George Shuster: Obama’s War on We the People (Told You So)

Early indications of President Obama’s disrespect for freedom of speech have blossomed into an attack on the very fabric of our republic.

Wait, what? (Freedom of Religion)

Religious Americans need to start paying attention to the intolerance that’s sneaking in with the progressive ideology that now defines liberalism and is almost entirely directing the policies supported by the Democrat Party.  Consider:

A lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) asserted that the Internal Revenue Service ignored complaints about churches’ violating their tax-exempt status by routinely promoting political issues, legislation and candidates from the pulpit.

The FFRF has temporarily withdrawn its suit in return for the IRS’s agreement to monitor sermons and homilies for proscribed speech that the foundation believes includes things like condemnation of gay marriage and criticism of ObamaCare for its contraceptive mandate.

In the perverted definition of “separation of church and state” currently being promoted as tolerance, churches are forbidden from trying to protect themselves from encroachment by the state, or else they’ll be discriminated against in such things as eligibility for tax exemptions, licensing (e.g., for adoption services), and awards of contracts (for such things as humanitarian activities).  On the other side, “separation” is said to allow (even to require) the government to dictate employee benefits and enforce redefined social mores for religious groups.

The saddest part is that religious people, and especially religious organizations, have brought this on themselves by going along with the ideology that insists that government’s fingers belong in everybody’s business as the ultimate supporter and hub of charitable activity.

United Nations Calls for Total School Choice

Commenting on my “education is a right” post, SGH points to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26:

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

While it may be the case that the typical “education is a right” activist would point to this Declaration as the authority for his or her claims, it seems to me they’d be incorrect to do so.  If parents’ right to choose the manner of their children’s education comes before any implied requirement for government to provide for education, and yet elementary and (maybe) secondary education must be cost-free to the family, the only option is total, voucher-driven school choice.  

Progressives and other statists like statement number 1, which justifies their confiscation of money in order to pay for the education that they’d like to provide. They’re also apt to like statement number 2, which gives them license to indoctrinate children into their own moral and ideological framework, on the grounds that their worldview objectively benefits students’ “full development” and respect for rights.

Perhaps the progressives’ copy of the UN’s declaration has a typographical error that leaves out statement number 3.  More likely, though, they gloss over it by stuffing “parents” into a collectivist box and claiming that they collectively choose their government and therefore the type of education that the government wishes to impose on them.

What They Should Mean by “Education Is a Right”

This photograph, which appeared in the Providence Journal in the July 20th Sunday edition has been bugging me.  In case you don’t feel like clicking the link, it’s of a group of college-age-looking folks marching down the street.  Four of them are holding a sign that reads:

education is a right!

USSA 

It was apparently taken from a documentary movie called Ivory Tower, about the state of higher education.  Without looking into the movie (or the insinuation behind the letters “USSA”), the meaning of the assertion necessitates the question, What do they mean?  If I assent to the proposition that “education is a right,” what, exactly am I agreeing to?

In terms of the founding documents of the United States, a right is something that cannot be taken away.  It isn’t something that others must provide to an individual.  A right to life doesn’t mean that every American must have free access to the most innovative technology that can preserve even a moment of life.  A right to speech doesn’t mean that every American is entitled to a national podium for anything they might want to say.  Rather, these are things that the government cannot actively prevent citizens from acquiring.  If you’re alive or if you have a national podium, the government cannot act to take it away from you.

So what does it mean for education to be a right?  Progressive activists mean that government schools have a right to confiscate money away in order to provide whatever educational opportunities they declare necessary.

Some activists seem to believe students have a right to absorb a certain amount of baseline information.  This view is typically targeted at the institution of public schools, to force them to prove that they’re providing a baseline education and to invalidate practices (like teacher tenure) that prioritize something else at the expense of students.  But a right to be imbued with knowledge would also imply a right to be forced to become educated, which doesn’t sound like what most people think of as “rights.”

It makes more sense — and will produce a better result, I’d argue — to understand education in the same way as life, speech, and the pursuit of happiness.  We have a right not to have the government thwart us in our pursuit of education.

As a society, we also have a strong incentive to ensure individuals achieve their potential, so we should allocate public resources to the cause.  However, the way we’ve been doing it, by setting up government school systems that have proven to be ineffective and unresponsive, can stand as a barrier to actual education, which is against students’ rights.

