Thursday, November 13, 2008

It Takes an Idiot to Make a Village

Me and Mr. Lenin, discussing our respective Idiots.

Back in the day (around 1905 to 1917), when everyone who was anyone was trying to dump Tsar Nicholas II of the Russian Empire as was, there was a general consensus that the best way to do so was to target the Tsar himself. The contrarian view, as frequently was his wont, came from Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who dismissed the Tsar as wholly unimportant to seizing power. In fact, when compelled to actually talk about the Tsar, Lenin referred to him as "Idiot Romanov" (as opposed to the Royal cousins "Moron," "Stooge," and "Noodlebrain" Romanov I guess). I have always enjoyed that whatever is the opposite of a term of endearment, and have made liberal use of that slur, especially in regards to virtually the entire Bush Administration.

But now, the chief idiot, Idiot Bush, has come forward in a CNN interview, rending his garments is a series of mea culpas. Maestro, cue the line "Regrets--I've had a few..." from the Sid Vicious version of "My Way."

What does Idiot I mean President (no I don't) Bush regret? He regrets when he got all dressed up like GI Joe, sat in the back of an aeroplane (sic) that someone else flew, landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 and declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over. No wait--my bad. He doesn't regret any of that. He feels bad that behind him, while he was mouthing that horse hockey, there was a banner that read "Mission Accomplished." "To some, it said, well, 'Bush thinks the was in Iraq is over,' when I didn't think that. It conveyed the wrong message," thus spake the Idiot.

Well . . . I guess. But I was one of the other "some" who said "Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over," when Bush said that major combat operations in Iraq were over, regardless of what banner was hanging behind him. Call me crazy.

The First Idiot, dressed up like GI Joe. I know this picture is a repeat, but it is too appropriate not to include.

Which is one of my largest sources of rage and frustration with this administration: the almost pathological denial of any sense of accountability or even history of its own actions. Apparently, President Bush is troubled by the fact that some banner behind his head may have give people the wrong impression ie that he meant what he was saying. Fine. But what was left unsaid among Bush's regrets was the series of lies his Press Secretary and assorted White House flacks spun about that banner, denying any connection between the banner and the White House--even claiming that the banner was the work of the sailors (I guess) of the Abraham Lincoln. I could respect Bush (yes, even Idiot Bush) had he said someone like "Yes, that whole photo opportunity, speech, and banner was a mistake--and an even bigger mistake was denying that I had anything to do with that banner. The American people would have to be morons to believe that the White House had nothing to do with that banner, and I am embarrassed to have been part of campaign that assumed the American people were morons."

But that note is just not on President Bush's trumpet.

But there's always hope. In the interview, President Bush did say that after he leaves the White House, he will return to Texas and write a book. "I want people to know what it was like to make some of the decisions I had to make. I've had one of those presidencies where I've had to make some tough calls, and I want people to know the truth about what it was like sitting in the Oval Office," he said.

Ms. Sophia Loren. Unfortunately, she has nothing to do with this note.

Uh huh. Well, President idiot, if you need some ideas about what you need to tell the truth about, I'd certainly love to help out. Just off the top of my head:

1. What about the 2000 South Carolina primary, where the Bush campaign told every GOP voter that Senator McCain had fathered a child with a black prostitute and that Cindy McCain was a junkie? Does that ever bother you?

2. How about the whole Joseph Bloom and Valerie Palme saga? Everything you said at every step of the way was a lie, from denying that you sent Ambassador Bloom to Niger, to the Ambassador's correct conclusion that Iraq had not been trying to import uranium, you still stuck to your assumption about Iraq's nuclear program--knowing it was wrong, and your administration engaged in a campaign to destroy Mr. Bloom and Ms. Palme by leaking Ms. Plame's status as a CIA agent--and then to this day your are still denying it.

3. Speaking of WMD and Iraq, how about the fact that prior to the invasion, Sadam Hussein's chief of intelligence had flipped as a CIA source, and given you good intelligence that Iraq was not engaged in WMD, did not have a nuclear nor biological weapons programs, and was not supporting terrorist organizations? And do you have any regrets, as Mr. Ron Suskind documents in his book "The Way of the World," your administration after the fact forged a letter from this Iraqi, falsely stating that Iraq was involved in a nuclear program and connected with al Qaida?

4. Or how about after your people finally admitted there were no WMDs in Iraq, Condeleeza Rice, Karen Hughes, and the usual gang of idiots were all over the media, claiming that your critics were trying to "re-write history" by claiming that the purpose of the Iraq invasion was BECAUSE of Iraq had been illegally producing WMDs? Do you regret that lie?

Ms. Marlene Dietrich. She does not appear in this note, but she has much more characterand deserves more respect than Karen Hughes.

5. Speaking of the truth, what about when Tony Snow said that the media had inflated the number of times you said "stay the course" regarding the absence of a coherent strategy in Iraq? Mr. Snow acknowledged you said it maybe seven or eight times--he was off about sixty times, I believe.

6.. Or how about prior to the 2004 election, all the times that VP "Darth" Cheney insisted that Iraq had engaged in a nuclear program, supported al Qaida, and had WMDs--and this was AFTER the 9/11 Commission had released their report, stating none of those assertions were true?

7. What about Condeleeza Rice trying to justify the pending Iraq invasion by saying "We don't want to have the smoking gun from Iraq come in the form of a mushroom cloud"?

8. And don't forget that chapter about what you did to the Department of Justice: The unprecedented firing of the US Attorneys for blatant political reasons; Monica Goodling illegally insisting on political criteria in DOJ hires; your stooges going behind the acting Attorney General to John Ashcroft's hospital bed, in a futile effort to get Mr. Ashcroft to sign off on an illegal domestic spying program;

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales--at least, so far as I can remember. . .

your friend Attorney General Alberto Gonzales screwing up everything he could touch, to the point I thought Senator Arlen Spector was going to kill the guy--and then, when Gonzales FINALLY stuck a fork in his ass and resigned, you had the temerity to claim that a "good man" had been "unfairly run out of office."

9. Remember when you gave L. Paul Bremmer the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award that you can bestow? He headed the Coalition Provisional Authority or CPA (affectionately known as "Can't Produce Anything"). Now THERE was a winner. Under Mr. Bremmer, the CPA's first two orders were 1) dissolve the Iraqi army, and 2) prohibit the involvement of any former Bathist Party members in any government position. How'd that work out for you?
Ms. Janet Leigh. She also wants you to know the truth about what it's like to sit in the oval office.

And that's just while I'm sitting here. But I can't wait to read what you consider to be the "truth about what it was like sitting in the Oval Office," because the truth is you are a profound disgrace to the office where you sat, to the country you professed to represent, and to every principle you claim to hold.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


‘That is all a lie! Outwardly it’s true, but inwardly it’s a lie!’ shouted Dmitri Fyodorovich, trembling all over with rage.
-- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

“Let me stop you right there, Mr. District Attorney. You’ve said quite enough about this man. As a matter of fact, you’ve said quite a bit about a lot of things, and frankly, I’m tired of listening to you. So now, I’m going to talk. And don’t interrupt me, because I’ve got something to say.

“Now, I’ve sat up here, high above the people for a long time…More years than I care to remember. An endless parade of humanity passes in front of me like a giant river; and sometimes, it’s hard to remember that each person is an individual, and deserves individual attention. And that’s because so many of the people who pass in front of me are—in the words of some of the more uncouth members of our courtroom clientel--they ain’t worth crossing the street to piss on if they were on fire.

