Thursday, October 23, 2014

Meet the New Serfs: You

By Kevin D. Williamson
Thursday, October 23, 2014

The New Haven SWAT team must have been pretty amped up: It was midnight, and they were getting ready to bust down the door of a man wanted on charges involving weapons violations, robbery — and murder. They were not sure how many people were in the house, or how they’d react. After a volley of flash grenades that set fire to the carpet and a sofa, they moved in, guns drawn. A minute later, they had their man zip-tied on the floor.

If only they’d double-checked the address first.

Bobby Griffin Jr. was wanted on murder charges. His next-door neighbor on Peck Street, Joseph Adams, wasn’t. But that didn’t stop the SWAT team from knocking down his door, setting his home on fire, roughing him up, keeping him tied up in his underwear for nearly three hours, and treating the New Haven man, who is gay, to a nance show as officers taunted him with flamboyantly effeminate mannerisms. If the events detailed in Mr. Adams’s recently filed lawsuit are even remotely accurate, the episode was a moral violation and, arguably, a crime.

And when Mr. Adams showed up at the New Haven police department the next day to fill out paperwork requesting that the authorities reimburse him for the wanton destruction of his property — never mind the gross violation of his rights — the story turned Kafkaesque, as interactions with American government agencies at all levels tend to do. The police — who that same night had managed to take in the murder suspect next door without the use of flash grenades or other theatrics after his mother suggested that they were probably there for her son — denied having any record of the incident at Mr. Adams’s home ever having happened.

This sort of thing happens with disturbing regularity. The New York Police Department killed an older woman in Harlem when they mistakenly raided her home in 2003. In that case, too, “flash-bang” grenades were deployed, and the concussions sent 57-year-old Alberta Spruiell into cardiac arrest, killing her. The NYPD was acting on information given to them by a local lowlife drug dealer they were leaning on. It was the first information he’d given them as an informant, and based on nothing more than that they went in hard — no-knock raid, grenades, the whole circus. As it turns out, New York dope-slingers turned rat are not entirely trustworthy.

In Miami’s Coconut Grove, police struck a child in the head with their rifle butts after a no-knock SWAT raid. The address of the home was not the address on the warrant — that was two blocks away – but police insist they were in the right, warrant be damned. “They broke every single flat-screen TV, they broke the PlayStation 4, they broke every single picture frame, for whatever reason. Every single thing they could possibly break, they broke,” the homeowner said. The police insisted that they had meant to hit that house, in which there was no one other than the children, and that they had seized “narcotics” — a trivial amount of marijuana — and “weapons” — a handgun, which is perfectly legal to own in Florida.

The stories get grisly: In Habersham County, Ga., police looking for a drug dealer — at a home in which he did not reside — broke down the doors thinking they’d find drugs and guns, which of course they didn’t. But they did manage to toss a flash grenade into a baby’s playpen, burning part of the child’s face off. The family was left with nearly $1 million in medical bills, and the kid will need surgery every few years until he stops growing. The police insist they did nothing wrong. And as in New Haven, when they found the drug dealer for whom they were searching, the Georgia authorities brought him in without incident, without kicking down any doors or throwing any stun grenades.

The disfigurement of a child is horrific to contemplate. (“If you’ve never wept and want to, have a child,” David Foster Wallace wrote in “Incarnations of Burned Children.”) But the image that really hooks me is that of Joseph Adams schlepping up to the New Haven police department to endure some bureaucracy and to fill out some paperwork — because no matter how badly government screws up, fixing what’s gone wrong is always your problem. I can picture his situation precisely — every police department, driver’s-license office, tax bureau, and city licensing agency exhibits the same distinctive blind of slowly simmering hostility, smugness, contempt, and complete immunity from accountability. We are ruled by criminals, and their alibi is: “There’s no record of that in the system.” That, or: “The computer won’t let me do that.”

In a sane world, the New Haven authorities would have shown up at Adams’s house with a check, flowers, and an apology, and a certificate exempting him from taxes for the rest of his life. In this world, people in his situation get treated by the government like they are the ones who have screwed up. And of course they’d say they had no record of the episode — getting information about your situation from any government agency, especially from one that is persecuting you, requires an agonizing effort. Keeping people in the dark is part of how they maintain their power. For fun sometime, call the comical New York State tax department and note the intentionally garbled phone numbers on the recording about how to get in touch with a tax agent’s superior to complain or ask a question.

