Tuesday 22 January 2013

The NRA gets a lesson in Latin

One of the many subtexts in our current national debate on guns is the notion, embraced by conservatives and gun nuts, that Americans need to keep their guns, to prevent the federal government from imposing “tyranny”. Apparently “tyranny” includes Democrats who have the gall to nominate a black guy with a funny name for President.

There are many problems with this argument. The main problem is that the founding fathers who wrote the constitution feared the tyranny of armed mobs of private citizens almost as much as they feared the tyranny of a new king: they said so many times in the Federal Papers. That’s why the Constitution includes language in Article 2 Section 2, specifying that a “militia” consists of the troops who take orders from the president, not any armed loon who’s pissed off about his taxes. And that’s a good thing: without that restriction, any armed loon could indeed declare “Obama’s a tyrant” and starting shooting people. The founders never intended for any old man on the street to proclaim that there was a tyrant who needs to be brought to heel. And as we established in the Civil War, even if an entire state or region starts screaming “tyranny”, they can’t just make up their own rules and go off and start a new country. We already fought that war.

A second problem is that, particularly in the current climate, it is much more likely that a state government could impose “tyranny” and take away the people’s rights, than the federal government. Look at the laws which Republican governors are signing, to block abortion rights, voting rights, union rights….And Posse Comitatus doesn’t do a thing to prevent that form of tyranny, which is not only more likely – it’s actually happening now.

And thirdly, if these fat old white boys ever pried themselves out of their La-Z-Boys and decided to march, wheezing, into the hills to proclaim Teh Revolution, our military would kick their fat little butts in short order.

And that issue, in turn, will cause the semi-literate knuckle-dragging gun nuts to do something you wouldn’t expect: scream in Latin.

“Posse Comitatus!”

In other words, the legal doctrine that the President can’t use the military for domestic law enforcement. That is, the U.S. Army can’t be used to shut down the next Waco or Ruby Ridge or whatever.

Needless to say, the wingnuts have their law wrong on this, as on everything else.

First, a quick history lesson.

In 1876, not long after the Civil War, there was an incredibly close presidential election, which was settled by a back-room deal. According to the agreement, the Republican candidate for president would win the White House; in return, the new president would withdraw federal troops who were still occupying the south after the Civil War. When southern politicians began streaming back into Washington to take their seats in Congress, that wanted to make damn sure that those occupying forces never came back to the south. So they pushed for passage of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the military from undertaking such operations inside the United States without an act of Congress.

The problem with the “Posse Comitatus” argument of the wingnuts, is that Congress has, in fact, written laws which allow the President to take action.

First, the Enforcement Act of 1870 was passed to stop groups like the Klan from using terror to suppress the black vote. Two more Enforcement Acts the following year allow the federal government to supervise southern elections, go after officials involved in vote suppression, use troops to suppress groups like the Klan and stop interference with federal operations, and suspend habeas corpus if necessary to stop groups like the Klan. As Eisenhower demonstrated in Little Rock, the President can use the Enforcement Acts to call up the military if state authorities can’t or won’t stop a violent attack on constitutional rights. Ike used it for school desegregation.

Second, the Insurrection Act, as reinterpreted in 2008, says that the President can use the military to suppress any insurrection, unlawful combination or conspiracy, if the violation of the law is so egregious that it deprives people of their rights, and the local authorities can’t or won’t fix the problem. And if the people causing the trouble are actively obstructing federal law, it doesn’t even matter what the local authorities are doing.

Third, in 2011 the National Defense Authorization Act authorized the President to impose martial law upon any person who engages in hostilities against the United States, including anyone who commits a belligerent act or supports such hostilities. “Martial law” includes blowing your damn fool head off if you screw with the U.S. Army.

So if these “tyrant killers” deprive their neighbors of their rights, or violate federal law, or proclaim their independence from the United States, or whatever, the President can send in the same guys who conquered Iraq and plugged bin Laden. Army! Navy! Air Force! Marines!

…and the Coast Guard, which isn’t even restricted by the Posse Comitatus Act.

Also, if the wingnuts don’t have the local governor on their side in their little rebellion – which is very likely – the governor can send in the National Guard.

So there you go. If the gun nuts launch a rebellion and the President orders it crushed, that crushing process will be entirely successful, and entirely legal.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Jodie Foster and the Golden Globes

Jodie Foster went to the Golden Globes Sunday night and told America, again, that she has no intention of opening her private life to the public. GLBT activists fumed. My view is….grow up, kids.