“Sit down! Both of you lawyers. It’s my turn to talk now. Like I was telling you, if you think you have a jaded view of humanity, just try looking at humanity from up here. It is nothing less than amazing—amazing and terrible. But that’s my job: to judge. That’s what I do, day in day out, week in week out, year in, year out: judge people. When you’ve done it as long as I have, you get to be pretty good.

“My job is like panning for gold. No, it’s more like mining for diamonds. It’s my job to sort through tons and tons of plain garbage, through the very worst that our society has to offer, just hoping to find that diamond. Only it’s easier to find diamonds than to find what I’m looking for. It has to be. It certainly couldn’t be any harder. I imagine lots of people, when they first start mining for diamonds, they get discouraged. They don’t find anything, because a diamond on the outside looks just like any other worthless junk rock. So everyone misses it. Everyone, except for the miner—the one person who knows what’s inside that rock—the one person who can judge the difference between worthless rocks and diamonds. This Defendant we have here today, without doubt, he is one of the Diamonds.

“What did I tell you Mr. District Attorney? Do not interrupt me again! I said not another word. No! Alright, Mr. Bailiff…would you be kind enough to take this District Attorney over to the courtroom holding cell for me? Maybe he’ll learn to keep his mouth closed a little better when he’s in a room with the door shut. He prides himself in putting so many people behind bars, well, he just put one more in: his own fool self. And don’t think I don’t see you trying not to smile about that, Mr. Bailiff deputy sheriff. I tried not to smile too, but I just gave up. Well, that’s enough about him, that Mr. District Attorney. Let’s talk some more about this diamond I found here.

“It would be easy to just dismiss this Defendant as just another ‘bad guy.’ A lot of people have tried to do just that, and at first glance, it would seem understandable. Look at this indictment: ‘Count I – Murder by Abuse; Count II – Felony Murder; Count III – Non-Aggravated Murder; Count IV -- Manslaughter I; Count V – Criminally Negligent Homicide’…then there’s at least another half a dozen counts of aggravated assaults in the first degree, then a whole laundry list of drug charges and misdemeanor assaults, and then we finish up with another two pages of resisting arrests, disorderly conducts, and refusals to obey a police officer – if you’ll excuse the expression, just the kind of chickenshit charges that District Attorneys throw at people, just to make people look worse than they really are. You don’t have anything to say about that, huh Mr. District Attorney? Good. I’m glad. And believe me, you’re glad that I’m glad. Otherwise, you’d really be telling all your little friends how well you know our jail – both inside and out.

“But a Diamond, you can’t tell a Diamond how it looks on the outside. And this…this indictment….this is just the outside. We have to look at the inside. My father told me once that you can’t know someone, and I mean really know somebody, until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. So let’s all just do some walking right here, right now. Look at this man’s life…what he has been through; what he has to put up with…then you’ll begin to see what I see. You will be able to see that diamond inside of all that ugliness.

“This man works at a job down at the Plant, the kind of job that no one should have to work. But he needs that job. Now, this has got to be an example of Divine Providence, because I just happen to know the Defendant’s foreman personally—and I can tell you he really is one of the biggest A-holes to walk God’s green earth. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have this foreman lord over you, boss you around, make up ridiculous tasks, just to force you to do them. And you have to take it, because that’s the only job you’ve got.

“So, this man here, our Diamond, he takes it, and takes it, and takes it…until finally, he’s free, if only for a little while, because his shift is finally over. Then he heads home, for his sanctuary--at least that’s what it’s supposed to be. When he gets home, does he get the hero’s welcome he deserves? No. He’s got a selfish, screeching harpy lashing into him as soon as he walks in the door. She needs more money for the kids. She needs more money for food. She needs more money for the bills. She needs more money for the apartment. Who the hell knows what she really needs more money for, but whatever it is, she thinks she needs it. But what she really means is she wants more money for her own self, because that’s all she can think of: her own damn self. This man can’t even sit his ass down, and have a beer before she’s all over him. She doesn’t, not for a second, appreciate what he has to go through to get his money—all she cares about is getting more of his money. No one deserves to be treated like that. But that’s what happens to this man. For almost a year, he lives like this. And what’s more, that’s not all what this man lives with.

“What can you do to protect yourself, when you’ve got all the pain in the world? I’m not excusing this behavior, mind you, I’m just saying I can understand it. The Defendant turned to the only solace he could find; he had to. He used drugs for the simple relief that they offered him. But drugs, while they ease one pain, they also come back and kick you with a whole ‘nother set of pain. I know you don’t know this, Mr. District Attorney, because you’ve had everything in life handed to you on a platter. You never had to struggle for anything, been denied anything, you’ve never been left wanting for nothing. So you can’t understand the hell that drugs put people though. All you can do is sit there, and blame people. Act like you are somehow better than them—all because you were born on third base, and now pretend like you hit a triple. Listen: addiction is a disease. Understand? A dis-EASE. The opposite of “ease.” And that’s science talking. You can’t control a dis-EASE, and it hurts worse than you could ever imagine. So just try for a minute and imagine the physical pain this man’s addictions pushed on him, then add the stresses of his job, and the pressures of his family. I’m telling you, no one could possibly live like that, and not explode.

“But this man took all that pressure, and took it for as long as he could. He lasted longer than anyone else, because he is made of the hardest substance in the world. But even the hardest substance in the world can only take so much. Again, I am not justifying this man’s behavior. I am only saying that I can appreciate it, because I cannot possibly imagine the daily hell that life had put this man through.

“Now, and only now, can we look at this indictment, and what happened on that day last week.

“Unfortunately, that day ended all too much like every other day that this Defendant had to face. Only worse. Per usual, that foreman rode him all day, and then had the nerve to still write him up for nothing. Big surprise there. After work, his co-workers, they all headed to the strip bar. But this man promised his wife he’d be home that evening. So he didn’t go. Even though if anyone deserved a night of truly fine dancing and prancing, it was him. Instead, he goes home, and straight into the jaws of a shrew. So while his head is cracking from the drugs, and he’s probably just lost his job--meaning he’s going to lose everything--he’s still trying to do the right thing, and explain everything to his wife. His wife; the one person who is supposed to be beside him, supporting him, be on his side; but all this so-called wife can do is screech at him about why he’s always fucking up. It’s now, at this moment, that the baby starts crying. I mean really crying.

“Of course the baby’s crying. That crack of a wife never, and I do mean never, did a damn thing anyway. Here’s the baby screaming about a damn dirty diaper or something, but instead of dealing with the baby like the bitch is supposed to, she just screams at this man louder, just to make sure he can hear her bitching him out over the baby’s screams. And forget about her getting him his dinner, like she’s supposed to be doing.

“Who could live like that? No one. Who deserves to live like that? Again, no one. The Defendant, he’s like living in the worst torture chamber in the world ever, his life is that bad.

“Again, I am not condoning this man’s behavior. I don’t need to: he’s already taking steps to make amends himself. I am saying though, that before you get back up on your high horse, Mr. District Attorney, just be sure that if you weren’t in the same situation, you wouldn’t do the exact same thing. That’s right, I am talking about kicking a six month old baby.

“Reading this indictment, you’d think this man killed half of a grade school and beat up the other half. He did no such thing. But the insane amount of pressure he was under—pressure that would have killed anyone else--bore down on him, and made him snap….snap to the point he took several steps to build up some momentum, pulled his foot back, and kicked a little baby square in the chest hard, sending the child through the air, hitting the far wall. And there is no denying that this child later died from those injuries.

