A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘Corruption Corner’ Category

Without Government Who Would Artificially Increase the Cost of Healthcare

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Advocates of government monopolized healthcare (they usually call it “national” or “universal” healthcare) argue that their favored system is necessary because market actors have an incentive to constantly increase the cost of healthcare. The opposite is true. Market actors have an incentive to provide cheaper and more effective services because doing so will attract new customers by both attracting customers who formerly couldn’t afford their services and siphoning customers away from their competitors. However, government has an incentive to increase healthcare costs because doing so protects its favored providers:

Dr. Gajendra Singh walked out of his local hospital’s outpatient department last year, having been told an ultrasound for some vague abdominal pain he was feeling would cost $1,200 or so, and decided enough was enough. If he was balking at the price of a routine medical scan, what must people who weren’t well-paid medical professionals be thinking?

The India-born surgeon decided he would open his own imaging center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and charge a lot less. Singh launched his business in August and decided to post his prices, as low as $500 for an MRI, on a banner outside the office building and on his website.

There was just one barrier to fully realizing his vision: a North Carolina law that he and his lawyers argue essentially gives hospitals a monopoly over MRI scans and other services.

In all fairness to the politicians of North Carolina, I’m sure the hospitals in the state paid them a tremendous amount of money to buy such a favor.

The reason healthcare in the United States is so costly is because the government has inserted itself more and more into the healthcare market. Medical products cannot be released without obtaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which demands a princely sum before one can receive approval. Drugs that used to be over-the-counter now require people to first pay a doctor to write a prescription before acquiring them. Government protected monopolies in the form of patents allow drug companies to charge whatever price they want because they have no fear of competitors offering a cheaper alternative. And stories like this, where new market actors are crushed by bureaucrats in order to protect their favored healthcare providers, are rampant.

When something is causing a problem, more of it isn’t going to alleviate that problem. Government is the reason healthcare in the United States is so expensive. Handing the government a complete monopoly over healthcare isn’t going to alleviate that problem.

Written by Christopher Burg

August 3rd, 2018 at 10:30 am

You Live in a Police State

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When people think of police states they get an image of jackbooted thugs performing nightly raids in every neighborhood for the purpose of disappearing seemingly random citizens. Because of that image most people fail to recognize a real police state when they’re living in one. A real police state is far more subtle. It is a state where the government reserves for itself the right to harass anybody for entirely arbitrary reasons:

If you fall asleep or use the bathroom during your next flight, those incriminating facts could be added to your federal dossier. Likewise, if you use your laptop or look at noisy children seated nearby with a “cold, penetrating stare,” that may be included on your permanent record. If you fidget, sweat or have “strong body odor” — BOOM! the feds are onto you.

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Anyone who has recently traveled to Turkey can apparently be put on the list — as well as people “possibly affiliated” with someone on a terrorist watchlist (which contains more than a million names). The program is so slipshod that it has targeted at least one airline flight attendant and a federal law enforcement agent.

After a person makes the Quiet Skies list, a TSA air marshal team is placed on his next flight. Marshals receive “a file containing a photo and basic information” and carefully note whether the suspect’s “appearance was different from information provided” — such as whether he has “gained weight,” is “balding” or “graying,” has a beard or “visible tattoos” (bad news for Juggalo fans of the Insane Clown Posse). Marshals record and report any “significant derogatory information” on suspects.

The key to a police state is that just because the government reserves for itself the right to harass anybody for entirely arbitrary reasons doesn’t mean it will choose to harass everybody or even a majority of people. Usually a police state will choose to harass only a small percentage of people, which allows the majority of people to believe that they don’t live in a police state because they’ve never been harassed.

The United States is a police state. The government has established a system of laws so complete that it is impossible not to be in violation of the law. Moreover, the government grants its agencies a great deal of free reign. The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) can surveil any air traveler for any arbitrary reason, including them somehow being associated with one of a million individuals on a secret list, and there is no way to know what the result of that surveillance is because the TSA has long had the power to add people to secret lists of people who it has the right to harass. But since most air travelers won’t suffer consequences from this practice, they will continue to be oblivious to the fact that they live in a police state.

