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“A Law Unto Themselves”: Turning “Law And Order” Into An Idol That Justifies Defiance Of The Law

Being by nature a bit of a communitarian, my civil libertarian muscles are often under-exercised. I’m still having trouble regarding Edward Snowden as my hero. But there is something about men in uniform with guns deciding they do not need supervision that scares even me. Charlie Pierce connects the dots between two recent examples of such insubordination, and its relationship with the principles of the Founders so often cited by Oath-Keeper types who appeal to Higher Laws:

Here’s something interesting about the Declaration of Independence, which we all revere because, you know, freedom. In the long bill of particulars on which the Continental Congress arraigned King George III — and there are 27 counts on that indictment — there’s only one mention of taxes. Rather, every one of the charges, especially the one quoted above, has to do with the illegitimate use by the king, and by his agents in the American colonies, of existing political institutions against the people themselves, either directly (by quartering troops, for example), or by rigging those institutions so they functioned for his benefit and not for the benefit of the people of the colonies. The men who signed the Declaration had long experience with what happens when the legal and political institutions of a state, and the people charged with their operation, suddenly consider themselves above the civil power they are supposed to serve — which, or so said Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. That, they saw, was the true danger to their liberties posed by the government of the colonies at that time.

For the past two weeks, on two different fronts, we have been confronted with the unpleasant fact that there are people working in the institutions of our self-government who believe themselves not only beyond the control and sanctions of the civil power, but also beyond the control and sanctions of their direct superiors. We also have been confronted with the fact that there are too many people in our political elite who are encouraging this behavior for their own purposes, most of which are cheap and dangerous. In Washington, John Brennan, the head of the CIA, came right up to the edge of insubordination against the president who hired him in the wake of the Senate report on American torture. Meanwhile, in New York, in the aftermath of weeks of protests against the strangulation of Eric Garner by members of the New York Police Department, two patrolmen, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were murdered in their squad car by a career criminal and apparent maniac named Ismaaiyl Brinsley. In response, and at the encouragement of television hucksters like Joe Scarborough, police union blowhards like Patrick Lynch, political zombies like George Pataki, and comical fascists like Rudolph Giuliani, the NYPD is acting in open rebellion against Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, and the civil power he represents over them. This is an incredibly perilous time for democracy at the most basic levels.

Just as it is obviously dangerous to allow people beyond the reach of democratic institutions to determine national security needs and the measures taken to address them, it should be obviously reckless to turn “law and order” into an idol that justifies defiance of the law and an anarchic disregard for lines of authority. That way lies Governments of National Salvation and all sorts of despotism in the name of Higher Purposes. It’s bad enough that there are so many Americans who presume their Second Amendment rights include a right of revolution if the government’s policies don’t suit them. It’s worse when you have to wonder if some of the Forces of Order are going to join them.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 23, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Law Enforcement, NYPD, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Gun Nuts’ Vile Muslim Test”: Why Open Carry Activists Don’t Want To Extend The Right To Everyone

So what do you think the gun proliferation activists would say to a bunch of American Muslims exercising their constitutional right to bear arms on Main Street, USA? That’s the question writer and gun owner Jon Stokes asked in this piece at Alloutdoor.com. He wrote:

I’ve been thinking recently about the way that the Satanists are having a field day with so many laws that Christians are passing under the “freedom of religion” banner: stunts like putting a statue of Satan next to the Ten Commandments, or Satanist plans to hand out literature to school kids in Orange County. What if, I wonder, certain groups were to exercise their open carry rights in the same manner.

What if there were a group of Muslim open carry advocates who called themselves “Sword of the Prophet” and whose avowed mission was to bring Sharia law to the U.S., and they took to showing up armed and in large numbers outside of churches on Sunday, the way the OC guys do at the state house. Or what if there were a group of hispanic activist OCers, maybe an offshoot of La Raza who liked to organize armed protests at police stations and court houses, and who openly advocate the “reconquista” of the Southern U.S.?

The question was sincere and he’s got good reason to wonder. As he points out, gun rights were pretty well assumed in America until a certain clarifying event took place: the Black Panther Movement. (I wrote about this earlier here.) Then Gov. Ronald Reagan and the boys in Sacramento were none too pleased at the idea of African-American revolutionaries availing themselves of their Second Amendment remedies in the California State House:

[T]he story goes that in 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan agreed to sign a California gun control law that made it against the law to walk around in public with a loaded gun after he saw a Black Panther rally… Black Panther Bobby Seale was interviewed about it later and verified that Reagan was there that day…

It’s certainly possible that Reagan was motivated by that rally. But there was a lot of unrest in America in those days and gun control was not a right-left issue then — even the NRA was for it.

