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Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

Today’s post is based on a message I wrote to Gary Stein, after a Marine Corps administrative board recommended yesterday that Gary be forced out of the Corps with an other than honorable discharge. Here is the message:

Hi Gary,

Good work getting through the hearing yesterday. I just read the Christian Science Monitor article on the proceedings. It seems the Marine Corps made a pretty strong case that you violated the Corps’ policy about political statements – if not the written policy, then the unwritten one that has developed over the years. Your case raises this question: is the policy against political statements by members of the military Constitutional especially if the military enforces it with a heavy rather than a light hand? Is the policy at all consistent with the First Amendment?

As you and your attorneys recognize, your case takes on much more significance if it focuses on the latter question. If it focuses on whether your posts violated the no politics policy in the first place, you can’t go very far with your argument. Given the nature of the policy, if the Corps says the posts were in violation, they were in violation.

I was in the Navy a long time ago, as a junior officer. Back in those days, during the Iranian hostage crisis in the early 1980s, I accepted the no politics policy as one of the military’s many requirements. Our democracy had done well when the military stayed out of political discussions. Then the Iraq war came, and some members of the armed services began to object. I opposed that war so passionately, and the Bush administration did so much with its propaganda to quiet voices that opposed that invasion. In that environment, I began to believe that service members should be permitted to voice objections to policies like that. The war was clearly illegal. That made all the orders issued to fight the war illegal as well.

So thanks for standing up. You already know that people who take unpopular stands often find themselves alone. You should remember that a lot of people back you up.

One last point: the day will come again when a military unit is asked to use lethal force against United States citizens. We have already seen it with the unlawful execution of Awlaki. We saw it years ago, in the 1970s, at Kent State. If service members refuse to obey unlawful orders, and the military court martials them for their refusal, your stand will matter all the more.

Regards,

/Steven Greffenius

Here’s the Armed Forces Tea Party Facebook page that caused this dispute over First Amendment rights for members of the armed services. Also visit the Armed Forces Tea Party website. Lastly, you can write to Gary at ArmedForcesTP@gmail.com.

Last weekend, I visited my son in Washington, DC. On Sunday we visited the Arlington National Cemetery, a place we have buried heroes who sacrificed their lives for us. The cemetery contains a large amphitheater used for ceremonial occasions. The inscription in the portico, above the speaker’s platform, reads:

When we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen.

The quotation is from George Washington, our nation’s first citizen soldier. The Armed Forces Tea Party has taken George Washington’s patriotic sentiment as its motto. We must never forget that our armed forces fight for our country, not for its government. When the government orders our armed forces to act illegally, our armed forces must protect the Constitution, not the government. Bradley Manning and Gary Stein both stand for this foundational principle: the armed forces serve the Constitution. When government betrays the Constitution, members of the armed forces ought to speak up.

Members of our armed forces need our support. When we start to fight illegal wars, we have to hear objections from all quarters. We cannot order our service men and women into conflicts like that, and order them to keep silent as well. We cannot order them to kill civilians, and ask them to shut up. That policy did not serve our country well during the Vietnam war, and it won’t serve our country well now. Gary Stein has taken the right stand here.

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Obamacare is Unconstitutional – Part 2

So, let’s see, towards the end of last year both houses of Congress passed a form of health care reform despite close to sixty percent of Americans being opposed to both bills.  A few weeks later, the usually liberal voters of Massachusetts in a true sign that the polls were not lying about America’s opposition to Obamacare, essentially replaced the late Godfather of the Socialized Medicine Movement in America Ted Kennedy with a candidate that vowed to defeat the president’s far-left scheme for health care.  Scott Brown’s victory took away the Democrats’ 60th seat in the Senate thus rendering them impotent in overcoming a Republican filibuster that would certainly have been employed to derail Pelosi, Reid, and Obama’s dream of European style health care in the U.S.  There was utter panic in Washington.  Schemes were devised to thwart the will of the people and those evil Republican fat-cats.  We heard talk of deem and scheme and reconciliation being used to circumvent the Constitutional mandate of an up or down vote.  Eventually, Nancy Pelosi devised a way for the House to approve the Senate bill with amendments that the Senate could vote on through reconciliation sparing them the need for 60 votes to end debate.

