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James Shott / Mar. 24, 2015

Choking Off Suffocating Activities Like 'Operation Choke Point'

The federal government’s efforts to restrict the freedoms Americans have enjoyed for more than 200 years have gotten so preposterous recently that the most of these efforts leave people incredulously saying, “Seriously?”

To wit: The Environmental Protection Agency recently went after people who burn wood to heat their homes. Trying to destroy the coal and oil industries isn’t enough, now the EPA thinks wood – an inexpensive, renewable energy source – which is the mainstay of rural homes and of some of the nation’s poorest residents, is harmful, and the agency has banned the sale of 80 percent of wood-burning stoves.

And now the nation’s most out-of-control agency has charcoal grills in its crosshairs, and has funded a project at the University of California with $15,000 of taxpayer money to study the emissions from grease drippings when people indulge in that dangerous activity, outdoor cooking.

First it was toilets, because they used too much water; then inexpensive, safe incandescent light bulbs, which have been replaced with CFLs that contain mercury and emit ultraviolet radiation; and now wood stoves and potentially outdoor grilling. There are too many people on the payroll at the EPA with too much time on their hands.

These efforts are necessary, we are told, to keep the world from grinding to a halt because of … well, some horrible disaster related to climate change, or global warming, or whatever the alarmists are now calling their imagined cataclysm.

Each time some new target becomes public we ask, “Can it get any worse?” Unfortunately, the answer always is, “Yes.”

The EPA is not the only arm of the government harming the good citizens they exist to serve. The Department of Justice has jumped blindly onto that bandwagon with a program even more intolerable than the EPA’s misadventures called Operation Choke Point, which looks way too much like something you would find in other less-free countries, or perhaps used by mob bosses in Chicago.

Operation Choke Point is a method of preventing perfectly legal businesses from being able to operate satisfactorily, not by pointing to a law these businesses have broken or a shady practice they have indulged in, or by going through legislative channels to have what they do declared illegal, as our concept of the rule of law demands, but by underhandedly strong-arming financial institutions with whom these business have accounts, and “convincing” them to not do business with these merchants any longer.

Businesses such as ammunition sales, escort services, on-line gambling, so-called “racist materials,” third party payment processors, payday lenders, and online lenders, have been targeted simply because someone in the DOJ or higher up in the administration doesn’t like them. Some are perhaps undesirable, but all are legal.

What happens is that the DOJ and bank regulators pressure banks and other third-party payment processors to cease providing or deny banking services to industries the government alleges pose a “reputation risk” to the bank or service provider.

Last May, Todd Zywicki wrote in The Washington Post the “initiative has been shrouded in secrecy, but now it is starting to come to light  … and since then it has been difficult to discover details about it … Without an ability to process payments, the businesses – especially online vendors – cannot survive.”

The irony is that while the DOJ and bank regulators are choking off financial services to perfectly legal industries, they are also encouraging banks to provide banking services to illegal marijuana sales.

When you have people in high offices that are more interested in serving some ideological god than they are in serving the American people, and when that ideological god demands the improper use of government force against legal activities, something must be done to stop it.

And last week, the U.S. Senate started down that road. The Senate Budget Committee approved an amendment to end Operation Choke Point, and according to The Daily Signal, Committee member Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, will offer an amendment this week to the Senate’s budget proposal to defund the DOJ program.

Sen. Crapo last year commented that Operation Choke Point “has morphed into an attempt to shut down entire industries of law-abiding and legitimate merchants.” And he sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing “strong concerns” about the program. Unsurprisingly, the Justice Department, declared that it has “no interest in pursuing or discouraging lawful conduct.”

And the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will question FDIC officials about the agency’s involvement in Operation Choke Point, and hopes to find out who was involved, how high up it goes, and whether anyone has been held accountable.

The answer to that last item will likely be “No.” It is virtually unheard of for federal employees to pay a price for their malfeasance. It is also likely we will not learn the any names associated with this outrageous offense.

Cutting funding for the EPA, the DOJ, and any/every other agency that over-reaches is an appropriate mechanism to redress the wrongs they commit against the American people. The government spends far too much money, and cutting spending where it is being used wrongly or unconstitutionally ought to be celebrated by every freedom loving American.


James Shott is a columnist for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, and publishes his columns on several Websites, including his own, Observations.

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