Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Piper's Lament

by Mark Steyn

Mark Levin was on cracking form the other day on the superiority of certain cultures and what he calls "the decomposition of this society". This passage will strike a chord with SteynOnline readers:

"They're putting in place laws and programs and bureaucracies to smother us, so the social engineers can manipulate. Come this fall many of you with young children going to public schools, you're going to see a change in the bake sales at your schools because the federal government, the First Lady has determined that your kids shouldn't be selling cupcakes. And your kid should be eating cupcakes."

Now, I've said this before: a government that has the power to dictate whether or not your kids can sell or eat cupcakes as a result of late local bake sale is a tyranny. It is a government way, way out of power, out of sync. And it's gonna get worse. It's not gonna get better.

I'm with the Great One on this. We reported here recently on a modest victory against the Cupcake Comissars, but it was an exception that proves the rule. I've got a whole section on bake sales et al in After America (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available, etc, etc, he pleads pitifully with an eye to his current lawsuit) - because, as Mark says, it's not a small thing. Page 89 of my book:

"No matter how you slice it, this is tyranny. When I first came to my corner of New Hampshire, one of the small pleasures I took in my new state were the frequent bake sales – the Ladies' Aid, the nursery school, the church rummage sale. Most of the muffins and cookies were good; some were exceptional; a few went down to sit in the stomach like overloaded barges at the bottom of the Suez Canal. But even then you admired if not the cooking then certainly the civic engagement. In a small but tangible way, a person who submits to a state pie regime is a subject, not a citizen – because participation is the essence of citizenship, and thus barriers to participation crowd out citizenship. A couple of kids with a lemonade stand are learning the rudiments not just of economic self-reliance but of civic identity."

I mentioned one of these stories on Rush a year or two back and some guy responded, "Why are you talking about this? It's not important." That's why I'm talking about it. Because if you won't push back against the small-scale stuff, by the time they come for the big things you'll no longer know how to rouse yourself. In old, settled societies, tyranny starts at the edge and works its way inwards. And the essence of tyranny is its capriciousness. It's easy to say, "Well, I don't go to bake sales, so what do I care?"

Every day in this country tyranny's whimsy descends on some law-abiding person out of the blue. You buy an imported vintage car, and you wake up with Homeland Security agents surrounding your home and confiscating your property. This weekend it was two of my fellow Granite Staters - 17-year-old Campbell Webster and Eryk Bean, of Concord, New Hampshire.

Instead of enjoying meth and twerking like normal well-adjusted teens, they like bagpipes. Master Webster comes from a long line of bagpipers: his father Gordon was pipe-major for the 1st and 2nd Batallion the Scots Guards and personal piper to the Queen. So he passed on the 1936 family bagpipes to his son, and young Campbell uses them to play in pipe championships in North America and around the world. So this weekend he was returning to New Hampshire from a competition in Canada, which is how a newspaper story comes to open with a sentence never before written in the history of the English language:

"BAGPIPERS have expressed their fear over a new law which led to two US teenagers having their pipes seized by border control staff at the weekend"

They can chisel that on the tombstone of the republic. On the northern border, bagpipers are "expressing their fear", while on the southern border gangbangers have no fear and stroll through the express check-in. Putin has no fear of American power, the mullahs have no fear of American power, the Chinese politburo has no fear of American power, ISIS has no fear of American power, but the world's bagpipers fear it, and with good reason.

The figleaf of a pretext for seizing Messrs Webster and Bean's bagpipes is what The Scotsman (as usual, any real news about America has to be gleaned from the foreign press) calls "new laws" introduced a month ago. By "laws", they don't mean something passed by the people's representatives in a legislature - there's not a lot of that going on these days - but a little bit of regulatory fine-tuning by some no-name bureaucrats at the Department of Paperwork. The upshot of which is that, if you own a vintage bagpipe containing ivory and you wish to take it to a competition in Montreal, you have to get a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) certificate from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Got that? You have to get your musical instrument approved by Fish & Wildlife.

Oh, but Messrs Webster and Bean were on top of that. They'd gone to Fish & Wildlife, gotten their CITES certificates, and presented them to the US Customs & Border Protection agent upon returning to the United States via a Vermont border crossing (presumably either Highgate or Derby Line, both of which I use frequently).

