Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Show Us the Law!

"Nothing distinguishes more clearly conditions in a free
country from those in a country under arbitrary
government, than the observance in the former of
the great principle known as the Rule of Law.
-FA Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

According to recent polling, only 17% of Americans stand on the principle of the Rule of Law.
We can say this, because only 17% of Americans understand that however exercised they may feel about the AIG Bonuses, the money does indeed belong to those who earned it; their right to it has been guaranteed by contract, a contract that was agreed to prior to the insolvancy of the Financial Products division; this contract was upheld by Congress when it took it upon itself to bail the division out rather than let it enter Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

The Rule of Law is not the same as rule by legislation, nor by legislators. The Rule of Law is a principle that stands above the particular laws written in a country, and it opposes the rule of men, in which the law is made to be a respecter of persons. The Rule of Law requires that the rules, known to all beforehand, must be applied equally to all; justice is blind to the status of the person being judged.

On the other hand, the rule of men implies abitrary application of laws and regulations that can be applied differently in response to the circumstances and/or the status of the person being judged. Thus, it is impossible to know beforehand what the rules are and how they will be applied. In a land with arbitrary government, officials, judges and politicians use their position to apply the law in such a way as to favor those they like and destroy those that they do not like. This is what is happening as the Attorneys General of Connecticut and New York mount the bully pulpit against those AIG executives who have decided to keep their contractually agreed upon bonuses rather than returning the money to government. The AGs are doing so in order to make political hay by inciting mob anger against the executives in order to draw attention away from their own venal ambitions. The AGs are using fear and intimidation in the court of public opinion rather than applying the law in a court of law. They intend to "name and shame" people who keep the money.

And in the course of countless interviews during which these men, who are sworn to uphold the law, are feted and congratulated for "sticking it to the rich", not one journalist has asked the AGs what law these bonus keepers have broken.

That is why it is so good to see one man finally ask the question, and to observe Connecticut AG Blumethal's deer-in-the-headlights response:

GLENN: Now, the one thing I was going through the interviews with you and nobody's asked this question and I'm just dying to know and I know you'll have the answer. What law did the AIG executives break when they took those bonuses that were mandated by a legal contract?
BLUMENTHAL: The AIG executives did not themselves break a contract.
GLENN: So then why were you going after them?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, we're not going after them.
GLENN: You were.
BLUMENTHAL: Going after the bonuses.
GLENN: It's their bonuses.
BLUMENTHAL: We were going after the . . .
GLENN: No, their bonuses.
GLENN: They are their bonuses. They earned that money. What right, what law did they break that gave you the ability in Connecticut to go after those bonuses?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, let's take it one step at a time. The money they received came from us, the taxpayers.
GLENN: Oh, I know how this works. I'm asking you, sir. You're the attorney general. I'm asking you for the law that they broke that gave you the ability. Are you not the defender of the law in Connecticut?
BLUMENTHAL: The law that they broke
BLUMENTHAL: is the law that requires that they serve the public interests, that bonuses that they
GLENN: What law is that? Wait, wait, what law is that, sir? You're the chief law enforcement officer. What law say that again? I don't recognize that law. It sounds like a good policy. It sounds like a good rule of thumb but I'm not sure I recognize that law. Could you give that to me again?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, you know, again these funds belong to us, the taxpayer.
GLENN: No, no, sir, look, you know what you've done? You know what you've done? You have you are an insult to George Washington, sir. George Washington made it very clear that we are a respecter of laws, not of men. For your own political gain you have decided to go after these people at AIG because it is a popular thing. And while I may agree with you that it is obscene, I would like to know, sir, not what's right as a rule of thumb, not what makes us feel good. You, sir, are to protect people and to stand for the law in Connecticut. So again I ask you, sir, what law gave you the right to go after them, what law did they break? . . .
--Fox News (March 30, 2009). Transcript of the The Glenn Beck Show. Retrieved March 31, 2009 from http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/23425/.

This man, like many of our public officials at all level, does not apply principles to his job.
Rather he is influenced by the direction of the winds of public opinion; twisting this way and that, doing what is politically expedient.

A similar pragmatic approach can be seen in most of the discourse of our day; the question is never: "by what right?" "by what law?" "by what truth?"; rather people ask: "by what opinion?" "by what popular majority?" "by what spin?"

If as Hayek said, nothing differentiates between liberty and tyranny so much as does the Rule of Law, then we are in the sad state of watching our liberty slip away at the hands of men such as Blumenthal, who encourages mob rule ("It's outrageous!") in order to further his own political ambitions.

By what right, Mr. Blumenthal? Show us the law!


Anonymous said...

I agree completely with everything you said.

When politicians do not follow the law we have a real problem on our hands.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Anonymous: Yes. We have sat passively by and allowed too many of our government officials and pols (on BOTH sides of aisle)to break the law and ignore the Constitution. Taking our country back means holding their feet to the fire. We need to remind them that they work for US, and that they have to follow the Constitution. This is what Rule of Law means.

I am glad we are waking up and taking this trip together. It's going to be interesting.

Crimson Wife said...

My DH works in the financial services industry. His employer was pressured by the government to take TARP funds that the firm did not need because the government wanted to "shore up confidence in the banking industry". The firm has the cash to pay back the govt. loan right now but the way it was structured they statutorily cannot do so for 3 years. Seriously.

My DH had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the whole mortgage mess. He actually made his company a good deal of money last year and so far in 2009 he's managed to continue making it money. Yet Congress is threatening to pass legislation that would result in an extra $3400 in taxes for our family as a punitive measure for something that my DH played no role in.

We're mad about the AIG bonuses as well. But it's completely unfair to slap a broad tax on tens of thousands of people for the sole reason that they work in finance.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Crimson Wife: The position that you and your husband find yourselves in is exactly the same as many of the AIG executives: they were not responsible for the mess, they were asked to stay for a year at the princely salary of $1.00 (yes, one dollar), and were then given bonuses for doing the difficult work of winding down the FP division. They earned and deserve their money.

Personally, I am not angry at these people about the AIG bonuses. I am angry at Congress, because those bonuses were retained in the law that they passed that no one had time to read.

Susan Ryan said...

It seems to me that the government (legislative and executive branches) have created this mess for the most part. Greed can always find a way, especially if the govt. offers so many options with their own personal greediness with shovel ready govt. job creation.
I've wondered about the companies that weren't bankrupt or close to it (or forced to be beholden to the govt), who are now competing with the government for business. We're so screwed if this "too big to fail" policy doesn't stop.

Beck told Blumenthal what I thought was a Washington quote: We are to be a "Respecter of laws, not of men". That's the AG role, but he seems to be a sniveling weasel instead.

Amie said...

Great post!