Government Creates the Problems It Solves

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Here’s a familiar story. A government body implements a new policy that causes major hardships for a large number of people then swoops in to “fix” the problem. That’s what’s happening here:

The Trump administration plans to offer up to $12 billion in aid to farmers hit by tariffs on their goods, an emergency bailout intended to ease the pain caused by Trump’s escalating trade war in key electoral states, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters Tuesday.

First the government created the problem by implementing tariffs then it offered to redistribute some wealth to those hurt by the tariffs. Of course the redistributed wealth has to come from somewhere, which means another problem will be created by the government that it will then claim to solve.

Written by Christopher Burg

July 25th, 2018 at 10:00 am

It’s Good to Be the King

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It’s good to be the king. When you’re the king, you don’t have to put up with insults from your subjects:

When body-camera footage of an aggressive or abusive police officer goes viral, the response from law enforcement groups is often to caution that we shouldn’t judge the entire system based on actions of a few bad apples. That’s fair enough. But what does it say about the system when the cops gets away with their bad behavior? What if, despite video footage clearly showing that the cops are in the wrong, sheriffs and police chiefs cover for them, anyway? What if local prosecutors do, too? What if even mayors and city attorneys get into the act?

Adam Finley had such an interaction with a bad cop. He was roughed up, sworn at and handcuffed. When he tried to file a complaint, he was hit with criminal charges. The local police chief turned Finley’s wife against him, which (according to both Finley and her) eventually ended their marriage. The fact that video of the incident should have vindicated him didn’t seem to matter.

This is a really good story to read because it illustrates a lot of facts about modern law enforcement, the power of authority, and local government. Even though body camera footage clearly showed the officer was abusing his authority, Finley had his life ruined because the people tasked with overseeing the law enforcer covered for him. This shouldn’t be surprisingly since all of the people tasked with overseeing the law enforcer work for the same government as the law enforcer. But many people still make the mistake of believing that government oversight of law enforcement is an effective check against abuse when, in fact, government oversight of law enforcement is merely the government overseeing itself. Whenever you give an entity the power to oversee itself, it has a strong tendency to find that it did nothing wrong.

Body Cameras Are for the Benefit of Prosecutors, Not You

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For decades there has been an continuously increasing number of reports of law enforcers abusing their power. Unfortunately, many of these reports boiled down to he said, she said because of the lack of evidence. Moreover, when he said, she said reports involving law enforcers crop up, the courts that are tasked with overseeing them (but also happen to work for the same employer), tend to side with them. This tendency spurred a call by many for police body cameras. While there was some push back from the law enforcement community regarding body cameras, most departments seemed to roll over with comparatively little resistance, which should have been a red flag that they knew something that we didn’t.

Now that body cameras have been widely deployed for some time, we finally have enough evidence to establish a theory about why so many law enforcement departments rolled over so easily. They recognized that body cameras were valuable assets when prosecutors needed evidence and malfunctioning junk when law enforcers might be shown in a bad light:

Techdirt has the goods on a pretty crazy story out of Albuquerque. Five police officers were at the scene of a fatal shooting. All five were wearing body cameras. And miraculously, none of the five captured usable footage from the shooting on their body cameras.

A sergeant on the scene claimed to have turned his camera on, but the camera didn’t record. He’d later say his camera had never malfunctioned like that before. Ditto for another officer whose camera weirdly captured footage so pixelated that it was unusable — again, no one had ever seen that problem before. A third officer says his camera malfunctioned just before the shooting. Mysteriously, the camera has not had a problem since. A fourth said his camera mistakenly became unplugged. Analysis showed it had been turned on eight minutes before the shooting, then turned off just moments before the fatal encounter. A fifth officer’s camera captured 10 seconds of vague footage. It should have captured at least 30, given the camera’s buffer function. He had failed to turn it on.

Regular readers of The Watch may recall that this isn’t even the first time five police cameras all conveniently malfunctioned at a critical time.

Five officers experiencing body camera malfunctions during an incident involving a fatal shooting is pretty much unbelievable in of itself but if you read the rest of the story, you’ll learn that this sort of thing has happened on numerous occasions. Strangely enough I haven’t seen any reports where multiple body cameras have malfunctioned during incidents that reflect well on the officers involved. If the reports of malfunctioning body cameras are to be believed, then the malfunction must be caused by law enforcers performing questionable actions.

