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When does government go too far?

When I was in elementary school, probably about 6th grade, some of my classmates were made into cross guard monitors. I didn't feel that I should have to obey their crossing direction when I approached a street corner, since we were all the same age. So I ignored them. This however didn't sit well with one newly-minted deputized monitor, so he reported me to the principal's office. When I was asked why I didn't obey the classmate monitor, I answered that I didn't see what expertise the monitor, of my own age, had over me. The principal answered me with a question; "Why should I (the principal) have to obey a policeman? We're equals too." I was impressed with the answer and I that's when I first thought about the idea that people can act against their own self interests even if they know better and that it sometimes takes an "authority" to protect people from themselves.

In 1984, when I started working for the Post Office, employees were allowed to smoke on the workroom floor even while handling the mail. There were ash trays set up by the letter cases. About 7 years later, smoking was confined to some of the break rooms. Walking in one of them was like being in an incinerator and you felt sorry for people who would spend more than a few seconds there (in other words for the poor shmos who were addicted to that destructive habit). Smokers knew that it was no longer their choice to smoke wherever they wanted but they didn't complain. In 1993, the Post Office banned all smoking from their buildings and guess what? Some smokers had to run outside to catch a puff here and there but it seemed that most smokers were actually pushed off of the habit entirely. I was a Democrat then and indeed I saw a positive force that regulation can have.

Since then however, I've seen so many cases of government meddling, including in my own real estate business, spending too many days in court having to deal with unfair judges in regard to dead-beat tenants. In 1996, when I was sufficiently fed up with the welfare mentality and crime that pervaded our city streets, I became a Republican. I've remained with the philosophy of small but effective government ever since, but I'm not an absolutist and as I indicated above, I've noted to myself that regulations are useful and necessary in any society. Life isn't simple and it's really a matter of judging each situation on the merits.

I think that John Stossel, who is a well-known Libertarian, does a remarkable job with reporting government waste. He cites examples of police officers in different parts of the country, shutting down lemon-aid stands and girl scouts selling cookies, because the children had no permits. The rationale is that the public could be harmed if the children sold a customer tainted food or drink. A California woman complained that code enforcement stopped her from conducting a small Bible group in her home because she didn't have a permit for such a gathering. Obviously government is not being helpful here.

Stossel reports of a man in Arizona, a "red" state, no less, who had bought a home with a certain tree on the property which he was fond of and was even even a factor in the decision to buy the house. He was confronted by local authorities, however, after he bought it who told him that he must cut down the tree because it was not on an approved list by the local department of Planning and Development Services. This order was issued based on a "nuisance and property maintenance" ordinance. The homeowner argued and it was demonstrated in Stossel's report, that there were many such trees on other properties that were not being targeted at all by the authorities. The authorities were not suayed by the homeowner's argument, however, and he was told that he would be fined $2 thousand a day and could be put in jail for six months for non compliance. Serious government meddling.

However, two reports of Stossel's report were really frightening to learn about. One, where a businessman in Florida was importing lobsters from Honduras for 15 years or so when all of a sudden, one day, agents from the FBI, Customs, IRS and National Fisheries Service swarmed in and shut down his operation. The problem was, which he claims he didn't know beforehand, was that - Honduras had a law that the lobsters had to be shipped in 40 lb. boxes and he had shipped the lobsters in plastic bags, the same as the other seafood importers had done. The businessman had no prior record but he was sentenced to 8 years in prison of which he served 6! His business went under in bankruptcy and his marriage didn't survive either. The businessman claimed that the government spent $5 million to convict him. This is Frankenstein government.

The other case, was of a couple in Idaho who had bought a parcel of land and had it approved for building a house. There were, however, some logs that had blocked a drainage on their property which caused a pool of water. The drainage belonged to the Federal government and it was their responsibility to unblock it. But due to a lack of manpower, the Feds authorized the couple to remove the logs themselves and would later reimburse them. So the couple unblocked the drain and the water cleared from the property. However the EPA had already determined at some point, that their property was a "wetlands" due to the standing water and ordered the couple to restore their property to its "wetlands" condition - in other words, block up the drainage again so the water should pool again. This would render their land unproductive because they wouldn't be able to build their house on a pool of water. In fact, they were to be fined $37K per day for as long as the land was not restored. The couple had to sell the property and declared bankruptcy. This is Frankenstein government on steroids.

Society however, readily accepts the war on drugs, which according to DrugSense.org, the Federal government, this year alone, spent over $3 billion on, while America still has the highest rate of marijuana and cocaine use in the world. John Kerry, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have all violated drug laws that others serve time for. Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami, to name just a few, have drug gangs and thousands of people are killed, each year, over this "war", including many innocent bystanders. All because we created a black market. Whereas in Portugal, since all drugs were decriminalized in 2001 - usage, addiction and crime all went down significantly. The Cato institute issued a study of Portugal's decriminalization act and found that after it went into effect, Portugal had the lowest lifetime marijuana use rate of the E.U., that of 10%. The Cato report concluded that "Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," Read more: http://www.time.com/.../article/0,8599,1893946,00.html

In our country, we accept that air bags, seat belts and speed limits are mandated by law. We accept all types of zoning ordinances and laws regulating commerce. However when it comes to Bloomberg's public health initiatives we become intolerant. Michael Bloomberg has issued directives to ban smoking in bars and restuarants, lowering trans fats and salt in foods, calorie information in fast food joints, banning of sugary drinks larger than 16 ozs. (which contains 27 cubes of sugar), an education campaign about loud music from ear buds to the latest - that store managers hide cigarettes from public view (to lower impulse buying).

"Nanny Bloomberg" is addressing serious issues in our society contrary to popular public sentiment. For instance, regarding the ear bud education campaign; a study by Dr. Joseph Shargorodsky as reported by CBS news, shows that today's youth have a 30% hearing loss over youth measured in 1988. Obesity, on a national level, costs us close to $200 billion per year. ABC news estimated back in 2009 that an obese individual pays an extra $1,500 per year in health care, which we all pay for, of course. 65% of Americans are overweight or obese.

With the extra money that we save from his public health measures, we could easily make up for the $240 million that Andrew Cuomo is slated to cut from city services related to developmentally disabled individuals and for essential infrastructure maintenance. We don't have the money to spend for people's medical care and disability, of their own doing, andalso for society's legitimate needs. If we were, G-d forbid, in a major war and we had to ration, the way America did during WWII we wouldn't think twice about doing that. In our time and circumstances, we don't have to ration food but we do have to ration financial resources.

So I am weighing in, perhaps with the disapproval of my comrades on the right, in favor of Bloomberg's "Nanny State". The Torah's admonishes us not to be a Zolel V'soveh (glutton) and Ushmartem L'nafshoseichem (to watch our health). As long as Mayor Bloomberg stays on the right side of the law and prevails in court on his measures (we shall see if he wins on appeal with the big cup soda ban), I think he has the Torah's nod of approval .

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