We Don’t Have “Star Chamber” Courts In This Country… Except We Do

“star–cham·ber adjective \ˈstär-ˈchām-bər\ : characterized by secrecy and often being irresponsibly arbitrary and oppressive.”   http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/star-chamber

The original Star Chamber was an English court that operated from the 14th into the 17th Centuries, until 1641. Its original goal was to assure that even the privileged met justice in a fair manner. It operated in secret, didn’t require indictments, allowed no witnesses, and all “evidence” was presented in writing. It devolved into a political weapon wielded by the monarchy against their enemies, and was ultimately abolished by Parliament with the enactment of the Habeas Corpus Act.

Those of you who are familiar with my scribbling know I hold the Oval Office’s current resident, Liar-In-Chief Obama, in utter and indescribable contempt. Recently we’ve been subjected to an absolute avalanche of scandals, piling up so quickly that you couldn’t stay above them if you sprouted wings.

The latest, at least as of my writing this, is that the National Security Agency (NSA) – also known as No Such Agency (an insider joke based on its secrecy) – has been monitoring the emails and phone calls of Americans on a massive scale. The full breadth of this Big Brother activity is still unfolding; almost hourly, it seems. Obama and his minions are in full damage control mode. Though it’s certainly tempting to lay this whole debacle at his feet – and the current intrusive scale probably is his responsibility – he’s right in one thing he says in his defense: that the program is “overseen by federal judges”.

th[4] (2)The problem is this: under FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978), particularly as amended under Bush by the Patriot Act of 2001 and extended by Obama, these courts function in complete secrecy, their records are not accessible by the public in any way, their proceedings are all classified, their power is extremely wide-reaching and broadly defined, and they almost never deny any application for a warrant.

As far as I’m concerned, this meets the definition of a “star chamber”. Throw in the near-universal spying on the activities of law-abiding citizens and you have the “arbitrary and oppressive” abuse thrown in for good measure.

Our system of government is based on several fundamental principles, one of which is that our courts function in public, ensuring their fairness, which can be verified by the citizenry using their own eyes and ears. There are certain narrowly-defined exceptions that occasionally justify in camera sessions, such as the protection of the identities of minors, but those exceptions are rare. Though our Grand Juries use secret proceedings, they’re composed of citizen members, not government-employed judges. The FISA courts operate in complete secrecy, and are a corruption of our liberty; we’re supposed to “trust” the government itself to oversee its own operations in a manner that doesn’t threaten that liberty.

Please. That doesn’t even pass the snigger test. We’ve recently seen how well that’s been working out. IRS abuses, anyone? Fast & Furious? Benghazi? … Bueller?

The Founders must be rolling over in their graves.

© Brian Baker 2013

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It’s Official! We Live In A Tyranny!

I have to admit; I called this one completely wrong, and have been doing so for almost three years. When Obamacare was first proposed by the Democrats, herded by Nancy the Red Pelosi and Dingy Harry Reid, I forecast – loud and often – that the mandate that people buy health insurance or face financial penalties imposed by the government would never pass judicial scrutiny. How could it? What in the Constitution empowered the government to force people to buy products or enter into contracts to purchase certain services?

Well, in a terrible decision handed down today by the Supreme Court Jesters, we found out. According to the majority opinion, written by the Chief Justice (John Roberts), it turns out that the government has the power to pretty much regulate any behavior they want, as long as their enforcement mechanism is called a “tax”.

Chief Justice John Marshall

In the Supreme Court case of McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819, Daniel Webster made the argument, with which Chief Justice John Marshall agreed, that “the power to tax is the power to destroy” and overturned Maryland’s tax on banks. In today’s decision, however, Roberts wrote that the “power to tax is not the power to destroy while this Court sits”, in direct contradiction to the man generally considered to be this country’s greatest Chief Justice.

How he comes to such a conclusion is entirely beyond me, and defies all reasoning and common sense.

The tortured rationalizations in Roberts’s controlling majority opinion rely on two absurd contentions:

1.  That a tax penalty isn’t enforced by imprisonment, and

2.  the tax penalty isn’t “onerous”.

Well, refuse to pay the tax and see whether or not you end up in prison. And what may not be “onerous” to Roberts – with his six-figure income and government benefits – may well be “onerous” to a couple of young married kids barely squeaking by while juggling a mortgage and car payments while underemployed – if employed at all – in this terrible economy.

According to Roberts, the government is perfectly within its rights to use tax law to “encourage” certain behaviors, and discourage others. So… what can we anticipate moving forward?

How about “weight penalties”? If your body mass index (BMI) exceeds certain levels, or if your weight falls outside certain arbitrary parameters for your height as set by the government, can you expect a “tax surcharge”? Why not?

How about a “tax surcharge” for smokers? After all, the government, in the interest of cost control for the “public obligation” of controlling healthcare costs, now has a vested interest in your behavior.

How about a “tax surcharge” if you had a traffic ticket that year? Hey… that’s “risky behavior”, and you could incur “healthcare costs” if you get in an accident, right?

What about if you want to buy a foreign car? The government has determined that the American car industry is “too big to fail”, and therefore if you “choose” to buy a foreign car, you’re contributing to the risk that American auto makers will fail. So I guess you should pay a “tax penalty” for not buying American.

Don’t laugh. Way back when the hysteria about second-hand smoke was taking place I predicted that if the penalties being considered against tobacco companies ever passed into law we’d ultimately see similar actions taken against other unpopular behavior, like fast food consumption. People laughed.

Well… look around you. Laws against trans-fats in foods (bye-bye, flavor), Bloomberg’s limits on soft drink sizes in New York, pate banned in Commiefornia, San Francisco’s ban on Happy Meal toys at McDonald’s, on and on and on.

The reality is that the endorsement of the mandate by the Supremes opens the door for government to regulate virtually every aspect of human behavior through the abuse of the power to tax.

Justice Marshall was completely right; in this case, the power to tax has completely destroyed the right of free choice.

© Brian Baker 2012