It seemed the Democrats were able to do the impossible – pass an unpopular bill that has eluded them for close to 100 years without any Republican support and 22 Democratic defectors.  And they did it without even violating the Constitution.  Ah, but not so fast.  Article 1 Section 7 of the Constitution reads, “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.”  The Senate bill which has revenue raising provisions in it, namely a new Medicare payroll tax, an excise tax on “Cadillac insurance plans, and a tanning tax, did not originate in the House as the Constitution requires.  Thus, Obamacare is unconstitutional.  Those compassionate politicians really ought to read the fine print before they do us anymore favors.

Now, I am not naïve enough to believe that any court would invalidate the new health care legislation based on the above Constitutional violation.  That is where we find ourselves in 21st Century America – with a federal government that would rather pull a fast one than live by the rule of law.  As I have argued earlier and will argue again here the whole piece of legislation that has come to be called Obamacare is unconstitutional on many levels.  Under Article 1 Section 8 health care or anything close is not one of the enumerated powers of Congress.   Anything that is not an enumerated power of Congress is left to the states under the 10th Amendment.

Of course, liberal interpreters of the Constitution always ignore what they don’t like and cite those clauses that they say gives Congress the ability to do whatever.  For the sake of not being redundant, we will move on from our discussion of the “general welfare” and “necessary and proper” clauses that we had last week and instead focus on a another clause big government types like to misinterpret – the interstate commerce clause.

This clause also found in Article 1 Section 8 simply says, the Congress shall have power “To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes…” It was included in the Constitution in reaction to the failure of the Articles of Confederation in preventing states from erecting protectionist trade barriers against each other.  Essentially, the clause gave Congress the power to ensure a free trade zone between all the states.  No less than the Father of the Constitution, James Madison confirmed this in an 1829 correspondence with Virginia politician Joseph C. Cabell,

“Yet it is very certain that it grew out of the abuse of the power by the importing       States in taxing the non-importing, and was intended as a negative and preventive provision against injustice among the States themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the General Government, in which alone, however, the remedial power could be lodged.”

The interstate commerce clause did not give Congress the power to enact minimum wage laws, worker safety regulations, Social Security, health care legislation, or the thousands of other statues Congress has enacted through the years.  As a matter of fact, Madison also confirmed this in Federalist Paper 45,

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are    few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

The above text blows a huge hole in the argument of statists that the Constitution is a liberal document that gives wide discretion to Congress to provide for us from cradle to grave.  According to Madison, whose fingerprints are all over the document, no far-reaching powers were ever given to Congress.  In essence, Congress was given jurisdiction over “war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce” while the states had jurisdiction over “the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”  Under this definition, health care falls under the domain of the states.  Of course, that is where it has been until Obamacare.

I understand that through the history of this country the Congress has taken great liberties (no pun intended) with regard to passing unconstitutional acts and the Supreme Court has let it.  But, Congress has never required Americans to buy a product or service from a private provider.  The Court must strike this provision of Obamacare down otherwise Congress’ power would become virtually limitless.  Getting away with violating Article 1 Section 7 is bad enough, but if the Court allows Congress to get away with forcing Americans to purchase a product ultimately at the end of a gun barrel, then we are further along the road to a fascist state then I even imagined.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina.

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Obamacare is Unconstitutional – Part 1                                                  

For those of you that read my blog on a weekly basis mostly to get your dander up, I will not disappoint you this week.  To get right to the point, plain and simple, the newly passed “Obamacare” health care reform legislation is unconstitutional on many levels and Republicans if they have any political principles at all will run this November on a platform promising to repeal the measure in its entirety. 

However, they may be saved from this act of unusual courage on their part if state attorneys general have their way.  Currently, there are already lawsuits filed by 14 states against the law.   The suits rightly state that, “The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage.”  This argument before any court should be enough to at least invalidate that portion of the law.  And if that portion is struck down then the financing mechanism for making the law somewhat viable is removed and the scheme falls flat on its face.

The states have chosen the portion of the new law that will give them the greatest chance of success in the courts.  After all, it was deemed necessary at the beginning of the last century to pass an amendment to the Constitution allowing Washington to collect income taxes from Americans.  How come an amendment is not required for Washington to order Americans to pay for health insurance? 

