Bureaucratic Overreach Not Kids Stuff
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published June 24, 2011 on The
Washington Times website.
While 22-year-old Rory McIlroy was teeing up on June 16 during the first round of his historic victory at the U.S. Open, another drama was unfolding outside Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.
A Montgomery County inspector busted some kids for running a lemonade stand at which they were setting aside half the proceeds for pediatric cancer victims. The charge? No permit.
One of the dads involved got a $500 fine. After a TV station’s tape of the bust went viral, the county backed off, canceled the fine and let the kids set up on a side street. The children decided to donate the entire take to cancer kids.
Although it ended well, the incident became news because it illustrates how bureaucrats can abuse power and bully citizens – even kids.
Along the same lines, many Americans were outraged upon seeing footage in April of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent patting down a 6-year-old girl at the New Orleans airport and of an 8-year-old boy being patted down in Oregon’s Portland International Airport.
But wait. TSA topped that in Kansas City, where agents patted down an 8-month-old baby on May 7 after the infant’s stroller caused the scanner to beep. A pastor, Jacob Jester, who was in line, snapped a photo and tweeted it.
What got into those agents? As far as I can see from the picture, the baby was not dressed in a black burqa with a suspicious bulge, nor maliciously brandishing a bottle or pacifier. Mr. Jester, who said he respects the TSA for trying to ensure everyone’s safety, commented, “I’m not out to embarrass the TSA. But I do believe there has to be a line drawn. I do not believe that an 8-month-old constitutes a security threat.”
Stung by criticism, the TSA blog responded: “Our officers followed proper current screening procedures by screening the family after the alarm, who, by the way, were very cooperative and were on the way to their gate in no time. The child in the photo was simply receiving a modified pat-down. …” Oh, well then.
To cut the TSA some slack, its agents are more skittish than a hockey goalie in playoff overtime. They’ll be blamed if something – anything – slips by to bring down an airliner. And they know that Muslim extremists use children as suicide bombers. Of course, the kids in these American airports have not been dashing through gates with explosives strapped to them.
Public exposure and outrage is the best medicine for curbing overzealous bureaucrats. On June 22, the TSA said it would do less intrusive checks on children. This will reduce but not abolish such procedures. Wouldn’t want al Qaeda to get the green light to hot-pack the Pampers.
Another bureaucratic outrage is simmering in the Midwest, where a family has been threatened with a potential fine of $4 million for raising bunnies without permission from the federal government. Blogger John McCarty, who publishes on BigGovernment.com, has been following the story, abbreviated here:
John and Judy Dollarhite of Nixa, Mo., wanted to teach their teenage son about management, so they got a male and female rabbit in 2005 and let him sell the bunnies. In 2009, his parents paid him $200 for the business and took in about $4,600 a year selling bunnies.
Before you could say “What’s up, Doc?” along came a woman from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) who asked to inspect the operation, to which the Dollarhites say they readily agreed. The inspector found not only that they lacked a federal permit for selling more than $500 worth of rabbits in a year but that the tidy, 30-inch-by-36-inch cages were – wait for it – a quarter of an inch too small.
The USDA came back in January 2010 and issued a warning. The case dragged on. On advice of an attorney, the couple went out of the bunny business, unloading their equipment on Craigslist. But the USDA sent them a certified letter in April 2011, assessing a fine of $90,643, which, if not paid, could result in civil fines of up to $10,000 for each violation (for about 390 bunnies sold), which adds up to $3.9 million. The department helpfully advised the couple to pay the $90,643 fine online with a credit card by May 23.
On May 25, at a rally outside the USDA’s office in Ozark, Judy Dollarhite called the experience a “nightmare,” telling the crowd that “it certainly wasn’t what we expected when we got a few bunnies to try to teach our kid where money comes from, where food comes from, family farm values we grew up with.” Here’s the most chilling part. She said a USDA official told her by phone that even though they were out of business, the department was going to prosecute them anyway “to make an example of us.”
Think about how often this happens with other federal agencies, such as the newly empowered Environmental Protection Agency agents looking for carbon-related “crimes” and often dry “wetlands.” Or President Obama’s union-packed National Labor Relations Board, telling Boeing – Soviet-style – that it cannot operate a new airliner plant in right-to-work South Carolina.
The bunny saga is still unfolding, with the couple asking Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, to enter the fray. The USDA should back off, cancel the fine and discipline any bureaucrat who abused this couple. This kind of thuggery should never be tolerated in a free country.
Let’s all hope reason prevails. From kid searches to lemonade-stand shakedowns, bunny busts and EPA and NLRB goons, an informed, active citizenry and media exposure are crucial to thwarting tyranny.
Cutting back the deep, deep thickets of unconstitutional bureaucracy would be a more permanent solution.