A Declaration, Softly, Under the Rain

There was something fitting about reading the Declaration of Independence in the rain, this year, at the Doughboy statue in Tiverton.  A smaller crowd of about twenty joined organizer Susan Anderson to keep up the tradition of taking turns reading from the document on this day each year.

At times, the rain was so loud on the umbrellas that the voices were as whispers — wisps of freedom’s memory in the gathering din of tyranny.  From time to time the stream of words was punctuated with exclamations about the relevance of the Founders’ protests to our government today.

Analysis of the founding documents of the United States of America tends to present the Declaration as the expression of the positive spirit of the nation, with the Constitution providing the structure in which those principles might be maintained.  As raindrops smeared the ink, it emerged that the Declaration does its own work to buttress its principles by describing exactly what the revolutionaries opposed.  Specifics might require translation over time, but in the list of complaints, the signers painted for their progeny a picture of the actions of which to beware.

A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.

Through the sunny days of long-established democracy and liberty, a people can forget what the clouds portend, if not for whispers and wisps among friends.

Another Government Operation That Should Shape Your Impression

From time to time, I’ll mention the philosophical notion that people really do live in different worlds.  Depending where they get their information and what registers when they skim headlines, two people can have entirely incompatible senses of the Obama Administration.

Many readers of the Current-Anchor will be entirely unsurprised to learn that Obama’s Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, has apparently been using its discretion concerning whom to investigate and what to prosecute as a sort of mafiosi extortion technique to target particular industries.  As Glenn Reynolds puts it:

A while back, some adult performers noticed that banks were terminating their accounts. The reason, it turned out, was a Justice Department program called “Operation Choke Point.” This program, apparently, seeks to target businesses regarded as undesirable — like porn — by hitting them at a financial “choke point”: their bank accounts.

The way it works, it appears, is that the feds go to a bank and point out that a particular industry is full of bad seeds and will be coming under a lot of scrutiny, as will any organization with which it does business.  It’s unlikely the Justice Department alludes to the possibility of spontaneous fires or visits from thugs, but the possibility of expensive investigations and visits from government agents are daunting enough.

Last year, Kevin Mooney reported on this site about a banking challenge that faced Bullseye Shooting Supplies in Woonsocket.  Without explanation, owner Paul Connolly was required to transfer all of his business from Sovereign Bank elsewhere.

As John Hayward suggests, in Human Events, “no one’s even pretending DOJ had anything resembling the authority to do this.”  The perpetrators simply ignore the controversy.  And so do most of the news media from which Americans derive their sense of what the government is doing.

So, for some, it’s still possible to think the Obama Administration is just going about its business as any other presidential administration has done — albeit with a bit less competence than is desirable.  But for others, the actions of our federal government and the complicity of the news media leave a much more disturbing impression.

Everybody’s Got a Cow Out Grazing

Ben Carson puts the case of Clive Bundy versus the Bureau of Land Management in an interesting light that goes right to the left-right Rorschach aspect of the controversy:

The massive show of federal force in the Bundy case is frightening because it gives us a brief glimpse of the totalitarian regime that awaits a sleeping populace that does not take seriously its voting responsibilities, and places in public office (and returns them to office) who do not represent traditional American values.

Somewhere in the shadows of time one imagines there may have been an actual incident to inspire the phrase “it depends whose ox is gored.”  In the ranges of Nevada, we have a perfect representation that ought to inspire a new folk phrase like “everybody’s got a cow out grazing.”

Look, for a start, to the Washington Post time line of the controversy (courtesy commenter Max D.):

March 1993: The Washington Post publishes a story about the federal government’s efforts to protect the desert tortoise in Nevada. Near Las Vegas, the Bureau of Land Management designated hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land for strict conservation efforts. “Among the conservation measures required,” according to the Post’s coverage, “are the elimination of livestock grazing and strict limits on off-road vehicle use in the protected tortoise habitat. Two weeks ago, the managers of the plan completed the task of purchasing grazing privileges from cattle ranchers who formerly used BLM land.”

Except, that is, Clive Bundy, who was “digging in for a fight.”  Most of the intellectual commentary on the issue, including Carson’s, includes disclaimers that his legal case is pretty spare, which is ultimately a tautology affirming that when the government gives itself powers, those powers are not against the law.

