Missouri Man Tells The Perfect Tale of Disgust With Politicians

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[Beating Dead Horses]
An editorial submitted to a small Missouri newspaper is making the rounds online, crystallizing the disgust people have for political parties.

By Steve Thomas

A little background here might help... I grew up in a fairly political family. My father was a solid Democrat. In what can only be seen as an odd way of rebelling, I became a Republican.

I put up yard signs for Kit Bond in 1972 and was happy when Richard Nixon was re-elected. People weren’t getting drafted anymore and in my kid-world, things were pretty good. As time went on, I found myself more in line with moderate Republicans who effectively managed the Cold War and tried to keep government out of my life. I thought Ford, Reagan, Bush #1 were all good presidents. I thought Jimmy Carter was a well-meaning screw up, though he’s become a first-rate ex-president. I thought Clinton was okay because for the most part, he was a moderate. It’s worth noting that Clinton started getting things done when Republicans took over Congress and he had someone to fight with and bargain with instead of trying to manage Congressional Democrats, a task that compares unfavorably with roping cats.

I thought George W. Bush started off well enough. He responded to 9/11 with the right amount of diplomacy and force. I never thought much of his tax cuts - I’m not rich - and I found his constant harping on family values and morals to be distasteful. (It made me think of the Sermon on the Mount: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.” But who I am to quote the Bible without sounding like W?).

I supported the Iraq War in the beginning, but as its mismanagement grew, so did my disillusionment. Yet I remained a Republican.

Then the rains came. When the New Orleans levees gave way, so did my belief in the Republican Party. This was an American city, pulverized by nature - though with plenty of notice, unlike an earthquake - and although the local and state authorities (which were Democrats) reacted with monumental ineptitude, I had confidence that a Republican administration would get the situation under control and lead a swift rebuilding.

That hasn’t happened. Instead, a great American city has been left to pull itself out of the mess while thousands of American citizens haven’t been able get decent housing or assistance from the federal government, which is firmly in the hands of the Republicans. Maybe the Republicans were grossly incompetent or simply indifferent because most of the hardest-hit victims were poor or non-white or both. No matter what, a Republican administration showed itself to be either monumentally inept or cruelly, methodically callous.

Either way, I didn’t want anything more to do with the Republicans. So I declared myself an Independent and have been so since. It was hard for me to walk away from a party that had been my political home since my youth.

Now Bush has commuted the jail sentence of former aide Scooter Libby. After being convicted by a jury and sentenced by a judge to 30 months for obstruction of justice, Bush pulled the plug on incarceration after a higher court ruled that Scooter had to start doing time while his appeals progressed through the system. Bush exercised his Constitutional authority and kept Scooter out of jail, saying the sentence was excessive.

This made me think about what Hunter S. Thompson wrote after Ford pardoned Nixon in 1974:

“Well... this is going to be difficult. That sold-out knucklehead refugee from a 1969 ‘Mister Clean’ TV commercial has just done what only the most cynical and paranoid kind of malcontent ever connected with national politics would have dared to predict...

“If I followed my better instincts right now, I would put this typewriter in the Volvo and drive to the home of the nearest politician -- any politician -- and hurl the g****** machine through his front window ... flush the bugger out with an act of lunatic violence then soak him down with mace and run him naked down Main Street in Aspen with a bell around his neck and black lumps all over his body from the jolts of a high powered “Ball Buster” cattle prod.

“But old age has either mellowed me or broken my spirit to the point where I will probably not do that -- at least not today, because that blundering dupe in the White House has just plunged me into a deep and vicious hole.”

After Bush scrubbed a stay in the gray bar hotel for Scooter Libby, I sat in my study for a long time, drink in hand, and eyed my 1970s IBM Selectric typewriter with dark intentions. Would I have to do jail time for chucking an old machine through a politician’s window in an act of angry protest while Libby roamed free? Once charged, I would be obliged to find an attorney who would defend me on the grounds of justifiable outrage and a strike for common sense. In the end, though, I would just have a lamentable conviction on my record and have to pay for the living room window of someone who might be just as fed up as I.

Libby should have gone to jail, period. He was found guilty, sentenced by a judge and his bid to put off his jail time during appeals was rejected by a panel of judges. I think the man who prosecuted the Libby case, Patrick Fitzgerald, put it well in his statement after the commutation:

“We fully recognize that the Constitution provides that commutation decisions are a matter of presidential prerogative and we do not comment on the exercise of that prerogative.

