Bluegrass Beacon: Legislators boost, judge busts liberty

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

 

This edition of “Liberty Boosters and Busters” is brought to you by reasonable Kentuckians who reject racism, bigotry and censorship with every fiber of their freedom-loving beings.

Liberty Booster: The attorney general’s office decided in favor of the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government in its appeal challenging a Jefferson County school board meeting at a private law firm on the 28th floor of an office building in downtown Louisville on a Sunday afternoon in April.

Assistant Attorney General James Herrick ruled the meeting – held to discuss applicants for the district’s then-vacant interim superintendent’s position – violated the law requiring public agencies to conduct meetings “at specified times and places convenient to the public.”

It’s also likely the building was locked that day as it was on a subsequent Sunday when some of my colleagues at the institute tried to enter – an experience Herrick referenced in his ruling.

Liberty Buster: U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves allowed Eric Conn, the eastern Kentucky lawyer who pleaded guilty to engineering one of history’s largest Social Security fraud campaigns, to remain free on home incarceration – despite warnings against doing so by an FBI agent and witnesses claiming Conn had crossed 140 borders in eight years and had vowed to run before going to jail.

Conn ran, and likely is now sipping martinis and hanging out on the beach of some country with women for whom he previously claimed to have provided “English lessons,” and with whom the U.S. has no extradition treaty.

Yet Reeves, the judge, forced Sam Girod, an Amish farmer from rural Bath County, to remain in jail for months without bond while awaiting trial before handing him a harsh six-year prison sentence for the “crime” of mislabeling homemade herbal skin salves containing such dangerous (sarcasm dripping here) ingredients as chickweed and peppermint and not acquiescing to the Food and Drug Administration’s ideological thuggery.

Prosecutors, gung-ho though they were to destroy this man and ridicule his way of life, failed to produce a single victim harmed by Girod’s concoctions.

Yet Reeves permitted Conn, a wealthy white-collar criminal whose fraud resulted in 1,500 people losing their benefits and at least one person committing suicide, to remain out of jail.

He also handed a weak six-month sentence to Charlie Andrus, a former chief regional Social Security judge who pleaded guilty to conspiring with Conn to retaliate against the whistleblower in the campaign defrauding the program of $550 million.

Reeves in an unrelated case allowed a former University of Kentucky employee who swindled the school out of $200,000 to avoid prison altogether with a sentence of probation, calling it “sufficient punishment.”

Yet farmer Girod, who’s harmed no one and had no criminal record when his nightmare began, languishes in a Pennsylvania prison more than 400 miles away from his home.

An appeals-court reversal or presidential pardon would go a long way toward highlighting the insufficiency of this judge’s contemptible inconsistency.

Liberty Boosters: Gov. Bevin and Frankfort’s Republican legislative leaders for planning to tackle pension and tax reforms separately.

Claims that tax reform is critical to generating revenue wrongly blame Kentucky’s public pension woes on insufficient support from taxpayers or poor returns on investments or, at the very least, station the cart before the horse.

The retirement systems’ funding levels continue to fall even though the commonwealth’s current budget poured an additional $1.2 billion into them.

Also, investment returns for the past 30 years have, on average, exceeded more than 9 percent in the Kentucky Retirement Systems and 8 percent in the Teachers’ Retirement Systems.

At the core of the pension crisis is a structural weakness rather than lack of dollars.

Stop the digging by fixing the systems’ benefit structures.

Then, looking for more dirt to fill the hole becomes an exercise in productivity rather than futility.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Bluegrass Beacon: A Shakespearean take on an Amish farmer’s tragedy

BluegrassBeaconLogoTo try, or not to try, that is the question: 
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer  
The slings and arrows of FDA noncompliance

Is this how Shakespeare might have rendered a current version of “Hamlet” were he writing in these days of out-of-control government agencies, including perhaps the most McCarthy-like of them all: the Food and Drug Administration?

In the case of Sam Girod, an Amish farmer in Bath County, the FDA suffered him not – nor the labels on his herb-rendered skin salves, for that matter.

It all started a few years ago when Girod ambitiously claimed in labeling and promotional materials that his ointments concocted with chickweed and bloodroot could cure skin cancers along with less-serious ailments.

Girod agreed to remove “skin cancer” from the label and call the product “Chickweed Healing Salve.”

The FDA wasn’t satisfied.

They now objected to “healing” in its name, so he renamed the ointment “Chickweed Salve.”

But the agency’s regulatory brutes wouldn’t be content until they made an example out of Girod.

The FDA bullied its way to a felony conviction against this simple Amish farmer who’s now staring at a possible 48-year prison sentence when he’s sentenced in June – all for such scary activity as misbranding labels and the fact that his farm was “an establishment not registered with the Food and Drug Administration” and on arbitrary charges of “impeding” a federal investigation.

I doubt Farmer Sam will be contemplating Shakespeare’s writings while finishing out his life behind bars. And it certainly doesn’t seem like the FDA, judge and prosecutors in this case will be feeling the “oppressor’s wrong” or “the insolence of office” anytime soon, as Will might have observed.

In fact, they might even be assembling a new SWAT team to save future Kentuckians from the perils of Amish farmers’ skin salves.

Plenty of avenues exist to resolve these types of cases without such harsh tactics.

Customers could have returned Farmer Sam’s products, boycotted his business or even sued him for financial damages if they believed he defrauded them.

Even the fact that Girod twice relabeled his ointment wasn’t enough to satisfy the zealotry of the FDA and a small-town court obsessed with carrying out its skin-salve witch hunt.

Wouldn’t it have been cheaper for the town just to burn poor Farmer Sam at the stake like in Shakespeare’s day?

“Aye, there’s the rub,” as Will writes in “Hamlet.”

If Sam were forced to “shuffle off his mortal coil,” what political lesson of intimidation would exist to warn other Amish farmers, raw-milk producers, farm-to-table hosts and every producer of natural remedies and herbal cures found on shelves in all sorts of establishments – from the shelves of Walmart to your local holistic grocery store?

Producers of these natural products should all prepare ultimately to feel the slap of the heavy-handed FDA enforcement regime.  

But what happens in a few years after a lifetime of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” when the judge, his prosecutors and FDA tyrants along with their enablers – and perhaps even the jurors who took only four hours to condemn an Amish father of 12 – find themselves with an odd spot on their hand that stubbornly persists and won’t go away?

Maybe they’ll be informed by a doctor: “it’s cancer.”

They’ll try chemo; it won’t work.

Maybe they’re given a devastating sentence that the little skin spot could cost them their life.

Now they’d give anything to have access to a 100 percent natural chickweed salve produced by an Amish farmer who by then may have shuffled off his mortal coil and took his recipe – and their right to try it – with him.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.