Monday, May 27, 2013
Mark Steyn: Bystanders in their own fate
On Wednesday, Drummer Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, a man who had served Queen and country honorably in the hell of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, emerged from his barracks on Wellington Street, named after the Duke thereof, in southeast London. Minutes later, he was hacked to death in broad daylight and in full view of onlookers by two men with machetes who crowed "Allahu Akbar!" as they dumped his carcass in the middle of the street like so much roadkill.
As grotesque as this act of savagery was, the aftermath was even more unsettling. The perpetrators did not, as the Tsarnaev brothers did in Boston, attempt to escape. Instead, they held court in the street, gloating over their trophy, and flagged down a London bus to demand the passengers record their triumph on film. As the crowd of bystanders swelled, the remarkably urbane savages posed for photographs with the remains of their victim while discoursing on the iniquities of Britain toward the Muslim world. Having killed Drummer Rigby, they were killing time: it took 20 minutes for the somnolent British constabulary to show up.
And so television viewers were treated to the spectacle of a young man, speaking in the vowels of south London, chatting calmly with his "fellow Britons" about his geopolitical grievances and apologizing to the ladies present for any discomfort his beheading of Drummer Rigby might have caused them, all while drenched in blood and still wielding his cleaver.
This image taken from video made available by The Sun newspaper shows what appears to be one of the attackers speaking to the camera, holding a knife and a cleaver in his bloodied hands, after a brutal attack in broad daylight Wednesday, May 22, 2013 near a military barracks in London. The attack just a few blocks from the Royal Artillery Barracks in the Woolrich neighborhood of London left one man dead and two suspects hospitalized after a shootout with police.
If you're thinking of getting steamed over all that, don't. Simon Jenkins, the former editor of The Times of London, cautioned against "mass hysteria" over "mundane acts of violence."
That's easy for him to say. Woolwich is an unfashionable part of town, and Sir Simon is unlikely to find himself there on an afternoon stroll. Drummer Rigby had less choice in the matter.
Being jumped by barbarians with machetes is certainly "mundane" in Somalia and Sudan, but it's the sort of thing that would once have been considered somewhat unusual on a sunny afternoon in south London – at least as unusual as, say, blowing up 8-year-old boys at the Boston Marathon. It was "mundane" only in the sense that, as at weddings and kindergarten concerts, the reflexive reaction of everybody present was to get out their cellphones and start filming.
Once, long ago, I was in an altercation where someone pulled a switchblade, and ever since have been mindful of Jimmy Hoffa's observation that he'd rather jump a gun than a knife.
Nevertheless, there is a disturbing passivity to this scene: a street full of able-bodied citizens being lectured to by blood-soaked murderers who have no fear that anyone will be minded to interrupt their diatribes. In fairness to the people of Boston, they were ordered to "shelter in place" by the Governor of Massachusetts. In Woolwich, a large crowd of Londoners apparently volunteered to "shelter in place," instinctively. Consider how that will play when these guys' jihadist snuff video is being hawked around the bazaars of the Muslim world. Behold the infidels, content to be bystanders in their own fate.
This passivity set the tone for what followed. In London as in Boston, the politico-media class immediately lapsed into the pneumatic multiculti Tourette's that seems to be a chronic side-effect of excess diversity-celebrating: No Islam to see here, nothing to do with Islam, all these body parts in the street are a deplorable misinterpretation of Islam.
The BBC's Nick Robinson accidentally described the men as being "of Muslim appearance," but quickly walked it back lest impressionable types get the idea that there's anything "of Muslim appearance" about a guy waving a machete and saying "Allahu Akbar." A man is on TV, dripping blood in front of a dead British soldier and swearing "by Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you," yet it's the BBC reporter who's apologizing for "causing offence."
To David Cameron, Drummer Rigby's horrific end was "not just an attack on Britain and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam. ... There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act."
How does he know? He doesn't seem the most-likely Koranic scholar. Appearing on David Letterman's show a while back, Cameron was unable to translate into English the words "Magna Carta," which has quite a bit to do with that "British way of life" he's so keen on. But apparently it's because he's been up to his neck in suras and hadiths every night, sweating for Shariah 101.