“But if you were listening to the Defendant today, I mean really listening to him, this man who says that he’s found peace with Jesus, you’d know he’s speaking the truth. I get hundreds of people coming through this court almost every day, all claiming that they’re sorry. That they’re now with Jesus. That Jesus has forgiven them. That they pray to God every day. But I can see right through them; just a bunch of goddamned hypocrites and liars, that’s all they all are. Ignoring God and His message all their miserable lives, right up until the minute they get into trouble. That’s when they suddenly remember our Lord. Just like those people who waited until they were treading water before telling Noah how they knew Noah was right all along, so please open up that door on the ark. Uh huh. Biblical hypocrites, that’s what they are. I spot them all a mile away. So I know what I’m talking about when I tell you that this man is not one of them. That this man is different. That this man truly is that Pearl of Great Price.

“No matter how bad a person you are, Mr. Defendant sir, you cannot possible be worse than the murderer and thief who was on the cross next to Jesus. And when that thieving murder repented with his last breaths, our precious Lord and Savior said to him “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise.” I can’t send you to Paradise—as you know, that’s between you and Jesus. But what I can do, is take you down from the cross where you do not deserve to be crucified on, just like that murderer hanging next to Jesus. Mr. Defendant, I am right now dismissing this case, letting you find the help you need, because I know that I will not see you back here.

“Goddamn it! Sit down and shut up all of you, and I mean it! All of you shut up and stop talking. I’m not done here. Listen, all you people who don’t like what I’m doing here, I want you to remember the words of our Lord: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Okay now, everybody who is perfect, go ahead and tell me all about the mistake I’m making here. Well? A minute ago all you people had a lot to say, but suddenly now I don’t seem to be hearing anybody talking. Imagine that. And for all you people not saying anything, but looking at me all hard eyed and mean – honestly, what do you use your Bibles for? Pressing leaves? I’m assuming all you self-righteous people even go to church. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here (something, let me just say, that none of you are even willing to give me and this Diamond). So, were you just staring out the window when your pastor was trying to teach you the lesson of the shepherd who had a flock of sheep, and what that shepherd did when one of the sheep was lost? He left his flock, and searched and searched until he found the lost lamb. Well, that’s what I’m doing here – I’m finding one of our lost sheep, and bringing him back into the fold. So why are you all mad? Because he got lost so far? Is that it? Why isn’t that more reason to celebrate, to be joyful, that this man came back to us from so far away?

“All of you people, see into your own hearts, and just look at what’s there. The Defendant, this man here, he has been though hell itself, has repented. He has renounced his evil ways. Our mission is successful, and what do you want to do about it? You want me—and God--to punish this man anyway; punish him for nothing. Here’s something I want all of you to think about tonight, when you’re in bed, just before your head hits that pillow. I want you to think hard on this, what your reasons are here today. Think on what it means to not just talk like a Christian; I mean to really in your heart live a Christian life; a life of forgiveness. And I am talking especially to you, Mr. Mighty District Attorney. I hope for your sake, you were listening. Otherwise, you’re going to have some awfully hard questions to answer in your next life. But that’s between you and Jesus.

“And you, Mr. Public Defender. You were trying to keep the Defendant from telling me his story, keep him from explaining. You even went so far as to tell him that I ‘wouldn’t understand.’ It is bad enough that you insult my intelligence, but must you also insult my humanity, and publicly deny my compassion as well? You are supposed to be ‘defending’ the public. I have never seen a bigger Public ‘Pretender’ in all my years on the bench. Exactly how many other people, just as innocent as this man here, have you let be sent away, all because you were too afraid to just do your job? Don’t answer that. I just want to give you something to think about. At home, in your own bed, you just think about all those other people who are sleeping in jail beds, their lives ruined because of your unwillingness to really help the people who God has placed in your hands.

“Now, I know, and I fully expect that I am going to receive a great deal of grief about what I’m doing here. People are so quick to make judgments, and just not willing to look at the whole story. But that’s why I’m the Judge, not all you other people. When I’m afraid to stand up, and do what’s right, well, that’s the day that I no longer deserve to be sitting up here on high.

“Well, I guess I’m done here. I’ve said my piece. Something I always wanted to say, but never had the right case, the right opportunity to say it. No thanks to Mr. District Attorney and Mr. Public Defender. They were both conspiring together to keep me from saying this, and to send an innocent man—a good man--to prison. I wish I could say I was surprised. But like I said earlier, I’m a diamond miner here. Every day, I wade through the worst of humanity’s trash. But when I find one of these rare Diamonds, that’s when I know that what I do is really all worthwhile.

“Let me just step down here and shake your hand, Mr. Defendant sir. It’s not every day I get to meet a real live Bible hero, a real Prodigal Son, who has gone so far away, but has now come back. I thank the good Lord that he sent you into my courtroom. I’m honored to meet you here today sir. I really am.”


“Are you out of your mind?”
“You can’t tell the Judge that”
“Yes I can. I know this Judge. He’ll understand.”
“Understand what? That you were justified in kicking a baby to death?”
“No! No, I’m not saying that at all. You don’t understand.”
“Then explain it to me. What are you going to tell the Judge?”
“I’ll just tell him. I know he’ll know what I mean.”
“How can you know what this Judge knows?”
“I see in his eyes. He knows. He’ll understand”
“Listen. I’ve been in front of this Judge hundreds of times, and this is the first time you’ve ever seen him. So believe me when I tell you that this Judge a) doesn’t know anything and b) doesn’t understand anything.”
“See what I mean? There you are, first running me down, then running down the Judge. You’re not on my side. You’re just a…a Public Pretender!”
“Yeah, I know. That one just keeps getting funnier and funnier. Look, you’ve got at least four murder counts in your indictment, one of which is potentially a capital crime. That means the district attorney won’t rule out seeking the death penalty. Realistically, at best you’re looking at a natural life sentence, just maybe with a possibility of parole after serving twenty-five years—but only if everything goes perfect and you’re luckier than I can ever imagine. Look at me---I’m telling you, that’s your best-case scenario; anything else that could happen is worse. And I am talking about you wearing that big diaper, riding the gurney into the little room with one big window, after spending the next ten to fifteen years double bunked on death row. So this really isn’t the time or the place to screw around. Today’s court appearance is just to say ‘not guilty,’ and get another court date. That’s it, that’s all, nothing else. The Judge is not going to listen to your life story, and then decide to dismiss your case because…I don’t know…the baby had it coming.”
“Goddamn it! That’s not what I saying at all; ‘the baby had it coming’ bullshit. You know what? You just don’t listen. That’s your problem. You’ve never listened to what I’ve said, and you never will listen to me. You don’t listen to nobody. And you know what else? You’re fired, you worthless fuck. Get off of my case. I’m going out there and talking to that Judge by myself. I don’t care you don’t believe me, but that Judge, he’ll believe me. If he just listens, he’ll understand what really happened. Then it’s all going to be okay. No thanks to you or that damn smart mouth District Attorney.”
“Ok. Look. I’m sorry. Ok? I just got excited. You’re right. I apologize. Look: I’m not saying you’re wrong. Maybe after we both look at the evidence some more, maybe practice your allocution a few times so you can be comfortable with what exactly you want to say to the judge, then we can do what you want. Does that make sense to you?”
“’We’ my ass. This is me, my case, my life. It has nothing to do with you. If I listen to you, then I go down, you gonna do the time for me? Bullshit.”
“You’re right, you’re right. It’s your case. Your call. But today is just not the day to make that call. All we’re going to do today is set another court date. The end. Five minutes max. We’re at the start of a long process. Let’s just get through this morning, and then we can explore your options.”
“All I’m trying to do is explain to the Judge, and you won’t let me. You act like that’s the worst idea ever.”
“It’s certainly the worst idea I’ve heard in a long time.”
“Yeah well fuck you then. I’m going to do what I have to do. You’ll see. I have faith. I believe in Jesus, and He knows what’s in my heart. God knows what I’m going to tell the judge. Then you’ll see what happens. All I have to do is tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, like you’re supposed to. Then everything will be fine.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sarah Palin is SO Dumb . . .