The strange flip-side — the second half of Samuel Francis’s “anarcho-tyranny” — is that the brunt of government abuse falls on the law-abiding. Illinois, for example, makes it difficult for an ordinary citizen to legally carry a gun for self defense — up until a couple of years ago, doing so was categorically prohibited. But Illinois police seize thousands of illegal guns from criminals each year, and the state prosecutes practically none of those weapons cases. The law-abiding — by definition law-abiding — citizens applying for concealed-carry permits get treated like criminals, and the actual criminals do not. If you follow the law and inform Illinois authorities that you have a gun in the home, you invite all sorts of intrusion and oversight. If you don’t, nobody’s really looking. Meanwhile, the streets of Chicago are full of blood, going on 1,600 shootings this year and it’s not even Halloween. Nobody is held responsible for that carnage, but if you put an eleventh round in your legally owned rifle in Oak Park, you’re looking at jail time.

It’s perverse: If an ordinary citizen makes a typo on his 1040EZ, he could be on the hook for untold sums of money, fines, even jail time. When the IRS abuses its power to harass political enemies, nothing happens. A few years ago, an employer of mine entered the wrong Social Security number on my paperwork — I have barbaric handwriting — and the error took months of telephone calls and mail to fix, a period of time over which I was threatened with all sorts of nasty consequences by the Social Security Administration and the IRS. But when the Social Security Administration oversees the payment of millions of dollars in benefits to Nazi war criminals summering on Croatian beaches, nothing happens. If you’re an ordinary schmo, a typo can land you in jail. If you work for the government, you can burn the face off a baby and walk.

Even in medieval times, the distinction between lords and serfs was not so pronounced.

Wendy Davis vs. Principle

By Charles C. W. Cooke
Wednesday, October 22, 2014

That a doyenne of the midafternoon MSNBC crowd is losing a gubernatorial race in deep-red Texas should come as a surprise to nobody. That she has been reduced to the rank indignity of her present antics, however, was a little less drearily predictable. After all, there is losing in politics, and then there is losing, and of late Davis has become sorely adept at the latter. In the space of just a year, Joan of Arc has been transmogrified into Elmer Fudd, replete with ill-fitting hunting rifle, cartoonish faux-accent, and, now, a good deal of hapless frustration to boot. Has there ever been a swifter fall from grace?

Among Davis’s recent offerings have been an attack ad that appeared to draw attention to her opponent’s disability; the introduction into the race of a contretemps over the legal availability of rubber sex toys; and, most egregiously of all, the suggestion that her opponent is a secret foe of interracial marriage. Per Hippocrates, desperate times may indeed call for desperate measures, but “desperate” and “suicidal” are not synonyms, and recklessness is not the most profitable of strategies. Is this really the best that she can do?

The lattermost of Davis’s array of mistakes — the proposal that her opponent, Greg Abbott, disapproves of interracial marriage — was made after Abbott refused to answer whether he would have defended Texas’s ban had he been attorney general a half-century ago. “I can’t go back and answer some hypothetical question like that,” Abbott replied, before effectively conceding that he would probably have felt obliged. “The job of an attorney general,” he noted, “is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state legislature, unless and until a court strikes it down.” Rather predictably, this answer was immediately denounced by the Democratic party of Texas, which first described his response as “offensive”; then pretended disgracefully that Abbott had suggested that “an interracial marriage ban” was “on the table”; and finally, coordinated with the Davis campaign, which picked up and echoed the charge three times.

The manner in which Texas Democrats seized upon this line is, in and of itself, dishonorable. But Abbott’s critics are wrong on the merits, too. Indeed, far from being abhorrent, the question asked of Abbott is genuinely fascinating — and it inspires a series of similarly engaging inquiries: “At what point does the rule of law play second fiddle to a person’s natural rights?”; “When it is acceptable for government lawyers to refuse to do their jobs?”; and “If a representative of the state feels that he cannot uphold the rules, what is he expected to do?” In a more sensible political culture, such a discussion would have been treated with reverence and delicateness, and, crucially, Abbott’s answer would have been received with the immediate recognition that if we are to live in a free country there will be times at which the rules do not tally perfectly with our sense of justice. Just as “constitutional” is not merely another way of saying “thing I like,” for a man to recognize that a given activity is legal is by no means for him to endorse it. The correct response to Abbott’s answer, is, “how interesting.” Wendy Davis’s response to Abbott’s answer was to insinuate that Abbott must oppose Loving v. Virginia. How’s that for “liberal”?

