Meet Marty the Magician: His rabbit already has to have a license. Now he has to have a written strategy for any bunny peril.
Marty Hahne, 54, does magic shows for kids in southern Missouri. For his big finale, he pulls a rabbit out of a hat. Or out of a picnic basket. Or out of a tiny library, if he’s doing his routine about reading being magical. To do that, Hahne has an official U.S. government license. Not for the magic. For the rabbit.
The Agriculture Department requires it, citing a decades-old law that was intended to regulate zoos and circuses. Today, the USDA also uses it to regulate much smaller “animal exhibitors,” even the humble one-bunny magician.
That was what the letter was about. The government had a new rule. To keep his rabbit license, Hahne needed to write a rabbit disaster plan. Washington had questions about his rabbit. Again.
“Fire. Flood. Tornado. Air conditioning going out. Ice storm. Power failures,” Hahne said, listing a few of the calamities for which he needed a plan to save the rabbit.
Or maybe not. Late Tuesday, after a Washington Post article on Hahne was posted online, the Agriculture Department announced that the disaster-plan rule would be reexamined.
“Secretary [Tom] Vilsack asked that this be reviewed immediately and common sense be applied,” department spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said in an e-mail message.
Rowe said that Vilsack had ordered the review “earlier this week.” But it was not announced until 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Just hours before — at 5:50 p.m. — the department had been vigorously defending the rule, with another spokeswoman praising its “flexibility,” saying it was designed to accommodate even a small-time operation such as a magician and a rabbit.
For Hahne, the saga has provided a lesson in one of Washington’s bad old habits — the tendency to pile new rules on top of old ones, with officials using good intentions and vague laws to expand the reach of the federal bureaucracy.
In this case, Washington’s reach extended into a place that — as far as the audience knows — does not exist. That would be the hidden “load chamber” inside Marty the Magician’s hat. Where Casey the licensed rabbit waits for his cue.
“Our country’s broke,” Hahne said. “And yet they have money and time to harass somebody about a rabbit.”
Hahne is a slight man with the stage persona of an exuberant doofus — he seems continually surprised by his own tricks. He has been doing magic shows full time for 27 years, on cruise ships and on land. That means he has experienced most of the troubles a magician can expect: overexcited kids who wet themselves after he brought them onstage. A shipboard drunk who threw up on his props. A rabbit so mean it growled.
But he did not expect the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “She said, ‘Show me your license.’ And I said, ‘License for . . .?’ ” Hahne recounted. This was after a 2005 show at a library in Monett, Mo. Among the crowd of parents and kids, there was a woman with a badge. A USDA inspector. “She said, ‘For your rabbit.’ ”