Of course, this does raise a few questions about journalism and responsiblity to the public.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Heroes, Then & Now: The Twin Sagas of John McCain and William Ayers

There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say "Be non-violent toward [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark," but will curse and damn you when you say, "Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children."
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 'Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam"

The more important the rule, the greater is the likelihood that knowledge is based on avoided tests.
--American Sociologist Harold Garfinkel, “Studies in Ethnomethodology”

Thanks to the McCain-Palin campaign, Bill Ayers has more name recognition today as a former bomber, than he ever had back in the day when he actually was conspiring to plant bombs. Just why Mr. Ayers felt compelled to plant bombs forty years ago, however, is a question left unasked. Likewise, no one feels particularly compelled today to ask John McCain what exactly did the senior senator from Arizona do during the Vietnam War. The agreed upon consensus is that the former was a “terrorist,” while the latter was a “hero.” Everybody knows that.

Which I find troublesome, and not just because the kindler gentler race mobs that pass for Governor Palin’s political rallies also “know” that Senator Obama is the Manchurian Candidate Muslim prophesized in the Revelation of St. John as the communistic socialist Anti-Christ--after all, there’s no denying his people killed Christ.

So, why is William Ayers a “terrorist,” while Senator McCain a “war hero”? Unfortunately, even at first glance, the clear answer starts to blur. Bill Ayers and the loose confederation that made up Weather Underground were a self-anointed American wing of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, or Vietcong. Consequently, they were on a mission from god (so to speak) to place raggedy, homemade bombs in “military targets,” to help discourage America from bombing Vietnam. So far so good: he's a terrorist.

But why was America in general, and John McCain in particular, bombing Vietnam?

Just what exactly makes Senator John McCain's combat experience "heroic"? How should--or even could--you explain how John McCain was 'fighting for his country' in Vietnam? Why isn’t Senator McCain a terrorist, not entirely dissimilar from the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center Buildings and the Pentagon? And if there are no good answers to those questions, then why isn’t Bill Ayers a hero, for putting his life and liberty at risk, in a futile (if not silly) effort to stop an activity most of the world considered (both then and now) a crime against humanity?

The Vietnam War

These facts are not in dispute. During the Second World War, several Vietnamese nationalist groups formed the Viet Minh, under the nominal leadership of Ho Chi Minh, to fight Japanese occupation. After Japan was defeated, the Vietnamese expected they would be granted their independence, in recognition for their contributions to the Allied war effort. France, however, refused to give up its holdings in Indochina. The Viet Minh, having trained from fighting the Japanese, began fighting the French. In 1954, a peace conference was held in Geneva, involving France, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (what eventually became North Vietnam), Laos, the Peoples' Republic of China, State of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. The United States had been supporting France's efforts to preserve colonial rule, even aiding the newly created Vietnamese National Army to combat the Viet Minh. However, the United States refused to participate in or even recognize the Geneva peace conference.

On April 27 1954, the conference produced the Geneva Accords: Vietnam was nominally given its independence, and the country partitioned into northern and southern zones. The Accord also provided that Vietnam would be unified, following internationally supervised free elections in July 1956.

In 1955, elections (as such) were held in South Vietnam, with Emperor Bao Dai running on a platform to restore the monarchy, opposed by Ngo Dinh Diem, who vowed to create some unspecified form of republican government. Diem, though, did have a base of support in Vietnam's Catholic minority, as opposed to the Buddhist majority. Additionally, Diem had the backing of the Americans, as well as control over the existing governmental apparatus in the South (such as it was). Even though Diem would have been elected president under any semblance of a free election, he preferred to be 'elected' by 98.2% of the vote, including winning 133% of the registered voters in Saigon.

As the date for the July 1956 elections drew near, it was clear that Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh would win by a substantial margin in every part of Vietnam. Rather than face certain defeat, President Diem and his American backers withdrew from the elections, claiming that the Republic of Vietnam had not been part of the Accords, and therefore was not bound by them.

South Vietnam under the rule of President Diem and his extended family quickly devolved into a morass of incompetence and corruption. By December 1960, disparate South Vietnamese groups of communists, nationalists, and people generally opposed to President Diem formed the National Liberation Front (Vietcong), to fight the autocratic rule of the Diem family. Most of the fighting of the 'Vietnam War' prior to 1968 was between Southerners: the Vietcong versus the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). That changed, however, following February and March of 1968, when the entire nation of South Vietnam exploded in combat during the Tet Offensive. In putting down the Tet Offensive, significant numbers of Vietcong soldiers and cadre were killed, leaving the Vietcong virtually destroyed as a fighting and political force. Only after Tet did the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) start sending large numbers of soldiers into South Vietnam to continue the war against escalating numbers of American troops and an increasingly ineffective ARVN. An excellent book on Tet and its aftermath is Ronald H. Spector's “After Tet, The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam” (Free Press, 1993).

With that background in mind, here are the circumstances of Senator McCain's combat experience. On October 26 1967, Senator McCain was flying his twenty-third bombing mission, bombing Hanoi. His plane was a A-4E Skyhawk, which carried 9,900 pounds of bombs and four missiles. His plane was shot down by a Vietnamese missile, and he was badly injured when he parachuted into Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi. He was pulled ashore, then badly beaten. Senator McCain was then placed in a POW camp, where he was badly treated, frequently tortured, and released five and a half years later, on March 14 1973. Almost two years later to the day, in April 1975, the South Vietnamese Government collapsed, with the debacle of US helicopters desperately airlifting refugees from the roof of the American embassy. Seventeen years of war had ended, and ended for less than nothing.

Had the United States honored the Geneva Accords, and allowed the July 1956 elections, Vietnam would have been united--but united under a system that would have had to recognize the pluralistic nature of its society. By 1975, much of the Vietcong as a governing body had been killed, and no opposition remained in the North. The totalitarian communist nightmare predicted by the west came true--but only after another generation of Vietnamese lost to war.

Senator McCain’s Sacrifice was of No Help to Vietnam . . .

How did Senator McCain’s war service benefit the Vietnamese people? And what were the American interests Senator McCain was fighting for in Southeast Asia?

There is no dispute that American military involvement in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia was nothing less than an unmitigated nightmare in the lives of those peoples. During America's involvement in Vietnam, North Vietnam was one of the world's poorest countries. Nevertheless, the world's most powerful nation dropped more bombs in tonnage on an area the size of New Jersey, than were dropped in the entire European theater during the Second World War. That level of bombardment does not even include the napalm, the Agent Orange and other defoliants, or the 'anti-personnel' weapons that were dropped. If you are interested in more information, I recommend “Hearts and Minds,” the 1974 documentary by Peter Davis. Specific to Senator McCain’s role, Senator McCain’s twenty-four bombing missions were aimed at civilian targets, because there were no targets in Hanoi that could be defined as “military.” From the perspective of radical Islamists and the third world (as well as the Americans selecting ‘military targets’ to bomb in Baghdad, Belgrade, and Afghanistan) the World Trade Center was a much clearer military target than anything 1967 Hanoi had to offer.

