Constitutional drama, under our noses, off the radar

May 2, 2010

What about that impeachment trial, eh?  Planning to watch it?

Your best bet might be C-SPAN, but I wouldn’t wager the mortgage were I you.

Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate, 1868; from Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868 - public domain

Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in the U.S. Senate, 1868; from Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868 - public domain

Federal Judge Thomas Porteous of New Orleans got four articles of impeachment approved against him by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 10.  The first article got a nearly unanimous vote — who says the House is divided? — 412 to 0.  Three other articles got similar margins, 410-0, 416-0, and 423-0.

Unless you live in New Orleans or have a strange fascination for that great newspaper, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, you probably heard nothing about this great Constitutional drama. If you get the Times-Picayune, you’ve had good coverage of the issue so far.

Under its own special rules of impeachment, the Senate appointed a committee led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, which will hold the actual trial and report results to the full Senate for action.  Sen. McCaskill said she expects the trial to begin in early August, and that the report to the full Senate could come as soon as September.

While news media and bloggers chase ghosts and hoaxes, real work continues in Washington, D.C.  You just don’t hear much about it.

You likely have not heard of Judge Proteous’s troubles, though they are long-standing, because the issue was a local, Louisiana and New Orleans affair.  Heaven knows New Orleans has had its share of other stories to knock off the front pages the ethical lapses of a sitting federal judge who was once a promising attorney.

Should you have heard?  How can we judge?  Should we not be concerned when a relatively important story is not only bumped to the back pages of newspapers, but bumped completely out of them, and off the radar of people who need to be informed about how well our government works?

My alert to this story came through a back-door route.  On the list-serv for AP Government, someone asked who presides at the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice — remember, the Constitution spells out that the Chief Justice is the presiding officer in the impeachment of the President or Vice President.  My memory is that the Senate rules on impeachments, and there is a committee that effectively presides, and that the impeachment of a Vice President or President merits special attention because the Vice President is the official, Constitutionally-mentioned presiding officer.  We can’t have the vice president presiding at the trial of himself or herself, nor of the president.  Looking up impeachment procedures, I stumbled across the pending impeachment of Judge Porteous.  I don’t think it has appeared in our local newspaper, The Dallas Morning News.

Other judges have been impeached.  Here in Texas, within the past three years, we had a federal judge impeached, Samuel Kent.  You’d think Texas media would be sensitive to such stories. (Kent resigned before the trial could begin.)

I perceive that media are ignoring several important areas of federal governing, not necessarily intentionally, but instead by being distracted by nonentity stories or stories that just don’t deserve the inflated coverage they get.  Among undercovered areas are the environment, energy research, higher education, foreign aid, management of public lands and justice, including indictments, trials and convictions.  A vast gray hole where should be the news of Judge Porteous’s pending impeachment is just one symptom.

Several news outlets carried stories:

More:


Stubborn Birthers soldier on

January 4, 2010

Birther “Dr. Kate” sez there’s a case coming to a hearing in Pennsylvania that will go to the Supreme Court no matter how this hearing turns out.

Here’s the table of contents to Kerchner v. Obama. Here’s the full complaint, according to Dr. Kate.

Probably the best thing going for the plaintiffs is that Orly Taitz only appears by name in a bizarre accounting of everything ever said on the issue (except for the lack of evidence and reasons this case will fail which, oddly, isn’t included in the complaint; everything else is included).

I predict the case will be dismissed, but it may be dismissed with prejudice.  That is, if it really does come to a hearing.  Is that really possible?

Warn others so they don’t get trampled:

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Sources: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and Trial

November 28, 2009

More than just as tribute to the victims, more than just a disaster story, the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire, and the following events including the trial of the company owners, lay out issues students can see clearly.  I think the event is extremely well documented and adapted for student projects.  In general classroom use, however, the event lays a foundation for student understanding.

A couple of good websites crossed my browser recently, and I hope you know of them.

Cartoon about 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York Evening Journal, March 31

1911 cartoon from a New York paper shows the owners dressed in dollar bills, holding shut the door that barred the safe exit of so many women during the fire. Courtesy UMKC Famous Trials site; New York Evening Journal, March 31, 1911

Events around the fire illuminate so much of American history, and of government (which Texas students take in their senior year):

  • Labor issues are obvious to us; the incident provides a dramatic backdrop for the explanation of what unions sought, why workers joined unions, and a sterling example of a company’s clumsy and destructive resistance to resolving the workers’ issues.
  • How many Progressive Era principles were advanced as a result of the aftermath of the fire, and the trial?
  • Effective municipal government, responsive to voters and public opinion, can be discerned in the actions of the City of New York in new fire codes, and action of other governments is clear in the changes to labor laws that resulted.
  • The case provides a dramatic introduction to the workings and, sometimes, misfirings of the justice system.
  • With the writings from the Cornell site, students can climb into the events and put themselves on the site, in the courtroom, and in the minds of the people involved.
  • Newspaper clippings from the period demonstrate the lurid nature of stories, used to sell newspapers — a working example of yellow journalism.
  • Newspapers also provide a glimpse into the workings of the Muckrakers, in the editorial calls for reform.
  • Overall, the stories, the photos, the cartoons, demonstrate the workings of the mass culture mechanisms of the time.

