Saturday, July 18, 2020

Government Fear Stories

New York State of Mind Fear

We are in New York State, and initially, we thought we would not be able to come. Governor "knuckles" Cuomo has closed the borders!  No Red State people allowed!  (And yes, this ban is based on good solid science, not just politics, and donchuforgetit!).  Well, it turns out, like so much else in the world, to be a pretty toothless deal.

The Governor's advisory is that people from the list of evil States (e.g., those that voted for Trump in 2016) should quarantine for 14 days from the date they left that State.   Since we left Georgia more than two weeks ago, it was not a problem.  In fact, the campground we are staying at, not wanting to lose a 10-day reservation, pointed this out to us.   It helps to save your receipts, in case anyone should ask for proof.  (This campground, unlike others in the US is not slammed, for some reason, but has actually lost business - New York, go figure!).

Moreover, as the advisory notes, the police cannot pull you over for having out-of-State plates and query you on your quarantine plans.   There are no roadblocks or checkpoints (unlike fascist Florida) and really no enforcement mechanism.   If someone complains to the local health department, maybe they send someone out.   Maybe.

But that brings up another point.  We were at a campground in Georgia and they had recently fired an employee for stealing.   In a "from hell's heart I stab at thee!" moment, the former employee called the health department and complained there were too many people in the pool, so the health department came out and threatened the campground with a fine and whatnot.  It is akin to how some folks who want to buy a property for cheap will call in multiple zoning or building code violations into the authorities, until the homeowner gets frustrated and sells out - for cheap.

Other States are even worse.  Maine has a draconian quarantine rule, and unless you have a negative test less than 72 hours old, you cannot enter without  a 14-day quarantine.   A neighbor of Mark's brother was visited by the Sheriff after another neighbor (could have been our sister-in-law!) "called them in" (again, these rules pitting neighbor against neighbor, as in a communist or fascist state) because, of course, they were "from away" and Mainers view with deep suspicion any "flat-lander" who is "from away" and not from "down east" (which is for some reason "down" and "east" when we would call that "way up north").  So it isn't likely we will go to Maine this year.  14 days in quarantine with my in-laws?   No thanks - they are nice folks and all, but even Mark has his limits.

I noted before that regulations can be abused, and when you give employees and other people "rights" those rights can be abused.  Big companies have expensive lawyers, so they don't care.  But the small businessman has to pay - again and again - because he can't afford to litigate a complaint about wheelchair ramps at his place of business.

Something to think about next time you say, "There oughta be a law!" because the law can be used against you.  It is akin to when the Concerned Mommies of Foreclosure Mews Estates petition the local police chief to "do something" about speeders in their neighborhood.   The police set up a radar trap and issue tickets to every single one of the Concerned Mommies.  They don't get it.  They want those other speeders ticketed, not them!

But I digress.

The point is, we had this fear of the quarantine order, and it turns out the fear was unwarranted, for the most part.  We noticed this, when moving from a "Blue State" (NY) to a "Red State" (Virginia, Georgia) how much less fear there was of the government in the South.   In New York, you could not even move a car - it became a solid block of concrete - once the license plates were removed.   In the South, a "dealer tag" consisting of little more than the dealer's logo, would suffice until the plates arrived.   Or, in some instances, a piece of cardboard with "tag applied for" scrawled on it would work.   There seemed to be less fear of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-ruling government than in New York.   Fear of Albany was palpable.   In Georgia, we call it All-Baney.  Far less frightening.

This brought to mind other fear stories that fellow New Yorkers would spread, that in retrospect, were ludicrous.   Back in the 1980's I had a diesel Chevette, which was a good pizza delivery car, as you could let it idle all night long and it used maybe $2 of diesel fuel in total, after delivering 20 pies.  Diesel fuel was cheaper than gas back then, which was one reason why it was so attractive (that, and no emissions inspection back then).  But home heating oil, which is the same thing as diesel fuel, was even cheaper, as you didn't have to pay road tax.

So the gag was, to get an old home heating oil tank from the "Pennysaver" (the Craigslist of its era) for $50 and have the home heating oil company fill it for 50 cents less a gallon than diesel fuel.   You could save a lot of money!