But, there are also many other constitutional arguments that can be leveled against “Obamacare”.  Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution enumerates 18 specific powers granted to Congress.  Healthcare is not one of them and as a matter of fact the responsibility for regulating the industry has historically fallen to states.  States license doctors, hospitals, and have insurance commissions responsible for regulating rates and services.  Of course, liberal interpreters of the Constitution will point out that there are two clauses in that same section which support their view that Congress has nearly unlimited powers when it comes to providing for the well-being of Americans.

The first clause is the “General Welfare” clause, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States…”  Taken in context, general welfare is not separated by commas from “to pay the debts” and “common defense”.  Therefore, the Congress has the power to provide for the general welfare of the United States by maintaining a common defense and paying the debts in the pursuit thereof.  The phrase does not give Congress unlimited powers.  If it did there would be no need for the 16 enumerated powers that follow in the same section.

The second clause liberal interpreters of the Constitution point to in order for Congress to do whatever it wants to is the “necessary and proper” clause.  It reads, “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”  Many have labeled this the elastic clause which is about as accurate a label as the “Patriot Act”.  The first part ending with “foregoing powers” obviously relates to the 17 previously mentioned enumerated powers in Section 8.  The bone of contention is the phrase, “…all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”  What are these other powers?  To liberal interpreters it means anything Congress feels should be done for the ‘general welfare”.  The real answer is the powers specified to Congress outside of Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution. 

Article 2 dealing with the Executive Branch is a good example.  In Section 1 of that article Congress has been given the power, not enumerated in Article 1 Section 8, to determine the time for choosing electors of the Electoral College.  Article 2 Section 2 gives Congress power to enact laws dealing with certain appointments of the president.  There are several amendments  that give Congress power to, “enforce this article by appropriate legislation”.  These powers of Congress not found in the article dealing with the legislative branch are “necessary and proper for carrying into execution all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States…”  That was the original meaning of the necessary and proper clause.  Furthermore, health care is not specified in any of these other powers, thus it is outside of Congress’s powers under federalism and a clear violation to the Constitution. 

The Constitution grants very limited powers to all three branches of government, not just Congress.  Those powers are enumerated and delegated in the document.  To believe otherwise ignores the actual text and the historical context the document was written in.  Why would individuals give unlimited power to a new government when they had just risked all they had to overthrow the unlimited tyrannical powers of another?  They wouldn’t.  This is why a strict constructionist interpretation is correct and why Obamacare is unconstitutional.

Part 2 will deal with the interstate commerce clause and why it is important to adhere to the Constitution.    

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina.

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Candidate Endorsement: Chris Bennett for Vice President

Chris Bennett[NOTE: Originally posted on Last Free Voice]

As you are hopefully all by now aware, longtime LFV contributor Chris Bennett is seeking the LP’s Vice Presidential nomination. While he would have my support simply for being an LFV contributor and a great guy, there is so much more to his candidacy that I have decided to formally endorse his bid for the LP Vice Presidential nomination.

Chris is 35 years old (will be 36 on August 30th) and lives in Springfield, Illinois. He graduated from Heritage High School in Littleton, Colorado. As an interesting aside, Chris was classmates with Matt Stone, co-creator of “South Park”.

Chris has been married to Evonne Bennett for eight years, and they have two children, Brandon (age 7) and Charity (age 9). He will graduate in May from the University of Illinois at Springfield, with a degree in Political Studies, and a minor in Economics. As such, there should be no question that he has the education to back up his candidacy, especially when compared with other LP candidates (including many of those seeking the LP’s Presidential nomination).

Chris also has the actual experience to back him up. As a libertarian activist for the last 16 years, he has volunteered on four presidential campaigns, three of them Libertarians. He was Scheduling Coordinator for the late Aaron Russo during his 2004 presidential campaign, and was also heavily involved in the Marrou and Badnarik presidential campaigns. He is currently the Legislative Chair for the Libertarian Party of Illinois, where he has fought for better ballot access for third parties in one of the most difficult ballot access states in the country.

Chris announced his candidacy right here on Last Free Voice last year, and his platform is as follows:

I will not make promises I can not keep. I do not have 200,000 dollars in future contributions and I am not endorsed by a famous dead person. However there are some promises I will keep:

I am strongly against the invasion and the “police action” in Iraq and will help push for an anti-war resolution at the Denver Convention.