Use the sites in good education, and good health.


Brave 10-year-old Arkansas boy refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance, on principle

November 17, 2009

Adults worry about peer pressure.  Kids can goad other kids into doing stupid things, dangerous things, illegal things, and immoral things.

Pressure from adults on kids might be just as strong.

What about a 10-year-old kid who stands up to peer pressure, and stands for principle against adults who use all sorts of inducements to get him to do something he believes is wrong?

I offer a salute to Will Phillips of  West Fork School District, in Washington County, Arkansas.

Will believes homosexuals in America are not beneficiaries of  liberty and justice for all.  Will now refuses to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance for that reason.

It’s probably not what I’d advise the young man to do to protest, but he has every right.  He’s thought it through, which may not be said for the substitute teacher and the school administrator who tried to pressure him into giving up on his principles.

In the Arkansas Times, David Koon writes the story:

A boy and his flag

Why Will won’t pledge.

David Koon
Updated: 11/5/2009

WILL PHILLIPS: Freedom lover.

Will Phillips, freedom lover, in Arkansas (Arkansas Times photo)

Will Phillips isn’t like other boys his age.

For one thing, he’s smart. Scary smart. A student in the West Fork School District in Washington County, he skipped a grade this year, going directly from the third to the fifth. When his family goes for a drive, discussions are much more apt to be about Teddy Roosevelt and terraforming Mars than they are about Spongebob Squarepants and what’s playing on Radio Disney.

It was during one of those drives that the discussion turned to the pledge of allegiance and what it means. Laura Phillips is Will’s mother. “Yes, my son is 10,” she said. “But he’s probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair.”

Will’s family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, Laura Phillips said, they’ve been trying to be a straight ally to the gay community, going to the pride parades and standing up for the rights of their gay and lesbian neighbors. They’ve been especially dismayed by the effort to take away the rights of homosexuals – the right to marry, and the right to adopt. Given that, Will immediately saw a problem with the pledge of allegiance.

“I’ve always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will said. “I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all.”

After asking his parents whether it was against the law not to stand for the pledge, Will decided to do something. On Monday, Oct. 5, when the other kids in his class stood up to recite the pledge of allegiance, he remained sitting down. The class had a substitute teacher that week, a retired educator from the district, who knew Will’s mother and grandmother. Though the substitute tried to make him stand up, he respectfully refused. He did it again the next day, and the next day. Each day, the substitute got a little more cross with him. On Thursday, it finally came to a head. The teacher, Will said, told him that she knew his mother and grandmother, and they would want him to stand and say the pledge.

“She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up,” Will said. “I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ‘With all due respect, ma’am, you can go jump off a bridge.’ ”

Will was sent to the office, where he was given an assignment to look up information about the flag and what it represents. Meanwhile, the principal called his mother.

“She said we have to talk about Will, because he told a sub to jump off a bridge,” Laura Phillips said. “My first response was: Why? He’s not just going to say this because he doesn’t want to do his math work.”

Eventually, Phillips said, the principal told her that the altercation was over Will’s refusal to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and admitted that it was Will’s right not to stand. Given that, Laura Phillips asked the principal when they could expect an apology from the teacher. “She said, ‘Well I don’t think that’s necessary at this point,’ ” Phillips said.

After Phillips put a post on the instant-blogging site twitter.com about the incident, several of her friends got angry and alerted the news media. Meanwhile, Will Phillips still refuses to stand during the pledge of allegiance. Though many of his friends at school have told him they support his decision, those who don’t have been unkind, and louder.

“They [the kids who don't support him] are much more crazy, and out of control and vocal about it than supporters are.”

Given that his protest is over the rights of gays and lesbians, the taunts have taken a predictable bent. “In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they’ve been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay,” he said. “It’s always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad.”

Even so, Will said that he can’t foresee anything in the near future that will make him stand for the pledge. To help him deal with the peer pressure, his parents have printed off posts in his support on blogs and websites. “We’ve told him that people here might not support you, but we’ve shown him there are people all over that support you,” Phillips said. “It’s really frustrating to him that people are being so immature.”

