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Works and Days

Land of the Lawless

May 30th, 2011 - 7:03 pm

When the Law Does Not Pay

I do not think in California there is much law these days. We are regressing to the days of my grandfather’s stories. He used to relate to me a wild Central Valley circa 1900, when the sheriff was a day away. A neighbor down the road is now openly violating county zoning regulations by simply moving in immobile Winnebagos and creating a sort of ad hoc mobile home park — with jerry-rigged electricity, sewage, and water. “Restaurants” pop up around my farm along the side of the road, exempt from state and local inspection, apparently by parking a canteen, plopping down some plastic chairs, an awning, a porta-potty, a hose — and, presto, we have an eatery, with signs no less.

There are no dumping laws enforced in rural California: stopping the guy who throws out his garbage and a sofa is a money-loser; finding the guy in the Mercedes who uses his cell phone is a money-winner.

Yet most state lawlessness out here is predicated on priorities of enforcement and driven by public employee unions who see us the people in terms of “fees” and “fines” to feed their salaries, perhaps in the way the Thanksgiving chef eyes the roasting turkey amid hungry mouths.

AWOL in Washington

The new lawlessness at the federal level, however, is far more serious, because it is predicated on “social justice”: those deemed “in need” shall be exempt from the law; those “not in need” shall not.

The War Powers Resolution, like it or not, is the law of the land. It requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action. Without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war, the military cannot remain in combat abroad. That’s why George W. Bush went to Congress to authorize the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. During the heated rhetoric over the Iranian missile controversy, presidential and vice-presidential candidates Obama and Biden both expressed support for the resolution — apparently outraged that Bush might unilaterally bomb Iran without notifying a Senator like themselves.

So when we recently passed the 60-day limit after the initial and continual use of armed forces in Libya, why did not Obama seek permission from Congress?

Here the question is not the usual Obama hypocrisy that has seen him demagogue and damn Guantanamo, preventative detention, tribunals, renditions, the Patriot Act (just signed by a former critic via computerized autopen from the UK no less), and Predators — only to expand or embrace them all. Rather, the problem is a question of legality itself.

Is the War Powers Resolution the law of the land or not? Or are we to assume a progressive president is complying with both UN resolutions and an Arab League mandate, and therefore, as the good internationalist and Nobel laureate, sees no reason to consult, as American law requires, his own elected U.S. Congress — the latter a more suspect and reactionary body that does not enjoy the moral stature of the UN or the Arab League?

This disregard reminds us of the shake-down of BP, when the administration more or less declared by fiat that the demonized corporation had to cough up a $20 billion contingency clean-up fund — reminiscent of someone in the classical Athenian ekklesia or late 18th-century French assembly going after the better off by mere proclamation.

In that regard, an administration is sworn to uphold the established law; why, then, was the Defense of Marriage Act arbitrarily rendered null and void without legislative appeal, simply because it was considered illiberal by those now with executive power? Can President Obama and Attorney General Holder de facto declare a law unconstitutional and then not enforce it? Could a renegade conservative counterpart likewise declare Roe vs. Wade unconstitutional, and go after abortionists because it deemed them too liberal?

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