None of us ever tried it, though.  Stories abounded about how "inspectors" with wooden dip-sticks and sample tubes, could pull you over and check your fuel.  Diesel fuel is dyed a certain color, and if your fuel was the wrong color, they could issue you a ticket, or confiscate your car, or send you to jail or put you on death row!   Don't even think of trying it, buddy!   That was the message - and maybe one spread by the government.   Maybe - the IRS doesn't try to dampen down "IRS Horror Stories" as fear of the IRS and withholding are the only two things that insure that anyone pays taxes at all.   If people only knew the reality, they might not be as scared.   But it also illustrates why they make "an example" of someone once in a while (like Wesley Snipes) to keep the herd in line.

Yes, old "I'm not in the mafia" Cuomo knows all about "making an example" of someone - that is how the mob works.

In the eight years I owned a diesel car in New York, I was never once pulled over and had my fuel color checked by these mythical fuel inspectors.    Funny thing, that.    Turns out that no one can pull you over without "probable cause" under Terry v. Ohio, so the risk of getting caught is pretty nil.  Unless a pissed-off neighbor phones you in, and someone in the transportation department gets a bee in their bonnet and a search warrant, odds are, you would never be caught.

But then again, at 50 miles-per-gallon, I was saving money as it was, and the hassle of refueling at home in the dead of night just didn't seem worth it.   So I used regular taxed pump diesel, except one night when I nearly ran out of fuel and I bought a gallon of Wesson cooking oil, and it seemed to run fine on that - although it smelled of french fries.

Of course, the story has some modicum of truth to it - for over-the-road truckers who are getting maybe eight miles-per-gallon tops.   They are subject to regular inspections, and yes, they have their fuel color checked and can be fined.   But truckers are low-hanging fruit, with 100+ gallon fuel tanks.  Albany was less interested in the ten gallons in my Chevette.

Another Albany "fear story" involves residency.  A lot of New Yorkers have a house or condo or trailer in Florida, and with no income tax, the temptation is to declare residency in that State. "Don't do it!" the old-timers say, "They'll check your credit card receipts and unless you live in Florida for six months-and-a-day, you'll have to pay taxes and fines!"

And yes, this is true if you are some hot-shot Wall Street banker or rock star who decides to try to (illegally) use an out-of-state residency to avoid paying taxes in New York.  They will go after you when there is a million-dollar tax bill on the table.   But less so if you are living half the year in a trailer in Bradenton.  I've seen New Yorkers so afraid of Albany that they will not declare Florida residency even though they spend eight months a year there, and their annual income is under $50,000 a year.   Albany might find out!   One solution is just to leave New York and buy an RV - works for us, and a lot less hassle than owning two homes.

One New Yorker told me that they could not leave the State, as their State Pension would be taxed in New York, even if they lived in another State!  This is, of course, not true.

Why would you want to live in fear all the time?  Fear of your own government?   It is an interesting question and one that is relevant particularly today, when we have a choice of two philosophies of government.   The problem for the Democrats, is that the are selling the fear mode of government, and whether the perception is correct or not, the perception is there that new rules and regulations mean that Big Brother will be telling you to switch your lightbulbs or buy a low-flush toilet.   Trump taps into this fear, bigly time.

Of course, if you are talking about fear and paranoia, marijuana comes to mind.  And oddly enough, New York is one of the few "Blue States" to not have legalized marijuana just yet.  Why is this?  Maybe Cuomo's Mafia friends don't want the competition to one of their "business interests"?  Or maybe the move to legalize pot in the western States has less to do with liberals than libertarians?  Consider all the bruhaha over "Black Lives Matter" you would think Cuomo would have let all those black kids who were jailed for selling pot (or even possession) out of jail by now - and legalized pot as well.   You'd think that, but then again, this is the same guy who sent CoVid patients to nursing homes to rub elbows (sorry) with the elderly.