At which point the Commissar of Bagpipes said, "Ah, yes, the CITES certificate is valid but..."

Here it comes, boys and girls! Stand well back; it's the Bollocks of the Day from your friendly all-American Bureau of Compliance:

"The CITES certificate is valid's only valid at 38 designated ports of entry." And this wasn't one of them. So he confiscated the bagpipes.

Why don't they just put a big sign up on the border? "US Government Paperwork Not Accepted At This US Government Border Post."

So Customs & Border Protection will wave through "unaccompanied minors", but if the minor's accompanied by a bagpipe the guy in the full Robocop will seize it and tell the kid he's "never going to see them again". And then the Robocop goes home having done a full and rewarding day of work.

Americans should be ashamed at what Mark Levin calls the "decomposition of the country". In all manner of areas from banking and health care to bake sales and bagpipes, US citizens now enjoy less freedom than those of countries they regard as socialist basket cases. When I've said as much before, I get emails from readers saying, "Ah, yes, but we have the First Amendment and the Second Amendment." But they're meant to be bulwarks against tyranny, so, if you never actually use them to defend liberty, eventually they have no more real-world meaning than all the theoretical freedoms listed in the Soviet constitution. It's easy to say, "I don't do home-baking. Or buy imported cars. Or play bagpipes" - or whatever next week's provocation is. But by the time they come for something you value, it will be too late. As Mark Levin says, "It's gonna get worse. It's not gonna get better." And then he adds a further point:

"Have you heard a single Republican in leadership talk to you the way I'm talking to you? Have you heard a single Republican in leadership talk about the seriousness of what this nation is facing? Have you heard any guests for the most part on our favorite cable channel, FOX, discuss this in any logical way? Nope... The problem is Republican administrations participate in the deconstruction of the country, in the decomposition of the country. They're not ideological about it and in some ways they're unwitting about it. Very few tried to push back. Very few try to unravel this federal leviathan that's been created over the last century."

Have any of my somewhat unsatisfactory roster of New Hampshire Senate candidates said anything about their constituents' bagpipe seizure? America has a two-party system in which one party is committed to making things worse and the other party isn't committed to making things any better. And, like the Great One, I'd like a bit more of a choice than that.

To be sure, a lot of these things are kinda fringey activities. Why can't the vintage-car guy drive a Toyota Corolla like a normal person? Why can't the bagpiper get into rap like a regular kid? Increasingly in America any deviation from the norm is enough to attract the attention of the punitive bureaucracy. But a society that agrees to be that cowed and compliant will not be a dynamic or innovative one, and eventually will be in steep and terminal decline.

The degeneration of "law" into regulation is a problem. The post-constitutional order is, too. But something bigger is in play. To remain free, a people need something more basic - the spirit of liberty. Once you've lost that, there are no easy roads back.



Fed court ruling: Police can kick in your door and sieze guns without warrant or charges

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals may have just dealt a serious blow to the U.S. Constitution

In a unanimous decision earlier this month the Court determined that law enforcement officers are not required to present a warrant or charges before forcibly entering a person’s home, searching it, and confiscating their firearms if they believe it is in the individual’s best interests.

The landmark suit was brought before the court by Krysta Sutterfield of Milwaukee, who had recently visited a psychiatrist for outpatient therapy resulting from some bad news that she had received. According to court records Sutterfield had expressed a suicidal thought during the visit, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, when she said “I guess I’ll go home and blow my brains out.” This prompted her doctor to contact police.

For several hours the police searched for Sutterfield, speaking with neighbors and awaiting her return home. They received an update from her psychiatrist who said that Sutterfield had contacted her and advised that she was not in need of assistance and to “call off” the search, which the doctor did not agree to. Police eventually left and Sutterfield returned home, only to be visited later that evening by the lead detective on the case:

    Sutterfield answered Hewitt’s knock at the front door but would not engage with her, except to state repeatedly that she had “called off” the police and to keep shutting the door on Hewitt. Sutterfield would not admit Hewitt to the residence, and during the exchange kept the outer storm door closed and locked. Unable to gain admittance to the house, Hewitt concluded that the police would have to enter it forcibly.....

    Sutterfield called 911 in an effort to have the officers leave; as a result of that call, the ensuing events were recorded by the emergency call center. Sutterfield can be heard on the recording telling the officers that she was fine and that she did not want anyone to enter her residence....

