Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Appeal for Repeal

of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, for preventing the rights of the people from lapsing into the custodianship of someone who might not respect those rights.

It's a melancholic thing to consider, so soon after another successful presidential election, that the 22nd Amendment prevents our presidents from being elected to more than two terms in office. This is a matter of some serious urgency, now, given the current laws and circumstances of our great country.

The 22nd Amendment codified into law the convention, established by George Washington and adhered to by 150 years of presidents, of limiting the president to a maximum of two four-year terms. After Franklin D Roosevelt was elected to four consecutive terms, the people were motivated to ensure that no one man would be allowed to stay in office for more than two terms.

Of course, FDR was president during extraordinary times in our nation's history. It would not have been prudent to oust him after just two terms, in 1940, with the nation in the early stages of a fragile economic recovery from the Great Depression and FDR promising to keep the United States out of World War II even as it exploded across Europe. By the time the election of 1944 rolled around, replacing FDR and his administration in the White House was unthinkable—we were at war in Europe and in the Pacific and the future of global civilization was hanging in the balance.

In the years after the Roosevelt administration, perhaps in part in reaction to the evidence—presented in stark relief by both allies and enemies of the United States in World War II—that a single unchecked individual with a tyrannical inclination could wield massive influence and power over entire continents, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment, and it was ratified by the necessary number of States in 1951.

The 22nd Amendment was the right thing for the country at the time it was proposed and ratified, but just as the Constitution is not written in stone, and must be amended and reinterpreted to keep pace with the changing times, so too must we revisit, modify, or do away with some of those changes as our society continues to evolve.

The terrorist attacks on the United States of America on the morning of September 11, 2001 brought about a paradigm shift in the scope and authority of the federal government, forever changing the way Americans think about and relate to the national state. 9/11, and the way we responded to it, effectuated legislation to reflect that new understanding and relationship. I believe the time has come to amend the Constitution to bring it more in line with our post-9/11 twenty-first century American reality.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act—the USA PATRIOT Act, for short—was signed into law by President George W Bush on October 26, 2001. The Act was designed to make it easier for the FBI and other police agencies in the US to surveil, charge, and convict people suspected of committing, or planning to commit, terrorism. In order to keep the vast majority of law-abiding citizens safe from the threat of terrorism, the Patriot Act necessarily plays a little fast and loose with the Bill of Rights, especially the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. Some critics have said that the Patriot Act, as applied by law enforcement agencies and the government, has infringed on some suspects' constitutional rights, mostly in terms of unreasonable searches and warrantless surveillance by the government.

Some of the Patriot Act's harshest initial critics, however, have come to see that the safety and security benefits that the Patriot Act has for the vast majority of citizens outweighs whatever harm it does in temporarily waiving the rights of terrorism suspects. President Obama, for example, a former constitutional law professor and one-time president of the Harvard Law Review, once opposed the Patriot Act on civil liberties grounds, but came to believe that the benefits of the Act outweighed the risks, and voted for its extension when he was in the Senate and also, as President, signed a four-year extension of the Act in 2011. Despite controversy that nothing had been done to limit the Act's more liberties-infringing provisions, President Obama recognized that no matter the consequences on the individual liberties of terrorism suspects, the Patriot Act was too valuable a tool for ensuring the safety and security of Americans to allow the law to expire.

The Military Commissions Act was passed in 2006 to provide a legislative framework for the anti-terrorism policies already being practiced by the Bush administration, the Department of Justice, and the government's various enforcement agencies. In order to keep Americans safe, it was necessary to keep the trials and charges of people that the Administration deemed “unlawful enemy combatants” a secret, by trying them in military tribunals rather than in civilian courts. The Act also made it easier for government agents to obtain crucial intelligence from detainees by making it harder to later prosecute and convict those agents of war crimes. While some critics claimed that the Act was retroactively forgiving and endorsing physically coercive interrogation techniques, Congress and the President found that concerns about civil liberties were outweighed by the safety and security that the Act bestowed upon the vast majority of Americans. The Act was renewed in 2009 as part of that year's National Defense Authorization Act and signed by President Obama amid concerns that despite some tweaking, the Act might be enforced in such a way as to infringe on the rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, signed by President Obama on December 31, 2011, received some attention from civil liberties watchdog groups, as well. Some critics claimed that the bill explicitly allowed for the indefinite detention of US citizens and non-citizens without charge or trial, and that the NDAA effectively upended the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of Americans to due process.

