We need an anti-Congress

Now, technically, we already have an anti-Congress.  It’s called the Constitution of the United States, and it sets very specific boundaries on what the Congress is permitted to do: a list of 18 specific responsibilites given in Article I, Section 8.

Thanks to M*A*S*H, “Section 8” is more familiar to us as the provision by which soldiers are found as mentally unfit for service.  It might help if we all think of Congress as falling equally under that category, because they blithely ignore this part of the Constitution in matters great and small, and it’s been getting progressively worse.  From the spectacular overreach to the picayune, from the Health Insurance law they passed (largely unread and deliberately misrepresented) to reaching into our living rooms to confiscate our light bulbs, there’s pretty much nothing left they think they can’t order us to do.

Now, isn’t the Constitution a “living document” and all of that?  Perhaps.  It does offer a provision for its own revision, through Amendments.  It’s a deliberate process.  This is most unwelcome to people who are enamored of their own authority and power, even if we assume that they’re mature enough to actually go through with a long and slow process to do what is required or what they wish.  But again, there are too many spoiled brats in government.  They want it NOW NOW NOW.  They are precocious enough to talk about all the times that quick action is required, and that the Constitution is elastic enough to handle emergencies admitting of no delay; they aren’t attentive enough to see that the Constitution again makes room for those acts in a lawful fashion, and sets strict limits on them.

Stretch any elastic too far and it will permanently deform – if it doesn’t snap outright.

The practical limit on that list of 18 responsibilities is made explicit in Amendments IX and X:

IX – The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

X – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

In current English, this means that the Constitution limits THEM, not US.  We don’t need written permission by law to do anything; the Federal Government is forbidden to act outside its mandate.  That’s the point beyond which our Government is not supposed to stretch.  Yet those boneless would-be potentates are making like Plastic Man with our rights.*

* Actually, that’s not even fair to Plas.  He was a petty criminal whose gang turned on him when he abandoned a robbery rather than kill the night watchman; wounded and left for dead, he turned his powers (and odd sense of humor) to the pursuit of justice.  The Feds’ fingers get stickier as they get longer.

I missed this latest example when it first happened.  That itself is notable – the Feds try this crap so regularly now that it’s impossible to keep up – but the particulars of the bill are galling in nearly every respect.

  • First respect: the bill is so unwieldy that it requires a table of contents and glossary.  The entire US Constitution can fit in my pocket; this thing requires checked luggage.
  • Second respect: supposedly, this bill is about Federal funding of highway projects – one of the things Congress is actually permitted to do! – but “other purposes” get larded into it.  Why not just take care of one thing at a time?
  • Third respect: those “other purposes” are not remotely Constitutional, and actually outnumber the legitimate provisions.
  • Fourth respect: a highway budget bill that contains a lengthy “Revenue Provisions” section containing, among other things, provisions revoking or denying passports for tax dodgers (section 40304) and three sections about pension funding.
  • Fifth respect: provisions for rural schools (100101) and measures against ‘tax haven abuse’ (100201), as well as the funding of several research programs (all of Division E), all having about zero to do with Federal Highways.
  • Sixth respect: an ENTIRE ACT of unrelated legislation, “The National Rail System Preservation, Expansion, and Development Act of 2012,” simply moshed into the body of this highway bill instead of being separately and specifically deliberated and voted on.
  • Seventh respect: a SECOND entire act of unrelated legislation, “Sport Fish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2012,” moshed alongside the previous one.  (This makes three Acts in the document called “AN Act,” singular, in the title – and we haven’t gotten into the Acts that actually deal with roads and cars and commercial freight.)

It’s beyond preposterous that such a thing could be sensibly debated as a single item, much less passed that way.  This is intentional – you slip unrelated business you really want done into a bill the other side really wants passed, and force the opposition to concede on that point in order to get the main business done.  Besides the rank dishonesty on both sides, it means that neither item gets a fair say, and all sorts of terrible ideas become federal laws as the price of doing anything useful.