Who has more reasons than Foster, to protect her privacy? Foster has been under the media microscope for four decades, before she was even in school. She faced extraordinary scrutiny for playing a teenage prostitute in “Taxi Driver”, and even more when a psychotic used her as an excuse for trying to kill the President, an incident which caused such an avalanche of attention that her only way out was to refuse all comment on the case, permanently. She’s been dealing with stalkers for thirty years, including one maniac who seriously intended to shoot her dead. "It was very clear to me at a young age that I had to fight for my life and that if I didn't, my life would get gobbled up and taken away from me.”

Also, coming out of the closet in 1980s America, raddled with fear of AIDS and massive waves of hate from religious conservatives, would be dangerous, and potentially a career-killer. Being an actress in Hollywood isn’t like being an actor: a huge proportion of an actress’s roles, still, involve being a man’s love interest, which would have been problematic for one of the few open lesbians at the time. And by the way, the jihad against gays hasn’t stopped – the wave of homophobia in 2004 was so powerful it helped turn the presidential election.

The GLBT movement has been hollering for decades – “society should get out of our bedrooms, let us live our lives, respect our privacy!” But some of the same people refuse to respect the privacy of other gays and lesbians, which in less generous times would be called hypocrisy. Some GLBT activists, while also demanding respect for their own privacy, have been aggressive in exposing people still in the closet, either to “win one for the cause” or for the gossip value (some rightwing extremists indulge in it too, out of sadism). Barney Frank argued that it’s okay to out someone whose work hurts the GLBT movement, but I don’t buy that, either: invading the privacy of people just because they want to invade your privacy is childish, and undermines the entire argument. And the trick here is that they only seem to target famous gay people, so they can glom onto their fame like parasites, which is one step above the paparazzi. It’s almost as though a request for privacy is a challenge.

GLBT activists also complain that Foster should be using her prominence to lead the GLBT cause. Blacks aimed the same complaints against Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis, and anti-apartheid activists took the same shot at track star Zola Budd – they had the notion that people can be drafted into leading great political causes whether they like it or not. Actors do regularly choose social causes to support, but this is always voluntary, as it should be. Foster is a woman who is not only acting, directing and producing, but also raising two children by herself; she also has a parent with dementia. It should be up to her, not frustrated gay bloggers, to decide whether she’s going to be the Frederick Douglass of the GLBT movement. If you want someone to lead your revolution, lead it yourself. Sure, it’s harder to do without Foster’s gigantic megaphone, but revolution is never easy. And Foster’s megaphone is hers, not yours.

And for those who are still waiting for Foster to apologize for Silence of the Lambs….Buffalo Bill wasn’t gay. He was a psychopathic killer with a poodle, someone who thought he was a transsexual but wasn’t. He was a non-trans trans. Sounds like some movie goers are succumbing to, you know, stereotypes. And Foster didn’t write or direct the movie.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

What if the non-crazy people bought guns too?

Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly raised a valid point. He wondered about all these right-wing white-power psychos who insist on asserting their Second Amendment rights to stockpile mountains of guns and ammunition, so they can resist tyranny – whenever they decide that government has crossed some line which exists only in their fevered brains, they have a constitutional right to start shooting up our policemen and soldiers.

But what if other people took the same stance? People that the right-wing yahoos don’t like?

And Kilgore mentioned a few examples – activists protecting animals, Native Americans demanding their land back…

What if women bought guns and started defending abortion clinics?

What if blacks bought guns and asserted their constitutional right to roam our white neighborhoods?

What if gays began arming, looking for “tyrannical” Republicans depriving them of their rights?

What if Mexicans began arming so they could assist illegals in crossing the border?

What if Muslim Pakistanis were roaming the streets with AKs, looking for “tyrannical” churches to attack?

What if poor people bought guns and decided that the owners of the local bank were committing “tyranny”?

What if “Occupy Wall Street” turned into “Get a Gun and Occupy Wall Street”?

There’s a fine line separating “armed resistance to tyranny” from “armed robbery”, or “mass murder”. And right-wing yahoos are not so good at seeing fine lines. Or, indeed, any line that lies between them and what they demand as their right.

So let me point out two things. First, even with all of the fear and chaos in our country right now, the huge majority of Americans who are not crazy right-wing loons are not buying guns. There has been a spike in gun purchases, but it is overwhelmingly by the right-wing loons who are already stockpiling guns. Because we, the sane majority, believe in this country and we believe in democracy, unlike the whackaloons. We believe that eventually everything will work out, and whenever we lose an election we can just roll out our maps and get ready for the next one, rather than screaming “Voter fraud! Tyranny! They’re coming to get us! Revolution!”

And second, if the right-wing whackaloons try to force an armed clash with the rest of us, they would lose. Because there are a lot more of us, and we’re smarter than they are. Even setting aside the fact that the U.S. military would mow them down.