At the end of our interview, I ask young Will a question that might be a civics test nightmare for your average 10-year-old. Will’s answer, though, is good enough — simple enough, true enough — to give me a little rush of goose pimples.  What does being an American mean?

“Freedom of speech,” Will says, without even stopping to think. “The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents.”

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson smiles.


Obama’s eligibility: California court tossed the challenge out

October 30, 2009

On the one hand it’s nice to see cool heads and wisdom prevail.

On the other hand, the Orly Taitz, Stumbling and Bumbling Bros., Barnyard Bailout Circus provided belly laughs for everyone who watched it.  How can such outstanding legal pratfall comedy possibly be replaced?  “Boston Legal” can’t hold a candle to Orly Taitz.

CNN and other sources report that Judge Carter booted the suit late Thursday, noting that the question is one for Congress, and Congress’s earlier decision sticks.

The lawsuit represented the claim by the so-called “birthers” movement that Obama was not born in Hawaii – despite a birth certificate to the contrary – or that if he was, his citizenship was invalidated by living overseas as a child.

In a 30-page ruling, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter of California said his court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on a case intended to unseat a sitting president.

Carter’s ruling said the plaintiffs were trying to persuade him to “disregard the constitutional procedures in place for the removal of a sitting president.”

“The process for removal of a sitting president – removal for any reason – is within the province of Congress, not the courts,” the ruling said.

Carter’s ruling also noted that the plaintiffs “have attacked the judiciary, including every prior court that has dismissed their claim, as unpatriotic and even treasonous for refusing to grant their requests and for adhering to the terms of the Constitution.”

“Respecting the constitutional role and jurisdiction of this court is not unpatriotic,” the ruling said. “Quite the contrary, this court considers commitment to that constitutional role to be the ultimate reflection of patriotism.”

Will Orly Taitz go quietly?  How can she replace the daily adrenaline rush of knowing she’s earned the official ire of judges from Chesapeake Bay to Long Beach Harbor?

It may be unrelated, but sketchy early reports say Orly Taitz has climbed aboard a mylar balloon shaped like a flying saucer . . .

More information:


The article the British Chiropractic Association hopes you will not read

July 31, 2009

Science-based Medicine carried this article yesterday, and several other blogs have joined in.  Below is the article Simon Singh wrote for which he is being sued for libel by the professional association for British chiropractors.  It’s a good cause, so I’ll stretch it another little while.

Science-based Medicine introduced the article with this:

Last year Simon Singh wrote a piece for the Guardian that was critical of the modern practice of chiropractic. The core of his complaint was that chiropractors provide services and make claims that are not adequately backed by evidence – they are not evidence-based practitioners. In response to his criticism the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued Simon personally for libel. They refused offers to publish a rebuttal to his criticism, or to provide the evidence Simon said was lacking. After they were further criticized for this, the BCA eventually produced an anemic list of studies purported to support the questionable treatments, but really just demonstrating the truth of Simon’s criticism (as I discuss at length here).

In England suing for libel is an effective strategy for silencing critics. The burden of proof is on the one accused (guilty until proven innnocent) and the costs are ruinous. Simon has persisted, however, at great personal expense.

This is an issue of vital importance to science-based medicine. A very necessary feature of science is public debate and criticism – absolute transparency.This is also not an isolated incident. Some in the alternative medicine community are attempting to assert that criticism is unprofessional, and they have used accusations of both unprofessionalism and libel as a method of silencing criticism of their claims and practices. This has happened to David Colquhoun and Ben Goldacre, and others less prominent but who have communicated to me directly attempts at silencing their criticism.

This behavior is intolerable and is itself unprofessional, an assault on academic freedom and free speech, and anathema to science as science is dependent upon open and vigorous critical debate.

What those who will attempt to silence their critics through this type of bullying must understand is that such attempts will only result in the magnification of the criticism by several orders of magnitude. That is why we are reproducing Simon Singh’s original article (with a couple of minor alterations) on this site and many others. Enjoy.

Here it is:

Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Original version published Saturday April 19 2008
Edited version published July 29, 2009

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.


Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Other venues:

Related material:


Vintage film on Japanese internment during World War II

May 20, 2009

“A Challenge to Democracy,” by the War Relocation Board.  This film defends the relocation of 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

“These people are not under suspicion,” the narrator says.  “They are not prisoners, they are not internees.  They are merely dislocated people, the unwounded casualties of war.”

According to the Internet Archive, the film is a 1944 production.  That site has the film available for download in several formats.  The film is collected in the Prelinger Archives.  On my computer, some of the Internet Archive versions offer  better quality than the Google Video version above.