“We comment only on the statement in which the President termed the sentence imposed by the judge as ‘excessive.’ The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country. In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.

“Although the President’s decision eliminates Mr. Libby’s sentence of imprisonment, Mr. Libby remains convicted by a jury of serious felonies, and we will continue to seek to preserve those convictions through the appeals process.”

At least one sentence of that statement is worth repeating: “It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals.”

It reminds me of another quote, but this one from a fictional character, attorney Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird:”

"Now gentlemen, in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal. I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system. That's no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality.”

The president’s action in the Libby case has made this living, working reality into a debased, sad fantasy. Unless all men are equal before the bar of justice, no man is equal before the bar of justice. The commutation of Libby’s sentence undermines the faith of the American people in the system of justice, underscoring a growing perception that this nation is increasingly unequal, that there is not one American dream but instead many American nightmares, that we are no longer a nation where competition and compassion can coexist in a unique if sometimes uncomfortable fashion.

Instead we are faced with some ugly questions and answers:

-Among the American military, who is dying in Iraq and Afghanistan? For the most part, people who found their best economic opportunities in the armed services, though love of country has always outweighed dollar signs among soldiers I have known.

-Who has been left to sink into despair in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? The poor, who had little to lose, but lost it all anyway.

-Whose jobs are disappearing overseas as the result of trade policies? The working poor and the lower middle class who are finding fewer and fewer opportunities for work.

-Who is having the hardest time finding health care coverage? The people who can least afford it.

-Who is most likely to go to jail? Anyone who isn’t Scooter Libby, a guy with a lot of dirty secrets about the man who had the power to commute his sentence and who, with a stroke of a pen, did just that.

America has never been a perfect, fair, country motivated only by unconditional love. It has never been a paradise or without its great flaws. However, no matter how big the flaws, there have always been even greater strengths to light the way into the future.

Now, George Bush and his cronies are showing America in the worst possible light. They are illuminating the chasm between the weak and the powerful, the rich and the poor, the connected and the disconnected. They are doing all they can to find a death row cell for the American Dream and when crunch time comes, giving none of us hope for a commutation of that sentence.

I guess it’s no surprise. This administration has found comfort in secret courts, domestic spying, defying Congressional subpoenas, smudging the protective line between church and state, developing policies behind closed doors, ignoring corruption and treating compromise with contempt. When it comes to the big things, they have learned all the wrong lessons from the past. When it comes to getting away with things, they have learned how to succeed on a grand scale.

It’s unlikely this Congress will ever impeach George Bush because his people - some of who were close at hand during Watergate - didn’t make any Watergate-like tactical errors: no tapes, no smoking gun, no hard evidence of deliberate wrongdoing. That doesn’t make them any less guilty of what Theodore H. White described as the underlying deed that undid Nixon:

“The true crime of Richard Nixon was simple: he destroyed the myth that binds America together, and for this he was driven from power.

“The myth he broke was critical - that somewhere in American life there is at least one man who stands for the law, the President . . . That faith holds that all men are equal before the law and protected by it; and that no matter how the faith may be betrayed elsewhere, at one particular point - the Presidency - justice will done beyond prejudice, beyond rancor, beyond the possibility of a fix.”

Cops will continue to do their duty, prosecutors will continue to do theirs and judges will do likewise, but guilty men everywhere will find comfort in knowing that the justice system can be treated like a whore, if you have enough money or clout or both. Mob bosses will admire Bush’s loyalty to a closed-mouth soldier and petty criminals may well want to do better than small crime because they’ll realize that big crime pays big dividends.

Pass a bad check and go to jail. Attempt to subvert the justice system and never see the inside of a cell. Thanks a lot, George Bush.

Yet a small part of me won’t give up on our country. I think it can be brought into a better future with a healthy application of more democracy via the ballot box. I don’t know who will get my vote in the future, but I won’t surrender to the anger and cynicism that grip me right now.

Having said that, I will confess that I plan on cleaning my old Selectric. I want to rid it of the dust and grime acquired by sitting unused on a shelf. That way I can be prepared for whatever else may come because I cannot, in good conscience, hurl a dirty typewriter.

But wait, there's more.. now an op-ed from a current DOJ employee:

Bush justice is a national disgrace
By John S. Koppel

As a longtime attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, I can honestly say that I have never been as ashamed of the department and government that I serve as I am at this time.