I am against a fair tax and I will continue to fight to decrease the tax burden for all Americans.

I will continue to fight to restore our civil liberties and constitutional rights and fight to eliminate the Patriot Act, the Real ID Act, the Military Commissions Act and the North American Union.

As an African-American, I will use my candidacy to recruit more minorities and women into the libertarian movement.

As a soon-to-be college graduate, I will continue to convince younger voters and non-voters that the Libertarian Party is the future not the two “boot on your neck” parties and use my candidacy to re-energize libertarian college campus and local organizations across the country.

If I am nominated, I will help/assist state parties on getting our presidential ticket on their respective state ballots.

If I am nominated, I will assist serious Libertarian candidates running for office in all facets of their campaign across the country.

The days of a dormant Libertarian Party VP candidate are over. Our VP candidate should be as active as our Presidential candidate and I will proudly work with whoever you choose as our Presidential candidate in order to spread our message of liberty and freedom to the American people.

Chris has been working hard to spread the word about his candidacy, and in fact he is one of the few Libertarian candidates to get attention from the mainstream press. Even better, he received FRONT PAGE attention in a major newspaper, the Springfield State Journal-Register.

By BERNARD SCHOENBURG
POLITICAL WRITER

Published Monday, October 15, 2007

At 6-foot-9, Chris Bennett is hard to miss. And his political aspirations match his height.

Bennett, 35, a senior at the University of Illinois at Springfield, is hoping to become the vice presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party.

“The days of a dormant Libertarian Party VP candidate are over,” said Bennett in a news release announcing his quest last week. “Our VP candidate should be as active as our presidential candidate and I will proudly work with whoever you choose as our presidential candidate in order to spread our message of liberty and freedom to the American people.”

Bennett was soft-spoken as he explained in an interview how he realized, after working on Bill Clinton’s primary campaign in 1992, that he didn’t really believe in Clinton’s platform.

“I just didn’t like how he wanted more government in more stuff,” Bennett said. “I didn’t like government having more control over the health-care situation, as Hillary tried to do and she’s proposing to do now.”

So, Bennett said, “I went soul searching.”

“The Republicans didn’t feel right,” he said. “They never really do reach out to minorities or a lot of women. And the Democrats, it just seems like they were taking the black vote for granted. So I decided ‘I’m going to search for another party.’”

Bennett had seen a Libertarian Party convention on C-SPAN. The convention included an African-American candidate for the presidential nomination, Richard Boddie.

“He was saying stuff that I really agreed with,” said Bennett, who is black.

Bennett now has been a Libertarian activist for more than 15 years, including working as scheduling coordinator during the late Aaron Russo’s 2004 attempt to be the Libertarian nominee for president.

“For the longest time, I used to carry a Constitution in my back pocket,” Bennett said, “so if anybody wanted to get in a philosophical, constitutional argument, I could whip out my Constitution.”

Bennett doesn’t think the country’s leaders are adhering to the Constitution, including going to war in Iraq without a formal declaration of war. Among his platform planks are “restore our civil liberties and constitutional rights,” including elimination of the Patriot Act and a proposed federal “Real ID” identification card. He said both invade people’s privacy.

He’d like to see lower taxes, with eventual elimination of the Internal Revenue Service.

Bennett frequently posts on Web sites, including one called

lastfreevoice.com, often in strong language.

“Jesse Jackson has taken up the anti-gun issue only because he failed as a ‘civil rights’ leader and pushes his new agenda to re-invent himself,” Bennett claims in one entry. “Just remember Hitler forced his people to give up their guns and look what happened; millions died in concentration camps. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; I’ll defend those values with my gun to protect my right to bear arms.”

Bennett said he actually doesn’t own a gun, but believes in the right to own one.

He’s also taken off on television preachers who get rich through their appeals.

“TV evangelists are the scum of the Christian community,” he said, writing about recent allegations of misspending by Richard Roberts, son of Oral Roberts. “Isn’t it immoral to steal from your contributors for your own lavish lifestyles …? Who do they think they are — the GOVERNMENT?”

And in an essay chastising Democrats for not doing more to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, he refers to the president as “Fuhrer Bush.”