I originally found the film at a school site in Washington, Mr. Talmadge’s Wikispace site, apparently for his classes in the history of the State of Washington.  That site has a very useful series of links to good sites on the internet for information about the Japanese internment.  There are several other topics noted there, too, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Whitman Massacre in Oregon, and the Nez Perce Retreat.  I’d love to see Mr. Talmadge’s plan for the year.

What do your students do to display their work on the internet?


Supreme Court tryouts

March 20, 2009

Elena Kagan took the oath of office to be the nation’s top lawyer, the Solicitor General, last Friday.  The Associated Press is running a story (here from the Sacramento Bee) on whether this is a tryout for the Supreme Court itself, “Obama could make top high court lawyer a justice.”  (Isn’t that a tortured headline?)

Three justices may want to retire soon:  Justice John Paul Stevens is 88 years old.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 76, and back on the court in record time after surgery for pancreatic cancer.  Justice David Souter is third oldest, at 69.

So, this AP story could be a good article for use in government classes.  Consider these questions:

  • Is Solicitor General a stepping stone to the Supreme Court’s bench?
  • What is the role of the Solicitor General?
  • How important is Supreme Court experience, or experience in other courtrooms, to success in arguing before the Supreme Court?
  • What are some of the top cases before the Supreme Court this term, and what are the potential and likely results of these appeals?
  • What is the role of the U.S. Senate in selection of federal judges, and especially in the selection of Supreme Court justices?
  • Kagan clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall.  What do law clerks do for justices?  What does her clerking suggest for Kagan’s advocacy of Voting Rights Act issues, since she worked with Justice Thurgood Marshall?

Resources:


5th Circuit approves Texas “moment of silence” law

March 19, 2009

Any Texas student who had hoped to get out of the one-minute silence exercise suffered a defeat on St. Patrick’s Day.  A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sustained a Texas federal court’s ruling that the state-mandated moment of silence is legal.

Edith Brown Clement wrote the decision for the panel, in Croft vs. Texas (the link is to a .pdf of the decision).

David and Shannon Croft, as parents and next friends of their three minor children (collectively, the “Crofts”), bring suit against the governor of the state of Texas, Rick Perry (“Perry”), arguing that Texas Education Code § 25.082(d) is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Perry, holding that § 25.082(d) had a secular legislative purpose and was not an establishment of religion. For the following reasons, we affirm.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Conclusion

The Crofts have standing to challenge the 2003 Amendments. But the Amendments are constitutional and satisfy all three prongs of the Lemon analysis. There is no excessive entanglement, and the primary effect of the Amendments is not to advance religion. The most difficult prong—for this and for moment of silence statutes generally—is legislative purpose. But our review of legislative history is deferential, and such deference leads to an adequate secular purpose in this case. While we cannot allow a “sham” legislative purpose, we should generally defer to the stated legislative intent. Here, that intent was to promote patriotism and allow for a moment of quiet contemplation.  These are valid secular purposes, and are not outweighed by limited legislative history showing that some legislators may have been motivated by religion. Because the 2003 Amendments survive the Lemon test, they are not an unconstitutional establishment of religion, and the judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED

We covered the original trial court decision here at the Bathtub.

Not much news coverage of the story, not so much as I would have thought (many Texas schools are on break this week).  No firm word on whether the Crofts will appeal further.  An Illinois case went the other way in January — enough conflict to get the Supreme Court involved?  Difficult to say.  The Illinois Legislature is working to undo the federal court decision, in Illinois.

Would it be a good case to cover in government?  What do you think?

What should the students meditate on?  A suggestion from the comments at the Dallas Morning News blogsite:

“May we please have a moment of science, for those poor souls that cannot understand evolution as God’s scientific method.”
Joseph Cassles


Tiger justice, with a hint of poetry

February 23, 2009

Wild Sumatran tiger.jpg  Face on with wild tiger in Sumatra. This animal didnt like camera traps and destroyed three over a weekend. Photo by Michael Lowe, 2006, Wikimedia Commons

Wild Sumatran tiger - "Face on with wild tiger in Sumatra. This animal didn't like camera traps and destroyed three over a weekend." Photo by Michael Lowe, 2006, Wikimedia Commons. See William Blake's poem, below.

Reuters reports from Jakarta, on six people killed by tigers in Indonesia recently:

On Sunday, a tiger attacked and killed a man carrying logs near an illegal logging camp, Wurjanto said. Two other loggers in the same area were mauled and killed on Saturday.

Preliminary findings suggested the attacks were taking place because people were disturbing the habitat of the tigers, Wurjanto said.

*   *   *   *   *

The Sumatran tiger is the most critically endangered of the world’s tiger subspecies.

Forest clearances, killings due to human-tiger conflict, and illegal hunting for the trade in their parts, have led to tiger numbers halving to an estimated 400-500 on the Indonesian island from an estimated 1,000 in the 1970s, conservationists said.

