Friday, July 20, 2012

Born In The USA

July 20, 2012

Anaconda, Montana
Monrovia, California

Where’s the boy been? you might wonder.    

Back up in Big Sky country.  Climbed the “A hill," where the kids from Anaconda High School have constructed a fifty-foot letter "A" out of whitewashed rocks on the steep hillside a thousand feet above the city.  Each year next to the “A” they put temporary numerals, made of old tires painted white on one side, for the year of the class.  This I presume they do in the spring some time.  Then, probably during a night of revelry, the next year’s class rolls the tires back down from the “A” to the woods below.  So that explains the numerous half-white tires littering the hillside below the big letter.  I asked a local how they managed to re-whitewash the thousands of cubic-foot-sized rocks in the "A" each year, given the treacherous steepness of the climb from the last place where you can park a vehicle up to the letter itself.  His answer neatly combined logic and simplicity: “They make the freshmen and sophomores do it.”

Anaconda is a former copper mining and smelting town, a little over a mile above sea level.  Dashiell Hammett set his first novel, Red Harvest, there (his wife was an Anacondan and he spent a little time there himself).  He called it Personville, and the locals in his book called it Poisonville, an apt nickname given the toxic emissions from the smelting plant, which contained arsenic and other aromatic substances.  By 1929, when the novel appeared, Anaconda had gone through its heyday of radical union-led politics (during which the I.W.W. was strong and the Socialist Part of America actually briefly controlled the mayor’s office, the courts, and part of the city council), and the Anaconda Copper Company was once again firmly in control of things, thanks to Pinkerton thugs and other lowlife hired help, assisted by a lynching or two.  Hammett himself worked for the Pinkerton agency as a detective off and on during the teens and 20s, but probably not as an out-and-out union buster.  As a dapper guy of about 6 feet 2 who suffered from tuberculosis throughout his adult life and rarely weighed as much as 140, he was hardly thug material.  In any case, in later in life he atoned for his Pinkerton association by becoming a staunch left-winger who went to jail during the McCarthy era.  Nevertheless his years as a detective provided him with the material for his hard-boiled fiction.

Real-life old timers say that in the days when the smelter was running, trees wouldn’t grow in town because of the toxicity of the air.  You might say they were on permanent strike.  There is, or was, a bar on every corner and each evening streetcars let out the mostly Irish, Italian, and Eastern European miners and smelter workers to rehydrate themselves on every block of the narrow city set along the Pintler Range some ten miles west of Butte.  Since 1980 there’s been nothing left of the smelting operation but an unused 585 foot smokestack at the east end of town, half-hidden behind a mile-long miniature mountain of pure black slag from which all vegetation maintains a perpetual boycott.  But many of the bars remain—far above the average per capita number of watering holes—and Anaconda continues to host an annual regional dart contest as well as an adult softball tournament, both of which activities require plenty of booze to be conducted properly.  What was a working-class community of perhaps 40,000 is now a small town of fewer than 10,000, whose current lifeblood, if you can call it that, is a handful of seedy little casinos offering video poker and keno.  Even with its low population and moribund industrial base, Anaconda ranks as the ninth-largest city in the state of Montana, which should tell you something.  Oh, and in addition to the spectacular surrounding mountain scenery, a river runs through it.  (See my blog entry from about a year ago, called "Copper," for more about Anaconda.)

Then a side trip last week for two days to Yellowstone, about three hours from Anaconda.  From my one previous trip through, twenty years ago, I remembered the bison lumbering down the road, stopping traffic, and of course Old Faithful, but not a great deal else.  This time there were plenty of buffalo causing plenty of traffic jams (to the point where you found yourself saying, “Jesus, not another buffalo”), but also, and perhaps most magnificent, were the chance sightings of two rainbows, one on top of the other, over Yellowstone Lake after a rainstorm back at the big geyser.  They lasted forever, in the most vivid colors.  From there we went up to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, with its waterfalls and crazy multicolored steep rock sides.

My journey across the country, which caused most of you to start reading this blog in the first place, is really officially over, as far as the serious walking is concerned.  That is, I have no present plans to take any more long walks.  I really have reached my destination, in Monrovia, where I now live.    

Now to shift gears.  I want to assure everyone that I was born in the United States, and am therefore eligible to be president.  Unless, of course, someone can prove (1) that my birth certificate from Oakland County, Michigan was forged; (2) that my mother, a tenth or twelfth generation American born and reared in the U.S., with ancestry going back to the pre-U.S. colonial era on the eastern seaboard (remarkably similar to the pedigree of Barack Obama’s mother, the anthropologist Ann Dunham), was not what I just said she was and instead carried me on her back across the dry Rio Grande one starless night; (3) that my father was also an alien; and (4) that I was born in Timbuktu or Borio-Boola-Gha or somewhere else outside the good old U.S.A.  Oh, and of course I would have to be a Democrat trying to effect some extremely modest lessening of the stranglehold Wall Street and other business interests have had on the nation since the days of Ronald Reagan, whom I like to refer to as The Great Satan.