Bennett is pro-life on abortion, which goes against the Libertarian platform. But he thinks other Libertarians may be coming around. He also thinks steps should be taken to legalize drugs.

A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Bennett moved to Littleton, Colo., at age 9. He’s been married to his wife, Evonne, for 71/2 years, and they have two children. He moved to Springfield in 2005 to attend UIS.

While he said rural or suburban Libertarians might not be keyed into the issue of race relations, those from urban areas are, and he thinks the party is good for African-Americans.

In addition to ending discriminatory drug laws, which he blames for too many blacks being in prison, the Libertarians’ anti-tax sentiment would also help, Bennett said.

“If we lower taxes, people would be more able to get the house that they want or be able to contribute to their church or their social organization a little bit more,” he said. People could also “save for a rainy day.”

“I know a lot of people who would like to start their own IRA account, but they can’t because they’re taxed so much,” Bennett said.

Clearly, Chris interacts well with the media, and is able to get across his point intelligently, but also in a way that the average person can easily understand.

For the above reasons, I endorse Chris Bennett, without reservation, for the Libertarian Party’s Vice Presidential candidacy.

This brings me to another point. Chris is in desperate need of donations, to help him get to the Libertarian Party Convention in Denver. As a family man working his way through college, with a wife and two children, he is far from wealthy. Not only will he need the funds for travel and hotel, plus incidentals such as food and beverage, he will also need the funds to print brochures, to hand out to the delegates in order to get the votes he needs.

We all give money to other candidates, whether Ron Paul or Steve Kubby or George Phillies, or someone else. We need to start giving money for Chris’s campaign, because unless he can afford to get to Denver, he will be unable to continue his campaign. It would be a travesty if a qualified candidate such as Chris was not seriously considered for the LP’s Vice Presidential nomination, solely because he lacks the funds to attend the convention. We can do much better than that, especially with a candidate who has proven his worth. If we all pitch in, we can get Chris to Denver.

You can make donations to Chris’s campaign by clicking here, or you can click directly on the “donate” link on his website, which will take you to the same place. You can donate by credit card, debit card, or by setting up other payment arrangements via PayPal.

While I normally would never ask anyone to donate to a specific campaign, I’m making an exception in this case. Chris is “one of us”, a valuable and respected member of the blogosphere, a valuable and respected contributor to Last Free Voice, and a valuable and respected member of the libertarian movement, who has given freely not only of his time and expertise on other campaigns, but also has managed to engage in hands-on activism while in college and trying to raise a family.

Chris is not just another libertarian on the internet, waxing philosophical about libertarianism, who suddenly decides he should be nominated to represent the LP in a lofty position; nor is is a Johnny-Come-Lately to the LP who suddenly decided he should be nominated for for the Vice Presidency; he has actually made many years of sacrifices which benefit us all, and he has the experience and education to back up his campaign for the Vice Presidency.

Unlike many candidates, Chris is not looking to raise millions. He has set a goal of $3000 to attend the LP Convention, and since I used to live in Denver, I can assure you that it’s a very reasonable goal, especially since it will also cover the costs of his campaign brochures.

I have made a commitment to donate $100 to Chris’s campaign, to help him get to Denver. If only 29 more people match that commitment (and I know there are many others who can afford to do so), Chris will have met his goal. However, even if you can only spare $10, or $20, or $50 – or if you can give the legal maximum of $2300 per person, or $4600 per married couple – you can rest easy with that donation, knowing Chris is a tried and proven libertarian, and a candidate who has actually earned that donation through his many years of activism on behalf of libertarians everywhere.

Please, help spread the word. Let’s raise the funds necessary to get Chris to Denver!

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Disturbing medical marijuana case involving an AIDS patient

Tom FaltynowiczTom Faltynowicz, a 43-year-old gay rancher in Meade County, South Dakota, was diagnosed with Aquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in 1990, and is currently facing criminal charges for possessing and growing marijuana for medicinal usage.For those of you unaware of the specifics of that disease, a patient infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) may or may not develop AIDS. Once infected with HIV, the disease damages the CD4 cells (T-Cells), and in fact uses those cells to replicate within the body; CD4 cells can be replaced through normal process in the early stages of the disease, but eventually the counts start to fall as the cells are overcome by the virus. A CD4 count between 700 and 1000 is considered normal in a non-HIV infected person; while a CD4 count of about 500 is considered normal when the virus is present. A CD4 count below 200 is indicative of AIDS, since it is at that point that the body loses its ability to fight off opportunistic infection.

