Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rule of law

The rule of law is a major pillar of today’s world.  It demands that the populace understand what to expect and do under myriad situations and that the authorities regulate and reinforce certain behaviors.  Rule of law, like many others, sounds excellent in concept but is forever elusive in practice, even in a mature society as the US.    

The most recent case is the standoff between Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher, and the federal Bureau of Land Management.  The dispute went back to 1993 when the Bundy family refused to pay BLM gazing fees for their cows.  The Bundys have their reasoning and arguments, but a long story short, they have lost every court battle there is and now owe over one million dollars.  Then in early April 2014 BLM came in to roundup the rancher’s ~ 1000 cattle as compensations.  The Bundys resisted and were supported by hundreds of militia that came to their ranch and politicians in and out of the state, forcing BLM to drop its plan, at least for the time being.  

On the surface, what the Bundys have done is clearly illegal and serves the public no good.  Otherwise, why should Martha Stewart and Wesley Snipes go to jail?  The sound bites of militia and politicians all danced around how heavy-handed BLM was but skirted the core issue that the Bundys have had their days in courts but always lost for the past 20 years.  It is curious that BLM chose to round up 1000 cows instead to arrest Cliven Bundy only.  Maybe BLM has no such authority, but it surely was much more work to get those many cows, and the federal government can indeed conjure up many excuses and ways to get anybody if it chooses to, considering what has transpired now.    

Similar occurrences happen in China (and other countries as well) a lot.  A common example is the disputes between street vendors and street or city inspectors (see “Problems with Chinese courts and laws”).  Street vendors need licenses and conduct business at designated areas, which is reinforced by the inspectors.  When the vendors set up shops at the wrong places and the inspectors come along, most vendors will flee.  Some vendors do get caught or refuse to leave, then they will have to pay a fine, which most of them do.  But once in a while, there are scuffles between the vendor(s) and inspectors which often become major local news, and the sympathy usually goes to the vendor(s) if the media are to be believed.

So the Nevada standoff is nothing new per se, just that the distinction between mature vs immature societies is only relative.  

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