Nor can it be argued that Senator McCain was bombing North Vietnam to help preserve “democracy” in South Vietnam. Presidents Diem and Thieu, as well as the circus of incompetent Generals who seized and lost power in South Vietnam, did not even pretend to build any semblance of a representative democracy, or even a government that existed for any purpose other than to enrich the current ruling clique.

Therefore, Senator McCain's military service cannot be considered heroic, in the sense he was helping the Vietnamese people.

. . . Nor Did Senator McCain’s Service Support Any American Interest

So, if Senator McCain's bombing of Hanoi was not assisting the Vietnamese people, then what American interests were advanced by his service? The short answer is “none.” In 1967, the rationale for American involvement was to prevent Mao Zedong's China from establishing domination in southeast Asia. Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese were seen by the West as puppets, under the complete direction of China. Even at the time, that view was ridiculous, and acceptable only to people wholly uninformed about the history of the Chinese and Vietnamese peoples. But from the perspective of 2008, the 'Mao's Puppet' rational is even more absurd. While China gave Vietnam military supplies during the long war with the French and the Americans, the two nations always had--at best--an uneasy relationship. When China and the Soviet Union began competing for power and influence in the Socialist world, Vietnam was always closer to Moscow than Beijing. Later, China actively supported the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, while the Khmer Rouge maintained an on-going border war with Vietnam. After Vietnam invaded Cambodia in late 1978, driving the Khmer Rouge out of the capital of Phnom Penh, China invaded Vietnam. The two nations fought a bloody, month long border war, after which both sides claimed victory—probably because there was ample evidence to show how both sides had lost.

So, to say that Senator McCain's service in Vietnam was 'heroic,' because he fighting against China's domination of Vietnam--the 1960s era rationale—that is simply wrong. Additionally, no one--not even in the 1960s--honestly considered the Viet Minh a military threat to America, so Senator McCain was not 'protecting' America from anything.

Certainly, Senator McCain's actions as a POW were admirable--particularly his refusal to be repatriated until all POWs were released. But to say that his actions in bombing Hanoi were 'fighting for his country' is (at best) a distortion of history. Senator McCain, as I would argue were all Vietnam Veterans, was lied to and badly used by his government. Both he and the Vietnamese people deserved better.

So—John McCain v. Bill Ayers: Who’s the Hero?

Not John McCain. But because I live in Oregon USA, not Bill Ayers either. By the close of the 1960s, a clear majority of the country had turned against the Vietnam War, led in no small part to the truly heroic eloquence of Martin Luther King Jr. As a nation, we should be embarrassed that every school child is inundated with Dr. King’s 1961 speech from the March on Washington (“I have a Dream”), much less so his final “Mountain Top” address in Memphis 1968 (“I See the Promised Land”), and his 1967 speech at Riverside Church on the Vietnam War (“A Time to Break the Silence”) is largely ignored. Dr. King lost almost all his supply of political capital when he publicly opposed the Vietnam War, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover seized that opportunity to escalate his private war against the civil rights leader.

But I have never lived in Hanoi. Or Hue. Or Khe Sanh. Or had my town torn up, and relocated to a prison camp called a "strategic hamlet." Or see my neighbors chopped into pieces from machine guns on a Bell Huey Helicopter or a Douglas AC-47. The now-obsolete technology on the latter could fire 300 rounds a minute, and the accompanying documentation bragged how it could "put a round in every square inch of football field in less than a minute." Would I feel the same way about the niceties of a republican democracy and non-violence on the other side of the planet, after Puff the Magic Dragon made a few passes down my block? Or seen a pregnant woman miscarry, after being poisoned by Agent Orange? Or a child with plastic shrapnel in his leg from an anti-personnel weapon--designed so that an x-ray will not locate the pieces under the skin? Michael Herr in "Dispatches" quotes a marine saying "Spooky understands." I am so fortunate in that I can choose not to understand. For my generation and those that followed, Phoenix is nothing more than a place where it gets too hot in the summer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Different Cow. Same Bull.

To Keith Olbermann

Dear Mr. Olbermann:

While this is not exactly a fan letter per se, please consider this more of a sympathy letter. To coin a phrase: I feel your pain.

On the October 27 2008 edition of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed Ms. Campbell Brown, the host of a new CNN program "No Bias, No Bull." Apparently, Ms. Brown's new program is scheduled at the same time as Mr. Bill O'Reilly's program on Fox News, and your program on MSNBC. Both Mr. Stewart and Ms. Brown got in lots of yuks about how hard it would be to find space in-between your views and Mr. O'Reilly's, given that (in Ms. Brown's words) you represent the "far left" and Mr. O'Reilly represents the "far right."
You can see the video here:

Ms. Brown's comments happen at the start of the interview.

For me, it was deja vu all over again, as they say where I come from. I know I should not be surprised anymore, but I always am. You, Mr. Olbermann, YOU are the voice of the "far left" in America? No wonder my head hurts all the time.

Let me explain. The 1988 Bush I -- Dukakis presidential election was a turning point in my life. If you remember, then Vice President George Bush, way behind in the polls, sold his soul to the Powers of Darkness and hired Mr. Lee Atwater to destroy America's political process. Among matters of vital national importance (like where Mr. Willie Horton spent his weekends), Vice President Bush confronted Governor Dukakis about being a "card carrying member of the ACLU" (America Civil Liberties Union) and being a "liberal." For reasons known only to Governor Dukakis and his god, the Governor initially refused to say he was a liberal. At that time, I was a second year law student, with issues of jurisprudence, constitutional law, and contracts pouring out of every orifice. Still--I had the wherewithal to be outraged at Governor Dukakis's timidity. But even more outrageous, though, was the consensus of my circle of friends that the Massachusetts Governor was doing the right thing. "After all," a friend asked me, "Would YOU admit you were a liberal?" I said "No, but . . . ""Well, there you go," my now ex-friend interrupted, "neither would I."

But why wouldn't I admit to being a liberal? Because I wasn't then, and am not now, a liberal. Hide the womenfolk, but here it is: I'm a democratic socialist. I am "left" as opposed to "liberal."

Mr. Keith Olbermann. His friends call him Che.

"Liberal" and "left" are, in part, economic terms, describing a level of state intervention in a nation's economy. An economy based on liberal principles has a minimum of political interference, and allows the forces of the market to dictate prices and types of goods available. As I'm using the term, "left" (meaning moving away from liberalism) would entail some level of public (or political) control of industry. That can be as extreme as a command economy, where the Office of Central Planning calls the factory manager in Suckstobeyoustan, places an order for 5,000 tractors, all of which will be shipped to Whymestan, by next October. Or it can be as simple as having a Food and Drug Administration, an administrative agency that not only confirms that the labels on bottles accurately reflect the contents, but also that the contents of those bottle won't kill you. The question is, just where do you want to draw the line.

I'm not a liberal. Why? Because I want to see more state intervention in the economy than what we have now. Is that also why Michael Dukakis denied being a liberal? Sure it was.

