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Stateside: Where have all the students gone?

Stateside with Rosalea

Where have all the students gone? (long time passing)

First, for the benefit of readers stateside, I should clarify what I meant last week by "worm cast." I was making a pun on "wormcast" - a TV broadcast that uses a worm graphic to show live reaction to what's on screen - and "worm cast" - the lumpy stuff that shows where worms have been. For example, the reason you don't see Mr GWB jumping up and down on the White House lawn in his golf shoes isn't just that he's being circumspect, or even just that he's visiting Daddy in Kennebunkport to see if he's won his admiration yet. It's because the President doesn't need to use cleats to aerate the soil when worms do a better job. I definitely did not mean "cast of worms." All members of Parliament are honourable members and diversity is welcomed in a nation that has eschewed "coin politics" (two sides of the same) for "diamond" (multifaceted) democracy.

That plastic comb I call a brain has attracted all manner of tissue-paper scraps this week. Iran, it seems, is about to host a celebration of its 7,000 years of history - in Cuba. America, of course, has a cultural history at least that long, but you can't say the United States didn't do their darnedest to put an end it, especially when there were railroads to be built and energy sources to acquire. Iran's also been buddying up with the EU and the WTO, all of which must raise the ire of the C- in-C, especially since he's had to morph from Commander in Chief to Carrot-dangler in Chief in order to drum up support for his global war on terrorism.

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Seems the free trade ploy is working sufficiently well that now - we're told in evening network news bulletins - it's just a matter of time until the US attacks Iraq and takes out Saddam Hussein. This is in fulfillment of Goal No. 3 in the WoT - stopping weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorist hands. I know it's Goal No. 3 because General Richard Myers said so during his visit to San Francisco earlier in the week. He's the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a thoroughly charming, circumspect and professional military man at that. If I was doing the interviewing, I'd have asked what he thought of the section in the new Homeland Security Bill, passed by the House and on the calendar for the Senate, that relates to the posse comitatus law, which - some would say - is all that stands between Mr GWB being "President" and "El Presidente", able to authorize the US military to kill US people on US soil.

Those of us rapidly approaching our "senior discount" years have an image in our heads at least as shocking for the time as 911 footage is today - a young woman student at Kent State University in Ohio bending over the body of a fellow student, one of four shot dead by the National Guard at a demonstration on campus protesting the bombing of Cambodia in 1970. The National Guard is a weird bird - the oldest branch of the military in the sense that it arose out of the pre-revolutionary militias organized to protect the colonists. "Following independence, the authors of the Constitution empowered Congress to 'provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia.' However, recognizing the militia's state role, the Founding Fathers reserved the appointment of officers and training of the militia to the states." So says the history page at the National Guard website.

So, while state governors have the power to use militia to quell domestic unrest, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 made it a crime to use the armed forces to enforce laws, and the Constitution of the United States explicitly gives the power of "calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions" to the Congress, not to the President. Nonetheless, while "reaffirming the continued importance and applicability of the Posse Comitatus Act", section 780 of new Homeland Security Act says that "existing laws... grant the President broad powers that may be invoked in the event of domestic emergencies, including an attack against the Nation using weapons of mass destruction, and these laws specifically authorize the President to use the Armed Forces to help restore public order."

The fuss that's been made in the media is all a bit daft, since if you look at Section 1385 of title 18 of the United States Code, which is where the PCA now rests, the maximum penalty for using the army or the air force as a posse comitatus is only $10,000 and/or two years in jail. The navy isn't even mentioned, and the original intent of the law was to rein in US Marshals. How it applies to the Air Marhals now on flights in case of terrorists, and to their calling out of airforce fighter jets to shoot down civilian aircraft is unclear to me. I suppose it's a moot point, since, like suicide bombing, it would be a crime for which the criminal is immediately put beyond the reach of the law by reason of their death.

But hey, cheer up! It's summer and there's another month before the students go back to university. Where are they all, it's so quiet? Perhaps they've been sequestered away in training camps learning the honourable arts of civil disobedience and protest. A woman who asked me to take her photograph at a local monument the other day said: "I don't know what young people get for an education these days - I was at college from 1967 to 1969 and I sure learned a lot." (In US parlance "college" and "university" are the same thing.)

She was speaking of the protest years, the sixties, which began with students spending summer busing around the southern states defying segregation and risking their lives at the hands of lynch mobs. Those were the days when the House Committee on Un-American Activities came to San Francisco and the protesting students - in their twinsets and pearls - were washed down the sweeping staircase of City Hall by the fire hoses turned on them by the police chief. Then came the demands for free speech, followed by... well, I'll have to wait till the next part of KRON 4's documentary series 'San Francisco in the Sixties' airs, but I guess it'll be about love-ins and anti-Vietnam war protests. Hard to protest the WoT, isn't it, when US lives were lost on US soil on 911. Even harder to get a student protest going when US student lives have been so gruesomely lost in Jerusalem. With Congress in recess for the summer, who knows what event will occur that will scare the bejeebers out of us and start sabres to rattling.

One event I won't be attending is Dick Cheney's little talk on financial and terrorist matters to members of the Commonwealth Club this Wednesday, hard on the heels of Myers' appearance for them at the same venue (saves on reccy costs, I suppose). A Republican Veep in San Francisco? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Republican candidate for Governor, Bill Simon, is taking an absolute hammering over past financial dealings. The ads Governor Davis's re-election committee are running end with: "Simon. If we can't trust him in business, how can we trust him in the governor's office?"

I should be so subtle.

Today's New York Times op-ed on who declares a war: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/04/opinion/04RAKO.html (registration on the 'NY Times' website is free)

For stateside readers interested in worms: http://yourvote2002.nzoom.com/yourvote2002_detail/0,2356,113406-234-235,00.html (select Holmes Leaders Special)

Lea Barker
Sunday, 4 August 2002

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