Opportunistic infection is any infection which, under normal circumstances, the body could easily fight off. However, due to the lack of CD4 immune cells, AIDS patients are at very high risk of contracting diseases which they would never contract were it not for the virus destroying their immune system. Some diseases are so common in AIDS patients, and so uncommon in non-AIDS patients, that they are considered to be AIDS-defining diseases. Examples of AIDS-defining diseases include Pneumocystis Pneumonia (a fungal infection of the lungs) and Kaposi’s Sarcoma (once believed to be a rare form of cancer, now believed to be caused by Herpes Virus HHV8); these diseases are normally not seen in patients with a normal immune system. While there is viable treatment for many opportunistic diseases, they must be treated swiftly in an AIDS patient due to the patient’s body being unable to fight infection on its own.

Another important way of measuring HIV is by measuring the viral load. The viral load is the amount of HIV in the body. So while a CD4 count measures the amount of damage HIV has done, a viral load count will measure how much of the virus is actually in the body. In this way, doctors are able to measure whether drugs are working to halt the spread of the virus.

AIDS is a pandemic first identified in 1981 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), due to Pneumocystis Pneumonia being identified in five homosexual men in Los Angeles. The disease did not take over worldwide as quickly as it is generally believed, though. AIDS has been identified in tissue samples of patients who died of unknown causes as early as 1959; one postmortem case identified the virus in a tissue sample from a 15-year-old boy who died in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1969, though it is still unknown how the boy may have contracted the virus. Some scientists suggest the virus could have first infected humans sometime during the end of the 19th Century, while other scientists suggest it first infected humans during the early 20th century, between 1915 and 1930. Regardless of whether it started during the late 19th Century or early 20th Century, it took many decades for it to even become prevalent enough to be noticed. Since the virus is slow to overtake its host, the window for inadvertent infection of others is years, rather than days or weeks as with most viruses.

It is unclear exactly how the virus started, but it seems clear that it crossed species from primates (which can carry a disease known as the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) into humans, likely when humans came into contact with the bodily fluids of monkeys, possibly during consumption, hunting or butchering the animals (monkey meat is a delicacy in some areas of the world, and is regularly eaten in some areas of Africa). The virus spread due to a number of factors, including vaccines given with unclean needles in developing countries. While AIDS is now generally viewed as a disease of gay men and intravenous drug users, the truth is far more chilling, since the virus is not contained only within a particular population. Many women and children are infected with the virus, and in some areas of the world, particularly Africa where infected patients do not have access to proper health care, the number of deaths has become catastrophic.

At this time, there is no cure for HIV, or for AIDS, nor is there a vaccine to prevent transmission. However, scientists have designed a number of drugs inhibit the virus’s replication. To understand how these drugs work, a short primer on the virus is necessary.

HIV takes over CD4 cells, changing their molecular structure by inserting its own ribonucleic acid (RNA). The virus itself, which is too small to be seen except with an electron microscope, consists of an outer envelope containing the virus and the proteins and enzymes necessary for replication; the envelope has about 72 spikes on its surface. When the virus bumps into a cell coated by the CD4 protein, the spikes stick into the cell and fuse, at which time the inner contents of the HIV envelope is released into the CD4 cell.

Once inside the cell, the HIV enzyme called reverse transciptase converts the viral RNA into DNA, which is compatible with human genetic material. This DNA is transported to the cell’s nucleus, where it is spliced into the human DNA by the HIV enzyme called integrase. Once it is spliced into the human DNA, the HIV DNA is known as provirus. The provirus may lie dormant within a cell for quite some time. However, when the cell becomes activated, it treats HIV genes in almost the same way as human genes. First it uses human enzymes to convert HIV genes into messenger RNA. The messenger RNA is transported outside the cell nucleus, and is used as a blueprint for producing new HIV proteins and enzymes, much in the same way as the human body normally produce replacement cells.

