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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Polish sausage: the recipe for offal laws is universal

Next year only a few reporters will be allowed into parliament, with five selected TV stations permitted to make recordings of parliamentary sessions.

"This restriction, first of all, does not hit journalists, but the rights of citizens to be fully informed about what people elected by them to the parliament do," a statement compiled by the country's largest independent news organisations said on Friday.

The government argues that the measures are not restrictive and will stop MPs from being accosted by journalists inside the parliamentary building.

...[T]his week it wasn’t sufficient to handcuff Gov.-elect Roy Cooper before he even takes office; it also had to handcuff Joe Killian.

Killian is a reporter. He covers the legislature as part of his job. He was in the House gallery Thursday night when protesters began chanting and yelling. The public was ordered to leave, including the media and others who were not being disruptive.

“I said, ‘I can’t do my job that way,’” Killian told the Observer editorial board Friday. “I said, ‘I won’t be leaving; I’m going to sit here quietly and politely and cover the news.’”

The Capitol Police handcuffed him and took him away. He faces charges of trespassing.

...[L]egislators and police have to be able to distinguish between disruptive protesters and other members of the public who are not making trouble and who, in some cases, are merely doing their jobs. It’s a distinction lost on GOP Chairman Robin Hayes and the Republican leadership. Any member of the public who wanted to watch her elected officials at work was blocked from doing so for much of Thursday and Friday.

The legislature’s clampdown on the public is of questionable legality. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects not only the right to speak and write but to hear and receive information in public places. That was blocked in Raleigh this week, also arguably violating the state’s open meetings law.
One of North Carolina’s claims to fame is the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Its actual text, and even passage, largely dismissed by historians as- at best- an exaggeration- the Meck Dec is enshrined on the state flag and seal, and in a state holiday no longer observed, as Americans’ first dismissal of English sovereignty on May 20, 1775.

The flag and seal also bear the date of the Halifax Resolves, a provable declaration by North Carolina leaders telling their representatives in the Continental Congress to vote for independence, April 20, 1776.

The North Carolina General Assembly finalized that design for the flag in 1885, replacing the date of secession from the Union 24 years after it occurred, and twenty after the effort proved futile.

The Meck Dec led to another of North Carolina’s excesses. As The News & Observer reported a year ago,

A plain-text “First in Freedom” plate was the only option offered by DMV from 1975 to 1979, but it sparked controversy among North Carolinians who disavowed its message.

Two men were prosecuted in 1975 for obscuring the “Freedom” slogan with tape. “No Southern state was first in freedom for blacks,” said Navy veteran James Flowers of Hillsborough. The case was dropped after the state attorney general said such charges were unconstitutional.

“First in Flight,” marking the Wright brothers’ accomplishment in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, has been the standard message on North Carolina license plates since 1982.

Another story elaborated,

The case was dropped after state Attorney General Rufus Edmisten issued an opinion that such charges were unconstitutional.

Edmisten’s opinion did not stop Smithfield police from arresting Walter Williams III of Raleigh for the same offense in May 1975, and did not stop the judge from finding him guilty a few weeks later. Williams told reporters that the arresting officer “told me if I didn’t like the slogan, I ought to move.” He was arrested again on the same charge a few weeks later.

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually echoed Edmisten in a 1977 ruling that vindicated a New Hampshire man who served 15 days in jail for putting tape on his license plates “Live Free or Die” slogan. State Transportation Secretary Tom Bradshaw announced in 1978 that the “First in Freedom” slogan had “outlived its usefulness” here.

But House budget writers believe it is useful again.

Last year, under Cleveland County Speaker Tim Moore, House Republicans brought it back.

(The First in Flight claim also irked historical revisionists, among them the nation of Brazil, which claims Alberto Santos-Dumont as the pioneer of heavier-than-air flight, but that’s another story for another day. Another of North Carolina’s holidays is Wright Brother’s Day, December 17).

North Carolina leaders usually recoil from such revolutionary excesses over time, only to enshrine them, even later, as the perverse emblems of reactionaries who are, at best, only momentarily dislodged from power.

Thus did the Old North State, having jumped out of the blocks for independency, become the last colony to adopt the Constitution, and the last to secede.