While those sorts of issues will no doubt be settled in various federal appeals courts in the years to come, it's important to remember that even though the NDAA, the Military Commissions Act, and the Patriot Act appear to, in certain cases, supersede and therefore invalidate the rights guaranteed by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, President Obama has promised that the most controversial provisions of these acts will not be used against American citizens. He has personally guaranteed it, and put it in writing in the form of various signing statements. Our rights are secure, no matter what the various laws say, because President Obama has said so.

This isn't just about legislation, though. President Obama has also taken personal responsibility for authorizing drone strikes in foreign countries, making decisions about which of our individual enemies will live or die, something the New York Times called the President's “kill list.” There is a data center being built in Utah, run by the National Security Agency, that will function as the nation's primary intelligence-gathering resource, and will house the details of every cell phone call, text, e-mail, internet search, and browsing history of every person in the country, to build a trackable, personalized digital fingerprint of everyone through their interactions with the digital world. The center will also focus on code-breaking, as the NSA attempts to use the next generation of supercomputers to fight internet data encryption being used by people who are potential national security threats.

We were all taught, growing up, that the government doesn't create or grant our fundamental rights, but that the government is there to respect and protect those rights. In a post 9/11 America in which we have necessarily centralized power and handed the custodianship of our fundamental rights into the authority of one man, currently President Obama, we can't very well afford to be forced to replace that one man every four or eight years. We have been incredibly lucky with Presidents Bush and Obama—we granted them unprecedented access to upend our rights, and they have not abused that power. Why roll the dice again so soon, with a new president, if we don't have to?

Most everyone has heard Benjamin Franklin's oft trotted-out quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That was a different time, and practically an entirely different world. If the liberties that we are “giving up” are being guarded by someone we can trust, someone who has already proven through one four-year term that we can rely on him to protect the rights of American citizens and at the same time keep us safe, the only way we could truly put those rights and liberties at risk would be to force ourselves to put someone else in charge. We have charged President Obama with the awesome authority to contravene our most sacredly held rights, and he has not seen fit to do so. Whoever the next president is might not have the same healthy respect for our fundamental rights. We must repeal the 22nd Amendment so that, at the very least, we can put off the day when we have to enshrine that authority in another individual.

The 22nd Amendment, once a well-intentioned bulwark against tyranny and the threat of a creeping cult-of-personality megalomania in the White House, is now an anachronistic hindrance to true liberty and security in modern America. The First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution are what is at stake, here. Do we really want to sacrifice all of those, and the rights that they protect, because of the pesky and antiquated Twenty-Second Amendment?

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have no stake, personal or financial, in the outcome of any effort to repeal the 22nd Amendment, nor any connection to a potential future Obama reelection campaign effort, and have no other motive than the public good of my country. Repeal it now.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vote for someone who doesn't claim the authority to kill you. Builds character.

On Monday, September 17, the Obama administration won a court battle to maintain their authority, under the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, to indefinitely detain without charge or trial anyone that the administration determines to be an enemy of the state, specifically including citizens of the United States. The Obama administration believes, as did the Bush administration, that it has the authority to kill, without due process, any US citizen that it determines (privately, of its own accord) to be a terrorist threat.

