Really? Why not? Are we so desperate for jail inmates we feel it is necessary to prosecute and incarcerate large numbers of people for breaking laws they were not even aware of, let alone aware they were breaking?
We have so many laws on the state’s and nation’s books not even those responsible for enforcing them are always aware they exist. Laws in some states go back hundreds of years and are essentially meaningless today; yet they stay on the books. John Stossel, of FBN fame, is fond of displaying the truckloads of paper it takes just to embody our tax code. Guaranteed just about every citizen is breaking a law somewhere in that pile.
A simple solution to over legislation and regulation efforts would be for Congress to pass a law requiring an expiration date for every new law enacted. Laws funding wars, for example, would be good for one or two years, not for a decade or forever. Concurrent with the new law requiring a stale date on all new legislation will be the requirement that for every new law enacted an expired or useless law must be repealed. After one session of Congress our legislators would be so busy trying to figure out what to eliminate from existing laws, so they can get their new law passed, they wouldn’t be able to get any new regulation legislation passed for years. Talk about a nationwide stimulus package!
Soon, loopholes created during a specific period of need would expire without leaving a gaping wide federal revenue windfall for evermore for a few lucky beneficiaries. A good example would be the oil company tax bonanza created over 100 years ago. Somehow oil barons convinced the legislature that their product was becoming ever scarcer. I suspect the oil barons greased the wheels of Congress to an extraordinary degree to get this law passed. In America a “depletion allowance” was created to offset the “declining” value of a supposedly limited resource and to provide an incentive for those same oil companies to go find more oil. (It seems as if gigantic profits were not enough incentive at the time, and this law was enacted during a time when oil was trading at or below three dollars a barrel.) This tax loophole, which allows all oil producing companies to write off a portion of their income for no real reason, costs the American taxpayers billions of dollars in corporate welfare annually.
New technology has rendered the entire justification for a tax break of this nature obsolete. We are now discovering more oil yearly than the world uses due to the advances in shale oil recovery! But who cares about oil? The United States is the Saudi Arabia of natural gas and could be energy independent in a few years if we weren’t strangled by the oil companies. Oil companies are the proud owners of a product soon to be less and less in demand at a time when more and more is being found and brought to market daily. Incessant demand for more revenue for a less than necessary, obsolete, and environmentally destructive product has been harming the American economy for over 20 years. It’s time we moved on.
Another current body of law being used against the citizens of the world, and in particular against the citizens of this country, involves warrantless searches of our personal computers and digital equipment by the new generation of cyber cops spawned since 9/11. Say, for example, you are curious to discover what is available in the world of pornography. You could be in for a huge surprise! Although it is the largest generating revenue source on the planet, taking the wrong route to pornography can lead you straight to jail. Let’s say you join a chat room for “younger children” to see what your child could be exposed to online. You follow a few links to some streaming video sites and are horrified to discover children are being used as porn stars in some of them.
You get interrupted, it is time to prepare dinner, so you save the videos to review later to see if there is any possible exposure your own kids could have to this threat. Like any busy mom you may not get back to the link for a few days, and without your knowledge, a cyber cop may have followed your link to the file or files you saved to investigate later. You now have an uninvited snoop looking into every facet of your digital life. Based upon the “evidence” you created when you obtained the file, your life can now be turned upside down forever, and a visit from the cyber SWAT cops is probably in your future.
Why? You ask this question in complete innocence. What law could I have broken? The truth is you just tripped over a hair trigger. By law it is perfectly legal to watch anything your heart desires or anything you are curious about. In other words, if kiddie porn is your thing, you can watch children being sexually abused 24/7/365 and never break the law. But… The second you download a tagged movie because you didn’t choose to view it at the moment you acquired it, you just broke the law and entitled law enforcement officials to destroy your life. Does that sound fair or make sense? Who would have any idea such a ridiculously written law even exists?
An even more horrific scenario can unfold. Back in its heyday a service called LimeWire provided a platform for file sharing and boasted a membership of over 100 million subscribers worldwide. Not every country shares the same sexual taboos we do so you need to be very careful what you download. For example, you might be looking for classic movie called “Lolita” starring James Mason. You type in “Lolita” into the search box and you get dozens of modern versions of what are known as “Lolita” movies. These are movies starring children engaging graphic adult videos! Although this content had nothing to do with what you were looking for, by downloading these mislabeled films for viewing later you just bought yourself a lengthy stay in prison!
The tragic part is that justice is blind. You can have the best excuse in the world for downloading a mislabeled movie but no law enforcement department cares. They are looking for inmates and they don’t care where they get them from. The system will gobble you up, swallow you whole, and reduce your life to a pile of detritus.
I am writing in part to suggest most of our justice system is based upon outmoded, obsolete, puritanically biased nonsense. We are bankrupting ourselves putting people who are nonviolent figments of our legislators’ imaginations into prison. By way of compensation for these unfairly jailed victims of our society we provide them the equivalent of what I like to call a poor man’s health retreat. We supply them with a balanced diet, free healthcare while under state or federal supervision, and plenty of entertainment and exercise. Someone like Britney Spears would spend a half $1 million a year to get the same benefits our prisoners get for free. We provide these benefits to our victims of excessive democracy for the bargain price of only $50,000 per inmate per year!
Aren’t we wonderful the way we treat our prisoners? Perhaps, in our heart of hearts, we realize most of them didn’t need to be prisoners in the first place.