November 26th, 2004 ~ Throughout the Iraq War, I have been puzzled by the apparent lack of "breach of contract" suits by Reservists or National Guard troops involuntarily extended to serve in Iraq. Recently, I discovered that several suits HAVE been filed against the U.S. government over involuntary extensions, although most have been to restrain the government before the fact; not to seek damages after the fact.
Army reservist Jay Ferriola filed suit against the federal government on October 22nd of this year, after having been ordered to report for an 18-month deployment to Iraq. The 31-year-old combat veteran joined a small, but growing number of reservists resisting deployment to Iraq on grounds they've already fulfilled their contractual obligations to the armed forces. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is among the defendants in the suit that claims Ferriola was forced into "involuntary servitude", and that his right to due process was violated by the Army deployment order. Ferriola claims he completed his eight-year obligation in February and submitted a formal resignation in June, after having been told his honorable discharge did not constitute sufficient notification for a commissioned officer.
The only litigation I could find regarding post-deployment suits against the U.S. military is one brought by three British military police officers and their Kuwaiti interpreter. They have formed their own coalition of sorts; hiring a joint British/American team of lawyers to sue the U.S. military for £1.2 million (about $2.3 million USD) for injuries sustained after a U.S. tank transporter collided with their Land Rover in Iraq.
I'm still perplexed that with the feeding frenzy following the Vioxx debacle, no sharp lawyers have filed breach of contract suits - either individually or as a class action - on behalf of soldiers in Iraq. Such suits would strike me as eminently just and deserving of their day in court.
November 23rd, 2004 ~ I suppose that in these troubled times, it may seem frivolous to be concerned over Utah Senator Orrin Hatch's "Maximizing Voter Choice" proposal regarding our Constitution's natural born citizenship requirement for the presidency.
Article II, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution declares, "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."
Senator Hatch has some heavy hitters in the "pro" column for an amendment to repeal that requirement. In testimony before both the House Judiciary Committee in July, 2000 and the Senate Judiciary in October 2004, John Yinger of the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, has been one of the more compelling proponents of such an amendment, while in "America's Constitution: A Guided Tour", Akhil Amar of the Yale Law School describes the natural-born citizenship requirement as a prudent block - for the time - against foreign influences, but goes on to say that what served us well in 1787 may now be anachronistic.
The opposition column seems relatively empty. I've seen several side issues explored, involving Americans born overseas to American parents, or those who hold dual citizenship as a circumstance of birth for example, but few voices directly opposed to an amendment allowing naturalized citizens to run for President. Why, then, with all these august persons telling me it's time for a change, is my gut telling me this is not a good idea?
Part of my reservation grows out of my awareness of the immense powers of the presidency. The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief of all the armed forces of the United States. The President can launch nuclear weapons, or keep them from being launched. The President can declare martial law across the entire country. The President has sole power to appoint Federal justices, including Supreme Court justices. The President has powers to wage war, seize property, seize and control all transport and communications, grant reprieves and pardons for federal offences, pocket veto Congressional legislation when the Congress is adjourned, and in certain circumstances adjourn Congress itself (Article II, Section 3).
While natural born Presidents can (and have), abused some of these powers, the merest suggestion that a foreign born President had abused his (or her) powers might, in the most extreme situations, send our country into an unprecedented crisis of confidence. Extreme situations, however, are exactly when we would MOST need to feel confident in our Chief Executive.
There need not even be a nefarious agenda on the part of a foreign born President to create such a crisis. Let's look at an admittedly extreme example...
A Mexican born attorney has lived in America since childhood, made his mark at the state level as a brilliant prosecutor, and risen through the ranks of his party to become Attorney General of the United States. His sights, however, are set on the Oval Office.
Before I continue with what, I repeat, is an extreme example, let me momentarily return to Mr. Amar's book, where he postulates that a plausible reason for the natural born restriction "...was that a foreign earl or duke would cross the Atlantic with immense wealth and a vast retinue and use his European riches to buy friends and power on a scale that virtually no American could match." Yet, aren't many of the executives of today's giant, multinational, corporations much like the dukes and earls of the 18th Century? Do they not use their immense wealth to "buy friends and power on a scale that virtually no American could match"? Of course they do.