    After informing Sutterfield of his intention to open the storm door forcibly if she did not unlock it herself, Berken yanked the door open and entered the house with the other officers to take custody of Sutterfield pursuant to the statement of detention. A brief struggle ensued.

    Sutterfield can be heard on the 911 recording demanding both that the officers let go of her and that they leave her home. (Sutterfield would later say that the officers tackled her.) Sutterfield was handcuffed and placed in the officers’ custody...

    At that point the officers conducted a protective sweep of the home. In the kitchen, officer James Floriani observed a compact disc carrying case in plain view. He picked up the soft-sided case, which was locked, and surmised from the feel and weight of its contents that there might be a firearm inside. He then forced the case open and discovered a semi-automatic  handgun inside; a yellow smiley-face sticker was affixed to the barrel of the gun, covering the muzzle. Also inside the case were concealed-carry firearm licenses from multiple jurisdictions other than Wisconsin. Elsewhere in the kitchen the officers discovered a BB gun made to realistically resemble a Glock 29 handgun.

    The contents of the case were seized along with the BB gun and placed into police inventory for safekeeping.

    Berken would later state that he authorized the seizure of the handgun in order to keep them out of the hands of a juvenile, should a juvenile enter the house unaccompanied by an adult while Sutterfield remained in the hospital.

Sutterfield subsequently filed a lawsuit against the City of Milwaukee with the district court, a case that was initially dismissed. She then filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th District claiming that her Second and Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

In a 75-page opinion the court, while pointing out that the intrusion against Sutterfield was profound, sided with the city of Milwaukee:

    “The intrusions upon Sutterfield’s privacy were profound,” Judge Ilana Rovner wrote for three-judge panel.

    “At the core of the privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment is the right to be let alone in one’s home.”

    But the court also found, that on the other hand, “There is no suggestion that (police) acted for any reason other than to protect Sutterfield from harm.”

    “Even if the officers did exceed constitutional boundaries,” the court document states, “they are protected by qualified immunity.”

As noted by Police State USA, the court may have just created a legal loophole for law enforcement officials around the country, giving them immunity from Constitutional violations if they merely suggest that exigent circumstances exist and that they are acting in the best interests of the health and safety of an alleged suspect, regardless of Constitutional requirements:

    In short, Sutterfield’s privacy (which was admittedly encroached upon) was left unprotected by the Bill of Rights because of the “exigent circumstances” in which police executed an emergency detention — with no warrant, no criminal charges, and no input from the judiciary.   Similarly, the gun confiscation was also deemed as acceptable due to the so-called “emergency” which police claimed had been taking place for 9 consecutive hours.

    The federal ruling affirms a legal loophole which allows targeted home invasions, warrantless searches, and gun confiscations that rest entirely in the hands of the Executive Branch. The emergency aid doctrine enables police to act without a search warrant, even if there is time to get one.  When the government wants to check on someone, his or her rights are essentially suspended until the person’s sanity has been forcibly validated.

The implications of the courts legal decision are alarmingly broad. Though this particular case involved exigent circumstances in which an individual suggested she wanted to commit suicide, albeit tongue-in-cheek, the court’s opinion suggests that such tactics can be applied for any “emergency” wherein police subjectively determine that an individual may be a danger to themselves or others.

Under new statutes passed by the federal government these emergencies and dangers could potentially include any number of scenarios. Senator Rand Paul recently highlighted that there are laws on the books that categorize a number of different activities as having the potential for terrorism, including things like purchasing bulk ammunition. Last month, when a group of concerned citizens assembled at Bundy Ranch in Nevada to protest government overreach, Senator Harry Reid dubbed them “domestic terrorists.” Even paying with cash or complaining about chemicals in water can land an American on the terror watch list.  Non-conformists who do not subscribe to the status quo can now be considered mentally insane according to psychiatrists’ Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders.

Law enforcement has an almost unlimited amount of circumstances they can cite to justify threats to one’s self or others, and thus, to ignore Constitutional requirements when serving at the behest of the local, state or federal government.

Has the Federal Court’s latest decision made it possible for these vaguely defined suspicious activities to be molded into exigent circumstances that give police the right to enter homes without due process, confiscate legally owned personal belongings, and detain residents without charge?



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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