(If you’d like to see an impassioned defense of the right to bear arms, watch this video. Wayne LaPierre sounds like a 5-year-old by comparison.)

Anyway, it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of armed Black Panthers roaming the streets with revolutionary zeal was enough to scare the heck out of people who otherwise would be pumping their fists in solidarity with the anti-government revolutionaries and cause them to withdraw their support for unfettered gun rights. But that was then and this is now. The world has changed and the gun rights activism has matured into a full-fledged movement. It’s more philosophically and ideologically based than it was before, largely as a result of some very conscious moves by gun enthusiasts to make it that way. But just how far does the principle of a right to bear arms go these days?

Well, here’s one fairly typical response to Stokes’ question:

First: Open Carry advocates are trying to get back to common sense and common law. They don’t want the government to have sole control of Force. And the reason for their open carry is purely for legitimate law abiding purposes. Namely self defense.

Now contrast that with: Muslims whose GOAL is to implement Sharia Law in the US. Okay…that right there is basically a declaration of war. Or how about: La Raza: Let’s reconquer the Southwest region of the US. Again, fightin’ words.

As far as the Black Panthers? Didn’t need to be a race issue about “black people carrying guns”. The issue was that they were carrying them in a threatening manner, not in a rational, law abiding, for self defense civil manner. And once again, the route chosen was to restrict or ban the open carrying of guns rather than just tool up and fight fire with fire. If I see threatening people carrying weapons in my neighborhood I’m not going to go cry to the government to take their guns away, I’m going to pack heat myself and encourage my neighbors to also do the same. Then we’ll see if the armed thugs are serious or not.

Evidently, individuals are allowed the unfettered right to bear arms as long as other individuals who believe in an unfettered right to bear arms agree with that individual’s motives for wanting to bear arms. It all depends, you see, on whether you are bearing your arms in a “rational, law abiding” manner. It is up to each individual to determine what that behavior looks like and if they aren’t happy about it, they will evidently start bearing arms in a threatening manner to “see if the armed thugs are serious or not.”

In fairness, there were a number of comments that said “it doesn’t matter, Muslims have the same right to bear arms as anyone else.” Under their principle, this should be the obvious answer.  But there were quite a few who made the point that what determines a person’s right to bear arms is intent and if your intention is to challenge the U.S. Government you shouldn’t be allowed to bear arms. Unless, of course, you are a fine upstanding gun rights activist who believes that the Second Amendment exists so that citizens can …. challenge the U.S. Government.

In other words, the Bill of Rights only applies to those whose intentions are “good.” And whether those intentions are good is to be determined by the people with guns. This is called “freedom.”

 

By: Heather Digby Parton, Contributing Writer, Salon, December 19, 2014

 

December 22, 2014 Posted by | Bill of Rights, Gun Control, Minorities | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Endangering Health And Lives”: How Hobby Lobby Undermines All Americans’ Freedom

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case demonstrates that the court, at least the five justices who voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, has little concern for, and probably little understanding of, women’s health care. By ruling that corporations, on the grounds of the alleged religious views of their owners, can deny women access to some forms of contraception, the court set a horrible precedent that if followed will endanger the health and lives of many American women.

The Hobby Lobby ruling may at first seem like a victory for the minority of Americans who think that both abortion and contraception should be illegal, and for those who believe that the US should operate more as a theocracy than a country where state and church are separate. However, the ruling not only is terrible news for women seeking a guarantee of good healthcare through their employer, but also for anybody who believes in personal freedom.

In the US, where health insurance is linked to employment, health insurance is part of the compensation package. When most Americans are about to start a new job, or choosing between two or more jobs, one of the first questions they ask is about the quality of the health insurance they will get. In most cases, health insurance varies because some companies offer plans with lower co-pays, better dental care or things like that. Firms that deny dental care are doing it because of concerns about costs, not because they have an ethical or religious problem with healthy teeth. Hobby Lobby is doing something different, denying women access to some forms of health care because of the personal beliefs of the people who run the company.

This decision raises the question of whether the Supreme Court will next rule that employers can tell workers how to spend the money they earn at their jobs. This sounds a bit extreme, but in a very real way that is precisely what the court just did. By limiting how workers can use some of their compensation, the court, despite its own assertions that it was not setting a precedent, opened the door for further limitations. If Hobby Lobby can tell people how they can or cannot use their health care benefits, why can’t they also tell people they can’t, for example, use their salaries to donate to pro-choice political candidates or pro-marriage equality causes? The answer, one would think, would be obvious, but the recent court decision makes it considerably less clear.

