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Jacob Sullum: The year's highlights in shifting responsibility


August 24. 2013 10:59PM
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In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network last March, shortly before he announced that he was running for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich reflected on his sins, which include cheating on his first two wives with women he would later marry. “At times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country,” he said, “I worked far too hard, and ... things happened in my life that were not appropriate.”You might have thought that Gingrich's serial adultery reflected a different sort of passion and that his inability to control it reflected poorly on his self-discipline, not to mention his truthfulness, his loyalty and the reliability of his promises. But how can you fault him for loving his country so much that he forgot he was married?Gingrich's depiction of his infidelity as a testament to his patriotism was one of the year's most memorable exercises in responsibility deflection. Some more highlights:• Got a Light? In February, the Justice Department, as part of its lawsuit against the major tobacco companies, demanded a “corrective statement” saying, “We falsely marketed low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes.” It did not mention that the federal government, which approved the machine-based method for determining “tar” yields and pressured cigarette manufacturers to advertise those numbers, was complicit from the beginning in marketing practices it now deems fraudulent.• Bird Shot. “Will Toucan Sam go the way of Joe Camel?” The New York Times wondered after the Federal Trade Commission proposed guidelines for marketing food to children in April. “By explicitly tying advertising to childhood obesity,” the Times said, the FTC was indicting “cuddly figures like Cap'n Crunch, the Keebler elves (and) Ronald McDonald.” How can food-hawking characters introduced in the 1960s be blamed for weight trends that began in the 1980s?• Poker Choker. In September, federal prosecutors accused Full Tilt Poker of defrauding customers by failing to keep enough money on hand to cash them out at a time when “the company faced a growing shortfall ... related to its inability to collect funds from U.S. players.” The federal government deliberately created that shortfall by threatening to prosecute people for processing payments related to online poker.• Cannabis Capitulator. When she blocked implementation of Arizona's new medical marijuana law last May, Gov. Jan Brewer, a self-proclaimed champion of the 10th Amendment, blamed the Justice Department, claiming she was afraid, despite assurances from the state's U.S. attorney, that regulators overseeing dispensaries would face federal prosecution. Seven months later, Brewer, who opposed the ballot initiative that legalized the medical use of marijuana, finally admitted she was determined to thwart the will of Arizona's voters, asking a federal judge to overturn the policy they had approved.• Super Zero. Last summer, Congress, which had shown no signs of fiscal restraint even though it had several committees dedicated to spending, decided the solution was another committee: the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The “supercommittee” was supposed to relieve Congress of responsibility for making hard budgetary decisions. And even if it failed, it would succeed, because then spending cuts would kick in “automatically” (assuming Congress let them), insulating legislators from blame. Washington's best minds still are trying to figure out how it all fell apart.• Gun Play. This one is technically from the very end of 2010, but it happened after my review of last year: A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit in which Lee Paige, a former employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration, claimed officials at the agency had made him a “target of jokes, derision, ridicule, and disparaging comments,” ruining his career as an undercover agent and motivational speaker, by releasing an embarrassing video of him that was widely viewed online. In the video, which shows Paige discussing firearm safety with a group of Florida schoolchildren, he proclaims, “I'm the only one in this room professional enough ... to carry this Glock 40” — right before shooting himself in the foot.





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