Under Texas law, a homeowner may use deadly force to  stop trespassers, especially someone who poses a threat to the homeowner and the property.  I wonder whether the tigers will even get a trial.

A tree poacher mauled to death by the endangered tigers whose habitat he destroys:  Perfect example of poetic justice.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art?
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand, and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

– William Blake

Resources:


Remember the Pueblo, the crew and Commander Bucher, and the Great Hoaxes of 1968

December 24, 2008

They are safely back on American soil.  Except for the boat, the U.S.S. Pueblo, which remains in North Korea, the biggest bauble for a failed North Korean government that clings to power at the price of the lives of its people.

 General Charles H. Bonesteel III, U.S. Army, Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command, (left) and Rear Admiral Edwin M. Rosenberg, USN, Commander Task Force 76, (right) greet members of Pueblos crew as they arrive at the U.N. Advance Camp, Korean Demilitarized Zone, on 23 December 1968, following their release by the North Korean government. USS Pueblo (AGER-2) and her crew had been captured off Wonsan on 23 January 1968. Note Christmas decorations.  Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

General Charles H. Bonesteel III, U.S. Army, Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command, (left) and Rear Admiral Edwin M. Rosenberg, USN, Commander Task Force 76, (right) greet members of Pueblo's crew as they arrive at the U.N. Advance Camp, Korean Demilitarized Zone, on 23 December 1968, following their release by the North Korean government. USS Pueblo (AGER-2) and her crew had been captured off Wonsan on 23 January 1968. Note Christmas decorations. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

40 years ago, yesterday, the crew of the Pueblo was repatriated, after 11 months of grueling prison time, and torture, and hoaxes that best demonstrate American views on authority.

Harry Iredell, one of the most active chroniclers of the Pueblo, wrote:

On December 23rd, 11 months to the day of their capture, the crew of the PUEBLO walked, one every 15 seconds, across the Bridge of no Return to freedom and the opportunity to live the rest of their lives.

I had expected to write a lot more about 1968 through this year, the 40th anniversary — but events overtake a part-time blogger, often, and I am no exception.

I would like to see some recognition given to the crew of Pueblo at the end of this year.  They deserve it for their great service to our nation, in the first place.

But in the second place, their story is a talisman of what happened to the U.S. in that stormy year, a year that I believe was one of the most traumatic in U.S. history.  It was a year of bad news mostly, from Vietnam, in civil rights with the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in politics with the assassination of New York’s Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. on the night he won the California primary in the presidential race. One reason we think to remember the good news of Apollo 8 at the end of the year, is that the rest of 1968 was so bad.  Apollo 8′s stunning success in the last week of the year was a refreshing and hopeful contrast to the despairing news from the rest of the year.  Even the release of the Pueblo crew did not erase the bad taste from the capture, and their torture by North Korea.

Here is what I wrote about 1968 a while ago, in “Penetration however slight:  More on a good and noble hoax — the U.S.S. Pueblo” :

1968 was depressing.

What was so bad? Vietnam manifested itself as a quagmire. Just when Washington politicians predicted an end in sight, Vietcong militia launched a nationwide attack in South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, Tet, at the end of January. Civil rights gains stalled, and civil rights leaders came out in opposition to the Vietnam war. President Johnson fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary election, and eventually dropped out of the race for the presidency (claiming he needed to devote time to making peace in Vietnam). Labor troubles roiled throughout the U.S., including a nasty strike by garbage collectors in Memphis. It didn’t help to settle the strike that the sanitation workers were almost 100% African American, the leadership of Memphis was almost 100% white, and race relations in the city were not so good as they might have been – the strike attracted the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King, Jr. – who was assassinated there in early April. In response, riots broke out in 150 American cities.

Two months later, in June, with the Vietnam War as a very divisive issue, the presidential campaign was marked by great distress of voters and increasing polarization. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy appeared to pull into the lead when he won the California primary in June, but he was assassinated that night. Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters, angry at President Johnson, showed up at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – with Johnson out of the race, the protests were essentially for show. Mayor Richard J. Daley took offense at the protesters, and Chicago policemen, who considered themselves the political opposites of the shaggy-haired protesters, attacked the protesters with clubs and tear gas. A national commission later called it a “police riot.” Vice President Hubert Humphrey could not make his opposition to the Vietnam War known soon enough or broadly enough, and had a tough campaign against Republican, former Vice President Richard Nixon, who promised that he had a “secret” peace plan for Vietnam. Nixon won in a squeaker. Nixon had no secret peace plan.

At the end of the year, the U.S. got a feel-good story out of the Apollo Project, when NASA launched Apollo 8, which orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve.