The public record now plainly demonstrates that both the DOJ and the government as a whole have been thoroughly politicized in a manner that is inappropriate, unethical and indeed unlawful. The unconscionable commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's sentence, the misuse of warrantless investigative powers under the Patriot Act and the deplorable treatment of U.S. attorneys all point to an unmistakable pattern of abuse.

In the course of its tenure since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has turned the entire government (and the DOJ in particular) into a veritable Augean stable on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, international law and basic human rights, as well as criminal prosecution and federal employment and contracting practices. It has systematically undermined the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism, and it has sought to insulate its actions from legislative or judicial scrutiny and accountability by invoking national security at every turn, engaging in persistent fearmongering, routinely impugning the integrity and/or patriotism of its critics, and protecting its own lawbreakers. This is neither normal government conduct nor "politics as usual," but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate - which, in fact, I believe it eclipses.

In more than a quarter of a century at the DOJ, I have never before seen such consistent and marked disrespect on the part of the highest ranking government policymakers for both law and ethics. It is especially unheard of for U.S. attorneys to be targeted and removed on the basis of pressure and complaints from political figures dissatisfied with their handling of politically sensitive investigations and their unwillingness to "play ball." Enough information has already been disclosed to support the conclusion that this is exactly what happened here, at least in the case of former U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico (and quite possibly in several others as well). Law enforcement is not supposed to be a political team sport, and prosecutorial independence and integrity are not "performance problems."

In his long-awaited but uninformative testimony concerning the extraordinary firings of U.S. attorneys, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales did not allay these concerns. Indeed, he faced a no-win situation. If he testified falsely regarding his alleged lack of recollection and lack of involvement, he perjured himself and lied to both Congress and the American people. On the other hand, if he told the truth, he clearly has been derelict in the performance of his duties and is not up to the job. Either way, his fitness to serve is now in doubt.

Tellingly, in his congressional testimony, D. Kyle Sampson (the junior aide to whom the attorney general delegated vast authority) expressed the view that the distinction between "performance" considerations and "political" considerations was "largely artificial." This attitude, however, is precisely the problem. The administration that Sampson served has elided the distinction between government performance and politics to an unparalleled extent (just as it has blurred the boundaries between the White House counsel's office and the attorney general's office). And it is no answer to say that U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president. The point that is lost on those who make this argument is that U.S. attorneys must not serve partisan purposes or advance a partisan agenda - which has nothing to do with requiring them to promote an administration's legitimate policy priorities.

As usual, the administration has attempted to minimize the significance of its malfeasance and misfeasance, reciting its now-customary "mistakes were made" mantra, accepting purely abstract responsibility without consequences for its actions, and making hollow vows to do better. However, the DOJ Inspector General's Patriot Act report (which would not even have existed if the administration had not been forced to grudgingly accept a very modest legislative reporting requirement, instead of being allowed to operate in its preferred secrecy), the White House-DOJ e-mails, and now the Libby commutation merely highlight yet again the lawlessness, incompetence and dishonesty of the present executive branch leadership.

They also underscore Congress' lack of wisdom in blindly trusting the administration, largely rubber-stamping its legislative proposals, and essentially abandoning the congressional oversight function for most of the last six years. These are, after all, the same leaders who brought us the WMD fiasco, the unnecessary and disastrous Iraq war, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, warrantless domestic NSA surveillance, the Valerie Wilson leak, the arrest of Brandon Mayfield, and the Katrina response failure. The last thing they deserve is trust.

The sweeping, judicially unchecked powers granted under the Patriot Act should neither have been created in the first place nor permanently renewed thereafter, and the Act - which also contributed to the ongoing contretemps regarding the replacement of U.S. attorneys, by changing the appointment process to invite political abuse - should be substantially modified, if not scrapped outright. And real, rather than symbolic, responsibility should be assigned for the manifold abuses. The public trust has been flagrantly violated, and meaningful accountability is long overdue. Officials who have brought into disrepute both the Department of Justice and the administration of justice as a whole should finally have to answer for it - and the misdeeds at issue involve not merely garden-variety misconduct, but multiple "high crimes and misdemeanors," including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I realize that this constitutionally protected statement subjects me to a substantial risk of unlawful reprisal from extremely ruthless people who have repeatedly taken such action in the past. But I am confident that I am speaking on behalf of countless thousands of honorable public servants, at Justice and elsewhere, who take their responsibilities seriously and share these views. And some things must be said, whatever the risk.

The views presented in this essay are not representative of the Department of Justice or its employees but are instead the personal views of its author.

John S. Koppel has been a civil appellate attorney with the Department of Justice since 1981.




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