Friday, July 19, 2013

Our Tax Dollars At Work

Make sure you have a fresh cup of coffee (or other beverage of your choice) and a few spare minutes before starting to read this one. It'll take a while, but IMO it's worth it just for the sheer amusement value of two tales that illustrate a federal government that is either incompetent, out of control, or both.

Feds put the bite on grandmother's baking of cakes
Maria Perez is 68 years old, has three children and eight grandchildren, and has pretty much led a straight-laced life.

But the retired Kelly AFB civilian employee had her door kicked in during a raid by federal agents looking for evidence that she was — wait for it — baking and selling cakes.

Baking and selling cakes is a means of income, and Perez had been claiming disability since 1995 after injuring her back... She's charged, so far, with making a false statement that enabled her to defraud the Labor Department's Office of Workers Compensation Program of less than $1,000 during 2011. She faces up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

“It was just a hobby she likes, and a way to make extra money,” said one of her daughters, Sophie Sanchez, who said birthday cakes sold for $35 and wedding cakes for about $150.

News of her case prompted some court observers to quietly question why she was arrested when federal agencies have more pressing issues.

During the investigation, agents with the department's Office of Inspector General raided her home, kicked in the door and frightened her and her family, according to court paperwork and one of her daughters.

But, the U.S. attorney's office said, there's more to the case than what is on the face of the charging criminal complaint.

The alleged loss amount is about $10,000, and prosecutors used their discretion to charge her with a misdemeanor instead of a more serious felony. They also summoned her to court rather than arrest her, prosecutors said.
Okay, I'll cut the feds some slack on the charges they chose to file. They showed a little compassion and common sense. And I have no problem with efforts to reduce workers comp fraud. Goodness knows there's too much of that. But couldn't they find some more egregious case? I mean, an alleged loss amount of "about $10,000" spread out over 18 years when there are other individuals whose fraudulent claims total well over $100,000. And even worse are scams by doctors and therapists, who submit fraudulent claims for treatment of non-existent patients in the millions of dollars. Let's go after the big fish first.

And kicking in the door ... really? They needed a SWAT team to take down a cake-baking grandmother?
At her initial court hearing, Perez seemed out of place amid drug suspects, hardened con artists and gang members.

Acting on tips that Perez was working while on disability, the complaint said, undercover agents ordered cakes.
Ohhh - a real live undercover sting operation. Were the agents wired, and was the transaction videotaped from a surveilence van, just like on TV?
Sanchez now is worried about how her mom will survive without her disability benefits, which were just enough for her to live on. She lives with another daughter, and her money covered a small mortgage and a car payment, Sanchez said.

“It wasn't anything to become a millionaire over,” she said. “She wasn't driving a Lexus or Mercedes. (It was) just a little to go out to eat once in a while, rather than to cook at home.”
Okay, the cake-baking grandma case is bad enough, although it does have a tinge of justification. But the next one - who the hell was in charge of this fiasco?
This summer, Marty the Magician got a letter from the U.S. government. It began with six ominous words: “Dear Members of Our Regulated Community . . .”

Washington had questions about his rabbit. Again.

Marty Hahne, 54, does magic shows for kids in southern Missouri. For his big finale, he pulls a rabbit out of a hat. Or out of a picnic basket. Or out of a tiny library, if he’s doing his routine about reading being magical.

To do that, Hahne has an official U.S. government license. Not for the magic. For the rabbit.

The Agriculture Department requires it, citing a decades-old law that was intended to regulate zoos and circuses. Today, the USDA also uses it to regulate much smaller “animal exhibitors,” even the humble one-bunny magician.

That was what the letter was about. The government had a new rule. To keep his rabbit license, Hahne needed to write a rabbit disaster plan.

“Fire. Flood. Tornado. Air conditioning going out. Ice storm. Power failures,” Hahne said, listing a few of the calamities for which he needed a plan to save the rabbit.

Or maybe not. Late Tuesday, after a Washington Post article on Hahne was posted online, the Agriculture Department announced that the disaster-plan rule would be reexamined.

“Secretary [Tom] Vilsack asked that this be reviewed immediately and common sense be applied,” department spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said in an e-mail message.

Rowe said that Vilsack had ordered the review “earlier this week.” But it was not announced until 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Just hours before — at 5:50 p.m. — the department had been vigorously defending the rule, with another spokeswoman praising its “flexibility,” saying it was designed to accommodate even a small-time operation such as a magician and a rabbit.

For Hahne, the saga has provided a lesson in one of Washington’s bad old habits — the tendency to pile new rules on top of old ones, with officials using good intentions and vague laws to expand the reach of the federal bureaucracy.