Barack Obama and the Democrats and the Republicans passed the NDAA. Mitt Romney supports the NDAA. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, the Democrats, and the Republicans passed, supported, or reaffirmed the Patriot Act, and will do so again in the future. The federal government, over multiple administrations, has failed to respect the right of its citizens to due process as outlined and guaranteed by the Constitution. Failure to respect the rights of the citizens to due process effectively invalidates the other rights recognized by the Constitution, including those specified in the first amendment.

Instead of discussing these relevant facts, Mitt Romney will try to tell you that he loves capitalism, the middle-class, and freedom, more than Barack Obama does. Barack Obama will try to tell you that he loves capitalism, the middle-class, and freedom, more than Mitt Romney does. They will try to feel their way to your vote, and as long as you vote for one or the other of them, you are allowing yourself to be swayed by a carefully constructed "vision" of our future that you are perfectly allowed to appreciate, but one that entirely ignores the fact that on the actual matters of hard substance, the two parties rarely disagree. They appear to disagree, because of their competing "visions," but they don't actually disagree, not in practice.

In practice, it doesn't matter if Barack Obama thinks gay marriage is okay, and it doesn't matter that Mitt Romney disagrees with him, because they're in absolute agreement that their administrations should have the legal right to stuff people--gay or straight or married or not--in prison without charge or trial, should they will it. In practice, it doesn't matter if Obama wants to pay for your birth control or if Mitt Romney doesn't want to use federal funds to pay for your abortion--not as long as both believe in the authority of the executive administration to assassinate citizens and non-citizens alike without public charge or trial. In practice, it doesn't matter whose "vision" makes you feel good inside, or nauseates you to your core--not as long as both visions quietly share the same despicable foundation.

Every election cycle, the media and the politicians tell us that this is the most important election of our lifetime, and that this time, it's serious. Don't vote for that third party candidate that you actually believe in--the stakes are just too high to mess around with any of that sort of integrity, this time. You must vote for either the Republican or the Democrat because their competing "visions" of the future are so stark that this election is a referendum on the foundational principles of this nation, and you must decide which of these two candidates makes you feel America more.

Republicans will tell you that a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Obama. Democrats will tell you that a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Romney. They both will tell you that nothing less than the fate of our nation is at stake, and that you're putting your nation at risk by voting for the other guy, or failing to vote for their guy. All they care about is keeping Washington a see-saw affair, ensuring that every two or four or eight years the balance of power will swing back to their side, and they'll get to drive the bus for a while.

A vote for a third party is an absolute waste, if you think about it strictly in terms of winning and losing elections. Your candidate will not win, if you vote for a third party. Who cares?

Don't worry about the Future of the Nation. Don't worry about the State of Our Ideals. Don't worry about the Competing Visions of Our Future. These are pointless concerns, and so far beyond our control that if you stop to think about it for a second, it is quickly revealed as farce.

A vote for a third party is throwing your vote away, but only if you imagine that a vote for one of the two top candidates has any actual meaning beyond codifying your willing participation in a meaningless shell game. A vote for a third party is an act of integrity that says: I reject your farce. I reject your manipulation. I reject your empty rhetoric.

For that matter, staying home and not voting at all, probably, is a similar act of integrity--but I think action is almost always a more powerful statement than inaction. Staying home allows them to call you apathetic. It lets them say that you don't care, that you've opted out. It allows them to believe that you've given up your rights.

A vote for a third party is a statement. It may well be a statement uttered alone, in the dark, with no one but yourself around to listen--not unlike overlong blog posts, one could say--but a statement nonetheless. It isn't meaningless, not if it has meaning to you.

Maybe you think your vote for either the Republican or the Democrat has meaning, and that's all well and good. Act with purpose and reason and meaning, by all means! But I'm tired of hearing how meaningless it is to think and act--and vote--otherwise.

"No party holds the privilege of dictating to me how I shall vote. If loyalty to party is a form of patriotism, I am no patriot. If there is any valuable difference between a monarchist and an American, it lies in the theory that the American can decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn't. I claim that difference. I am the only person in the sixty millions that is privileged to dictate my patriotism."

--Mark Twain.