Monday, August 28, 2017

How Budgets Get Balanced in a Crisis

Civil asset forfeiture is nothing new (we've had it in some form since the colonial days), but it is now more likely with Jeff Sessions in charge of Justice. The colonials had the practice handed down to them from the royals of England, with the starkest example being the replenishment of Henry VIII's coffers from church assets by Thomas Cromwell beginning in 1536. After collecting a litany of accusations through "visitors" sent to look into the foibles of England's 600 monasteries and 130 nunneries, Cromwell brought his "Black Book" before a kangaroo Parliament, which agreed to shut down these politically wayward establishments and turn their assets over to the crown. The precedent made it easier for the guilds to be similarly plundered less than a decade later.

"Civil asset forfeiture" is the euphemistic description of the government seizing personal property, often before guilt can be determined by trial. There have been cases where police and federal agents have been overly eager to apply the practice, but in an era of bankrupt government and endless military expeditions (as also with Henry VIII), overreach is more likely to become endemic.

The Green Party's solution to civil asset forfeiture is simply to end the practice. This would necessitate more emphasis on justice, i.e. court activity, rather than enforcement (police prerogative). The majority of citizens across the political spectrum also appear to want the practice curtailed.

Old Blowhard, on the other hand, is a gung-ho law-and-order guy, as shown by his egregious pardoning of "America's toughest sheriff," Joe Arpaio, for his crimes against individual rights. Sessions is apparently no different. He may think the drug problem, including marijuana, can be tamped down by causing pain in other areas of people's lives, but I doubt if he minds the power and material benefits CAF gives his department.

by William Cho
The creeping police state brought on by the war on terror could bring about the ruthlessness of a totalitarian government much like that of Henry VIII. Then, it was the Catholics who were out of favor. Now, we have Muslims whose community properties are probably being eyed by some DOJ task force. Latino communities are also in the crosshairs. National emergencies wrought by unnatural natural disasters only lend more urgency to the swing toward martial law. The miseries wrought by Henry VIII and his henchmen devastated Englanders for decades thereafter. Can we afford to allow his emulator to continue in the same vein?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Five Centuries Ago: Henry VIII. Today: Donald the Deplorable.

The Maryland Renaissance Festival begins this month and, if you think a 500 year reset is too far from present reality, then you haven't kept up on your English history. While reading through Will Durant's agonizing rendition of how the West was spun, The Story of Civilization: The Reformation, the reign of Henry VIII of England takes the pathos prize, so far. The calamitous king had so much in common with America's current head of state that the parallels kept popping into my consciousness while mourning over every page. The Renaissance Festival may have had no intention of shining a light on our current political fiasco when it selected a storyline that brings the old ogre and his court back in the flesh, but let's hope the audience doesn't miss the irony.
Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, by Hans Holbein the Younger. Wikimedia Commons

Historians recognized the pattern much earlier than I, and published those observations in Newsweek, Foreign Policy, and The Economist, as well as this e-zine and another, Pajiba. In case you missed those, let me add my own, with inevitable repetition of some of the previous commentary.

The upshot of my historical observations is that USAnians (as Amy Siskind keeps warning us) may find themselves ruled by an autocratic regime before they know it. Here we go:
  • H.VIII's administration suffered from the upheaval of sudden dismissal (or worse) of numerous high-level officials, as it pleased the king.
  • H.VIII was enabled to appropriate unprecedented power to himself by a complicit Parliament
  • The self-absorbed church paid deference to the tyrant, even as he despoiled their holdings.
  • H.VIII married multiple times.
  • H.VIII's focus was on prolonging the Tudor dynasty through a male heir.
  • H.VIII denigrated faiths other than his own.
  • H.VIII brought autocracy to England by audacious and unprincipled domestic power grabs.
  • Thomas Cromwell, his chief assistant (a role formerly claimed by Stephen Bannon), made it his main aim "to make the King supreme over every phase of English life."
  • H.VIII engaged in futile wars.
  • By personally participating in these wars, H.VIII showed that he was a militarist.
  • H.VIII lived extravagantly and his greed waxed larger, even as his people suffered lack.
  • H.VIII rewarded his political supporters with ill-gotten wealth.
In the bitter end, the King plundered monasteries and guilds through appropriation and taxation. A modern U.S. version might entail levies on non-profits and unions, but might include any sector with a surplus. We should be wary of any tax bill that doesn't detail sources of revenue or budgets that underestimate costs. Rationalization of extreme fiscal measures by a policy of uncompromising victory over military enemies (even if the money doesn't make it to the front lines) looks like the newest stratagem the White House might employ.

I needn't detail further the parallels with Donald J. 'Blowhard." If history is a guide to forecasting, then the fact that freedom and prosperity became ever more rare as Henry pomped on gives us reason to act quickly in saving our country by squelching this upstart tyrant before he can inflict further damage on America's psyche and treasures.

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