Politics is a silly game, and Davis is an especially maladroit player. Nevertheless, her reaction is telling, neatly demonstrating as it does just how comprehensively the politics of victimhood devours classical conceptions of liberty. Abbott’s argument was that, as a lawyer, his job would be to represent the interests of his client — whatever he personally thought of those interests. At what point, one wonders, did this approach become controversial among civilized people? As it is broadly understood that defense attorneys play a crucial role within the criminal-justice system — their job being to make the best possible case against the claims of the state — it should be generally comprehended that an attorney general plays a crucial role within a constitutional republic. Suppose that Abbott had said explicitly that he would have been duty bound to defend Texas’s miscegenation laws. Would that have made him Bull Connor? Or would that have made him a representative of the will of the people — a paid channel and nothing less? Clearly, it is the latter.

This matters. Why? Well, because classical liberalism rests largely upon the presumption that the people will not confuse generally applicable principles with their occasionally unpleasant consequences. Thus is it accepted in the United States that the cost of free-speech protections is the execrable ranting of the Westboro Baptist Church. Thus is it recognized that a system that presupposes the innocence of the accused will inevitably permit a few bad eggs to walk. Thus is it acknowledged that the price we pay for our privacy is that those who would do us harm are accorded a certain head start. One can only wonder what might have happened to these measures had Wendy Davis’s attitude prevailed while they were being codified. Would not the very notion of establishing certain safeguards have been dismissed as a thinly disguised effort to entrench existing “privileges” — or, perhaps, as an attempt to intellectualize justifications for “hate,” for “intolerance,” and for the “patriarchy”?

That Wendy Davis seems to regards Abbott’s asseveration as a character flaw is, I’m afraid, extraordinarily dangerous. How exactly do we imagine the First Amendment would have fared if it had been presented as a measure to privilege the communication rights of neo-Nazis over the feeling of Jews, or as an attempt to elevate into the national charter the right to burn the beloved American flag? What about the Fifth and Sixth and Seventh amendments? One can almost hear the attack ads now. “Secretary Jefferson,” a Davis commercial might run, “wants to subject rape victims to the trauma of reliving their experiences in court. And he has even expressed support for a provision that would require the victims of sexual assault to be faced by their accusers. Jefferson is wrong for women, and he is wrong for Texas.”

As for privacy or the right to keep and bear arms? Forget it.

Perilously, we are starting to see this attitude more and more frequently. When Salon’s Katie McDonough asks bitterly, when will “women’s lives . . . matter more than abstractions,” this is precisely what she means: that we should ignore the principles and strictures of republican government in the name of our preferred outcomes. In this manner, too, have we come to discuss the ever-diminishing scope of private property rights, our debates centering nowadays not on whether individuals should have a general right to decide whom they will serve, but on why anybody would be asking these questions in the first instance. Think you should be able to decide who comes into your bar? Drop the act, Bubba, you must be in the Klan. Grotesque as it is to watch a woman running for public office in 2014 attempt to convince her fans that her opponent is George Wallace, Davis’s real crime was not hyperbole. Instead, it was to have contributed willfully to the metastasizing civic ignorance of those she seeks to serve. Davis saw an opportunity to add a couple of points to her tally at the expense of the republic in which she lives, and, unashamedly and repeatedly, she took it. Rarely has a crushing loss been so richly deserved.

Palin the Piñata

By Charles C. W. Cooke
Wednesday, October 22, 2014

As should now be clear to all who follow my work, I do not like Sarah Palin. I never have. I didn’t like her when she was chosen as John McCain’s vice-presidential nominee, I didn’t like her when she became an ersatz television star and part-time political rabble-rouser, and I don’t like her now, in the waning days of her fame. Her speech to the National Rifle Association in 2013 was a rambling, self-parodic disaster, all sentiment and no substance; and her offering to the following year’s convention was somehow even worse — an indulgent, alienating piece of ostensibly impromptu performance art, composed of precisely the sort of us-vs.-them gang signals and unsubstantiated indignation that serve only to leave neutral observers with the impression that conservatism has nothing to offer them. Because I broadly agree with Palin on a good number of political questions, I imagine that she does not irritate me to quite the volcanic extent that she aggravates my friends on the left, but, either way, there are few people within the Right’s extended firmament that I would less like to send out onto a stage in my name and even fewer that I would hope to see within the corridors of policy and power. A day on which Sarah Palin is silent is, in my view, a good day for conservatism and a good day for America, and, we would, I’d venture, be better off if she disappeared from the national scene.