Throughout the year, there was the continuing sore of Americans held captive by the Republic of North Korea.

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher and the men of the U.S.S. Pueblo were captured by a superior force of North Korean gunboats on January 23, 1968, a few days before the Tet Offensive. The capture and 11 months of captivity were a trial for the 84 men, and an embarrassment for the U.S. Tortured and unable to effect an escape, Bucher and his men did the next best thing: They played hoaxes that made the North Koreans look silly.

Among other things, Cmdr. Bucher had signed a confession demanded (by torture) by North Korea. When news of this confession was revealed in the western press, observers were concerned that a U.S. citizen would succumb to making what was regarded as a false confession, but a coup for communist totalitarians. The texts of the confessions and other material from the captives, however, revealed something quite different. The confessions were written or edited largely by Bucher and the crew, and to an American with any familiarity with popular culture, they were hilarious.

My recollection was that at least one of the confessions was that the Pueblo had indeed penetrated North Korean territorial waters, but it was phrased to make it sound like the definition of rape offered in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). I could not find any record of that confession on the internet.

At some length, I succeeded in getting a copy of the out-of-print autobiography of Cmdr. Bucher, to check my memory of the confessions. The book is out of print. I found a couple of copies at a used book vendor, very inexpensive, through Amazon.com. However, shortly after ordering the books, I was informed by both the Post Office and the vendor that the books had been destroyed by sorting machinery. Fortunately, they had been shipped separately, and one finally arrived.

Unfortunately, the “Final, final confession” does not contain what I recall. However, the book revealed that after the writing of the “Final, final,” Bucher’s crew was asked to write more – apologies to the people of North Korea, and other propaganda documents. It was in those documents that the text I recalled, appeared.

2008 marks 40 years since that terrible year, 40 years since the Pueblo incident. For the sake of posterity, and to aid your lesson plans, here is the part of the confessions I recall which has not been available lately.

Bucher: My Story, Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, USN, with Mark Rascovich, Doubleday 1970, Dell 1971; p. 342

We did in fact get away with a composition that matched my Final, Final Confession for brazen kidding of the KORCOMS, and which far surpassed it in subtlety. Blended into the standard Communist verbosity were such lines of our own as:

“We, as conscientious human beings who were cast upon the rocks and shoals of immorality by the tidal waves of Washington’s naughty policies know that neither the frequency nor the distances of these transgressions into the territorial waters of this sovereign peace-loving nation matter because penetration however slight is sufficient to complete the act. (“Rocks and Shoals” is Navy slang for the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the last line contains the essential definition of rape.)

This was both delivered over film and TV and published in the “Ping-pong Times.” The Glorious General was well pleased and set the same team to working on the next letter.

North Korea was anxious to cash in on the propaganda opportunities of the confessions and other material, and spread these documents as far as their naïve public relations offices could. Eventually, in late November or early December, a photograph of the captives, intended to show them healthy and having a good time, was distributed to newspapers. In the photo, the crew were shown smiling on a basketball court, holding a basketball, with a few of their North Korean guards. The photo was not published widely in the United States, however, because almost to a man, the crew were displaying what they had told the North Koreans was a “Hawaiian good luck symbol” – extended middle fingers. U.S. papers thought the photo inappropriate. European papers published it, however, and eventually Time Magazine ran the photo, with an explanation.

When news got back to Pyong Yang that the North Koreans had been hoaxed, the North Koreans instituted a week of beatings and torture. Within a couple of weeks, however, the North Koreans handed over the crew back to the U.S., at Panmunjon. U.S. officials were convinced that their signing an insincere confession got the Pueblo crew released. Anyone who ever read O. Henry’s Ransom of Red Chief suspected the North Koreans got the crew out of North Korea before they could hoax the government completely away.

Fortunately, Lloyd Bucher and the crew of the Pueblo did not follow H. L. Mencken’s advice after the Fillmore Bathtub hoax, and swear off hoaxes completely.

The “confessions” were hoaxes, great and glorious hoaxes in the best “Kilroy was here” spirit of American fighting forces.  Unsure that they wouldn’t be executed, after being tortured, American Navy people still had the piss and vinegar to kick their captors in the ass.

A Navy Yeoman Second Class holds a U.S. flag, to be used to drape the coffin of Seaman Duane Hodges, who was killed when USS Pueblo  (AGER-2) was captured by the North Koreans off Wonsan on 23 January 1968. Seaman Hodges body was returned to American custody with the ships other crewmen, at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, 23 December 1968.  Official U.S. Navy Photograph

A Navy Yeoman Second Class holds a U.S. flag, to be used to drape the coffin of Seaman Duane Hodges, who was killed when USS Pueblo (AGER-2) was captured by the North Koreans off Wonsan on 23 January 1968. Seaman Hodges' body was returned to American custody with the ship's other crewmen, at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, 23 December 1968. Official U.S. Navy Photograph

There ought to be a special medal for that sort of stuff.  There isn’t.  More people should know and remember the story.  Not enough do.

