Snooping On Snoops

Liberals getting caught by their own nosy-parkers.

Hardly a day goes by when we are not reminded, yet again, that John Edward's ranting about "Two Americas" is absolutely true, though not in the way in which he intended.

If you or I were to decline to pay our taxes, for example, we'd shortly be taking up residence in Club Fed.  If one is a high-ranking Democrat, though, nonpayment of taxes entitles you to a seat in Obama's Cabinet, like Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner - or, failing that, chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee like Rep. Charlie Rangel, or any number of other high offices occupied by misbegotten Obama appointees.

However, the very fact that you are reading about government misbehavior here reveals the only remaining weapon against these arrogant thieves - traditional American freedom of speech.  The free press should be of help, too, but it still seems to be far too much in thrall to The One these days, and is losing market share hand over fist as a result.

Thanks to Al Gore's famous invention, which he must now be regretting, common Americans can cooperate in revealing the wrongdoing of their supposed betters via the tubes of the Internet, and for now at least, have some hope of removing them from the offices they sully.

In a world which seems to be slipping ever more quickly backward into government control and censorship of debate, it's a cheering light to see the Internet being used the same way elsewhere.  Even in Communist China, citizens have had remarkable success in naming and shaming corrupt party apparatchiks; rather than the complainers vanishing into the Bamboo Gulag, as once would have surely happened, the thieving officials lost their jobs.

You have to turn to that birthplace of liberty, the sceptred isle of England, to truly see and appreciate the self-snares laid by the modern totalitarians of the Left.  For every intrusive regulation, snooping bureaucrat, and overweening pol found in America, England has ten.

They've gone so far down this road that they have run off the end of the practical reach of actual government employees: in other words, it is now a major goal of government to get common citizens to turn each other in for regulatory infractions, just as once did the East German Stasi or Soviet KGB.  The Guardian reports:

If you want to rat out your neighbours, allow the home secretary to enumerate the ways. Do you know someone who claims more from the state than they're entitled to? Who is "picking the pockets of law-abiding taxpayers"? Not politicians over-egging their allowances, obviously, but "benefit thieves". If so, call 0800 854 440 now. "We're closing in with hidden cameras. We're closing in with every means at our disposal."

Do they own more than one mobile phone? Then call 0800 789 321. "Terrorists need communication. They often collect and use many pay-as-you-go mobile phones, as well as swapping Sim cards and handsets."

No mobile phones? What about if they're "hanging around"? Or, as the Home Office-funded radio advertisement puts it: "How can you tell if they're a normal everyday person or a terrorist? The answer is that you don't have to. If you call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321, the specialist officers you speak to will analyse the information. They'll decide if and how to follow it up. You don't have to be sure. If you suspect it, report it."

This scheme works perfectly in a totalitarian state because reports, once filed, vanish into the maw of the security services where no ordinary person ever gets to see them.  The powers that be have full opportunity to adjust and massage them as required.

Fortunately for liberty, England has not yet reached that point.  Every man a snoop they may be; but there is still a free press and the Internet.  It is thus that England's Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, came to grief via her own army of compliant busybodies.

Privacy Has Advantages for Liberals Too

As in so many countries, the political class likes to reward itself lavishly at taxpayer expense.  Vast salaries are unseemly, so the preferred means of self-generosity is excessive compensation for expenses incurred due to the position.  Is your district inconveniently far from the capital?  No problem; the taxpayers will be glad to throw you a little extra for a place in the city.  So it is in England.

Ms. Smith represents a constituency in Redditch, and as you'd expect, has a home there.  She also, at least according to the documents she filed seeking reimbursement, has a "main home" in London.

At the address specified, there is indeed a house, and someone lives there: her sister.  It's her sister's house.  Theoretically, Ms. Smith's "main home" was her sister's back bedroom.  In return, Ms. Smith collected around $150,000 in tax-free "expenses" while her husband and children continued to comfortably reside in her proper house in Redditch.

So far, so smarmy, but also, entirely legal.  Here's where the plot thickens.

Part of Ms. Smith's job as Home Secretary is to encourage ordinarily citizens to encourage others in the obedience and enforcement of the law; the aforementioned rat-lines fall under her domain.  Just as requested in public-service ads every night, her own neighbors (well, her sister's neighbors, to be precise) took careful note of the fact that Ms. Smith hardly ever darkened the door of the "main home" for which she was so lavishly compensated.

The charges didn't go anywhere at first - but once they made the news, the official investigator had no choice.

Standards Commissioner John Lyon twice turned down requests to investigate the matter. It was only when some neighbors, Dominic and Jessica Taplin, wrote to him and repeated the claims they made to a newspaper, that she is there rather less than the four nights a week that she claims, that he agreed to open an inquiry.

There are now calls for her resignation, and apparently there's even some possibility it might actually happen.  In this novel experience we can discern a fundamental truth that the nosy left doesn't seem to be able to understand: Minding your own business is good for everyone.

Is there a soul out there with nothing to hide?  Is your life truly an open book that anyone is welcome to read?

Particularly with today's absurdly Byzantine and onerous regulations on every conceivable subject, there is no possible way that anyone has followed each and every rule to a T.  Anyone can be caught - and as long as freedom of speech remains, that "anyone" includes students, politicians, and the powerful.

Ms. Smith will no doubt wriggle and squirm for a while, as did Geithner, Rangel, Daschle, Baird, Powell, and so many others before her.  If you insist on being a powerful, visible lawmaker, it's a good idea to obey the law.

For normal people to obey the law, though, the law should be clear, fair, and understandable to human beings - enforced primarily by the police, and most particularly the discipline of each individual over his own behavior.  When every man is his own Secret Service and Pinkerton Private Eye, the end result is a world that nobody would want to live in - not even a know-it-all liberal politician.

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Society.
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