That notwithstanding, there is a material difference between one’s personal view of a person and the manner in which one wishes to see them treated, and I think we all have a responsibility to understand where that line is. All in all, I can think of few people in public life who have been as disgracefully hounded as has Palin; and nor, for that matter, can I recall a single figure in the past decade who has been subjected to self-serving double standards by the press and by elite culture writ large. It is six years since the woman ran for public office and more than five years since she enjoyed any real influence at all, and yet she is still held up by her many enemies as the standard bearer for all that ails the country. It really is no overstatement to say that, since she first came onto the scene in 2008, the self-appointed smart-set has treated Palin as a walking, talking source of confirmation bias — part totem for the much-despised people of “flyover country”; part boogeyman of a never-quite-appearing theocratic coup; part Barbiefied piñata, to whom none of the usual rules apply.

Here, progressive hypocrisy has been utterly breathtaking. Day in and day out, the more trigger-happy feminists within America’s media circus are moved to pen extravagant disquisitions on the nature of sexual inequality if and when a man they dislike so much as looks at them askew. Elsewhere, wholly substantive criticisms of Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton are held up as shining examples of deeply embedded sexism within the United States, and of the subtle, sometimes invisible role that “hatred of women” plays within the country’s political culture. To take potshots at clownish figures such as Lena Dunham, we have learned, is to invite indignant death threats. And yet, when a veritable legion of male comedians elects to use foul, carnal, and, yes, “gendered” language to dismiss Palin and her family, our contemporary Boudiceas shrug at best and offer endorsements at worst. Sarah Palin, as the abominable bumper sticker has it, “isn’t a woman, she’s a Republican.”

Consider Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to the news that Palin’s family was recently involved in a brawl. This, per Palin’s daughter Bristol, is what happened:

    “I walk back up. ‘Did you push my sister?’ And some guy gets up, pushes me down on the grass, drags me across the grass. ‘You slut, you f***ing c***, you f***ing this.’ I get back up, he pushes me down on the grass again. And I have my five year old, they took my $300 sunglasses, they took my f***ing shoes, and I’m just left here? A guy comes out of nowhere and pushes me on the ground, takes me by my feet, in my dress — in my thong dress, in front of everybody — ‘Come on you c***, get the f*** out of here, come on you slut, get the f*** out of here.’ I don’t know this guy.”

And this was Sullivan’s reaction:

    At this point, of course, this is just an outtake from the old Jerry Springer show. And there really is nothing to add.

    Except this: every time you see John McCain on television, remember that this is what he intended to bring within a heart beat of the presidency. This is the man’s judgment. As he lectures us about the need for more wars, and the Beltway media kowtows to his authority, remember that.

On the contrary. I would suggest that there is an awful lot “to add.” The first question we might ask of Sullivan and of anyone else who has taken an interest in this story is, Why are we spilling so much ink on this topic at all? Sarah Palin does not hold public office. She is not running for public office. Indeed, she does not even have a television show. Certainly, she is not anonymous — her relentless lust for attention is one of the things I dislike about her — but we might expect that her success in drawing notice would be commensurate with her position. She has no position. Why, then, the obsession?

The second, related, inquiry is this: If it is a sign of poor “judgment” to choose as veep someone whose children are a mess, why does Joe Biden get a pass for the conduct of his son, Hunter, who was kicked out of the Navy Reserve for having been discovered using cocaine? Take a wild guess as to which tale has been of more interest within the Beltway: That of Bristol Palin or that of Hunter Biden. (Hint: It ain’t the one involving the serving politician and his family.) Back when Bristol Palin was a minor, her pregnancy was treated as an indictment of the Republican party’s entire “family values” platform and as an example of the rank hypocrisy of the moral Right. Today, the man who is second in line to the presidency announces that his child has been discovered on the wrong side of a law the breaking of which often ends in imprisonment, and he is unlikely to face so much as an interview with the police. What, pray, does that say about the “bigger picture”?