As a political philosophy, liberalism refers to tolerance of competing points of view. For example, the Federalist Papers are filled with the terror of the "Tyranny of the Majority," and how State action is necessary to preserve the opinions of the minority (like property owners who think debt forgiveness is bad) in the face of the majority (like debtors who think debt forgiveness is not that bad an idea). Similarly, the ALCU letterhead proudly reads "Someday, you too will need the ACLU," meaning if anyone risks having their civil liberties attacked, we should defend everybody's civil rights. Or, in the immortal words that Voltaire in fact never did write: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." I just happen to not share that philosophy. In law school, me & the civil libertarians constantly would go to the mattresses, with the latter insisting there was no principled way to restrict speech based on content, while I insisted that our democracy could survive without Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party rallies in public parks. I still feel that way. Why? Because I'm not a liberal.

That all was before the Bush--Dukakis debacle. Now, I don't say that anymore. I've given up. I tell everyone I'm a liberal, and that I'm a card carrying member of the ACLU (even though it's a lie). Why? Because since 1988, political discourse has only gotten worse. How much worse?

Papa Bear Bill O'Reilly. He wasn't born stupid--what you see is the product of hard work and perseverance.

I cite Mr. Michael Scheuer's Imperial Hubris for much of my views on Afghanistan and the "War on Terror." Michael Scheuer, a career Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, for gods' sake. During the controversy over the so called "Surge" strategy in Iraq and Iran's nuclear program, I'm saying stuff like "But the CIA says . . ." meaning I'm AGREEING with the CIA position. That's like His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI saying "You know, I find Beelzebub's arguments on predestination particularly compelling . . ."

The terms "right," "liberal," "conservative," and "left" had all long lost their original meaning. And as part of the tiny minority standing against the Reagan Revolution, I didn't have the luxury of being choicey about labels, or who I was a fellow traveler for. But in my heart, I know the truth: I was still a Com-Symp, as they used to say in the 1950s.

So in late 2008 America, if "right" and "left" are no longer economic terms, what do they refer to? Look again at Ms. Brown's characterization of you as "far left" and Mr. O'Reilly as "far right." While I do not know a great deal about you Mr. Olbermann (and have no desire whatsoever to hurt your feelings), but whatever good qualities you have (and I am certain, sure you have many), you are no Eugene Debbs or Michael Harrington. Heck, you're not even Ralph Nader. Not even vaguely. Likewise, I would never consider Mr. O'Reilly on the "far right," because he is inconsistent, incoherent, self-contradictory, and a rank opportunist. In a word, Mr. O'Reilly is an idiot (to use a value neutral, non-judgmental expression). Idiots are not right, conservative, liberal, or left. They are just an embarrassment to all who know them. Just look at Mr. Rush Limbaugh.

So, what on earth could Ms. Brown have meant by "far right" and "far left"? What quality makes you and Mr. O'Reilly mirror opposites? Here's my suggestion: Tolerance for people in power who make stuff up, knowing the crap they hand out is not true, but still get offended if anyone questions the statement's validity.

Ms. Campbell Brown. She has a lovely smile--and one butt-ugly painting hanging in her attic.

ON THE FAR LEFT: Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown, responds to lies from the rich and powerful by presenting The Worst Person in the World.

ON THE FAR RIGHT: Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor, responds to lies from the rich and powerful by yelling at folks who dare suggest the emperor's buck naked (maybe) in The No Spin Zone.

Show me where I am wrong.

So what does all this mean? As Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty told Alice: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less." To Alice's protests that an individual couldn't make words mean different things, Humpty Dumpty told her "The question is, which is to be master -- that's all." What I mean, are two points. First, Ms. Brown has no qualms playing her role as Humpty Dumpty, using words in ways she knows full well will mean something different to her viewers than they do to her.

Ms. Loretta Young. She has nothing to do with this note whatsoever. But she also had no ugly paintings in her attic either.

Second, It also means that Ms. Campbell Brown owes you an apology, and I don't mean maybe. Her calling you "far left" had nothing to do with your opinions on central planning, December Nativity displays in public parks, or even your low level of gullibility regarding White House press releases, and has everything to do with calling you a word she knows her viewers will interpret to mean "dishonest" ie you are willing to distort facts, because of a personal political and economic bias.

Which is just more of the same old bull.

I remain:
Outraged, but still a liberal card carrying member of the ALCU.
Bill Abendroth

No Wait! You Don't Understand--I Really AM the Dumbest Person in the World!

On October 27 2008, a federal jury in Washington found Alaska Senator Ted Stevens guilty on all seven charged felony counts of lying to congress. All along, from the moment the investigation started, through his indictment, demand for a speedy trial, and even the after his conviction, Senator Stevens has protested his innocence, complaining bitterly at how unfairly he has been treated. For example, Senator Stevens's campaign has issued the following statement: "I am innocent, This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial."

October 27, 2008: The day it sucked to be Senator Ted Stevens. On the plus side, though, he did get the BEST deal on the mountain cabin re-build.

Now, if you are someone who lives on Planet Earth and whose life is governed by some semblance of logic and reason, you might have a few questions about this case. I am most happy to oblige. Disclosure: I did not attend the trial, nor read any transcripts. I am basing this information on the reporting by National Public Radio (Ms. Nina Totenberg, in particular), wire reports from the AP and Reuters, and my own past experience as a criminal defense attorney.

Hope this helps.

1. What the heck are they (unspecified) TALKING about?

Honestly--You probably don't want to know. As the famed former Chancellor and meat afficionado Otto "Ironman" von Bismark noted: "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." I have never seen sausage made, but back in the day I ate a fair amount of chorizo. The only way I was able to do so, was if I first cleared my mind of any thought of what I was eating. But I have seen laws made and interpreted, in both courts & legislatures. And my stomach will never be the same.

Ask yourself if maybe this isn't a good spot to turn back, and go watch another hilarious Simpsons rerun.

2. Was Senator Stevens charged with stealing money or accepting bribes?

No. And here's the tricky part: Senator Stevens was charged with "lying," or knowingly filing false reports listing contributions and gifts he received.

3. So, in the immortal words of Gene Autry: Show Me the Money.

For reasons personal to them, the Senator and Mrs. Ted Stevens wanted to remodel their old Girdwood Alaska mountain cabin. Again, for reasons unknown to the public at large, Senator Stevens decided to go with his old buddy, Mr. Bill Allen as the general contractor in charge of construction.

Governor Palin dropping a dime CANADA STYLE in St. Louis. Of course, some people booed--and now Senator Stevens wishes he was there to boo as well.

Mr. Allen, not a building contractor by trade, is in fact the former chief executive of VECO, a now defunct oil services company that did lots of government business, with help from Senator Stevens. Ultimately, the work doubled the square footage of the Stevens' cabin, transforming it into a modern two story home with wrap around porches, a wine cellar, a sauna, and lots of fancy pantsy appliances.

4. So what?

Here's what: Mr. Allen was responsible for making sure all the work was done, and then bill Senator (and Mrs.) Stevens appropriately. The Mrs. Senator was in charge of the "business end" of the renovation, and (according to the testimony of the Senator and the Mrs.) she paid Mr. Allen $160,000. So far so good. But here's the "oh oh" part. Near as the Department of Justice could figure, Mr. Allen did roughly $410,000. worth of work on the Stevens' mountain cabin--or at least $250,000. more than the Senator paid for. I hate when that happens.

5. Did Senator Stevens promise to do something improper for Mr. Allen and/or VECO, in exchange for $250,000. worth of free cabin improvements?

Not that anyone is aware of. That's not what Senator Stevens was charged with, nor what he was convicted of.