Complete copies of HIV genetic material is contained among the strands of messenger RNA produced by the cell. These copies combine with newly made HIV proteins and enzymes to form new viral particles, which are then released from the cell. The enzyme protease plays a vital role of the HIV life cycle, as it chops up long strands of protein into smaller pieces, which are then used to construct mature viral cores. At that point the newly matured HIV particles are ready to infect another cell, and begin the replication process all over again. In this way the virus quickly spreads through the human body, and causes its host to become infectious. HIV is passed to others through bodily fluids; some fluids contain more of the virus than others.

Contrary to popular belief, people do not die of HIV, or of AIDS. They die of the opportunistic infections which accompany the complete loss of their immune system. Patients therefore must take a strong cocktail of medications to stop the virus from replicating and destroying their immune system. Some common drugs prescribed for AIDS patients, to stop the virus from replicating, include reverse transcriptase inhibitors, which prevent the viral RNA from being converted into human DNA; protease inhibitors, which prevent the virus from creating new mature viral cores; and integrase inhibitors, which prevent the viral DNA from being spliced into the human DNA within the cells.

Unfortunately, with those life-saving treatments for the virus come life-threatening side effects, from lethal liver damage to an overwhelming nausea which results in starvation and dehydration; when this occurs, it only worsens those same symptoms which can be caused by the virus itself. Over the years many drugs have been discovered to combat the side effects (those same side effects are found in many other medical conditions as well), and to increase the quality of life for those who are infected with the virus; some of those drugs and treatments are pharmaceutical in nature, and some are natural.

One of the non-pharmaceutical drugs, which has proven very helpful in battling the anxiety, overwhelming nausea and physical wasting which comes with the virus and its treatment, is marijuana. So effective is marijuana that scientists have even made a pharmaceutical version of the drug, used in chemotherapy patients as well as AIDS patients, which contains synthetic THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). However, many patients believe that the natural THC in marijuana works better than the synthetic version in Marinol, and science supports this belief. In studies of marijuana usage for medicinal usage, it was found that other chemicals found in marijuana have additional medicinal effects which complement the effects of THC. Furthermore Marinol is extremely expensive (Tom’s Marinol costs about $2200 per month, so severe is his nausea and gastrointestinal symptoms), and thus the drug is far beyond the financial reach of most patients; and for that reason they cultivate and smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes. While the black market cost of marijuana can be high, the plant can be cultivated at home from seeds, at very little cost to the patient.

In some states, it is legal for patients with a valid medical prescription to possess certain amounts of dried and cultivated marijuana for personal medicinal use. However, even in those states, the US Government – which has declared that marijuana is an illicit and therefore illegal drug – refuses to permit patients to use the cultivated form of THC. Patients are regularly arrested for merely possessing the substance which allows them to live a more normal life, and which in cases of extreme wasting seen in AIDS, is actually life-saving. This occurs nationwide, including in the states where marijuana is legal for medicinal use.

I do not advocate the casual use of marijuana (or any other drug, prescription or otherwise) to get “high”. I do strongly advocate the right of physicians and patients to determine the best course of treatment, and I believe the government has no right to interfere in the doctor/patient relationship when the patient is not being placed in untoward danger.

Enter Tom Faltynowicz. When Tom was diagnosed with AIDS in 1990, he was given “maybe a few years” to live. Eighteen years later, he is in a fight for his life, but it’s a fight of a very different kind.

In September 2007, law enforcement officials in his native Meade County received an anonymous call, stating that Tom had between 75 and 100 marijuana plants growing behind a metal building on his property. It is believed that the anonymous call came from Tom’s daughter, who was angry with him because he had recently stated his disapproval of her relationship with a particular man.

When Meade County Investigator Michael Walker and South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation Agent John Griswold arrived at Tom’s home the next day, there were not 75 to 100 plants on the property, or even anywhere near that many; in fact, there were no plants out in the open at all. However, when asked by those officers about the accusation, Tom immediately admitted to growing marijuana to treat his medical condition. He even invited the officers into his home, so they can see where he was growing it, and he was completely cooperative at all times, even according to the police report regarding the incident. All told, the officers found five plants, and about four ounces of dried marijuana. There was never an allegation that the marijuana was being used for anything but his medical condition, and never an allegation that he was selling the marijuana. It remains undisputed that Tom was using the marijuana to treat AIDS, and the side effects of the many potent medications he takes to fight the virus.

