Grassroot Perspective: SCOTUS, POTUS, and More

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Scanning the week’s national news, views and clues with you and yours in mind

By Malia Hill


Quote of the Week:
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” — Frederick Douglass, Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of
the Emancipation Proclamation (1886)

Each week, we’ll be monitoring the web to find the most interesting, challenging, or important items for those who are concerned about liberty, accountability, and big government.  Here are some of the highlights from the past week:

Contempt for Administration’s “Transparency”

In one of his numerous rhetorical flights upon taking office, President Obama promised that his administration would set a standard for transparency. He neglected to add the critical addendum “Unless, of course, the information requested could be embarrassing, in which case we plan to set a standard for obfuscation and partisanship.”

And now we see the literal contempt that certain Administration officials have for transparency, with Attorney General Eric Holder being held in contempt of Congress for his refusal to hand over documents to a Congressional oversight committee that was understandably curious about what the Justice Department was thinking when it lied about the management and clean-up of a gun tracking program that failed so completely in its objectives that it contributed to the death of a Border Patrol officer.

Sadly, if unexpectedly, Democrats in Congress have decided to overlook the scandal in favor of re-characterizing it as a partisan battle. If every possible effort to bring accountability to government becomes a partisan shouting match (which seems to be the trend), then the public is soon going to learn just how meaningless that transparency rhetoric can be.

Supreme Court Tests Our Mettle

How you feel about yesterday’s Supreme Court decision is probably large defined by your politics and your level of pessimism. Though I abhor the individual mandate and agree with the dissent that the Court does not have the power to rewrite a penalty into a tax (and should not), it isn’t necessarily time to panic. In fact, as Erick Erickson writes, there is a silver lining to Chief Justice Roberts’ implicit decision to toss the meat of the controversy back into the laps of voters. This does unquestionably make Obamacare a key election issue, which has led some to wonder whether Roberts is really an evil genius for the GOP. And there is also comfort to be found in the Court’s rejection of the Administration’s attempt to expand the power of the Commerce Clause in frankly frightening ways. And perhaps a perverse pleasure to be found in the forced admission that this is, in fact, a new and substantial tax, despite the President’s claims to the contrary.

What happens next?  Well, there is still an increasingly significant election at stake that could make a real difference, but in the meantime, the Mercatus Center has an estimate of exactly how much yesterday’s decision will cost.

Rock the vote. . .or, you know, don’t

Everyone should vote. That’s one of those little bits of modern dogma that people accept and parrot without thinking. And this despite the fact that quite a few of us might say it and still be “too busy” to get around to the polls on Election Day. A little reflection might tell you that if someone doesn’t care enough to vote, then maybe it’s just as well that he doesn’t. (We’re not exactly looking at an informed voter here.)  But it seems that a few people are looking to criminalize voter apathy by making voting compulsory. As Jonah Goldberg explains, not only is such a plan foolish on a practical level, but it defeats and demeans the very notion of civic responsibility that it is meant to champion. After all, an action that is carried out via coercion loses its value as an action of civic virtue and duty, which require an act of free will in order to have meaning. Plus, one can’t help but wonder whether the compulsory vote crowd would be so enthusiastic in their cause if they weren’t sure that the folks they were forcing into the voting booth would be voting for “their” side.

License to Braid

When we talk about government restraint on business, we rarely think about the possibility that some of these restraints come from other businesses. It makes sense though. What better way to hamstring your competition than by putting up regulatory barriers (like licensing requirements) to new businesses while grandfathering in existing practitioners?

Take the tale of Jestina Clayton, who, having left her native Africa (where she learned traditional methods of hair-braiding as a girl), moved to the U.S., attended school, and at age 22, opened her own salon specializing in the hair braiding techniques she had known since childhood.  Until she came up against the state of Utah’s regulatory requirements for being a licensed hair braider, which would cost her $16,000 in tuition for an additional two years of school (very little of which would deal with the braiding carried out by her business) in order for her to continue her business.

Absurd?  Yes.  Irrational?  Sure.  And also astoundingly common.  There’s even a name for it–regulatory capture–and it’s one of the reasons that the percentage of professions requiring government licensing has risen from 5% to 30% in the last 50 years. As the New York Times explains, such practices are exactly what our economy and new entrepreneurs don’t need.  And I think it’s safe to say that if the New York Times is criticizing a state’s level of government intrusion in business, then they have probably gone too far.

Green Sense from the Gaia Guy

What if a prominent environmentalist recants some of his previous alarmist statements, but he’s in a forest and there’s no one around to hear him?  Will his former acolytes still disavow him?  James Lovelock, world renowned scientist and environmentalist recently gave an interview to MSNBC in which he admitted to being unduly “alarmist” about climate change.  But that wasn’t the only blow he made in his criticism of the modern environmentalist movement.  He also reiterated his support for nuclear power, criticized people for treating global warming like a religion, made light of the fantasy that modern economies can be powered by wind turbines, and (most interestingly of all) took issue with the statement that the “science is settled” on global warming.  It says something about how far the Green Movement has strayed from its supposedly scientific beginnings that such simple and common sense statements from a respected member of the movement could be considered shocking.

Views expressed in this column are intended to promote creative thought, educate, and, we hope, prompt comment. Accordingly, thoughts expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii or the author.

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