If  I get over these hurdles and am elected (or perhaps elected under false pretenses due to an intensive left-wing conspiracy), under my government there would be some serious ‘splainin’ to do by a lot of people for their uncharitable behavior toward our current president.  In fact, I think I might just issue an executive order to have then lined up against the wall and shot.  Not the democratic way, I admit, but then I’ve never really been of the “malice toward none” school.

As with most legal issues that are completely misunderstood by the public at large, the answer to whether Barack Obama is eligible to be president is not as simple as it is being made out to be by those who currently exploit it.  A bogus intellectual shell game has been created by building the argument on a false premise.  The false premise on which the “birthers” base their fanatical search for flaws or forgeries or outright lies in the story of the origins of Barack Obama is that Obama had to have been born within the confines of the United States or its territories in order to qualify for the presidency.  Not true. The Constitution states that the president must be a “natural born citizen” of the United States and nothing more, except that he or she must have resided within the U.S. for a period of at least fourteen years and be at least 35 years old.  Both Obama and I qualify.

The phrase “natural born citizen” as it applies to a would-be president has never been interpreted by the Supreme Court, and would be what they call a case of first impression if it ever came before that august body.  Most of the historical jurisprudence on citizenship has revolved around the issue of whether freed slaves and other African Americans, as well as Asians, were entitled to be citizens.  (These questions, I am happy to report, have long since been laid to rest in favor of the nonwhite litigants.)  Of course back when the Constitution was written no president could really claim to have been born a U.S. citizen, since the U.S. didn’t exist officially until 1776, and the first chief executive to have been born after that date was Martin Van Buren, the ninth president.  It wasn’t until about the time of Abraham Lincoln that presidents started having parents who were also born after 1776.  So in those days the phrase “natural born citizen” of this country was, as they say in the law, a “term of art,” measured not so much by actual citizenry as by place of birth, i.e., within what ultimately became part of the country.

But for sticklers for the “intent of the framers,” it should be noted that the Naturalization Act of 1790 provided that a person born outside the United States of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen was a “natural born citizen” of the country.  You’d think that would pretty much end the birther debate, wouldn’t you?  But to complicate things a little, that statute was superseded in 1795 by one that was more comprehensive, but omitted the precise term “natural born citizen.” 

Neither the Constitution, the Supreme Court, nor any laws dealing with citizenship require that a person must have been born in this country in order to be a citizen (unless both parents were aliens), and nothing anywhere states that the president must have been born in this country.  Indeed, no one questioned whether Mitt Romney’s dad George, who was born in Mexico of U.S. parentage (a peg on which Willard likes to hang his sombrero whenever he’s talking to persons of Latin American heritage), was eligible to become president when he made a weak stab at the nomination back in the ‘60s.  Likewise, no one sought to turn that quadrennial GOP dark horse Lowell Weicker away from the nominational feeding trough just because he’d been born in Paris, France while his father was working as an executive for the Squibb Pharmaceutical Company.  How quickly the Republicans forget.     

A law from the 20th century, still in effect, provides that a person born abroad to only one U.S. citizen parent is a citizen at birth and need not be “naturalized,” in the sense of having to become a citizen by virtue of anything but his or her parentage at birth.  The one qualifier there, which Barack Obama most definitely meets, is that the U.S. citizen parent of such a person born during the period that covers the year of his birth (1961) must have lived within the U.S. for at least fifteen years total, including five years after they were fourteen years old.  Mrs. Obama, or Dr. Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro as she later became known, most definitely met that requirement.  The real deal then, the one that even the Supreme Court as it is presently composed couldn’t mess up, is that the term “natural born citizen” as used in the Constitution should properly be seen in opposition to “naturalized citizen,” meaning one who has had to become a citizen through some means other than parentage.  Both the fact that Obama’s father was not a citizen and the supposition that Obama was born outside the country are really irrelevant.  His mother’s U.S. citizenship coupled with the fact that she didn’t leave the country until she was in her 20s, should trump everything else.

But the birthers continue to rail.  The joke is that by the time the issue ever comes before the high court, if it does, Obama will be well into his second term.  De facto will have overshadowed de jure.  Short of prevailing on Mr. Peabody to instruct his boy Sherman to set the Wayback Machine for 2008, there’d be little the right wing could do.  But from a lifetime habit of looking to the cartoonish past rather than the present or future, I’m sure there are Republicans who fancy that it could be done.