The Republican Party has long, if not always sincerely, repeated a mantra of individual freedom, but the Hobby Lobby decision, in which all five justices who formed the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, undermines that. A central belief of all Republican politicians is that Americans should have a right to do what they want with, and keep as much as possible of, their hard-earned money. The Supreme Court made a big move against that idea this week, but the outrage from the Republican side has been absent.

Conservative opposition to healthcare have consistently argued that decisions about health care should be made by patients and doctors, not by the government. The death panel hysteria that Sarah Palin unleashed on the American people a few years ago took that point to a nutty extreme. After last week, conservatives who support Hobby Lobby should probably change their position and argue that health care decisions should be made not by a patient’s doctor, but by a patient’s employer. Similarly, for supporters of the Hobby Lobby decision, the new mantra of individual freedom should now be that Americans should be allowed to do whatever they want with their hard earned money, as long as their boss approves, but somehow that seems an unlikely campaign slogan for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

The Hobby Lobby decision is about women’s health care and individual freedom, but it also is another sign of the consolidation of power by big corporations in the US. It is now legal for corporations to deny workers important medical services, and redefine their compensation packages, simply because, religious claims aside, they want to. During a very tenuous recovery in which real wages have not recovered, unemployment remains high and economic uncertainty on the part of working Americans is an enormous problem, the Supreme Court just gave more rights to corporations while taking wealth, as health care benefits are a form of wealth, out of the hands of working Americans.

 

By: Lincoln Mitchell, The Huffington Post Blog, July 6, 2014

 

 

 

July 7, 2014 Posted by | Hobby Lobby, Supreme Court, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“High Plains Moochers”: They’re Actually Welfare Queens Of The Purple Sage

It is, in a way, too bad that Cliven Bundy — the rancher who became a right-wing hero after refusing to pay fees for grazing his animals on federal land, and bringing in armed men to support his defiance — has turned out to be a crude racist. Why? Because his ranting has given conservatives an easy out, a way to dissociate themselves from his actions without facing up to the terrible wrong turn their movement has taken.

For at the heart of the standoff was a perversion of the concept of freedom, which for too much of the right has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for others.

Start with the narrow issue of land use. For historical reasons, the federal government owns a lot of land in the West; some of that land is open to ranching, mining and so on. Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little — that is, it doesn’t collect as much money as it could, and in many cases doesn’t even charge enough to cover the costs that these private activities impose. In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.

It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage, all the same, to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.

And this in turn means that treating Mr. Bundy as some kind of libertarian hero is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. Suppose he had been grazing his cattle on land belonging to one of his neighbors, and had refused to pay for the privilege. That would clearly have been theft — and brandishing guns when someone tried to stop the theft would have turned it into armed robbery. The fact that in this case the public owns the land shouldn’t make any difference.

So what were people like Sean Hannity of Fox News, who went all in on Mr. Bundy’s behalf, thinking? Partly, no doubt, it was the general demonization of government — if someone looks as if he is defying Washington, he’s a hero, never mind the details. Partly, one suspects, it was also about race — not Mr. Bundy’s blatant racism, but the general notion that government takes money from hard-working Americans and gives it to Those People. White people who wear cowboy hats while profiting from government subsidies just don’t fit the stereotype.

Most of all, however — or at least that’s how it seems to me — the Bundy fiasco was a byproduct of the dumbing down that seems ever more central to the way America’s right operates.

American conservatism used to have room for fairly sophisticated views about the role of government. Its economic patron saint used to be Milton Friedman, who advocated aggressive money-printing, if necessary, to avoid depressions. It used to include environmentalists who took pollution seriously but advocated market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or emissions taxes rather than rigid rules.

But today’s conservative leaders were raised on Ayn Rand’s novels and Ronald Reagan’s speeches (as opposed to his actual governance, which was a lot more flexible than the legend). They insist that the rights of private property are absolute, and that government is always the problem, never the solution.

The trouble is that such beliefs are fundamentally indefensible in the modern world, which is rife with what economists call externalities — costs that private actions impose on others, but which people have no financial incentive to avoid. You might want, for example, to declare that what a farmer does on his own land is entirely his own business; but what if he uses pesticides that contaminate the water supply, or antibiotics that speed the evolution of drug-resistant microbes? You might want to declare that government intervention never helps; but who else can deal with such problems?

