Standing on a Phantom Leg — and Ag Gag Laws

The law gives and the law takes away.  Thank God for the laws we have that protect the vulnerable.  These laws are not the rule, but they are something to be very thankful for, to fight to protect.  Between the rule of law and the rule of violence, there is nothing to choose.

One of the most difficult things, as an idealistic young lawyer trying to make a living, was hearing a prospective client’s long, painful recitation of a brutal screwing that raised no legal issue a court could address.   One of the most useful, and terrible, parts of law school is the “issue spotting”  exercise.  You listen to a long detailed complaint looking for issues that may be legally remediable among the many equally, sometimes more horrific, parts of the story that is regarded, in its entirety, as a trifle with which the law does not concern itself.  

“You got royally screwed, no question, and I sympathize 100% with your anger at the sickening ordeal you were put through, I would feel exactly as you do,” I would begin, seeking the words to let the poor sodomized fucker down gently on his tender sphincter.  

“What they did to you was unconscionable, sickening and offensively typical.”  The words do not come easily, you have to give your professional opinion of the person’s odds of getting a case into court, having a meaningful hearing, achieving some victory with the law.   Those odds are zero. 

“This is the worst part of my job, explaining to someone who’s been brutally, deliberately screwed, against his will, that the law regards his screwing as a trifle with which the law does not concern itself.  De minimis non curat lex, as the judges say.   It’s Latin for ‘your client is shit out of luck, asshole.  Next!'” 

The issue spotting exercise is the law student’s training for hearing a layman’s complaint and finding a viable legal theory for bringing the complaint to court.  Often there is no remedy at law.   People who are severely screwed often have a hard time understanding this.

 “You agree that they fucked me up the ass sideways,” the prospective client will protest.  

“I do,” the empathetic young lawyer will say.  

“You agree that it was unconscionable, your own word,” says the prospective client.  

“I do, absolutely,” the lawyer will say.  And so on.  The lawyer knows what the prospective client cannot understand in his particular case yet–  the laws are made by powerful forces that like the idea of non-consensual sex, they like it very, very much.   Unless there is a provision in the law to enforce the rights of those who do not give consent to those powerful people, and other non-human entities, who love a little spontaneous dalliance, consensual or not, well, you have a trifle that the law does not need to concern itself with.

It is very troubling to see a rightfully aggrieved person standing on a phantom leg. There ought to be a law…  well, I agree very much.  Unfortunately the billionaire class, in conjunction with those psychopathic legal fictions called ‘persons’, with their army of well-paid  lobbyists representing the tiny, powerful group whose interests they tirelessly protect, have the most persuasive voice for lawmakers.  

Still, there is the human reflex, felt by many, to stand on a right they strongly believe they SHOULD have.  Brings us, in an odd way, to the narrow electoral college election of this unreasonable fellow we have in office now.  Millions voted for his unconvincing promise to help the little man and cut through law and everything else to get him what he SHOULD have.   A promise ridiculous on its face, as we used to say at law,  but there you have it.  His type essentially says, pretty much irrefutably:

You have no legal right unless you can enforce it in court, asshole.   Even if you have a legal right that a court will enforce, find a lawyer who will work for free or we will bankrupt you.  We will bury you in legal bills!  You really want to fight the power, motherfucker?  We will destroy you!

In this context there is a controversy, sadly non-controversial to most Americans, that is like a fiber of celery caught uncomfortably between my molars.  No floss can remove it, my tongue is constantly playing with the irritating strand every time I’m reminded of it.   I don’t know if Anwar al-Awlaki went all the way over to becoming an active al Q’aeda recruiter, as his accusers claimed when they put him on the secret presidential kill list, and after they turned him into chopped meat with a missile launched by a Predator drone.  I doubt it, but I don’t absolutely know for sure.  Neither did Jeremy Scahill, who researched the issue in depth, but he also strongly doubted that Awlaki was affiliated with terrorists and presented a good case that no evidence whatsoever of terrorist ties was produced before his extrajudicial execution.

I know, at least in the first part of his railing against the American worldwide war against Islam, that Awlaki probably felt he had a right to free speech under the First Amendment.   It’s an argument his lawyer could have made in court, Awlaki’s right to dissent, if he’d been tried, even in absentia.   As an American, Awlaki believed he had an absolute right to express his opinions, to argue against the murderous policies of his government, to appeal in the strongest possible terms to the sense of justice in those he addressed.  

The American president had a different idea and, being a brilliant Constitutional law professor brushed aside all the legal issues raised by the targeted murder of an American citizen for giving speeches the president deemed the dangerous incitement of a deadly enemy combatant.  Brushed aside all legal arguments and zapped the American citizen with a drone-launched missile.  The story forever after would be that Obama wisely and decisively took out a dangerous terrorist leader, the number two man in al Q’aeda and heir apparent to Osama Bin Laden himself, if you believe Obama’s representations about  Awlaki.

I don’t begrudge Obama his accomplishments.  The elimination of the obscene ‘pre-existing condition’ loophole in health insurance was long overdue and something every American should applaud.  At the same time, Obama handed expanded executive prerogatives to the volatile, angry man who succeeded him as president.  

Included in these prerogatives was the absolute right to say who is an enemy combatant and, based on that unappealable status determination, to take any steps necessary to make sure the dangerous terrorist is neutralized.

“Your classic slippery slope, Elie,” said the skeleton of my father.  “You heard about those ALEC introduced Ag Gag laws which call for complete opacity when it it comes to the systematic industry-wide torture of animals raised for slaughter.  In the states where these laws have been passed it is illegal to take unauthorized videotape of violence against farm animals.  

“Violence seems like a ridiculous thing to talk about in connection with animals raised to be meat.  And it is.  The standard for what is acceptable in the animals-for-food-industry, of course, is determined by industry standards.  If ten chickens per square yard of cage means you have to cut the beaks off them to keep them from pecking each other to death, so be it and there’s nothing cruel or unusual about it.  Cruel it might arguably be, but unusual?  I’m afraid not, we all do it, sir.  Industry standard.  Nothing to see here.

“Animals being raised for slaughter and sale as meat certainly have no rights a white man is bound to respect.  But here’s the kicker, Elie.  As you know, these laws allow the State to prosecute vegan activists as ‘terrorists’.  Try that ass hat on for size.   If you’re a PETA activist and you take a video of factory workers beating a cow or pig to death, you are a terrorist under these Ag Gag laws.  What can you do to a terrorist?  Some believe torture is too good for those motherfuckers, you dig?”

“But see, Elie, torture is nothing to worry about either.  That’s because our Constitution protects us against a psychopathic element of the government deciding that, in spite of treaties we’ve signed and prosecutions we’ve successfully waged against torturers from other nations, Americans can legally torture people — if we secretly redefine it and call it something else.  

“We all know Americans don’t torture unless the country’s most powerful skillfully play to the terror of the populace, which will allow such formerly hideous practices to become ‘normalized’.  You know, like if we’re facing an enemy so terrible that all measures must be employed to destroy that enemy.  You know, an enemy that has no hesitation to slaughter as many children as it takes to rid the world of what they perceive as evil.”

OK, dad.  Calm down now.  Life goes on.  

“Not for me it doesn’t,” said the skeleton.  

Not for me either, really, not all the time.


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