But getting back to pot and paranoia, back in the 1980's, I knew a paranoid conspiracy-theory guy who smoked a lot of pot (turns out, I later learned, there is a connection).  He was growing pot in his attic and he came over one day all agitated that "black helicopters" were flying over his house, using infra-red cameras to find his "grow room".  Now bear in mind this was back in 1985 or thereabouts - these paranoid conspiracy theories go way back before the Internet!  He also told me in all seriousness that the police could check your utility bill and figure out if you were using more electricity for a grow room, and then bust you. I suppose that might be true, but then again, not without a subpoena to the utility company, and not without a search warrant, the latter I think, hard to get based solely on a pattern in your utility bills.  But I wasn't a lawyer back then (and indeed, not today, anymore) and you can't tell a paranoid person anything.

But it illustrates the fear people have of government, and perhaps one reason why New York hasn't legalized pot yet.  Cuomo wants another cudgel to beat his own citizens with - and yet his popularity soars, at least among the media types, who view anyone who is against Trump as some sort of folk hero and not a mafia-connected crook.

It is not much different than how religion works - and Cuomo, being a good Catholic, knows this all-too-well.   Take something that people like to do, such as drinking or smoking pot or having sex, and tell them they are bad rotten people for doing it, and what's more should be sent to jail - or in the old days, burned at the stake.   It keeps the plebes in line, because they can't control their urges, so you have a population of perpetual sinners living in fear of being caught.

We transited Pennsylvania on the way here (Pymatuning) and it is a nice place.  Went to visit the Wegman's in Erie, and wanted to buy four bottles of wine.   No dice!   While they have aisles of wine there, you can only buy two bottles at a time, so Mark and I each had to buy two bottles separately.  What was interesting was that this nonsense restriction made us feel like criminals, winos, or drug addicts.   This was not by accident.   Once you can get people to believe they are "lucky" to be able to buy something, they stop looking at prices so much. Whether it is wine or a fake toilet-paper shortage, it makes no difference.

(Nice to be able to get decent bagels and bread for a change, even if carbs are evil.   Maybe it is the humidity or something, but in Georgia, bread just isn't as good!).

And by the way, at the local Wal-Mart, they literally had a half-a-tractor-trailer-load of toilet paper stacked up in the aisle.  We're talking a mound that was 15 feet by 30 feet by 10 feet high.   As I noted before, there would not be a "toilet paper shortage" for long if Georgia-Pacific had anything to say about it.   Maybe Capitalism can't respond instantly to demand changes, but give it a few weeks and miracles can happen.   Meanwhile in communist countries, shortages go on for decades - forever.

Poetic justice, too - those who bought hoards of toilet paper are finding that stores are refusing to take it back, "due to CoVid" - which is a convenient excuse for doing whatever it is you want to do these days.  I hope those toilet-paper hoarders spend the rest of their days surrounded by mounds of decaying bun-wad.   Serves them right.

But getting back to topic, I think this fear thing will backfire on the Democrats. It already has, to a large extent, as people are slowly emptying out the "blue states" as jobs disappear and the cost of housing (and living) skyrockets.  It is fun to visit New York (well, so far, this time) but separating my garbage to appease Cuomo's mafia buddies in the trash business is already getting boring.  The biggest export of New York is college graduates, as there are few jobs.  If not for the birth rate, New York would show a negative population growth, as California is already doing.

Trump is playing on these fears - fear of big government, fear of onerous regulations, fear of losing your job, being priced out of a home, and so on and so forth.   Are these fears real?  It doesn't really matter. Like any good fear story, it is only important that people believe it.  My neighbor whose reported income is less than $30,000 a year (mostly Social Security) lives in fear of being audited, even as she has no deductions to speak of and filed short-form. Fear keeps people in line, to be sure.  But people eventually get tired of living in fear.

Maybe that is why people are rioting right now. Blacks have had this fear of the police for a long time, and are getting fed up with it.  And again, these fears are real, but also exaggerated, to some extent. Not every cop is out trying to kill you - in fact, few are.  But it only takes one. Fear gnaws away at the soul, and eventually people revolt against fear, whether it is fear of government, police, religion, or whatever.

Living in fear is no fun, and I refuse to do it.  Eventually, most people do as well.

Something the "government knows best!" crowd should think about, if they want to get elected.