“Authorities Have Been Outlawing Chunks of What Used to Pass for Birthright at a Startling Clip” – The New York Times Reports on State and Local Government Bans in California

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The educated leftist elite regards Government as the proper and most effective agent to solve problems. Used in the right hands, so the thinking goes, Government can advance civilization and make the world a better place for all of us.

Knowing that the New York Times still remains the publication-of-record for the educated leftist elite in the United States, I was surprised to see its September 2, 2012 article At Least Fun in the Sun Isn’t Banned. For Now… The article’s tone went beyond bemusement to bewilderment at how state and local governments in California are falling over each other to ban things. While the hundreds of public comments posted under the article mainly focused on which bans were justified, most commenters seemed to accept the premise that a lot of banning is going on in California.

Cited in the article as recent targets for government bans are smoking, plastic bags, fur sales, perfumes and fragrances, sleeping in libraries, beach fire pits, circumcisions, plastic foam trays, cat declawing, psychotherapy to discourage homosexuality, the carrying of rifles in public, killing equines for human consumption, buying puppies from “puppy mills,” ATM fees, tall hedges, unprotected job responsibilities in adult movies, and serving foie gras at restaurants. It mentions soda, which is now banned in school districts and may soon be taxed in the cities of Richmond and El Monte.

I can add to the list of current and proposed bans. The article missed personal, corporate, and municipal use of fireworks, tanning salons for minors, political campaign signs, incandescent light bulbs, burning wood in fireplaces, building houses with fireplaces, gasoline nozzle hold-latches, food trucks, spanking, marijuana dispensaries, letting kids carry heavy textbooks in backpacks to and from school, laser pointers, hunting with dogs, ivory sales, water filters, fluoride in municipal water supplies, certain cosmetics, plastic bottles, certain types of plastic in baby bottles, speaking on cell phones and texting while driving, shark finning, clearcutting, fracking, ferrets, violent video games, trans-fat, toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals, establishment of fast food restaurants, raves, textbooks that conform to Texas standards, dental amalgam, styrofoam, black cars, certain HDTVs, leaf blowers, being in possession of mountain lion parts or trophies, and chewing khat. I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface.

In analyzing why government bans are so popular in California, the New York Times quotes the Mayor of the City of West Hollywood:

“Somebody has to take a stand,” said Jeffrey Prang, West Hollywood’s mayor. “We don’t ban things on a whim. It’s about impacting public policy more broadly; other cities follow us, partly because it gives them cover.”

Mr. Prang said progressive groups looking to start grass-roots movements have come to realize that California’s more liberal cities — places like West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Berkeley — are receptive to activist ordinances.

“We are approached by these kinds of groups all the time,” Mr. Prang said…

I also believe that some of these bans are promoted by local government officials trying to demonstrate “accomplishments” as they prepare to seek higher office. Two recent developments in California politics have led to this relentless search for things to ban:

  1. Term limits in the California State Legislature – established when voters approved Proposition 140 in November 1990 – have resulted in constant churning of career politicians in and out of state and local offices. There has been endless motivation for potential candidates to demonstrate to their leftist activist constituencies that they are the most committed to progressive social change.
  2. In addition, the legislative district gerrymandering bipartisan deal between Democrat and Republican leaders in 2000 resulted in a solid majority of legislative districts in California in safe control of the Democrat Party. To win office in these districts, candidates have simply needed to appeal to the leftist activists who are high-propensity voters in legislative primary elections.

The bans will continue! There are very few people who successfully run for any office in California on a platform that is specific about repealing existing laws and reducing the size of government. It’s not popular with the people, and it doesn’t make politicians feel important. Even self-proclaimed conservative Republicans generally want to leave a legacy of lawmaking. To paraphrase former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “What’s the point of having this superb government that we’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

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