Saturday, December 10, 2016

Government Abuse

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holding-va-accountable

Liberty News reported on Wednesday about a disturbing case of a VA doctor telling a veteran to kill himself over social media. Attention-grabbing cases like that one combined the huge backlog of VA patients unable to obtain necessary medical have been in the news and the public consciousness, leading some former armed service members to quip “sticks and stones may break your bones, but the VA will *$&#ing kill you.”

Congress took a step towards fixing the VA problem Wednesday, passing H.R. 1994, the Veterans’ Affairs Accountability Act, in a lopsided 256-170 vote. 16 Democrats crossed party lines to support the measure, with a single Republican voting against it.

Introduced by Floridian Republican Jeff Miller, the bill is designed to make it easier to discipline or fire VA employees for incompetence or misconduct. “The presence of poor performers and misconduct ranging from unethical practices to outright criminal behavior can spread like a cancer through a workforce,” said Miller.

The Obama administration, perhaps predictably, threatened to veto the bill if it clears the Senate. The president’s statement said, in part “These provisions remove important rights, protections, and incentives which are available to the vast majority of federal employees in other agencies across the government and are essential to ensure that federal employees are afforded due process.”

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, was quick to call out Obama’s hypocrisy given his support for last year’s Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which had similar intent to H.R. 1994. The 2014 Act is a more draconian version of HR,” said Bonosaro, “yet the Administration had no issue then with whether the new legal removal authority and process affected the due process rights of career Senior Executives, who are not in any bargaining unit and therefore are not represented by unions.”

Miller also credited Obama’s newfound resistance to VA reforms to undue union influence. The voice of the unions should not be heard over the voice of our veterans,” he said. “We need to continue to push for the same change we pushed for last year. Now is not the time to change our belief in the need for greater accountability within VA.”

In a harsh editorial, the Military Times called for greater transparency, accountability, and better service from the VA. The Times pointed out that one in three veterans died waiting for care, and pointed out the madness of protecting incompetent workers in cases where lives are literally on the line: “If you can’t do your job, let’s find someone who can.”

Earlier this month, Miller told reporters at a press conference that H.R. 1994 is important to reign in “federal government gone amok,” and stated that only two employees had been fired from 110 medical centers in the wake of a fraudulent wait-list scandal. The VA originally claimed 60 employees were fired, but later recanted.

Greater accountability for “bad behavior,” as Miller said, can only be good news for veterans awaiting care. Part of our social contract with our veterans is exemplary health care, and if we’re not, as a nation, providing it, we need to get rid of the people who are part of the problem, and start bringing in people who will be part of the solution. Hopefully President Obama will see that, and shelve his ill-conceived veto threat.

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vhs-tape

South Carolina resident Kayla Finley, 27, spent a night in jail–all because she forgot to return a video back in 2005.

The video, which was a VHS (that’s how long ago this was), was of the movie, “Monster-in-Law” starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda. It was rented from a local video store that’s now out of business.

Finley was visiting the local sheriff’s office to report a crime when they discovered an outstanding arrest warrant, filed years ago when the store owner wanted to follow up one where his copy of “Monster in Law” was.

For her part, Finley said it was just an accident–and that she hadn’t received certified letters demanding she turn herself in, because she had moved out of state with her husband.

“I’m not criminal,” she wrote to the Fox Carolina News page on Facebook, “but Pickens County Sheriff’s Office sure made me fee like I was.”

“If I had [known about the arrest warrant],” she continued, “it would have been taken care of immediately… This is a bogus charge and everyone knows it.”

Finely spent the night in jail because her bond hearing couldn’t be heard until the next morning. A judge release her on $2,000 bail. For a late VHS rental.

The Twittersphere erupted with jokes immediately after Finley’s store broke.

“Pretty sure my family never returned Ace Ventura,” said one Twitter user.

“We have no crime here in South Carolina, I guess,” said another.

“And now you know why Barney Fife only carried one bullet!”

And another, mock-quoting Finley: “‘Oh God, I’m so embarrassed. Now everyone’s going to know I rented Mother In Law!'”

Finley faced a $1,000 fine and a full month behind bars if convicted of “failure to return a rented video.”

That specific law was striken from the books back in 2010, but due to South Carolina law, larceny–the legal term for stealing–has no distinction based on value. Finley failing to return a $15 VHS tape would be treated the same if she had stolen a necklace worth thousands of dollars, for instance.

Luckily for Finley, however, since the owner of the now-shuttered video store declined to press. After spending the night in jail, she’s free to go.

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Two Florida parents may lose custody of the 11-year-old son, and are facing felony of charges of child neglect, because they let him play alone in the yard for 90 minutes.

According to his mother, the 11-year-old boy came home before his parents did. (The boy’s name, as well as his parents, are being withheld by the media at their request, as they continue to fight their legal battle.)

Locked out of the house, he just shot some hoops in the yard until they arrived.

