Friday, February 26, 2010

Fifty Six Percent Free

As if to justify my irritation and concern over our dwindling rights in my previous post "No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy", CNN reports that

Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they think the federal government's become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.

How about this for an immediate threat: a brilliant piece of legislation by our good friend Senator Russ Feingold, he of the recently neutered (God be praised!) McCain-Feingold assault on political speech. There apparently just aren't enough hours in the day to restrict, impinge, curtail, infringe, and otherwise assault the basic freedoms we until recently thought defined American citizens under the Constitution. Under the anodyne title Clean Water Restoration Act, comes Act II of the original Clean Water Act, which authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate all "navigable waterways". The radical environmentalists at the time of passage wanted the language to be "all waterways", simplicter, and, knowing they would get another swing at it later, bargained the phrase away to get the landmark legislation passed. Later is now, and Feingold the instrument. His "reform" moves precisely to strike the modifying "navigable" from navigable waterways in order to hugely expand the ability of the federal government to interfere with private property rights.

Quoting from a piece by Shannon Bream of Fox News,

Aside from striking "navigable," the bill defines U.S. water as "all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, the territorial seas and all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries, including lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds and all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent that these waters."

"Right now, the law says that the Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of all navigable water," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Western Caucus and an opponent of the bill.
"Well, this bill removes the word 'navigable,' so for ranchers and farmers who have mud puddles, prairie potholes -- anything from snow melting on their land -- all of that water will now come under the regulation of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency," he said.
Barrasso said the federal government's one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work in the west where the Rocky Mountain states have gone even further than Washington to protect land, water and the environment.
"The government wants control of all water -- that also means that they want control over all of our land including the private property rights of people from the Rocky Mountain west, the western caucus and the entire United States," he said.

Barrasso is right of course; property is the cardinal right to be protected under the Lockean schema our constitution is adumbrated under. No other rights are securable without private property in land, protected under law. Americans ought to be highly sensitive to any incursions here; unfortunately, almost he whole of government is arrayed against the actual public and in favor of what they abstractly term the public interest.

But listen to how the government mouthpiece and environmental whacko Jan Goldman-Carter of the National Wildlife Foundation, argues the harmlessness of the bill:

That amended language is very clear that it preserves long standing exemptions for ongoing agricultural practices, forest roads. There are a number of very generous exemptions in there particularly for ranchers and farmers that I know have been worried about the effect of this legislation, but in fact those worries are largely unfounded," she said...I can't imagine anyone wanting to walk down to the stream and dump their oil or paint," she said. "Even if they did they're not going to be enforced against now and they never were, there simply isn't the ability to do that."

Note first, how gracious it is of the federal government to grant us these "very generous exceptions"! King John I'm sure also thought himself very generous in allowing his barons what little game his hunting parties left on their estates after exercising his oppressive kingly prerogative to simply take what he wanted. But those noblemen rose up and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, the great charter of rights that forever changed the political dynamic in the West, a dynamic now challenged again by an oppressive executive bent on destroying the property rights of pesky subjects. The operative assumption in both cases is that private property is neither private, nor property; it is really more of a lease hold, held at the discretion of the king or the federal government.

But secondly, and if possible more offensive, is her attempt to minimize the actual attack on property rights. "We've granted, in our mercy and good will, many good and gracious exemptions from our power grab. But really--even though the language in the legislation establishes the power to regulate and control all property whatsoever, we would never actually do it! Never have; couldn't happen, not possible; just not enough personnel, don't you see. Nothing to worry about. Now please step aside so we can establish in law this absolute assault on your property rights, which of course we will never pursue."

Now, given just this one instance of government intrusion into the fundamental rights they are charged constitutionally to protect, is it any wonder a full fifty-six percent of people polled see their own government as a threat to their rights?. This is a serious problem (for the government) in a nation the founding and constitution of which is centrally about the securing of the rights of the people against their government. The founding generation were famously suspicious of a strong central government and sought to keep it on a short leash through various political and constitutional devices. The main thing they counted on for the establishment and maintenance of the people's liberty however was not their dazzling new political technology or the institutional arrangement of offices, but importantly, the character of the people themselves to vigilantly guard their liberties.

Any people who would allow their government finally to take their property and rights are not worthy heirs of the signers of Magna Carta, and are not worthy to be free. That fifty six percent is a wholesome indicator that Americans are ready to take the leash back, and are going to shorten it considerably.

1 comment:

Jess said...

With Mr. Kildow's permission, I would like to print up a copy of this post and use it for discussion with my Civics and European history classes. We are currently reading Madison "On Property" in one class, and have recently finished our segment on the French Revolution in the other, in which we discussed the problems of the nobility retaining rights to hunt on land "owned" by commoners. -JI