6. Huh?

See above re sausage. Proving outright bribery is very difficult, as in "You give me X dollars now, and I'll vote for Y bill." People who are old (like me) may remember back in the day when FBI agents pretended to be agents of an unspecified "Arab" named Kambir Abdul Rahman (I am not making that up), who offered a fairly modest pile of cash in exchange for introducing a "private bill" to facilitate the Arab's anticipated immigration problems. The fake company was called "Abdul Enterprises, Ltd."--oh, those were kinder, gentler, and definitely dumber times. "ABSCAM," as the caper was known, targeted 31 officials, with one Senator and five Representatives actually taking their cases to trial. FYI, the video tape of Congressman Richard Kelly (R-Fl), actually showed the congressman jamming $25,000. in cash in his pockets, then turning to the undercover FBI agents and asking "Does it show?" I really hate when that happens.

So, in an effort to catch only the most grotesque and blatant corruption, our federal solons are required to regularly report any and all "gifts" and contributions they receive. These reports are sworn statements, meaning not telling the truth is a felony Bozo no-no.

7. So--Senator Stevens got $250,000 of free work on his house, and forgot to mention it on his disclosure forms? Is that all?

I wish. In American courts, criminal law has two separate aspects: an actus reus and a mens rea. Before a body can be convicted of a crime, that person must commit an actus reus, or some guilty act. For example, I can daydream about robbing the Federal Reserve in San Francisco all day every day, but until I take some concrete step towards committing that action (buying guns, casing the building, trying to recruit some fellow day dreamers to join me, etc), there is no crime.

Ms. Lauren Bacall. You don't HAVE to try to be trying to write like Raymond Chandler to include her photo. Heck, Ms. Bacall doesn't even have to appear in the note.

Likewise, no crime can be committed without mens rea, or a criminal intent. A classic example is when someone sends me ten kilos of weapons grade uranium in the US mail (book rate, because ten kilos is pretty heavy and my contacts are all cheap-os), my postal carrier has not committed a crime. True, my letter carrier has physically delivered contraband to me (an actus reus), but there is no way the carrier knew, or should have known, that I was getting uranium--no mens rea.

So, outside of a few marginal exceptions, for a criminal conviction, the State must prove both mens rea (you knew what you were doing) and actus reus (you at least started doing something).

Getting back to Senator Stevens's case, we have seven examples of actus reus: he submitted seven forms (I'm assuming seven different forms) that failed to list all donations and gifts he received. Those forms were incorrect, in that they failed to include $250,000 of home improvements. That's actus reus times seven, but not necessarily proof of mens rea.

8. So what you are saying that is that Senator Stevens just didn't NOTICE an additional $250,000 of improvements to his cabin, he didn't do anything wrong?

Or maybe Senator Stevens just "forgot" to mention it. Either way, it would be a complete defense (if proved) to Senator Stevens's charges. The less than complementary characterization of defenses based on the subjective mind set of the accused is "the dumbest person in the world" defense. What was Senator Stevens specifically accused of? KNOWINGLY filing false forms, that did not disclose all contributions he had received. But Senator Stevens insists he did not do that. Why? Because Senator Stevens's disclosures were accurate? Not at all; all those disclosures were wrong. But Senator Stevens didn't KNOW he was failing to report an additional $250,000 in gifts and cabin renovations.....because Senator Stevens is the DUMBEST SENATOR IN THE WORLD!

9. Are you making this up?

I wish. Read the press reports and statements from Senator Stevens. The Senator insisted that he paid EVERY bill that had been sent to him. If Mr. Allen didn't send Senator Stevens the right number of bills, how is that Uncle Ted's fault? And poor Senator Stevens--he's SO busy with the nation's work (like shouting about how he'd have to be carried off the Senate floor if he didn't get the money for the "Bridge to No Where." He got the money; a walk-off homer Hank Aaron would be proud of). It was MRS. STEVENS and Bill Allen who were in charge of all the cabin remodeling stuff. Senator Stevens was shocked SHOCKED to discover that the square footage of his cabin had been more than doubled in this remolding project. In fact, Senator Stevens was FURIOUS as soon as he heard about all those fancy appliances put in his cabin. Uncle Ted--a simple man!--he ordered that stuff be taken out. How COULD Senator Stevens know he was still getting it all that stuff? He only wanted $160,000, of improvements . . who told Bill Allen to go to $410,000? NOT Ted Stevens! etc. etc. etc.

10. So how did the Justice Department secure seven convictions against Senator Stevens?

The old fashioned way: evidence and a jury. The first thing a good prosecuting attorney needs is a soon to be former best friend to roll over. Enter Bill Allen, now a former CEO of a defunct oil services company--never a good place to be. In walks a couple of Assistant US Attorneys and a few FBI agents. The FBI agents start showing Mr. Allen documents proving beyond all doubt a $250,000 discrepancy--at least--between what Senator Stevens reported, and what was actually given to Senator Stevens. Maybe Mr. Allen can show some additional bills, receipts, proofs of payments from Senator Stevens? Not being a particularly adept forger, Mr. Allen cannot. One of the Assistant US Attorneys starts talking about possible criminal charges Mr. Allen is facing, counting prison time by decades. The other Assistant US Attorney sounds like the Tasmanian Devil from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. People in Mr. Allen's position react in a variety of ways, but the consensus is pretty much the immediate and severe wetting of pants. As they say where I come from: potential informants would sell their grandmothers into white slavery--if only their fathers hadn't beat them to it.

So Mr. Allen, he jumps at the offer to play Let's Make a Deal fast enough to sprain both ankles. What is the substance of Mr. Allen's testimony? Roughly: "I gave the Senator money," "The Senator knew I gave him money," and "Senator Stevens may be 'tupid--but he's not THAT 'tupid."

Still--Senator Stevens, he's nobody's fool--no wait, that's another speech--anyway, Uncle Ted pounds his chest, demands a speedy trial ie before the November election, because he is INNOCENT! He has done NOTHING WRONG! Then the longest serving GOP Senator walks into court, looks twelve good citizens, honest and true, in the eyeball--and says: I am not a crook.. Why? Because as God is my witness, I AM the DUMBEST man in the world! Here I Stand--I Can Do No Other.

And the jury, after hearing three days of testimony from Senator Stevens and the Mrs. Senator, say "What? Are you for real here? While there is force your argument that you are in fact an idiot, Senator, no one this side of catatonic can be THAT stupid."

And that, pals & gals, is how your friendly neighborhood US Attorney racks up guilty times seven.

11. But what if, on his financial disclosure forms, Senator Stevens had included the line: "Additional Gifts: $250,000 in cabin improvements, from VECO oil services company"? In other words, if the Senator had not lied on his disclosure forms?

Senator Stevens might have been run afoul of another statute, such as paying personal expenses with political contributions, or maybe Senator Stevens would just have been looking at a fat tax bill in April 2009--I don't know. But I do know that he would not be on the wrong end of seven felony convictions.
George Baily puts the moves on Mary Hatch . . . Probably because she is naked. Another reason why George AND NOT TED truly had a wonderful life.
12. Then why, for goodness sakes, didn't Senator Stevens just make an honest disclosure?

I have no idea. I want to believe that Senator Stevens really is a crook, and that he's trying to cover up for his guilty conscience. After all, why SHOULD the CEO of an oil services corporation rebuild a Senator's mountain cabin, playing Santa to the tune of $250,000? Because Bill Allen is just that kind of guy? I don't think so.

