Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What would FDR do? The Obama Administration's stunning lack of law enforcement.

(President Roosevelt's attorney general, Homer Cummings, leaving the White House in 1935. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

At the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a heavily-armed group of men has taken over federal buildings, torn down a fence, rifled through government files, used federally owned trucks & tractors, blocked public access, and threatened violence if law enforcement tries to make them leave. Some of these men are from the same group that had an armed confrontation with federal law enforcement in 2014, in the Cliven Bundy land-grazing dispute. The men at Malheur want the refuge shut down and the land given to ranchers, miners, and loggers. Militant outsiders have also descended in the area around the refuge and are apparently using intimidation tactics on residents and those they suspect of being federal employees. At a town hall meeting, a 15-year-old girl tearfully said, "I just want them [Bundy and the militants] to go home so I can feel safe and I can feel like it is home again... I shouldn't have to be scared in my own hometown."

The sheriff of Harney County has issued an alert, saying, "There are continual reports of law enforcement officers and community members being followed home; of people sitting in cars outside their homes, observing their movements and those of their families; and of people following them and their families as they move around the community." The sheriff then offered tips for residents to remain safe, including, keeping curtains closed, being alert for unusual vehicles parked near their homes, and being aware of vehicles following them.

Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers are offering "support" for the criminal activities at Malheur, like Michele Fiore, a Nevada legislator who is famous for making a calendar and a Christmas card showing her and her family carrying guns, and for telling a fellow lawmaker who disagreed with her to "Sit your ass down."

Above: In this video, a 15-year-old girl who lives near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge expresses her fear about the incident, and related events occurring in her town. Though the residents gave her a standing ovation, people on YouTube have already started attacking her for expressing her feelings. One "caring person" wrote: "What a crock. If she's actually scared, it is because her Liberal parents instilled fear in her. Nobody would trust the government before they trusted a patriot rancher...not even an ignorant 15 year old." Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nlFKyLArzE&feature=youtu.be.)

The Obama Administration has responded to the Malheur incident--the occupation and destruction of federal property--by telling us that it is a local law enforcement matter. His law enforcement agencies say they are "monitoring" the situation, they make occasional denouncements, but more-often-than-not they refuse to comment. There were plans to shut the power off at Malheur, but those plans seem to have fizzled out, and American taxpayers, apparently, continue to provide free power to the protesters, militants, domestic terrorists, or whatever they're being called today. A judge in the area, upset at the amount of taxpayer dollars the occupation is eating up, plans to bill Ammon Bundy $70,000 per day for local costs.

This isn't the first time that the Obama Administration has refused to aggressively enforce the law. For example, since the Cliven Bundy land-grazing dispute, little or no action has been taken against Bundy, and his cattle continue to graze on public land for free (he owes about a million dollars to the government, after many years of not paying the required fees - fees that are low compared to privately-controlled grazing land). The Obama Administration has also taken a soft approach to white-collar crime. His attorney general famously implied that they would not prosecute white-collar crime if the perpetrators were wealthy & powerful. (Also see "Are banks too big to jail? PBS Frontline's stunning report shows how the Obama administration undermined the rule of law," Salon, January 23, 2013.)

We hear excuses as to why the Obama Administration will not enforce the law, for example, they don't want to create another Waco or Ruby Ridge incident, or they don't want to make martyrs out of the armed men at Malheur. But would those concerns be raised if the protesters at Malheur were armed blacks or armed Muslims?

Many people are starting to get angry at the Obama Administration for not enforcing the law against the Bundys and the bankers. Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) recently said, "As far as I know, Cliven Bundy is still engaged in grazing his cattle illegally and has not paid any fines and there’s been zero enforcement against him. They haven’t done anything. It’s just like Obama and Wall Street. They don’t seem to want to take on any law breakers whether they’re white collar criminals on Wall Street or radical extremists in the West."

Groups representing current and retired federal employees have also expressed concern about the lack of law enforcement by the Obama Administration. In a letter to the Department of Justice, they wrote: "In our experience we have learned that lawbreakers must be held accountable in a timely manner or they will gain power and become more dangerous. We are very concerned that the longer that no action is taken, the current situation will deteriorate and become more and more dangerous for the dedicated people protecting the public lands and the public legally using these lands."

(President Roosevelt and Attorney General Homer Cummings at a crime conference in 1934. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Law enforcement is inherently tricky, and there will never be a completely mistake-free set of policies & actions. Still, in light of the Obama Administration's frequent refusal to enforce the law, it's interesting to note some of the law enforcement developments that occurred during the New Deal era. Consider the following three examples:

1. President Roosevelt's attorney general, Homer Cummings, "transformed the Department of Justice... [he] 'took the view that his office called for leadership rather than passive administration... he conceived a program to refurbish the rusty machinery of national justice.' He established uniform rules of practice and procedure in federal courts. To fight the crime waves of the Prohibition era, he secured the passage of laws that brought into effect the 'Lindbergh law' on kidnapping, made bank robbery a federal crime, cracked down on the interstate transportation of stolen goods, and strengthened federal regulations on firearms. He gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation more power, sponsored a national crime conference, established Alcatraz as a model prison for hardened offenders..."

2. According to the FBI, "Prior to 1933, Bureau agents had developed an esprit de corps, but the public considered them interchangeable with other federal investigators. Three years later, mere identification with the FBI was a source of special pride to its employees and commanded instant recognition and respect from the public. By the end of the decade, the Bureau had field offices in 42 cities and employed 654 special agents and 1,141 support employees... The legal tools given to the FBI by Congress, as well as Bureau initiatives to upgrade its own professionalism and that of law enforcement, resulted in the arrest or demise of all the major gangsters by 1936."

3. New Deal policymakers also cracked down on Wall Street fraud by creating the Securities and Exchange Commission. One of its first chairmen, William Douglas, brusquely refused Wall Street's ridiculous offer to police itself, and then created "a legal and technical framework that would endure for decades" (Michael Hiltzik, The New Deal: A Modern History, 2011, p. 191).

So, how would FDR respond to the armed occupation at Malheur? Well, we'll never know for sure of course, but considering that he had placed his beloved Civilian Conservation Corps there to develop the refuge and improve public access, and considering that his FBI was not afraid to duke it out with lawbreakers, I think we could make a pretty good guess.

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