Operation Chokepoint: Regulation Stamping On A Throat Forever

My father is fond of offering this quote from J.P. Morgan: “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”  Operation Choke Point, Eric Holder and the Department of Justice’s program ostentatiously designed to help protect banks from industries more at risk of being defrauded, almost seems to have a good reason, so long as you ignore the source and don’t think too hard on it.

However maybe, just maybe, Holder and the DOJ’s “good” reason doesn’t square with the list of businesses, people, and transactions labeled as risky.

For example, what risk was Chase taking merely for allowing a porn star to hold an account there? Why was Powderhorn Outfitters, a brick and mortar store selling firearms in addition to other outdoor equipment, deemed at risk? Why do payday lenders, pawn shops, and dedicated check-cashers — services that tend to help the poor folks Obama is so fond of pretending to care about — need to be frozen out by SunTrust?

Or maybe those examples provide us with the real reason for Operation Choke Point. Obama, admittedly not a big fan of the whole constitutional republic style of government, may need a stinking badge, but he doesn’t really need Congress or the Constitution. He just needs bureaucracy and Leviathan.

Operation Choke Point first gained notice for targeting people and businesses that sold firearms. After a public backlash, the DOJ supposedly removed gun retailers from the “high risk” list in July. However, that same statement also supposedly removed payday lenders from the list. What industries did SunTrust just drop again? That’s right, payday lenders.

It is hard to believe that the most transparent administration in history, the administration most concerned with checks and balances, might be making public declarations that are the exact opposite of its behind the scenes behavior. This guy, for example, is dubious regarding claims that the DOJ is actually scaling back the pressure as opposed to increasing it, especially in light of this press release from SunTrust.

Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggested that SunTrust released the statement to make clear that the bank is under duress by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as part of Operation Choke Point.

“This admission from SunTrust demonstrates that Operation Choke Point has not ended, but actually expanded while becoming even less transparent,” Calabria said. “More banks should come forward publicly.

Calabria might be onto something. That press release was dated August 8. According to my calendar, August 8 comes pretty closely on the heels of the end of July, about the time the official position clarified that gun sellers and payday lenders were not to be targeted.

This is par for the course, pun intended, for the Obama administration. When elected representatives have the temerity to represent the will of their constituents, Obama labels the representatives as intransigent or obstructionist and then figures out an alternate path. Immigration? It’s coming. Climate change? Done and done with more coming. The lengthy Operation Choke Point list? Obviously still under duress.

This is ridiculous. The Obama administration would make Richard Nixon blush.

Yet, we continue along. There is no outrage, no demand that the president actually uphold his oath of office, the one he has sworn to protect.

And the reason it works is he knows that conservatives are helpless. Operation Choke Point, DACA, international climate treaties — the guy knows how to manipulate the system. We can try to make the gears of government work, we can entertain lawsuits, we can do myriad other things that actually comport with the Constitution. As the document purposely made it difficult to effect swift and radical change, Captain Hope and Change can continue making decisions without compunction because by the time the checks and balances play out, the damage is done. Even impeachment, that favorite fundraising tool which has no chance in hell of ever being introduced, would take time.

In “1984,” George Orwell famously wrote: If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” He had it almost right. Another George, this time Carlin, was closer. “[When] fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley.”

We’re not yet a fascist nation, but so long as we tolerate government doing whatever the hell it wants, because it’s helping us, we’re in danger. The Obama Administration may think it’s genuinely protecting us from robber barons, but we’d be much better off and much freer if the robber barons actually were in charge. As C.S. Lewis astutely observed:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Today it’s payday lenders and porn, but what will it be tomorrow? Are we willing to risk it given the capricious nature of this administration?