Correspondent of the Day for Jan. 23 – Richmond Times-Dispatch: Opinion:

Correspondent of the Day for Jan. 23 – Richmond Times-Dispatch: Opinion:.

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Jon Hammar and Mexican Law

Late in 2012, Fox News covered the story of former Marine Jon Hammar, detained in Mexico on a firearms charge.  This prompted me to wonder whether, in place of a confrontation with the Mexican government, there may be a solution recognizing the legitimate interests of both sides.  This was what I came up with.

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Foxnews, with its usual eye for a story, has been drawing attention to the troubling case of former Marine Jon Hammar.  Mr Hammar, a Florida native, has been held in a Mexican prison on firearms charges since August.  The charges against him are less than stunning: it is alleged that he entered Mexico with a shotgun of which the barrel was one inch shorter than was lawful.  Not unreasonably, Foxnews has pointed out that this is a trifling matter for which to hold a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.  A letter from the Mexican ambassador, however, denies that the prosecutor can exercise any discretion.

There may be more to Mr Hammar’s case than the story of an unfortunate ex-Marine and an antique shotgun.  Some of the Mexican firmness might be traced to another case entirely: that of Jose Medellin.

Some readers may remember that the thoroughly repulsive Mr Medellin was executed in Texas in 2008 for the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston in 1993.  When arrested, police gave him his Miranda warning before he provided a confession.  The police omitted to advise him that, as a Mexican national, he was entitled under the Vienna Convention to contact his country’s consulate.

Mexico brought suit in the International Court of Justice, alleging that the United States had breached its obligations under the Convention.  In 2004, in a case titled Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.) the ICJ held that in 51 cases, including that of Mr Medellin, the US had breached the Convention and ordered it to review and reconsider the Mexicans’ convictions and sentences.

Mr Medellin ultimately appealed to the US Supreme Court on the basis of the ICJ decision.  In 2008, however, in Medellin v Texas the Supreme Court found that judgment in Avena was not enforceable in American law in the absence of statutes implementing it.  Counsel for the State of Texas, Solicitor-General (and now Senator) Ted Cruz subsequently wrote in the journal Human Events that “[t]he Supreme Court’s decision was a victory for the State of Texas, but, even more importantly, it was a victory for the American people … Had Medellin prevailed, American sovereignty and independence would have been gravely undermined“.  Unfortunately, this protection of American sovereignty came at the cost of a diplomatic humiliation for Mexico.  It is hard not to speculate that the startling inflexibility shown towards Mr Hammar, then, might be less about Mexican gun laws and more about payback.

How might this help Jon Hammar?  If one of the drivers of Mexican concern is some perceived slight to national pride, then perhaps his situation can be improved by accepting the legitimacy (as opposed to the fairness or otherwise) of the criminal process.  With this concession it becomes intellectually possible to argue for an approach less arduous to Mr Hammar.  At the least, it would be easier to argue credibly that he should be remanded to an American (perhaps, Floridian) jail pending trial.  More imaginatively, perhaps it could be arranged for the criminal charges to be dealt with by an American court applying Mexican law, in the same way an American court dealing with a commercial dispute may face a situation where the parties have agreed that the law of Canada or Britain shall apply.

It would be difficult to argue that an honorably discharged veteran should be held in a prison as Jon Hammar is.  But that sense of outrage should not stand in the way seeking creatively to improve his situation.  

The South and 2012

This was a short article I drafted in response to some news reports which cast an interesting light on the wave of secessionist thought that followed the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012.  My essential idea was that the neo-secessionist movement tended to be drawn to a past which may not have in fact existed.

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December 21 has come and gone and 2012 has not marked the end of history.  That crisis past, this is a good moment to ask what this year might mean for history.  It has certainly been an illuminating year for the history of the South.

President Obama’s reelection brought a wave of talk of secession.  There is nothing new in this.  Disputes over states leaving the Union preceded the Civil War (they were certainly alive during the War of 1812).  They  catalyzed the War between the States and were barely stilled by the Supreme Court’s 1869 decision in Texas v White.  They reverberate in the present in the online petition of “Michael E.” of Slidell, La, for that state to be allowed to secede.

Mr E‘s petition does not tell us much about what drives present secessionist thinking: he simply petitions the Administration to allow Louisiana to withdraw from the Union, quoting from the Declaration of Independence.  More insight comes from the League of the South’s journal, Free Magnolia.  This journal’s articles suggest present hopes for secession are driven much less by race than by nostalgia.  By way of example, one writer, Ms Laura Tesh, laments the perceived fading of Southern culinary habits –

How deeply have we been assimilated to alien Northern values and culture, even in little things? Today, even in the South, grocery stores have shelves of plain flour and in a hidden corner, self-rising flour. … Many Southerners eat lunch (the noon meal) and dinner (the evening meal), rather than dinner (the noon meal) and supper (the evening meal).

Equally upset was Mr Franklin Saunders:

Not so long ago Southerners were famous for their forms and manners. Even the humblest and poorest dwellings observed their daily forms, especially at table. Woe betide the child who ate before the blessing, and greater woe yet waited for him who reached for the fried chicken before the preacher. Men opened doors for women, and ne’er a cussword passed their lips in female company. The F-word was unspoken, let alone the now-ubiquitous twelve letter adjective-pronoun-noun-verb-adverb. One slip and you were branded for life as unworthy of decent company.
 
In the same journal Mr Saunders applied the same thinking to economics, urging commerce based on local trade –

 

Restoring the farmer’s freedom to sell anything grown or processed on his own farm at his own risk and the consumer’s own risk. Scare you? Not me. I’ll take my risks with my local farmer whom I know over gigantic corporations whom I don’t know…

 

Not only did 2012 bring current secessionist talk to light for examination, it brought events which threw doubt on whether that nostalgia is well-founded.

The Baton Rouge Advocate, for example, recently covered an event organised by that city’s Interfaith Federation discussing the coming of Buddhism (particularly with the arrival of the Vietnamese community) and Islam, among other faiths, to the region.

Symptom of change had, however, already arrived in the South: another story from Alexandria, La, this recorded the preservation of a historic bank building in that city.  The bank was built in the mid-1950s in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, a “mid-century modern design that then was considered ahead of its time”.

Modernity, though, had arrived even before that:  The New Orleans Times-Picayune this year reported a tourism award to Domino Sugar’s refinery at Chalmette, La.  The refinery in question is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and has operated since before World War One.

2012, and the wave of secessionist thinking it brought, brought up for examination some long-standing issues of history.  At the same time, the news from the South itself suggested that the history itself had moved on.