- - Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Before government grew to a $3.8 trillion annual enterprise, churches and public-spirited men and women tried to take care of those in need. Volunteers keep that spirit alive today. Marines collect toys for poor children, brawny firemen pass their hats at intersections to gather a few coins for important projects, and Girl Scouts knock on doors with boxes of cookies (in several flavors). Inevitably, a handful of bureaucrats in towns and cities across the land are eager to kick over a few lemonade stands to stop it.

The local government in San Jose, Calif., grew green with envy when cheerleaders from Lincoln High School scheduled a car wash to raise the money to take their yells and acrobatics to a national competition. Killjoys from the San Jose Environmental Services Department were dispatched to shut them down. Their dreams crushed, the cheerleaders had to send out emails to say that City Hall had declared their car wash “in violation of water-discharge laws, therefore we had to cancel this and all future car washes.”

The cease-and-desist order followed two mystery complaints alerting the city to the peril of “environmental disaster” because soapy water would be flushed down a sewer. School groups intending to hold car washes could conduct them only on grassy lawns, which would eliminate prime roadside locations where the business was. The city recommended the purchase of expensive “waterless car wash” equipment. If the cheerleaders could afford such an expensive contraption, they wouldn’t need a fundraiser. (Well, duh.) This never occurred to anyone at City Hall.

Lemonade stands blossom like honeysuckle every summer, and the kids can feel solidarity with the cheerleaders. They’re often targets of regulators with a taste for child abuse. In Bethesda, parents were fined $500 when their children were discovered operating an unlicensed lemonade stand. Half the proceeds were marked for pediatric cancer research. Town officials in Coralville, Iowa, dispatched cops to close down the lemonade stand of 4-year-old Abigail Krutsinger because she failed to obtain a $400 city permit. In Georgia, three girls were told they must buy a business license and a food permit to dispense roadside snacks. The kids, rescued by the bureaucrats from a life of crime, might as well try selling pot next time.

“Marty the Magician,” who tickled kids in Springfield, Mo., was told by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to produce a copy of his “disaster plan” outlining how he proposed to rescue his magic rabbit in event of fire, flood or tornado. Marty responded with a 34-page plan detailing the response. “Escape of said Bunny is a probability but has a low hazard outcome and consequence to the community at large,” Marty wrote to the bucolic bureaucrats with too much time on their hands. “In comparison, a flock of loose emus may stop highway traffic and cause accidents.”

Toys for Tots will surely soon be subject to government inspection, lest a little girl get a doll (sexist) or a boy a violent G.I. Joe, even if G.I. Joe becomes the politically correct G.I. Person. Firemen won’t be allowed to stand at intersections to raise money for charity, and Girl Scouts might be required to sell celery sticks, broccoli sprouts and instructions for finding a way into Obamacare.

Volunteers must be encouraged, not discouraged. Short of the guillotine (not a good idea), the way to discourage the petty bureaucrats is to slim the government everywhere — and send the message loud and clear to quit abusing the children.