More Government, Less Liberty

August 27, 2011

A man named Jeremy Hill, in rural Idaho, saw three grizzly bears come onto his property.  Hill’s children were playing outside, and the bears seemed to want to eat some of the family’s pigs.  So he shot and killed one of the bears.  (The other two ran away.)  It’s a straightforward, perfectly legitimate case of self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property, right? 

Apparently the federal government doesn’t think so, and has charged Hill with a crime for which he could be fined up to $50,000 and spend up to a year in prison.  Grizzly bears, you see, are currently protected (as “threatened”) under the Endangered Species Act (one more example of government-imposed perverse incentives that may actually do more harm than good to the “protected” species themselves, besides diminishing liberty).  Even if he is ultimately acquitted, as Mark Steyn says, the process is the punishment.  His friends and neighbors have already scraped together about $20,000 to fund his legal defense.

Not alarmed yet?

Did you know that federal agents (from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service) raided Gibson Guitars this week?  Chief Executive Officer Henry Juszkiewicz

said the company, which began more than a century ago and makes some of the world’s most prized guitars, has worked with environmental groups such as the Rainforest Alliance to ensure its wood imports are from sustainable sources.

“(The government) has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India,” Juszkiewicz said.

This is the second raid in two years, but “charges have yet to be filed”.  In the meantime, apparently the Justice Department says that all business has to grind to a halt:  “‘. . . any guitar that we ship out of this facility is potentially obstruction of justice and will be followed with criminal charges,’ said Juszkiewicz, . . . .”  As Mark Steyn says, the process is the punishment.

It gets worse:

If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent—not to mention face fines and prosecution.

John Thomas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University and a blues and ragtime guitarist, says “there’s a lot of anxiety, and it’s well justified.” Once upon a time, he would have taken one of his vintage guitars on his travels. Now, “I don’t go out of the country with a wooden guitar.”

. . .

It’s not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What’s the bridge made of? If it’s ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar’s headstock bone, or could it be ivory? “Even if you have no knowledge—despite Herculean efforts to obtain it—that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever,” Prof. Thomas has written. “Oh, and you’ll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration.”

The Environmental Protection Agency “is determined to crack down” on the Amish and force them to change the farming methods they’ve used for centuries.  In what is by now a familiar pattern, the government plans to start by pretending to offer friendly suggestions, “But if that does not work, the government will have to resort to fines and penalties.”

The federal government also prohibits all sales of unpasteurized milk across state lines.  It doesn’t matter if the sellers are Amish, if the buyers positively want unpasteurized milk, or even if the buyer cannot drink pasteurized milk.  The Washington Times has the story of a federal “sting”, “including aliases, a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and surreptitious purchases from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania”.  The 5:00-a.m. raid included “U.S. marshals and a state police trooper”.  An opinion piece in the Times further discusses the curious federal ban on raw milk, while the Farm-to-consumer Legal Defense Fund says that the Food and Drug Administration is actually trying to “pressure one state at a time to ban raw milk sales.”

Of course the federal government also presumes to be able to dictate what toilets we can use, what showerheads we can use, and what light bulbs we can use, among other things.  Meanwhile various state governments are cracking down on things like children’s lemonade stands and church bake sales.

As Mark Steyn says, the bigger government gets, the less room that leaves for liberty.  Conservatives want government to be small that liberty may be great.

I know that not everyone reading this is the biggest fan of the Republican Party, and I agree that it’s far from perfect, but don’t you agree that there’s some appeal to a candidate who wants to make Washington, D. C., as inconsequential in your life as possible?

Hat tip to the Constitution Club and Glenn Beck.

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4 Responses to “More Government, Less Liberty”

  1. Snoodickle Says:

    I agree that shooting a Grizzly Bear in defense of human life is no crime. (assuming that’s what really happened). However, I would still criminalize shooting an endangered species in defense of property. The proper course of action when no human life is at risk is to tranquilize the animal and remove it from the property. Chickens and pigs should give way to Grizzly Bears and other endangered species.

    I also agree that the government should leave the Amish alone.

    As far as the ESA and backward incentives, it is unclear what kind of protective scheme the author desires. Does he want to repeal the ESA’s private land provision in its entirety and and leave it to the gentle hearts of commercial landowners whether to spare an endangered species or annihilate it in pursuit of profit? (that’s right, Palin, I’m talking to you). Or does he want a less restrictive scheme, one in which landowners may modify habitat in ways that might harm endangered species, but still prohibit modifications that will cause certain harm to such species? The former is not a viable option if you care about protecting endangered species (which everyone should). No commercial landowner is going to alter his enterprise in a way that makes it less profitable just so he can save a troop of Wood-nosed wood peckers if he does not have to. I simply do not buy the argument that the ESA’s private land provisions do more harm to endangered species than having no protection at all.

    With respect to the latter option, we have to balance the risks against the benefits. The risk is that more endangered species will be wiped out by landowners using their newfound leeway under the ESA to take actions that present a risk of harm to species, but not a certainty of harm. The potential benefit is that a relaxing of the restrictions will prevent some of the preemptive land modification that the author references, which will lead to economic benefits.

    I personally think that protecting endangered species is far more important than economic gain, and so I would not support loosening the ESA’s private land restrictions. Money comes and goes, but once a species is gone, it is gone forever. Mankind should take notice, one day we will be the endangered species.


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