So, let's say our hypothetical candidate's campaign is infused with large contributions from corporate executives and their proxies who wish to take greater advantage of the cheap, unregulated, labor pools south of the border as well as immigrant workers within our own borders. Their candidate, though American at heart, is proud of his Mexican heritage and enjoys the admiration he feels from both sides of the border. With the aid of his powerful backers, he wins the race on promises that he will secure our nation against terrorism, revitalize our economy, and strengthen the social safety-net through sweeping government reforms.
But things don't quite work out that way. Our trade deficit spirals out of control as new legislation makes it easier for corporations to move their entire operations out of America and to hire aliens in America with few of the labor protections natural born OR naturalized citizens have come to expect. The dollar takes a nosedive on international currency markets and domestic unemployment reaches record levels; triggering angry protests throughout the country. Hispanic communities become targets of mindless rage, regardless of national origin or even actual citizenship. National Guardsmen have to be drawn back from overseas missions as the street violence escalates. And while authorities are busy with this turmoil, Islamic extremists manage to smuggle - with the help of drug cartel professionals - a Pakistani-built nuclear device across the now poorly patrolled border.
Could such a nightmare scenario happen under a natural born President's administration? Of course it could. We're all too familiar with natural born Presidents who are little more than tools of their corporate handlers. I firmly believe, however, that being foreign born adds an extra "handle" for political opportunists to hang their rumors and innuendo on in troubled times; obscuring the REAL causes of those troubles at the exact moment when we would least want to see such scapegoating.
I wish to say at this point, that I have nothing but the greatest respect for Americans of Hispanic descent; both naturalized citizens as well as natural born. You can discount my example as a xenophobic rant if you wish, but I intentionally used a President of Mexican birth as the most likely possibility in a nation where ALL candidates for President routinely court the Hispanic vote.
A final point:
As a typically ethnocentric American, I have focused on how a foreign born President might subvert our own government if so inclined, but what if a foreign born President, instead, wishes to use American might to dominate others? A President born in Turkey or Greece could decide to settle the Cyprus issue with American forces. A President of Cuban birth could make the Bay of Pigs look like a day at the beach. Would a President, born in Mumbai or Lahore, be able to keep his finger off the nuclear button if things got really hot in Kashmir? There are many flashpoints across the globe which an American President needs to address and which ALL Americans need to believe will be addressed with America's strategic interests unambiguously foremost in that President's mind.
I'm still not sure if these are compelling enough arguments to offset what - on the surface - appears to be a reasonable Constitutional amendment for a nation of immigrants. I just felt the need to explore the subject more thoroughly. I hope you will as well.
November 12th, 2004 ~ At lunch today, several friends and I were discussing the news from Fallujah, the Yasser Arafat funeral, and the deep depression felt by many in the aftermath of the Bush election victory. We all shared a certain empathy for the Georgia man who committed suicide at Ground Zero in protest of that victory. As we got deeper into the topic, one of my friends asked a pointed question: "Why..." she asked, "...did you and others see Bush as a threat to our nation when a majority, obviously, saw him as a savior? Were they all fools, or were you?" It was, to say the least, a loaded question.
I responded that I didn't think anyone was a "fool" for voting either way. They were, however, fooled. Both campaigns sank to the level of consumer marketing and on that level, the Bush team ran a better marketing campaign for their product than the Kerry team. Both campaigns relied on an electorate trained from childhood to be good little consumers. The Kerry marketing strategy was "Our competitor's product is unsafe and defective and though our product is complicated, it offers many features lacking in our competitor's product!" The Bush team countered with "Our product is reliable, safe, uncomplicated, and provides immediate relief!" Even consumer champion, Ralph Nader, couldn't compete with this compellingly simple message.
Marketing has always played a role in presidential elections. William Henry Harrision's 1840 campaign coined the memorable slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", while Eisenhower's 1952 campaign - the first to really exploit the new medium of television - made "I Like Ike" household words. Only in recent election cycles, however, have marketing and "spin" become the primary vehicles of political strategy.