“Our country’s broke,” Hahne said. “And yet they have money and time to harass somebody about a rabbit.”
The magic moment came during a 2005 show in a school library in Monett, Mo. One of the parents in the audience was a USDA inspector. After the show she approached Hahne.
“She said, ‘Show me your license.’ And I said, ‘License for...? “She said, ‘For your rabbit.’ ”

Hahne was busted. He had to get a license or lose the rabbit. He got the license.

The story behind it illustrates the reality of how American laws get made. First Congress passes a bill, laying out the broad strokes. Then bureaucrats write regulations to execute those intentions.

And then, often, they keep on writing them. And writing them.

In this case, the long road to regulated rabbits began in 1965 — when Capitol Hill was captivated with the story of a dognapped Dalmatian named Pepper.

The dog had been stolen from its family, used in medical research and killed. After an outcry, Congress passed a law that required licenses for laboratories that use dogs and cats in research.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions...
In 1970, Congress passed an amendment that extended the law’s reach. It now covered a variety of other animals. And it covered animal “exhibitors,” in addition to labs. At the time, legislators seemed focused on large facilities with lots of animals: “circuses, zoos, carnivals, roadshows and wholesale pet dealers,” said then-Rep. Tom Foley (D-Wash.), a major backer and later speaker of the House.

But the letter of the law was broad. In theory, it could apply to someone who “exhibited” any animals as part of a show.

Apparently, it does.

Hahne has an official USDA license, No. 43-C-0269, for Casey — a three-pound Netherland dwarf rabbit with a look of near-fatal boredom. The rules require Hahne to pay $40 a year, take Casey to the vet and submit to surprise inspections of his home.

Also, if Hahne plans to take the rabbit out of town for an extended period, he must submit an itinerary to the USDA. The 1966 law that started all of this was four pages long. Now, the USDA has 14 pages of regulations just for rabbits.

But not all rabbits. Animals raised for meat are exempt from these rules.

“You’re telling me I can kill the rabbit right in front of you,” Hahne says he asked an inspector, “but I can’t take it across the street to the birthday party” without a license? Also, the law applies only to warmblooded animals. If Hahne were pulling an iguana out of his hat — no license required.

Now, he needs both a license and a disaster plan.

This new rule was first proposed by the USDA in 2006 under President George W. Bush.

Its inspiration was Hurricane Katrina, in which animals from pet dogs to cattle to lab mice were abandoned in the chaos. Now, all licensed exhibitors would need to have a written plan to save their animals.

The government asked for public comments in 2008. It got 997. Just 50 commenters were in favor of the rule as written.

But that, apparently, was enough. After a years-long process, the rule took effect Jan. 30.

Who, exactly, made the decision to implement the rule? An Agriculture Department spokeswoman declined to give a name.

“There was no one person who proposed the regulation or who determined it should be a regulation instead of non-binding guidance,” spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said by e-mail. She said the agency sought to address commenters’ concerns. “Regulations are issued and enforced by the Agency.”
There's never any one person responsible. That's why we have scandals like Fast & Furious, the IRS targeting certain groups and individuals, the NSA spying on us, four dead Americans in Benghazi ... the list is endless.
The department said its review will focus on the way the disaster-plan rule is being applied to small operations such as Hahne’s. But officials could not provide details about what the review will involve. Or how long it will take.
For now, the law still says plans are supposed to be done by July 29.
Even before the USDA announced its review, not every magician seemed to be taking the job seriously.

“I’ll take a piece of paper and put down, ‘Note: Take rabbit with you when you leave,’ ” said Gary Maurer, a magician with a licensed rabbit in South Carolina. “That’s my plan.”

But Hahne has obtained professional help. Kim Morgan, who has written disaster plans for entire federal agencies, heard about his case and volunteered to help write the rabbit’s plan for free.

So far, the plan she has written is 28 pages.
28 pages?!? For a plan to protect one friggin' rabbit?!? GMAFB!!!
“That’s pretty short,” given what the USDA asked for, Morgan said. She covered many of the suggested calamities: chemical leaks, floods, tornadoes, heat waves. But she was able to skip over some concerns that might apply to larger animals.

If the rabbit escapes, “it’s not going to bite people,” Morgan said. There was probably no need to describe how to subdue Casey with tranquilizer darts or coax her off the highway. “It’s not going to stop traffic and cause car accidents.”

When Hahne’s plan is finally ready, it will go into the envelope where he keeps his rabbit license. On one recent day, that envelope was on the dashboard, as Hahne drove to a gig at Little Angels Learning Academy in Battlefield, Mo. Casey was in the back, inside a travel cage. On the side were ­USDA-mandated stickers, to show which direction was up.
The word "Kafkaesque" comes to mind...


Old NFO said...

People who can't fight back... THAT is who they are going after!!!

CenTexTim said...

That's one thing. The other is that so many of those govt programs take on a life of their own that goes far beyond the original purpose.