In time, having emblazoned its abandoned standard on its new flag, North Carolina became the last state to oppose a constitutional amendment to give women the vote, and the last of the secesh states to abolish marriage equality, in 1996. In 2014, they banned it all over again with a constitutional amendment.

The state’s motto is “Esse Quam Videri”: to be, rather than to seem As the old guard increased its hold on the state after the excesses of carpetbaggers, Negroes, and Republicans, they directed that it, too, be added to the state seal and flag:

WHEREAS. Contrary to the usage of nearly all the states of the American Union the coat-of-arms and the great seal of this state bear no motto; and whereas, a suitable motto, expressive of some noble sentiment and indicative of some leading trait of our people, will be instructive as well as ornamental, and the state should also keep in perpetual remembrance the immortal declaration of independence made at Charlotte; now therefore,

The General Assembly of North Carolina do enact:

Section 1. That the words "esse quam videri" are hereby adopted as the motto of this state, and as such shall be engraved on the great seal of North Carolina and likewise at the foot of the coat-of-arms of the state as part thereof.

Sec. 2. That on the coat-of-arms, in addition to the motto at the bottom, there shall be inscribed at the top the words "May the 20th, 1775."

Sec. 3.That this act shall be in force from and after its ratification.

Ratified the 21st day of February, A.D. 1893.

Latin tags were never the General Assembly’s strong point (as The North Carolina Gazetteer notes, “Intended to be named for Julius Caesar but an error was made in the spelling”).

In that light, it is worth noting the source- and translation of the state motto:

North Carolina’s motto is quoted from Cicero’s essay on friendship (Cicero, de Amicitia, Chapter 26). Until the 1893 act, North Carolina had no motto. It was one of the few states which did not have a motto and the only one of the original thirteen without one...

"The fact is that fewer people are endowed with virtue than wish to be thought to be so." (Shuckburgh translation)

"...[N]ot nearly so many people want actually to be possessed of virtue as want to appear to be possessed of it." (from On Old Age and On Friendship, trans. by Frank Copley, Ann Arbor, U Mich. Press, 1967, p. 87).

"...[F]or the Numbers of the really virtuous are not so great, as they appear to be." (from M.T. Cicero, His Offices, trans. by William Guthrie, Esq., London, T. Waller, 1755, p. 317).

Which brings us to the legislature of Poland. Long have its patriots, given, and looked, to America for advice, inspiration, and support, from Kosciuszko and Pulaski forward. So long a colony, or a satellite, of greater powers, its people fought an improbable, and successful, battle, through the 1980s to overthrow Communism and establish a modern democracy. Their labors were mightily supported- rhetorically and financially- by President Reagan- whose heirs now undercut freedom in his name and with his assumed imprimatur.

And now, less than two generations later, they are rejecting that hard-won liberty in favor of a North Carolina-style elected autocracy. Led on by what Gibbon called “generous donatives”- liberal child care credits for families with more than two kids, free medicines for the old, a robustly xenophobic foreign policy and Catholic-inflected homophobia within- Poles now find common cause with North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Phil Berger.

As the Polish leadership seeks to banish journalist from the people’s parliament to a nearby “media center,” there to watch government-controlled video of the legislature’s dealings, the North Carolina leadership has taken up stopping the video feed of its deliberations, and scooping up journalists in as it sends in the cops to clear its galleries by arresting whoever is there, when they need to tend to what, in the spy trade, is called “wet work.”

As the Polish government has passed laws to throttle the nation’s Supreme Court, North Carolina’s has enacted them to isolate its high court in favor of a more tractable Court of Appeals- into the membership of which Senator Berger last summer re-wrote state election law to ensure his son, Phil Jr’s, welcome.

These things are always done in the name of Freedom. The rub comes, as President Clinton paraphrased it, over what the meaning of “is” is.

Lewis Carroll understood this better than anyone, and left is this account in Alice in Wonderland:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Some suggest North Carolina’s motto is an inversion of its true meaning. This is not so. Its meaning is revealed by the actions of its people, and the leaders who choose the voters, and districts, to maintain them in power.

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