Dispatches from the far side of a post-Mayberry America

As a youngster growing up, values, morals and ethics were an important part of any discussion with clergy, teachers, coaches, parents and friends. Television shows of the day were almost as inane as they are today. Except that I remember, perhaps nostalgically, that often shows attempted to incorporate a “moral to the story” into the script or attempted to grapple with an ethical problem. I remember in particular Sheriff Andy Taylor teaching his son values like honesty, integrity, respect for a person’s property, respect for the rule of law, due process – as well as respect for the value of human life. Call me old-fashioned – I don’t mind. Values seem to be mere quaint notions today. I’ve come across so many outrageous stories lately that it is difficult for me to reconcile them with my upbringing. I’ll share with you a few:

As covered in numerous news outlets, the IRS has admitted to targeting Americans based on their political beliefs. Lois Lerner, the central figure in a congressional investigation, has taken the Fifth. How ironic. Congress has subpoenaed her emails and has been told that they have been destroyed. The computer has “crashed,” as well as six others Congress had asked to have examined. Congress has been told that the computers had not been backed up. More irony, because that is a violation of federal law, which apparently doesn’t apply to federal agencies. A private company that runs afoul of the legislation known as Sarbanes-Oxley would be in deep trouble. Oh, and the company that the IRS had contracted to ensure that all of its data is backed up has been mysteriously fired. The affair has raised questions regarding the ethics, honesty and integrity of the agency that collects taxes for the U.S. Treasury.

Let’s move on to another agency — the Patent and Trademark Office. It has canceled the trademark of the Washington Redskins that’s been in use since the 1930s. Whatever your view regarding the propriety of the name, how is it that a government agency can unilaterally take such an action without due process? What is the basis in law? What about all of the patently offensive shows on television? No, I’m not advocating censorship, but that is what the government is getting into here.

Property rights are under attack elsewhere as well with due process lost in the shuffle.  According to a Nashville, Tenn., television station, George Reby, an insurance adjuster from New Jersey, was driving through Tennessee on his way to a convention.  Afterward, he planned on buying a car he had found on the Internet. He was stopped by the police while driving down the interstate and the officer asked him if he was carrying any cash. He answered honestly that he had “around $20,000.” He let them search his vehicle and they confiscated $22,000 in cash, assuming that it was “drug related,” although an officer on the scene later conceded that he had no evidence to support it.  Said Reby, “You live in the United States, you think you have rights — and apparently you don’t.”

The officer was asked by a reporter why Reby wasn’t arrested at the scene and the response was that he hadn’t committed a crime. Said Officer Bates, “It’s not illegal to carry cash … it’s what the cash is being used for to facilitate or what it is being utilized for … and he couldn’t prove it was legitimate.” Really! You now have to prove to a policemen that the cash in your pocket is going to be used legitimately otherwise he can simply take it. It took Reby four months to get his money back. Others haven’t been so fortunate and incidences like this have become more commonplace and have been dubbed “policing for profit.” Our property rights and our constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure are mere collateral damage in the so-called “War on Drugs.”

Speaking of war, consider this headline that appeared earlier this month in The New York Times: “The Pitfalls of Peace: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth.” I did a double take when I saw it.

To be sure, the article authored by Tyler Cowen, who teaches economics at George Mason University, does not advocate for war, but it does rather wrong-headedly make the economic case for war. In response, I would respectfully refer him to 19th-century French economist Frederic Bastiat, who demonstrated through his “broken window fallacy” that disasters, whether they be natural or man-made, not only cause human suffering, they actually hinder economic growth.

Finally, there was a story published earlier this month in Great Britain’s The Guardian.  It reports on a study put out by the Commonwealth Fund based in Washington, D.C., an organization founded in 1918 by Stephen V. Harkness, an early investor in John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The Fund focuses on the health care industry and as of last year had an endowment in excess of $650 million. They are proponents of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and they strongly favor the expansion of Medicaid.

According to The Guardian, the study rated health care in 11 western nations and ranked Great Britain’s National Health Service at the top while placing the U.S. at the bottom. The NHS was ranked best in quality, efficiency and access. In 2013, Great Britain spent less than half as much as the U.S. did on a per capita basis on health care.  Only New Zealand spent less. The implication is that this indicates greater efficiency, but I doubt that’s the case when it’s the government that is doing the spending. Especially since TheGuardian goes to say, and I quote, “The only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive.” I kid you not, that’s what the article said. You can’t make this stuff up. I think I’ll stop now and maybe even go watch some old reruns on television.


— Elliot Simon writes from Harpers Ferry

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