So has Scotland Yard's Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Brian Paddick, who reassured us after the London Tube bombings that "Islam and terrorism don't go together," and the Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, telling NPR listeners after 19 Muslims were arrested for plotting to behead the Canadian Prime Minister: "You know, in Islam, if you kill one person you kill everybody," he said in a somewhat loose paraphrase of Koran 5:32 that manages to leave out some important loopholes. "It's a very peaceful religion."
That's why it fits so harmoniously into famously peaceful societies like, say, Sweden. For the past week, Stockholm has been ablaze every night with hundreds of burning cars set alight by "youths." Any particular kind of "youth"? The Swedish Prime Minister declined to identify them any more precisely than as "hooligans." But don't worry: The "hooligans" and "youths" and men of no Muslim appearance whatsoever can never win because, as David Cameron ringingly declared, "they can never beat the values we hold dear, the belief in freedom, in democracy, in free speech, in our British values, Western values."
Actually, they've already gone quite a way toward eroding free speech, as both Prime Ministers demonstrate. The short version of what happened in Woolwich is that two Muslims butchered a British soldier in the name of Islam and helpfully explained, "The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day." But what do they know? They're only Muslims, not Diversity Outreach Coordinators. So the BBC, in its so-called "Key Points," declined to mention the "Allahu Akbar" bit or the "I-word" at all: Allah who?
Not a lot of Muslims want to go to the trouble of chopping your head off, but when so many Western leaders have so little rattling around up there, they don't have to. And, as we know from the sob-sister Tsarnaev profiles, most of these excitable lads are perfectly affable, or at least no more than mildly alienated, until the day they set a hundred cars alight, or blow up a schoolboy, or decapitate some guy.
And, if you're lucky, it's not you they behead, or your kid they kill, or even your Honda Civic they light up. And so life goes on, and it's all so "mundane," in Simon Jenkins' word, that you barely notice when the Jewish school shuts up, and the gay bar, and the uncovered women no longer take a stroll too late in the day, and the publishing house that gets sent the manuscript for the next "Satanic Verses" decides it's not worth the trouble. But don't worry, they'll never defeat our "free speech" and our "way of life."
One in 10 Britons under 25 now is Muslim. That number will increase, through immigration, disparate birth rates, and conversions like those of the Woolwich killers, British born and bred. Metternich liked to say the Balkans began in the Landstrasse, in south-east Vienna. Today, the dar al-Islam begins in Wellington Street, in southeast London. That's a "betrayal" all right, but not of Islam.
The rise of the fourth branch of government
There were times this past week when it seemed like the 19th-century Know-Nothing Party had returned to Washington. President Obama insisted he knew nothing about major decisions in the State Department, or the Justice Department, or the Internal Revenue Service. The heads of those agencies, in turn, insisted they knew nothing about major decisions by their subordinates. It was as if the government functioned by some hidden hand.
Clearly, there was a degree of willful blindness in these claims. However, the suggestion that someone, even the president, is in control of today’s government may be an illusion.
The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.
For much of our nation’s history, the federal government was quite small. In 1790, it had just 1,000 nonmilitary workers. In 1962, there were 2,515,000 federal employees. Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.
This exponential growth has led to increasing power and independence for agencies. The shift of authority has been staggering. The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.
The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.
This rulemaking comes with little accountability. It’s often impossible to know, absent a major scandal, whom to blame for rules that are abusive or nonsensical. Of course, agencies owe their creation and underlying legal authority to Congress, and Congress holds the purse strings. But Capitol Hill’s relatively small staff is incapable of exerting oversight on more than a small percentage of agency actions. And the threat of cutting funds is a blunt instrument to control a massive administrative state — like running a locomotive with an on/off switch.
The autonomy was magnified when the Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that agencies are entitled to heavy deference in their interpretations of laws. The court went even further this past week, ruling that agencies should get the same heavy deference in determining their own jurisdictions — a power that was previously believed to rest with Congress. In his dissent in Arlington v. FCC, Chief Justice John Roberts warned: “It would be a bit much to describe the result as ‘the very definition of tyranny,’ but the danger posed by the growing power of the administrative state cannot be dismissed.”