Resources:

At Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub

Other sources



Supreme Court: No review of Obama eligibility

December 6, 2008

Generally the orders coming out of Friday conferences at the Supreme Court issue the following Monday. So, for Obama critics and dedicated Obama haters, there is still some hope that the Supreme Court might answer part of their wildest dreams. But it doesn’t look good for them.

[Saturday night update: Donofrio's blog acknowledges the orders don't include his case. He's holding out for Monday. Technically, he's right -- the orders usually would issue Monday. But if Friday's orders issued from Friday's conference, it doesn't speak well of the chances that an age discrimination case took precedence over a case challenging the election still in process. We won't know for sure, until Monday.]

[Monday morning update, December 8: It's official. Donofrio's case was not accepted for a hearing. As the Washington Post noted, there are other pending cases, but nothing likely to be acted on soon. I've noted in other posts, I think it unlikely any of the cases has a signficant chance of success.]

No order issued from the Supreme Court to further discuss the appeal of the dismissal of a New Jersey lawsuit challenging Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president. Instead, the Court granted certiorari to an accused terrorist to challenge President George W. Bush’s authority (which will fall to President Barack Obama, really), and the Court granted cert and an okay for an amicus brief on a labor case (age discrimination).

(writ of certiorari: [Law Latin "to be more fully informed"] An extraordinary writ issued by an appellate court, at its discretion, directing a lower court to deliver the record in the case for review. ♦ The U.S. Supreme Court uses certiorari to review most of the cases it decides to hear.) Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th ed. (Bryan Garner, ed.)

Assuming this listing to be accurate, the shotgun arguments against Obama’s eligibility appear to be dead issues. The electoral college balloting occurs on December 15 in 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia.

Short of a mass exodus of Obama electors in states where law does not bind them to vote as they pledged to vote, Obama’s selection by the electoral college appears to be fait accompli.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog noted the lack of order in the case, late yesterday.

For thousands of people addicted to the tubes of the internet, this will pose interesting problems as to what they can whine about for the next several weeks.

Previous comments on the Bathtub:


Without hysterics, the Obama eligibility issue

December 5, 2008

In a conference today [December 5, 2008] the Supreme Court will reconsider together whether to take on a suit challenging the eligibility of Barack Obama to be president of the United States under a sometimes-arcane  section of Article II of the Constitution.

Is Barack Obama a “natural born” citizen of the U.S.?

In the building where “Equal Justice Under Law” is engraved high over the front door, poker-player Leo Donofrio’s challenge will be examined to see whether at least four of the nine justices of the Court think he has enough of a case to actually merit a hearing.  Justice David Souter rejected Donofrio’s case earlier, so this is a hail-Mary play on the part of Obama’s opponents.

The Court takes seriously the principle engraved over the door, however.  This is the same Court that ruled earlier this year an accused terrorist and all-around bad guy held at Guantanamo Bay has the right to a writ of habeas corpus over the objections of the Most Power Man in the World, U.S. President George W. Bush.  The humble, gritty, or even unsavory history of litigants does not limit their rights under the law.

So the question is, what sort of case does Donofrio have against Obama’s eligibility?

Would Justice Clarence Thomas have agreed to bring this case to the conference if it doesn’t have a chance to succeed?

I’ve not lunched with Thomas in more than two decades, so I can’t speak with any inside knowledge.  Historically, the Court, and indeed all the federal courts, have agreed to examine cases like this often simply to provide an authoritative close to the issue.  In this case, the outright hysteria of the anti-Obama partisans suggests the issue should be put to bed if possible.

Under usual Court procedures, we won’t learn the results of the conference until Monday.  I would not be surprised if the results are announced today, just to promote the settling of the issue.

Does Donofrio have a case?

I don’t see a case.  It’s clear that Obama is a U.S. citizen now.  Donofrio’s argument is rather strained, and sexist.  He claims that Obama’s father having been a British subject in 1961 (Kenya was not yet independent), Obama had dual citizenship at birth — and, further, Donofrio alleges, this dual citizenship trumps both Obama’s birth on U.S. soil (which should be dispositive) AND Obama’s mother’s U.S. citizenship, conferring a special status that doesn’t meet the intentions of the framers of the Constitution.

Donofrio’s claim is odd in that it would grant a lesser-status to children of legal immigrants than is allowed by law to children of illegal immigrants, or temporary visitors.  It also is bizarre, to me, in the way it dismisses Obama’s mother’s existence as a factor in Obama’s citizenship status — and while equal rights for women were not wholly obtained in 1961, no one has successfully argued that the citizenship of the father trumps that of the mother in citizenship cases.

