Security, to (later) Medicare, Medicaid, mohair subsidies, ethanol, etc. The decision, according to Murray, "destroyed the limits on the federal government's spending authority."

Murray says we can't go home again. Desirable or not, restoring the old Constitutional guardrails would "throw the country into chaos," he writes. The court would never do it, and no Congress or White House would comply with the decision if it did.

But our problems don't end there. Thanks to Congress' generosity with money it doesn't have, government has become akin to a supercomputer that has become self-aware. It protects its own interests at all costs. Specifically, the bureaucracy has become a political class unto itself. Without the consent of the governed, regulators have created a regime of legalized lawlessness in which they get to create rules essentially for their own amusement.

In 1960, the Code of Federal Regulations numbered 22,877 pages. In 2013 it was over 175,000 pages. The vast majority of these rules were never considered, never mind, passed, by Congress.

If you don't comply with these regulations — from how bakers lock their flour bins to how high stair railings must be — the regulators can make your life hell. If you challenge any of these regulations, the regulators will do everything they can to banish you to an even lower level of hell. To make their task easier, the regulators have their own courts and their own system of law that is biased at every turn in their favor.

A government that has grown to monstrous proporterions, is completely out of control and now serves nothing but its own ends. I hate to go all '60s retro on you, but "pawns in their game" comes to mind. An autopsy indeed.