David Hines
Barging in
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By David Hines
January 22, 2012

Roman Senators were the "fat cats" of their time. They made their money by owning land that overseers worked for them with slave labor. In fact, this was made necessary by law. Had a Senator pursued any hands-on trade, he would lose the requisite social status to be a Senator. He had to make his money by being a landowner and absentee CEO.

In order to balance the government budget, Caligula caused a pleasure barge to be docked in the Tiber. He commanded the Senators to bring their wives to serve as merchandise aboard the floating brothel. If a Senator did not comply, he could be disappeared by the secret police frequently employed by Caligula's predecessor. Or he could save himself a bit of trouble by committing suicide. In fact, the deaths of wealthy Senators was a desired outcome; confiscation of their possessions could also help replenish the emperor's coffers.

The pleasure barge outraged the Senators but caused a great deal of glee among commoners. For a small coin one could take a bit of revenge on those he saw as oppressive fat cats. I could well imagine such a vessel docked in the East River bringing about a "growing membership," so to speak, for many an Occupy Wall Street protester. It would not solve any economic nor political problems, but for a brief time one could perhaps feel oneself avenged.

Congress and the president have argued a bit about the NDAA — not on the substance, but on whether it goes far enough. The president holds that the NDAA and AUMF already give him the authority to "disappear" American citizens but would like to see that power made more explicit. Rivals don't so much mind its being codified as they mind its being done while the incumbent is in power.

He who has the power to "disappear" one's political adversaries soon has no political adversaries — at least none willing to speak their minds in any open forum. The so-called "war on terror" is not just in Asia; it has come home to roost. Profiling to identify terrorists includes bumper stickers supporting certain political candidates (one of whom is well-known and doing rather well in the polls); citing the Second Amendment; and displaying the historic Gadsden flag. If even your car can make you a suspect and potential disappearee, how confident will you be in expressing any honest opinion?

Caligula would be proud.

The effective nullification of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments has proceeded with little comment from either political party. Why is that, do you suppose? Could it be that the Bill of Rights, part of the document officeholders swear to uphold, has been renamed the Bill of Suggestions? I must have missed the official re-designation, though it seems to have occurred quite some time ago. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments have long been treated so. The First, Fourth, and Fifth have been ailing but tardy in their anticipated suicides.

In our day, as in Caligula's, the wealthy get wealthier not so much through their own effort as through support by the government. Many blame the laissez faire "free market" for our economic woes. But such an entity does not exist. Instead, what we have is crony capitalism. Government rewards those who suck up to politicians. CEOs get hefty salaries for their political connections; many go back and forth through the revolving door in and out of government. The most politically connected, if caught in wrongdoing, get wrist slaps, while their competitors with less political influence get bought out for pennies on the dollar with taxpayer money.

Yet many people want the emperor to erect a pleasure barge, so that they can exercise envy on suspected fat-cat wrongdoers. Never mind that granting the emperor more power plays into the hands of the worst of the wrongdoers, who have friends in high places. The vicarious thrill of watching the bureaucrats and tax men bring somebody else down will be momentarily sufficient.

There's good reason envy is regarded as one of the Seven Deadlies. No good comes of it.

If terrorists hate us for our freedoms, they are delusional. Those freedoms are rapidly disappearing. Why hate what no longer exists? If even speech and business success are punishable, no other liberty could possibly survive except as mere formal illusion.

If this continues, we shall all be pleasure-barged — good and hard.

© David Hines

 

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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)

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