Realistically body cameras were never meant to be tools to hold law enforcers accountable. They were sold as such so community members would support their adoption but they were really meant to collect additional evidence to assist prosecutors. And this scam works because the body tasked with holding law enforcers accountable just happens to be the same body for which the law enforcers generate revenue. Did you really think that government bodies were interested in potentially hurting their revenue by pissing off their revenue generators?

Written by Christopher Burg

July 11th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Taking Children to Court

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The immigration laws in the United States are asinine but you can’t fully appreciate the absurdity of the entire immigration system until you look at the court system that deals with immigration issues:

As the White House faces court orders to reunite families separated at the border, immigrant children as young as 3 are being ordered into court for their own deportation proceedings, according to attorneys in Texas, California and Washington, D.C.

Requiring unaccompanied minors to go through deportation alone is not a new practice. But in the wake of the Trump administration’s controversial family separation policy, more young children — including toddlers — are being affected than in the past.

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The children being detained under the new “zero tolerance” policy, though, are facing immigration proceedings without mom or dad by their side.

“The parent might be the only one who knows why they fled from the home country, and the child is in a disadvantageous position to defend themselves,” Toczylowski said.

This is a perfect example of bureaucracy run amuck. There is no logical reason to have a three-year-old child appear in a courtroom. They likely have no idea why they were dragged into this country. Mom and dad probably just told them one morning that they were moving. But the letter of the law says that that child has to appear in court so they are dutifully dragged into court by the government goons who are just following orders.

Bureaucracies may be the worst invention humanity ever developed. Through the system of bureaucracy personal accountability is disposed of entirely. Whenever you’re tasked with doing something stupid or illogical in a bureaucracy you just need to respond with, “Those are the rules. I’m just doing my job.” If you find yourself questioning the morality of what you’ve been tasked with doing in a bureaucracy, you can just tell yourself that the rules were written by really smart people who know better than you. The invention of bureaucracies enabled far too many people to act as mindless automatons.

Written by Christopher Burg

June 29th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Voting Other People’s Money to Yourself Must Be Nice

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Affordable housing is a hot topic here in the Twin Cities. Most people believe that there isn’t enough and that the solution is to bulldoze a bunch of existing infrastructure so it can be replaced with luxury high-density residential buildings. However, the politicians in Washington DC perceive a similar problem in their area but are coming up with a different solution:

Democratic members of Congress want taxpayers to subsidize their housing, signing onto legislation that would allow them to deduct living expenses for members of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.) introduced a bill that would ban members of Congress from sleeping in their offices and would change the tax code to allow House members to deduct their spending on housing in D.C. up to $3,000. The deduction would not apply to senators.

Thompson has also proposed turning a vacant building near Capitol Hill into apartments for House members at the expensive of taxpayers, which critics have dubbed a “Congressional Animal House.”

Being able to vote other people’s money to yourself must be nice. You can’t find a place to live in a price range you desire? Just vote to force the taxpayers to build you an apartment complex. While you’re at it, you might as well vote yourself a special tax deduction for housing that doens’t apply to anybody else. After all, you’re far more important than the little people from whom you’re stealing so it’s not only OK, it’s the moral to do!

Written by Christopher Burg

June 26th, 2018 at 10:00 am

Just Drug ‘Em

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The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) can’t keep itself away from controversy. Fortunately, the latest controversy doesn’t involve another unarmed person being gunned down. Instead it involves people being drugged against their will, oftentimes without any crimes being committed:

Minneapolis police officers have repeatedly requested over the past three years that Hennepin County medical responders sedate people using the powerful tranquilizer ketamine, at times over the protests of those being drugged, and in some cases when no apparent crime was committed, a city report shows.

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The number of documented ketamine injections during Minneapolis police calls increased from three in 2012 to 62 last year, the report found, including four uses on the same person. On May 18, around the time the draft report was completed, Minneapolis police Cmdr. Todd Sauvageau issued a departmental order saying that officers “shall never suggest or demand EMS Personnel ‘sedated’ a subject. This is a decision that needs to be clearly made by EMS Personnel, not MPD Officers.”

This story involves two groups of bad actors. The first group is the usual suspects, MPD officers. The second group are the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel who administer the drugs simply because an MPD officer asked them.