Today's campaign marketing (or marketing campaigns if you wish), are far cries from the simple sloganeering of yesteryear. Top-flight consultants, like Dr. G. Clotaire Rapaille help contemporary campaigns tap into the deep subconscious of the electorate. And where subtlety doesn't quite get the message across, there are "527" organizations and overtly partisan broadcasters - posing as journalists - to do the dirty work now prohibited to the political parties by McCain-Feingold.
So, who gets to wave the McFlag? Is it all fast-food politics from now on? Is it just EASIER - in this information overload world - not to think; to let the professional button-pushers make our choices for us? Perhaps. Only time will tell.
If our lives and our children's lives are significantly improved over the next four years, then we won't mind the subtle and not so subtle methods used to get us there. If, however, we are still supporting terrorism with our petro-dollars, worrying that our children will be forced into harms way by the Energy Cartel, watching helplessly as our national parks are ripped up along with our Constitution, then we might want to rethink the "convenience" of letting others think for us.
I know that's a lot to digest from a lunchtime conversation, but then, anyone can tell you, there's no such thing as a free lunch.
November 6th, 2004 ~ What now? George Bush has won a second term and for any administration, a second term is traditionally time for some house cleaning; clearing out appointees who were political expedients in the first term, but may be liabilities in the second. Most beltway pundits agree that John Ashcroft will be leaving both the AG slot as well as the District in the relatively near future. They seem undecided (to use a much overused word), about the continued presence of Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld on the NeoCon team.
One thing is certain: Little now stands in the way of the most extreme aspects of Mr. Bush's and Mr. Cheney's agenda. On the environmental front, we can expect to see vast stretches of our public trust - our wilderness - auctioned off or given over gratis for clearcutting, oil, and gas drilling. Beloved places like Greater Yellowstone and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may soon be foul smelling and devoid of life to satisfy the insatiable appetites of the lumber industry and the Energy Cartel.
Speaking of the Energy Cartel, we can expect four more years of active dismantlement and suppression of domestic fusion energy research as our Saudi "friends" rake in more of our petro-dollars to support al Qaeda and their Wahabbi mad-rassas. Bin Laden is right about one thing: the next teenager he sends into a crowd of unsuspecting civilians will be wearing a vest of C4 and rat poison paid for with our money.
This administration and its "Energy Taskforce" would not have it any other way. They thrive on America's fear. Fear swept them to a second term. Fear will embolden them to challenge our Constitutionally protected liberties. Fear - they have learned - is a very useful tool of subjugation.
But fear, alone, is not enough to hold a nation of individualists in thrall for long. It is just a matter of time before we start asking tough questions; demanding answers. Our founders came up with a three part government - executive, legislative, and judicial - to ensure our right to ask those questions and to see that they're answered. This election firmly planted two of those branches in the NeoCon camp. Now, they will go after the third.
With Chief Justice Rehnquist obviously ill and several of the moderate justices getting up there in years, we need to prepare ourselves for a Supreme Court - at best - ambivalent toward our Constitution. There are also a number of federal district and appellate slots to be filled and with a Republican dominated congress, the vetting process should be, if nothing else, highly efficient.
Look for this NeoCon judiciary to render the Freedom of Information Act effectively null and void. Look, also, for a host of new Constitutional amendments to restrict rather than protect our individual liberties. Look, especially, for a breathtaking expansion of this administration's shroud of secrecy and unaccountability.
But it's not all bad. If you own a goodly share of oil, gas, coal, or nuclear stocks, your star is ascending. Same for military contractors, health insurance, pharmaceuticals, and lumber. So, take heart. This is your moment in the sun. Just don't put off that trip with the family to Yellowstone too long, or for that matter, live too long. You may not like what you find when you get there.
November 2nd, 2004 ~ Today is Election Day. Today, We the People will elect a President and Vice President. ...or will we? Read this "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions) about the Electoral College to find out who really will elect our next President.