The third question, as The Week’s Matt Lewis observes, is this: “If Bristol Palin was physically and verbally assaulted by a man, shouldn’t we be up in arms about that, and not about her reaction”? This lattermost wringer is all the more poignant in light of the current focus on domestic violence and sexual assault, and our tendency to regard each and every incident in which a man uses his superior strength for ill as evidence of a broader “war on women” or a “culture of rape.” Who among us can say with a straight face that, if Malia Obama had been attacked at a party or at a concert or at her school, the headlines would have focused on her reaction to the onslaught? Likewise, if Chelsea Clinton had been pushed to the floor, dragged across the grass, and robbed, would we really be breaking down the language she used in the aftermath? It couldn’t be, could it, that Palin’s unfashionable social views, her abrasive character, and the general dislike for those who admire her, have led the political and journalistic classes to side, cackling, with the mob?

Such questions, at this point, are unfailingly clichéd. But, as a critic of Palin’s I will ask them once more in the vain and weary hope that my perspective will make a difference. The measure of a fair man is that he treats those whom he loathes as fairly as he treats those whom he loves. If Sarah Palin is our guide, there are few fair men left.

Oil Rigs Support Biodiversity

By Jonah Goldberg
Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Never let it be said that Mother Nature doesn’t appreciate irony. A new study led by researchers at Occidental College and the University of California at Santa Barbara has found that the oil platforms dotting the California coast are fantastic for sea life.

In a 15-year study, researchers found that the ecosystems that build up around artificial rigs host 1,000 percent more fish and other sea life than natural habitats such as reefs and estuaries. The California rigs outstripped even famously rich ecosystems such as the coral reefs of French Polynesia.

Now, as a big fan of artificial reefs, I think this is exciting news. There are many who oppose the idea of improving on God’s — or, if you prefer, Gaia’s — design. This strikes me as crazy, given the fact that virtually all of the food we eat and the clothes we wear are the products of human innovation. When humans ran out of gazelles or bison to hunt, they had the great idea of catching a few and raising a renewable supply. When picking wild seeds and berries no longer fed the tribe, it dawned on humans to plant their own.

Fish pose a special problem, however, because many species are difficult to farm. And even when fish are adaptable to aquaculture, there are special risks and costs involved. As a result, the oceans are still being overfished, thanks in no small part to the tragedy of the commons. (Since no one owns the ocean, fishing fleets often grab as much as they can.)

According to Jeremy Claisse, the lead author of the study, the reason rigs are particularly beneficial stems from the fact that they’re so tall. A skyscraper from seafloor to surface apparently lends itself to a very rich ecosystem. The fact that it’s an oil rig is, of course, irrelevant.

Claisse says in interviews that he hopes policymakers will take his findings into account when approving renewable energy sources such as ocean-based wind farms. “These results show the potential importance of man-made structures in enhancing natural habitats,” he told New Scientist, “and demonstrate that leaving them in place after use, if done right, can have benefits for the marine environment.”

He’s right. I would love to see stand-alone underwater skyscrapers anywhere they might work, but especially along the African coastline, where fishing is essential and overfishing a major problem.

But let’s get back to the ironic part. In 1992, world leaders convened in Rio de Janeiro to discuss three issues: climate change, desertification, and biodiversity. Since then, the world has dedicated untold billions of dollars to fighting climate change. Even the rosiest accounts of what has been accomplished so far concede that little progress has been made in terms of forestalling the alleged climate apocalypse a century or so from now.

However, the effort has other achievements under its belt. The global war on carbon has allowed politicians, activists, and voters to congratulate themselves about their concern for the environment, while at the same time distracting them from the other goal of that Earth Summit: saving endangered species.

If only lobbyists and subsidy-grubbing corporations could make as much money fighting the eradication of the African elephant, the Asian tiger, or countless other creatures.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the global wildlife population has been cut in half, according to the World Wildlife Fund. While there are many heroic organizations dedicated to saving endangered species, who can dispute that fossil-fuel phobia dominates the conversation and sucks up most of the passion?

The environmental jihad against oil predates hysteria about global warming by decades. Oil was an enemy back when people were still fretting over the looming ice age. Indeed, many say it began with the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969.

I don’t know if the oil rigs off the Santa Barbara coast today have saved any endangered species, but I do know that the wind and solar farms of the California desert are killing and threatening birds — including endangered ones — at an alarming rate (and not just birds). Not even the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act can stand in the way of the obsession with climate change.

What good will a cooler planet do us if we’re the only ones around to enjoy it?