Donofrio is arguing that Obama’s dual citizenship at birth disqualifies him from holding the presidency, technically, in a very narrow reading — though Obama would have absolutely every other right of a natural born citizen.

A couple of observations:

First, this is not an easy issue to litigate. Standing is the easiest way for a federal court to avoid a decision — what harm can a citizen claim from letting Obama be president?  It’s difficult to find an injury even were Donofrio’s claims valid.  No blood, no foul.  No injury, no standing to sue.  It is upon this basis that most of the cases against Obama’s eligibility have been tossed out, as Donofrio’s has been tossed, twice already.

Second, it is unclear what entity enforces the eligibility clause of the Constitution, or indeed, whether any entity can. For most of the summer Obama’s critics were pressuring the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to do something, even though the FEC lacks a quorum of members to do anything.  More to the point, there is nothing in any law that confers on the FEC the function of checking the citizenship status of any candidate.  Sometime in October they finally figured out that state secretaries of state might have a role, since they set up the ballots in each state.

I admit I thought that, until I reflected on the issue of the electoral college.  In U.S. presidential elections, voters do not vote directly for president and vice president.  Instead, we vote to elect people who will be the electors who decide — electors of the electoral college.  The history of this institution can be found elsewhere.  For the sake of these suits, however, it means that the secretaries of state have no role at all in the eligibility of the candidates.  They rule on the eligibility of the electors, which is an entirely different kettle of fish. Some states even list the electors on the ballot.

But in any case, it means Donofrio is suing the wrong entity, even if we can’t tell him what the correct entity is.

Third and most important, Donofrio is asking for U.S. citizenship law to be overturned in a most inconvenient time and place. Dual citizenship is a bar to very little in American life.  There is an assumption that people who hold that status are fully American citizens, absent a showing of contrary facts.  There are no contrary facts in evidence from Donofrio, nor from anyone else, despite promises of the revelation of conspiracies.

In short, Donofrio is arguing that there is, somewhere, somehow, some information that Barack Obama is not the shining patriot his life story reveals.  Donofrio doesn’t know what that information is, or where it might be found, but he thinks maybe the State of Hawaii is complicit in a conspiracy to hide this information, which is hidden on the hand-written records of Obama’s birth in 1961.  You might think Donofrio has watched “National Treasure” a few too many times, and whether it’s that movie or some other source, you’d be right — paranoid suspicions of conspiracy are not the stuff good court cases are made of.

The dozen or more cases against Obama’s eligibility all suffer from this astounding, dramatic lack of evidence.  Is there an affidavit from someone who alleges that Obama’s citizenship should be called into question?  If so, they’ve not been presented to any court.  (Obama tormentor Corsi claims to have interviewed Obama’s Kenyan grandmother, and he alleges she said through an interpreter that Obama was born in Kenya; oddly, he didn’t bother to get an affidavit from the woman, nor from anyone else — and others who listen to the tape think she thought Corsi was asking about the birth of her son, not grandson.  This is not solid evidence.)

I argued earlier there is a long chain of evidence creating rebuttable presumptions that Obama’s a natural born U.S. citizen.  To contradict this chain of evidence, contestants should provide extraordinary, clear evidence of contradiction.  What is offered by Donofrio is neither extraordinary, nor clear, nor necessarily contradictory to the presumptions.

This is not an issue solely for the hysterical.  Lawyers and scholars have looked at the issue through the years, and intensely this year, and arrived at the conclusion that Obama is perfectly eligible for the presidency.

Will sanity ever prevail?

Resources you may want to consult:


Obama’s birth certificate: Astrologers bring sound reason

November 30, 2008

Texas Darlin‘ and the bevy of sites who contest the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate need to come up for air once in a while.  When astrologers start using better science, logic and reason than those obsessed with Obama’s birth certificate, it’s time for those so obsessed to change their ways, don’t you think?

See also the six ways the arguments against Obama’s birth certificate fail.


Molly Ivins and the argument for an immortal soul

November 29, 2008

It struck me today:  Don’t the political events of the past year make a powerful argument that there is an afterlife, and that Molly Ivins is finally taking control of some of the supernatural strings?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pamela Bumsted for sending the link to the Righteous Mothers singing the tribute to Molly Ivins:

The Righteous Mothers, \”Missing Molly Ivins\”

We’ll fight for truth and justice, and have fun.

Cover of Texas Observer Tribute to Molly Ivins edition

Cover of Texas Observer "Tribute to Molly Ivins" edition; click to purchase a copy for your library and edification.


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