Those acres in Nevada are therefore a physical manifestation of areas of all human activity that government may or may not constrain in the future, and what better evidence of totalitarianism could there be?  It’s a complete inversion of the foundational principles of American governance, as succinctly stated in the tenth amendment to the Constitution:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The free range of activity is supposed to be ours by right, not simply some parcels allowed to us by a government that hasn’t found a pretense to close it off, yet.

Clive Bundy and a Pivot Point Between Worldviews

Much about the travails of Nevada rancher Clive Bundy, who has been facing down the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with the help of militia-type groups from across the country, offers many lessons from a conservative point of view.  David French makes a good one:

With few options left within conventional politics, rural Americans are beginning to contemplate more dramatic measures, such as the state secession movements building in Colorado, Maryland, California, and elsewhere. The more viable state secession movements aim to limit urban control by literally removing rural counties from their states and forming new states around geographic regions of common interests.

But until there’s a long-term solution, we may very well see more Bundy Ranch moments, where individual Americans (and their allies) simply refuse to consent to laws that destroy their way of life for the sake of regulations that provide no perceivable benefit to others. (I can only imagine my frustration if I had to end a more-than-century-old family lifestyle, arguably for the sake of a turtle that no one will see).

So does Peter Kirsanow:

One can acknowledge that the government has the right — in fact, the responsibility — to enforce the law, yet object that this administration habitually enforces the law in a capricious, arbitrary, and discriminatory manner. They imperiously go after a Bundy while excusing scores of miscreants whose get-out-of-jail-free card is membership in a politically-correct class. They regularly waive legal requirements out of sheer political expediency. They fail to defend duly enacted statutes with which they, the enlightened, disagree.

It can hardly be denied that President Obama and the progressive movement generally traffic in divisiveness, especially when they feel those who wind up on their side of the divide are more powerful.

The thought that keeps returning to me, however, is that the Bundy episode is a great illustration of the different perspectives of the Left and the Right.  I mean, one needn’t give total credence to speculation that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) is orchestrating the routing of the rancher as part of a Chinese solar farm deal to think the whole story sounds very familiar… even to the point being a cliché.  The main difference is that the Hollywood cliché would require the powerful force behind the strong-arm tactics to drive people off of their land to be Big Business.  Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Nowhere to Run comes quickly to mind.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that progressives, the media, the Democrats (etc.) would find a huge story worthy of deep investigation in the controversy if it were a private business doing the strong arming.  When it’s the government, though, we may get some minor concessions that the BLM is going about things the wrong way, but motives and justifications are assumed to be pure.

A Constitutional Convention for Rhode Island? The Pros and Cons of Democracy and Rights

Steven Brown of the RI Chapter of the ACLU: “The votes that voters get to choose across the country are on some of the most divisive, controversial, social, ideological issues there are; abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage, anti-immigrant. We are deluding ourselves if we think we can hold a convention and not have those issues come to the fore….What’s troubling about that is that we are talking about individual rights that should not be subject to majoritarian control. You’ll hear about all of the safeguards that are in place; first you have to elect the delegates, and then the convention has to vote to approve an amendment, then it’s up to the voters to approve or reject it….They aren’t safeguards, when you’re talking about minority rights”.

Professor Jared Goldstein: “On a basic level, the concern that we’ll have a runaway convention, or that they’ll pass recommendations that are contrary to our fundamental rights is really a point of view that expresses simple, profound distrust of the people, that is, we can’t trust the people the enact legislation that will help us because they may take away our constitutional rights….Don’t we want the people to decide these fundamental questions about what our society is like?…If the answer is no, then who do we trust? Do we just want the judges to decide what our rights are? What are they basing them on?”

Massive Voter Fraud Discovered in North Carolina’s 2012 Election

Remember, voter fraud doesn’t exist (PJMedia): * 765 voters with an exact match of first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in N.C. and the other state in the 2012 general election. * 35,750 voters with the same first and last name […]

UPDATED: RI Senator Miller Expresses Attitude Toward the Bill of Rights?

The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, listed in the Bill of Rights, reads as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What say you, Rhode Island Senator Joshua Miller (D, Cranston, Providence) (language warning)?

The primary problem with this sort of talk from an elected official is that it erodes Rhode Islanders’ confidence that their government works for them, even when the people currently in power happen to disagree on particular issues. If we don’t insist on some minimum standard of conduct, then Rhode Island deserves the government it gets.

Credit to Dan Bidondi for posting the video and being one of Rhode Island’s willing targets.

(Updated with Miller’s apology at the link.)

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