The thing the American Spectator (and the Gormogons, who clued me wise to this slobbering, gluttonous power grab) specifically covers is section 31406, “Vehicle Event Data Recorders,” a subset of a general list of items covering “Vehicle Electronics and Safety Standards.”  The whole subset is worth a little time.  It creates a Council at the National Highway Traffic Safety office specifically for this brand of meddling in our lives (31401); mandates new braking standards preventing “uncontrolled acceleration” (31402) – you may remember last year that Toyota was falsely accused of having cars that sped up of their own volition, on the basis of a few crashes that were certainly the fault of panicked drivers mashing the incorrect pedal; authorizes new standards for pedal placement (31403); and “rulemaking proceedings” regarding electronic systems (31404) and push-button ignitions (31405).

That brings us to 31406, which mandates that all cars of model year 2015 and beyond shall have black boxes recording all of your driving data.  The Act states that such data is your property – but of course that doesn’t ever stop the bureaucrats.  The rest of our property is encumbered in a hundred different ways, and this shall be no different.  There are provisions within the bill to use the data to service the car, provisions requiring the data to be easily accessible, and right off the bat a means for courts to use the data “in furtherance of a legal proceeding.”

Governments are sometimes urged to intervene to stop organizations from specifically targeting people with ads or content based on what they buy or where they surf the Internet.  Now imagine that it’s the government itself installing cookies and trackers on your car.  Why, nothing could possiblie go wrong!  And this is why I suggest we may need an anti-Congress… a body of unlegislators whose sole business is ridding us of terrible laws, perhaps by a two-thirds vote.  The President could then sign them into oblivion, or “un-veto” them, requiring the Congress to then vote on their erasure as well.  (I’d also suggest an Amendment requiring all Congressional business to be of one topic only, but they’d just ignore that they way they ignore the rest of the thing.)

The American Spectator writer, Eric Peters, speculates that the act in question could justify the commandeering your car via its remote functions, or issuance of traffic citations and insurance surcharges or premium hikes.  I’m not so sure about that – though I am less uncertain than I was five years ago – but honestly, I don’t care if such a thing never actually happens.  I am much more annoyed by the thought that someone’s looking over my shoulder all the time.  I don’t like that even when it’s someone who has absolutely no control or authority over me: kibbitzers are bothersome, whether I’m cooking dinner or reading a book or browsing through a rack of shirts.  It’s nobody’s business if I dial up the Discount Chariot to 75 on the Parkway when it’s 1:00 am and I’m the only car within three miles.  It’s nobody’s business if I happen to be parked four blocks away from some notorious hangout whose existence I have never even suspected.  It’s nobody’s business if I decide on a whim to drive someplace I’ve never gone, and will never revisit.  There are at least four different Amendments (4, 9, 10, 14) along with other main-body Articles that this multi-Act would run foul of.

This total load of hooey has already passed the Senate – Harry Reid finds this more pressing than a Federal Budget (1100 days and counting, Senators!).  When it shambles into the House, I really hope some enterprising Representative opens debate on these provisions thus:

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5 thoughts on “We need an anti-Congress

  1. thewebbard April 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Unfortunately there’s nothing new here and these type of shenanigans (shoving unrelated bills into other bills) (and loading them with pork) is nothing new. Although on the bright side the courts can always deem the car black boxes illegal, so it will be interesting to see how that goes.

    • nightfly April 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      As the Spectator article mentions, the boxes are already in many cars, notably the GM “On-Star” models. I’ve seen news reports that people who have reported their cars stolen have recovered them because the dispatch folks can simply deactivate the motor and phone police with their location, for example. That is actually quite cool. Somewhat less cool is that the box still gathers all that data even if the car’s owner has chosen not to renew the On-Star service, and GM dutifully records every scrap.

      So, the boxes are not de facto illegal, just by their presence. It’s the requirement that all cars have them that rankles, and that I hope fails muster. I don’t own a GM, nor plan to, in part because of this creepy surviellance system (now standard!). If the law makes them compulsory, then I’m SOL.

  2. the twisted spinster April 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I kind of like the idea of Section 8-ing everyone in Congress. It’s pretty clear that most of them are crazier than a sack full of rabid rats.

  3. Robert Hewes May 4, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I’ve long thought we needed a fourth branch of government. I’d like there to be one person given the ability to erase any law and any time. Ideally we’d staff the office with the most bat-shit crazy person we could find.

  4. […] for once, I’m not going to track down that report and go over the highlights, like I did with the Act in Multiple Acts from last week.  Frankly, there’s no need.  If you’ve stuffed 478 pages full of […]

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