Unfortunately for this family, a nosy neighbor saw the pre-teen outside alone… and abruptly called the cops, who in turn called Child Protective Services.

By the time the boys’ parents got home, just 90 minutes after their son did, they were arrested for child negligence by the attending police officer.

They spent the night in jail, after being strip-searched, fingerprinted, and carted off in front of their kids in handcuffs.

And worse, their son, along with their other four-year-old son who was with the parents at the time, were both taken away by Child Protective Services–for a month.

According to an email the mother sent to the website, Free-Range Kids, which advocates children being allowed to explore and grow on their own, the police claimed that their son “had no access to water or shelter,” despite the fact that they had an unlocked shed, and a hose–which technically would satisfy those requirements. And, again, the 11-year-old was only alone for 90 minutes, during which time water and shelter would scarcely be needed anyway.

She adds about how shocked they were that their kids could be taken away–considering that Florida “has no minimum age for children to be left alone.”

Thankfully, the parents received their children back–but only after a month, in which case their two kids were put in state-run foster care. While the kids are home, they’re forced to attend government-mandated day care each day, so the government can keep an eye on them.

These parents’ legal fight still continues, despite having their kids back–but, regardless of the outcome, it’s shocking that the government could take away kids for a month–just because they played outside in their own yard.

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If the 1931 classic film Frankensteinwere filmed in the United States today, the villagers storming the gates of the castle would not be carrying torches and pitchforks, but instead wearing HAZMAT suits, spraying cans of Lysol in the air, and demanding that the mayor do “whatever is necessary” to protect them against the possibility the creature might harm one of them. Of course, these marching villagers would be the few who actually dared venture outside their cottages with barred doors and shuttered windows.

So here we are, not in 19th Century Transylvania, but 21st Century America. As of writing this, there have been no new Ebola cases in the United States for several days (and the total number of cases before this can be counted on a single human hand), and most of the 48 people in forced quarantine in Dallas are once again free to go about their daily lives. Glancing at the media coverage of America’s so-called “Ebola Crisis,” it appears we may have progressed from “spiraling out of control” [WIFR, 9/16/14] to being now “cautiously optimistic” [Yahoo News, 10/20/14]. Still, it was only a few days ago that a Maine school district placed a teacher on leave for merely having visited the city of Dallas.

Lost in all of the uproar was the fact that only two people, in the whole of the United States, actually contracted the virus domestically, and both were contaminated while treating an already sick patient.

A lack of education on how the virus actually spreads, the mainstream media’s sensationalism of the outbreak to generate ratings, and mistakes of supposedly “expert” health officials, are just a few of the many factors contributing to the public’s Ebola panic. Additionally, the vacillating nature of the federal government’s response to Ebola — whipsawing between the CDC’s delayed response to the first Dallas case, to the sudden formation of an Ebola “rapid-response team” by the Pentagon — further confused an already chaotic situation.

However, it is the post-9/11 mentality, in which we are in a constant state of fear of “immediate harm,” which truly has transformed the American psyche from a people once not only unafraid of taking a risk, but who gladly assumed risk as a necessary component of forging a nation and an economy that became the envy of the world, to one more akin that of an abused puppy jumping at the sudden appearance of his own shadow.

It is this pervasive and perverse fear that makes our default response mechanism a call for government officials to do “whatever it takes” to protect us, even if that means surrendering basic liberties to get the job done; something government officials from the president down to the local police chief are all too happy to do (especially if they are awarded the expanded budgetary resources to do so).

The threat of Ebola in the United States prompted calls for the U.S. government to implement bans on citizen travel, and has resulted in the appointment of yet another Obama Czar — all because of a virus that spread to just 0.000002 percent of the U.S. population, including those who contracted it in a foreign country. Considering that the response by government to a crisis — real or concocted — is rarely rapid but always outlasts the incident giving rise to it, there certainly is more to come in the weeks and months ahead, regardless of whether there is even one more case of the dread disease.

The door to government infringement of our liberty once opened, is rarely shut.

This is exactly why the fear instilled by whatever threat plagues society at the moment is often far more dangerous than the threat itself: fear of gun violence leads to increased gun control; fear of terrorism leads to abuses at the airportsfrom the TSA, illegal government spying of phone calls and emails, and violations of due process rights; fear of “global warming” leads to expensive environmental regulations that inhibit economic growth. Yet, even with all of these examples as evidence of why not to rush to government in a panic, we rush for more.

We now have the president and his Secretary of Defense ordering our troops and taxpayer dollars into foreign lands to stop a disease ravaging three small countries in west Africa — countries afflicted because of conditions in those nations that do not exist even remotely in our country. We have our military becoming heavily involved domestically in league with state and local governments in apparent violation of the posse comitatus law; with hardly a question raised about such actions, because most citizens accept as fact when told such activities are “necessary to make us safe.”

These actions remind far too few of our countrymen that, as warned by John Adams in the seminal year 1776, “fear is the foundation of most governments.” The corollary is that fear is the catalyst for increased government power.

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