The judiciary, too, has seen its authority diminished by the rise of the fourth branch. Under Article III of the Constitution, citizens facing charges and fines are entitled to due process in our court system. As the number of federal regulations increased, however, Congress decided to relieve the judiciary of most regulatory cases and create administrative courts tied to individual agencies. The result is that a citizen is 10 times more likely to be tried by an agency than by an actual court. In a given year, federal judges conduct roughly 95,000 adjudicatory proceedings, including trials, while federal agencies complete more than 939,000.
These agency proceedings are often mockeries of due process, with one-sided presumptions and procedural rules favoring the agency. And agencies increasingly seem to chafe at being denied their judicial authority. Just ask John E. Brennan. Brennan, a 50-year-old technology consultant, was charged with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure when he stripped at Portland International Airport last year in protest of invasive security measures by the Transportation Security Administration. He was cleared by a federal judge, who ruled that his stripping was a form of free speech. The TSA was undeterred. After the ruling, it pulled Brennan into its own agency courts under administrative charges.
The rise of the fourth branch has occurred alongside an unprecedented increase in presidential powers — from the power to determine when to go to war to the power to decide when it’s reasonable to vaporize a U.S. citizen in a drone strike. In this new order, information is jealously guarded and transparency has declined sharply. That trend, in turn, has given the fourth branch even greater insularity and independence. When Congress tries to respond to cases of agency abuse, it often finds officials walled off by claims of expanding executive privilege.
Of course, federal agencies officially report to the White House under the umbrella of the executive branch. But in practice, the agencies have evolved into largely independent entities over which the president has very limited control. Only 1 percent of federal positions are filled by political appointees, as opposed to career officials, and on average appointees serve only two years. At an individual level, career officials are insulated from political pressure by civil service rules. There are also entire agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — that are protected from White House interference.
Some agencies have gone so far as to refuse to comply with presidential orders. For example, in 1992 President George H.W. Bush ordered the U.S. Postal Service to withdraw a lawsuit against the Postal Rate Commission, and he threatened to sack members of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors who denied him. The courts ruled in favor of the independence of the agency.
It’s a small percentage of agency matters that rise to the level of presidential notice. The rest remain the sole concern of agency discretion.
As the power of the fourth branch has grown, conflicts between the other branches have become more acute. There is no better example than the fights over presidential appointments.
Wielding its power to confirm, block or deny nominees is one of the few remaining ways Congress can influence agency policy and get a window into agency activity. Nominations now commonly trigger congressional demands for explanations of agencies’ decisions and disclosures of their documents. And that commonly leads to standoffs with the White House.
Take the fight over Richard Cordray, nominated to serve as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray is highly qualified, but Republican senators oppose the independence of the new bureau and have questions about its jurisdiction and funding. After those senators repeatedly blocked the nomination, Obama used a congressional break in January to make a recess appointment. Since then, two federal appeals courts have ruled that Obama’s recess appointments violated the Constitution and usurped congressional authority. While the fight continues in the Senate, the Obama administration has appealed to the Supreme Court.
It would be a mistake to dismiss such conflicts as products of our dysfunctional, partisan times. Today’s political divisions are mild compared with those in the early republic, as when President Thomas Jefferson described his predecessor’s tenure as “the reign of the witches.” Rather, today’s confrontations reflect the serious imbalance in the system.
The marginalization Congress feels is magnified for citizens, who are routinely pulled into the vortex of an administrative state that allows little challenge or appeal. The IRS scandal is the rare case in which internal agency priorities are forced into the public eye. Most of the time, such internal policies are hidden from public view and congressional oversight. While public participation in the promulgation of new regulations is allowed, and often required, the process is generally perfunctory and dismissive.
In the new regulatory age, presidents and Congress can still change the government’s priorities, but the agencies effectively run the show based on their interpretations and discretion. The rise of this fourth branch represents perhaps the single greatest change in our system of government since the founding.
We cannot long protect liberty if our leaders continue to act like mere bystanders to the work of government.
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Posted by JR at 12:38 AM