Tom takes a total of four antiretroviral drugs to combat the HIV infection: Combivir (a combination of Retrovir and Epivir), Sustiva, and Viread. Each of these drugs, by themselves, come with potentially fatal side effects. All of these drugs can cause severe nausea, and can result in extreme anxiety as an additional side effect. In addition, Tom has been prescribed Marinol, the synthetic THC drug to combat nausea and vomiting, so there is no question that he suffers the side effects which are treated by marijuana, and there is no question that his side effects are severe based upon his dosage. However, Tom says that the marijuana is far more effective than the Marinol, since Marinol makes him so tired that he cannot function; and his physician is aware of and supports his use of marijuana to treat his symptoms.

Tom, though he has no prior criminal record with the exception of two prior misdemeanor convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana – both of which occurred after he was diagnosed with AIDS – pled guilty to felony possession of marijuana. He faces a maximum of two years in prison, and a maximum fine of $4000; he could also be given probation. His sentencing date has been set for April 21st, before the Honorable Jerome Eckrich, Circuit Judge. Tom’s Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Traub, will speak at the sentencing hearing. The State Attorney has already said that he will not object to anything Dr. Traub might say. It appears that no one is interested in punishing Tom Faltynowicz; at the same time, under the law, his possession of marijuana – regardless of the reason why he possessed it – is a felony in the state of South Dakota.

Tom, however, is an exception to the reason that law was written. It was written to stop people from abusing the drug to get high, and to stop them from selling or otherwise providing it to others for the same illicit purpose. It is extremely doubtful the legislature was aware of the medicinal effects of marijuana when that law was passed, and it’s extremely doubtful the legislature ever intended to punish patients with a deadly disease. It’s even possible that the medicinal effects of marijuana were unknown to them when that law was passed, since it is hardly a new law. Nevertheless, since the law exists, it will be enforced, even against people like Tom who are using marijuana strictly for medicinal purposes.

This raises a number of questions. Even if Tom is merely placed on probation, and even if he stopped smoking marijuana altogether, using Marinol to control his symptoms would result in violation of probation, since he would test positive for THC during required drug tests. If he fails a drug test while on probation, he will be incarcerated.

If he is incarcerated, he will not only not have access to the drug which he needs to survive without excessive suffering due to overwhelming nausea, vomiting, physical wasting, and extreme fatigue; but the South Dakota Department of Corrections will be forced to pay for the extremely expensive antiretroviral drugs which fight the virus as well as the Marinol, at a cost of thousands of dollars per month to the taxpayers, in addition to the increased cost of incarceration for a man with an infectious deadly disease. As you should understand after my explanation of how those drugs work, and how the virus works, missing even one dose of his antiretroviral drugs could be catastrophic for his health, since it would allow the virus to replicate until the drug was again built up to a therapeutic dosage. Yet in a prison environment there is no guarantee that he will receive his life-sustaining medications at all, much less receive them on the schedule those drugs demand.

Tom has said that he will not stop using marijuana, because it allows him to live a relatively normal life. Without it, his body is wracked with pain, nausea, and vomiting; he is unable to eat or drink, and thus his body becomes even more weakened, even more unable to fight the virus, and even more prone to the many opportunistic illnesses, any one of which could easily end his life. This is especially true if he is confined in a jail or prison facility, given that there are large numbers of inmates living in close approximation.

To incarcerate Tom Faltynowicz would therefore place his life at severe risk, and as such would clearly constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. Furthermore, it would serve no purpose to incarcerate him, since his crime is merely possession of a drug which allows him to live with his disease and to continue take the cruel medications which literally keep him alive. He poses no threat to anyone and he is not selling or otherwise distributing the marijuana, nor has it even been suggested that he is selling or distributing the marijuana. Rehabilitation is also not a valid cause for his incarceration, since he merely uses the drug for medicinal purposes, and thus he is not in need of rehabilitation.

Society would not be served by incarcerating Tom Faltynowicz. The interests of justice would not be served by incarcerating Tom Faltynowicz.

As such, justice demands that the court show mercy by giving Tom Faltynowicz a suspended sentence, no probation, and whatever fine the court sees fit, as long as it is within Tom’s ability to pay said fine.

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