Not surprisingly, both MPD and the EMS people involved have issued statements that absolve themselves of responsibility. MPD at least tried to smooth things over by announced that it has put a new policy in place. While new department policies seldom change actual behavior, it’s a step better than the shut up slaves statement given by Hennepin EMS Medical Director Jeffrey Ho:

The draft report prompted sharply different reactions among local officials. A statement included in the report from Hennepin EMS Medical Director Jeffrey Ho and Minnesota Poison Control System Medical Director Jon Cole dismissed the findings of the report as a “reckless use of anecdotes and partial snapshots of interactions with police, and incomplete information and statistics to draw uninformed and incorrect conclusions.”

“This draft report will prevent the saving of lives by promoting the concept of allowing people to exhaust themselves to death,” Cole and Ho wrote.

Pro tip: if you’re going to claim that a report is based on anecdotal and partial information and are in a position to provide the information that supports your claim, you should release that information. Failing to do so makes it look like your statement is nothing more than an attempt to cover your ass.

The fact that MPD requested the sedation of a subject isn’t the real red flag of this story. There are circumstances where sedating somebody is the best option for everybody involved, including the suspect. However, the rapid increase in the number of sedations is a red flag. Going from three in 2012 to 62 in 2017 is a drastic increase in just five years. Statements from officials and policy changes aren’t going to answer the important question of why was there such a dramatic increase?

Written by Christopher Burg

June 15th, 2018 at 10:30 am

She Totally Had It Coming

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Remember the officer who protected and served the shit out of a 20-year-old woman on Memorial Day? He claimed that the reason he took the woman to the ground and began pummeling her was because she spat on him and kicked him in the nuts. While such an excuse doesn’t justify such behavior, he did claim that his body camera footage would exonerate him. That footage was released but I’m having a tough time seeing when she spat on him or kicked him in the nuts:

What I see are a few officers harassing a girl and her getting agitated and walking away. Then I see one of the officers pursue her and eventually rush her. When that happens she puts up her hands defensively, probably instinctively, and is quickly taken to the ground and pummeled. It’s possible that she kicked the officer in the nuts when he rushed her but that would have been self-defense, not assault, as the officer had no grounds at that point for rushing her.

Instead of exonerating him, the body camera footage proves that the officer lied about the situation. Now the question is, will any meaningful punishment befall him for lying and assaulting a woman? I’m guessing there won’t be.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 31st, 2018 at 10:00 am

Without Government, Who Would Traffic Children

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Remember this story about how the federal government “misplaced” almost 1,500 migrant children? I mentioned the possibility that some of these children may have ended up with human traffickers. It turns out that my predication was accurate:

The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations opened its inquiry after law enforcement officials uncovered a human trafficking ring in Marion, Ohio, last year. At least six children were lured to the United States from Guatemala with the promise of a better life, then were made to work on egg farms. The children, as young as 14, had been in federal custody before being entrusted to the traffickers.

“It is intolerable that human trafficking — modern-day slavery — could occur in our own backyard,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and the chairman of the subcommittee. “But what makes the Marion cases even more alarming is that a U.S. government agency was responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of their abusers.”

Not only did human trafficking happen in your backyard, Senator Portman, but it was enabled by the very government you help run.

But those six children weren’t the only ones who ended up in the hands of traffickers:

In addition to the Marion cases, the investigation found evidence that 13 other children had been trafficked after officials handed them over to adults who were supposed to care for them during their immigration proceedings. An additional 15 cases exhibited some signs of trafficking.

The report also said that it was unclear how many of the approximately 90,000 children the agency had placed in the past two years fell prey to traffickers, including sex traffickers, because it does not keep track of such cases.

Of course the agency doesn’t keep track of such cases. It looks bad if even one child in an agency’s care ends up in the hands of a human trafficker. If it kept track of such cases, the numbers would likely add up pretty quickly and the agency would look absolutely terrible.

Time and time again we’re told by statists that government is necessary to protect the vulnerable people in society. But who protects the vulnerable people from the government? Since the United States government has declared a monopoly on justice and hasn’t bestowed the power to oversee it to any other agency, there is no recourse in cases like this. Sure, some government officials are “investigating” the matter but history shows that investigations rarely result in any meaningful punishments or changes. At most the heads of a few agencies will be required to step down (after which, they’ll probably be hired by a lobbyist group and receive an even higher salary). After that the entire matter will be swept under the rug.

Written by Christopher Burg

May 29th, 2018 at 11:00 am