Well, one answer is denial — insistence that such problems aren’t real, that they’re invented by elitists who want to take away our freedom. And along with this anti-intellectualism goes a general dumbing-down, an exaltation of supposedly ordinary folks who don’t hold with this kind of stuff. Think of it as the right’s duck-dynastic moment.

You can see how Mr. Bundy, who came across as a straight-talking Marlboro Man, fit right into that mind-set. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a bit more straight-talking than expected.

I’d like to think that the whole Bundy affair will cause at least some of the people who backed him to engage in self-reflection, and ask how they ended up lending support, even briefly, to someone like that. But I don’t expect it to happen.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, April 27, 2014

April 28, 2014 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Breed Apart”: So This Is What “Individual Liberty” Looks Like

I was minding my own business channel surfing when I stumbled upon a disturbing scene carried on (where else?) Fox News. More than 1,500 students from all over the world were gathered in Washington to attend what was billed as the Students for Liberty Conference, whose advertised aim was to “celebrate freedom.”

The part I saw had Fox Business host John Stossel, author of No They Can’t: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed, moderating a panel in which he asked students this bit of political trivia: How often is the word “democracy” used in the Constitution, or the Declaration of Independence for that matter?

What came next was chilling. When students were given the correct answer – none – they cheered.

Stossel later explained why. These students, like the Founding Fathers, “understood that democracy may bring mob rule – tyranny of a majority. So the Constitution focuses on restricting government – to secure individual liberty.”

Thanks go to Chris Hayes of MSNBC for showing what this so called “individual liberty” sometimes looks like in real life.

Hayes profiled ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. As the head of the largest natural gas producer in the US, Tillerson is a vocal proponent of a controversial process known as hydraulic fracking.

It is so controversial, in fact, that many municipalities have begun passing local ordinances to place a moratorium on the practice until more is known about its long-term consequences. Exxon, for its part, has been just as active suing these cities and towns to have the ordinances overturned.

Then along comes another gas company with plans to construct one of these water towers needed for fracking — but this one near Exxon Rex’s 83-acre, $5 million horse ranch near Bartonville, Texas. Tillerson, of course, welcomes the new gas company to the neighborhood with open arms. Right?

Not on your life. Instead, Tillerson and his super-wealthy neighbors file a lawsuit which states that the fracking tower must be stopped since it might “devalue their properties and adversely impact the rural lifestyle they sought to enjoy.”

Further, as the Wall Street Journal disapprovingly reports, Tillerson and his neighbors filed suit, claiming that what the gas company wanted to do was illegal since it would create “a noise nuisance and traffic hazards” due to the heavy trucks hauling and pumping the massive amounts of water needed to unlock oil and gas from dense rock.

As Hayes succinctly put it: “Rex Tillerson is leading the fracking revolution — just not in his backyard.”

Adds Rich Unger writing in Forbes: “Sometimes, the hypocrisy expressed in real life is so sublimely rich that one could never hope to construct a similar scenario out of pure imagination.”

Being a vocal advocate for fracking is “a key and critical function” of Mr. Tillerson’s day job, says Unger. It is all he can do when he wakes up in the morning to “protect and nurture the process of hydraulic fracturing so that his company can continue to rack in billions via the production and sale of natural gas.”

So committed is Rex to the process of fracking, says Unger, “that he has loudly lashed out at those who criticize and seek to regulate hydraulic fracturing, suggesting that such efforts are a very bad idea, indeed.”

Except when the fracking is in Tillerson’s backyard.

The odium directed at Tillerson practically writes itself. But critics are wrong to call him a hypocrite. A hypocrite is someone who subscribes to the notion that people are basically equal, who agrees that rules should apply equally to everyone, but who nonetheless insists on special privileges or exemptions for themselves.

Tillerson, and those of his kind throughout history, do not subscribe to such egalitarian — dare we say democratic — ideals as justice or fairness. They really do believe their wealth makes them a breed apart. And they really do think that rules which apply to everyone else do not apply to them, though they rarely admit that in public.

To Tillerson and his caste, double standards are the only ones worth having. Consequently, it is perfectly legitimate, in their view, to make billions of dollars supporting a fracking process they say is a danger to no one — except people who  own multi-million horse ranches in rural Texas.

I wonder if Stossel’s Students for Liberty cheered just as loudly once they learned the Constitution does not use the world oligarchy either?

 

By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, February 27, 2014

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Fracking, Oil Industry | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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