The penumbra of power

A few weeks ago, Apple executives were called on the Congressional carpet for… well, it’s not really clear, actually.  Congress was very angry at them for failing to haul international profits back to the United States so they could be taxed at confiscatory anti-growth American rates.  Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) countered by pointing out that everyone tries to legally minimize their tax liability.  Accountants who failed to take such opportunities would be failing in their duty to shareholders.


Today, the news broke that Apple has hired the scandal-plagued former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, to handle… well, it’s not really clear, actually.  She’ll be paid big bucks for offering “environmental advice” and making sure Apple data centers use “renewable wind and solar energy,” which means they’ll be paying far more than necessary for power that doesn’t work when it’s cloudy or the winds are calm.  And no one seems to care about windmills shredding birds, including bald eagles, so apparently birds aren’t really part of the environment any more.  It seems like only yesterday that Western liberals were consigning millions in the Third World to preventable death because pest-controlling chemicals were supposedly thinning the shells of bird eggs.  Now they don’t care about endangered birds getting sliced to ribbons in the quest for sustainable energy.

But I digress.  Let us return from environmentalist lunacy to Big Government lunacy, as conservative humorist Iowahawk observes that Jackson’s hiring by Apple is proof “the system worked,” and recommends we think of Apple like a taco stand in famously corrupt Chicago: “Hiring the health inspector’s sister saves a lot of headaches.”

There’s something besides good old-fashioned neo-fascist corruption that links these stories about Apple.  Both are examples of the way Big Government exercises power far beyond anything citizens have explicitly granted it.  In fact, the old-fashioned notion of power conditionally and temporarily delegated from citizens to carefully-monitored government agents is as far removed from the modern American experience as the horse and buggy.  The ruling class takes power now, occasionally recoiling if the people object too loudly.  The citizen’s everyday challenge is justifying whatever liberties he insists on keeping… and frankly, the ruling class is running out of patience with our feeble excuses for disobedience.


The bizarre spectacle of Apple suffering official persecution, despite having broken no laws, speaks for itself.  Corporate executives are supposed to understand what government really wants, regardless of what it actually says through the law.

Government environmental policy is all about using sticks and carrots to discourage activity that isn’t actually illegal.  Far beyond hard-and-fast regulations, there is a vast penumbra of power, in which the State drafts private corporations into various crusades.  And if government agents aren’t intimidating enough, the political class boasts of the powerful volunteer auxiliary forces it keeps on standby.  Reluctant business “partners” have to worry about everything from nuisance lawsuits and regulatory torture sessions, to protest marches and celebrity denunciations.  It’s all highly organized, although some of the links between regular and irregular pressure are kept tastefully deniable.  Resistance is expensive enough to make compliance look attractive.

As government grows larger, the penumbra of power expands.  Another teapot of scandal bubbling on the Obama Administration’s busy stove involves Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius leaning on the health insurance companies she regulates to obtain “contributions” for the implementation of ObamaCare.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating Sebelius, also noticed that an organization called Enroll America has been squeezing these health executives for cash.  Enroll America is headed by a former Obama adviser.  Asking for million-dollar donations is Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, Nancy-Ann DeParle, who was also a major player in getting ObamaCare passed.


But don’t worry, none of this is “political” activity.  Heavens, no!  They’re just an innocent little non-political nonprofit organization, helping Americans to get the most out of the Peoples’ Glorious Health Care Revolution, whose twenty thousand pages of hyper-regulation offer countless delights for the carefully guided explorer.  That’s why they didn’t seem to have any trouble getting the coveted tax-exempt status that proved so elusive for Tea Party groups.

It all has such a cozy Chicago taco stand ambiance, don’t you think?

Once upon a time, there was a general notion that the government would propose some initiative, levy the taxes necessary to carry it out, and conduct its business in full view of the public.  If taxes could not be raised, old programs had to be sacrificed to fund new agenda items.  But now the bulk of the tax burden has been shifted to a small segment of the population, the government routinely spends huge amounts of money it doesn’t have, power has been transferred to a bureaucracy the public never gets to vote against, and great power is wielded through unfunded mandates.  Surrounding these dubious tools of unaccountable power is a wide and deep shadow of influence, in which fear of the destructive State, and desire for its lucrative favor, allow the political class to exercise command beyond legislation.  Regulators can’t be everywhere, so they conveniently choose to go where the favor of the ruling Party is in short supply – just ask Gibson Guitars how that works.  This makes political favor a valuable commodity indeed.  The big players in what remains of the “private” sector know what must be done to earn it.







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