Still-----In 1962, writer and philosopher Ms. Hannah Arendt went to Jerusalem, and watched the trial of the notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann. I'm not sure if Mr. Eichmann ever personally killed someone, but it was Mr. Eichmann's job to schedule the trains that carried all the Jews, Gypsies, and miscellaneous undesirables of the Third Reich to death camps. Legally and morally, Mr. Eichmann was personally responsible for the murders of between two and three million people during the Shoah. For Ms. Arendt and a generation raised on "The Portrait of Dorian Gray," they still believed--at least, emotionally--that awful people who did awful things must look, well--awful. The most shocking--and ultimately most horrible--aspect of Mr. Eichmann was his ordinariness. The 'banality of evil' was Ms. Arendt's phrase. "Eichmann Interrogated," edited by Jochen von Lang is a summary of transcripts from Mr. Eichmann's interrogation by the Israeli police. Adolf Eichmann--he's just this guy: some little gray middle manager who was reasonably competent. Only instead being of an import-export guy,shipping tchotchkes from the east to sell in tourist traps in the west, Eichmann was an SS officer who shipped people from the west to death camps in Poland. Life would be so much easier if Eichmann looked and talked like Quasimodo. He didn't.

I've seen speculation that Senator Stevens wanted to hide his largesse, all in an effort to keep from attracting the attention of nosey people to his close--and maybe even legal, if not exactly moral or ethical--relationship with VECO. Ultimately, I think what brought Senator Stevens down was the classic Nixon gambit: some idiocy happens, then you cover it up. That blows up, and you cover up the fact you covered it up. Then you cover up the cover up of the cover up. Pretty soon, you're covering up the cover up of the cover up of the cover up....and then either your head flies off (Nixon's John Dean) or you TRULY become the dumbest person in the world (Bush's Alberto Gonzales) or you're just a lying jerk and a thug (Reagan's Oliver North).

So, in the end, what is Senator Stevens guilty of? Veco gave the Senator $250,000 in the form of a fabulous mountain cabin remodel, and Senator lied multiple times, by knowingly failing to report the gift. In an effort to hide something that he may not have even needed to hide, Senator Stevens scoops up seven felonies. Did the US Attorney prove Senator Stevens was "evil"? Doubtful. But because true corruption, the illegal quid pro quo of selling Senate votes or influence peddling is so hard to prove, the only time someone at Senator Stevens level is actually caught is not so much when they do something venal, as when they do something banal. I am not satisfied that that Senator Stevens is an evil man--but there is no doubt in my mind he is a despicable opportunist.

13. But don't Alaskans love him?

Of course they do. Why shouldn't they? Alaskans receive well over twice the average amount of per capita federal moneys, than citizens of the 'lower 48" receive. As they say where I come from: the government who robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul. And if there's anything Senator Stevens has done in his 40 years in the US Senate, it's robbing the hell out of the rest of country, and paying it to Alaskans.
A nice picture of Senators Murkowski and Kay Baily Hutchison, from Senator Stevens's Re-Election web site. Both Senators are voicing support for Uncle Ted. Not surprisingly, the PREVIOUS picture was a nice photo of Governor Palin with Senator Stevens--a coincidence, I am sure.

14. What--no snarky comments about Governor Sarah Palin?

Well.....Seeing that you're ASKING......After months maintaining a firm and unwavering silence on Senator Stevens's legal problems, the Palin Campaign was sorry to report that the Governor today badly sprained both her ankles (not unlike Mr. Bill Allen) in the rush to throw her beloved Uncle Ted under the bus: "The verdict shines a light on the corrupting influence of the big oil service company that was allowed to control too much of our state. It was part of the culture of corruption I was elected to fight. And that fight must always move forward regardless of party or seniority or even past service. I'm confident Senator Stevens will do what's right for the people of Alaska: Go swim with the fishes."

Okay, I made up that part about swimming with the fishes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sorry Rocks--Or: Governor Palin & the Reverends Wright and Hagee

Earlier, in a moment when I let myself get carried away, I referred to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as "dumber than a box of rocks." Since then, there have been a world of happenings and events, all forcing me to re-think my position: I owe an apology to rocks and boxes the world over.

A shockingly large number of boxes . . .

What does it mean, that Governor Palin is substantially dumber than even an inanimate object? Just this: a box of rocks just sits there. It might not do any good, but at least it doesn't do any harm. For the GOP, would that Governor Palin had that level of competence, or even common sense. No such luck.

I have mentioned at length my outrage over Governor Palin's lies and hypocrisy--for example, over 'earmarks,' over her claim that Alaskans will 'build their own bridges" to no where, her "knowledge" of Russia based on geography instead of book learnin'--and if anyone (anyone? Please...I don't mind...Really!) wants to know more, I'm ready. But as we enter the final week of the Presidential campaign, Governor Palin has surprised even me at how she is rouged and ready to rogue, even to the extent she's willing to damage Senator McCain's Presidential ambitions.

. . . and rocks all insisted on presenting responsible, opposing points of view.

Clothes-gate (the fact that Governor Palin, Hockey Mom married to Joe Six-pack has her wardrobe bought for her from Neiman Marcus and Saks--but that's okay, because AFTER the campaign, those clothes will be given to 'charity'--oh please) and Trooper-gate (Governor Palin claiming the report on her actions trying to get an ex-brother-in-law fired completely vindicated her--when the report did just the opposite) would be bad enough in and of themselves--but there's more.

I stand second to none (that I am aware of) in the anger and contempt I hold for George HW Bush (not that you care, but his actions in the Iran-Contra scandal, the invasion of Panama, his despicable campaign against Governor Dukakis, and his denial of Gulf War Syndrome illness of vets from that war feature prominently). However, I recall during one of the early debates between Governor Dukakis and then VP Bush, members of the opposing political party were allowed to ask the best, most snarky questions they could think of.

Former President George HW Bush. Even though I do say something almost nice about him, I still hate the guy.

The Democrats' lead off hitter was Robert Strauss (I think it was Strauss--I could be wrong), and this was his question: "Vice President Bush, can you name a policy where you disagreed with President Reagan?" Vice President Bush put on his game face (and he had a mean game face--I never thought he was a 'wimp') and said "I COULD give you an example of a policy where I disagree with President Reagan--but I won't." VP Bush went on to rant/explain that loyalty was an important value in his family, and he didn't go around disagreeing willy nilly for kicks (I may be paraphrasing that last part).

No doubt that many old people (ie my age) will point out that President Reagan was very popular at that time--despite having an administration racked with scandal and corruption--and VP Bush needed to staple himself firmly on Reagan's coattails, if Bush was going to have any hope of becoming president. However, during his eight years as Vice President, Bush kept both himself and his staff on the Reagan straight and narrow--despite MANY opportunities to jump the rails when a Reagan policy jumped the shark. One last example--a shameful practice of the Reagan White House was to order all the Presidential helicopters to be constantly revved up as high as possible, without actually lifting off. That way, President Reagan could pretend that he couldn't hear any shouted questions from reporters. After VP Bush became President Bush, at one of President-elect Bush's first press conferences, Bush announced that the White House helicopters would no longer do that, with the President running away from shouted questions--that behavior was 'unseemingly' for the President of the United States. If those childish tricks were embarrassing to President Bush, surely they were embarrassing to Vice President Bush as well. But so far as I know, even after he was safely President, George HW Bush stayed a good soldier to President Reagan.

Contrast that behavior with Governor Sub-Box of Rocks. It's one thing to be kidding--but not really kidding--at the GOP Convention about how Governor Palin is going to 'convince' Senator McCain to drill in ANWR (Ha ha); but something else altogether when Senator McCain is trying to win over the moderate middle--and Governor Palin jumps off message to talk about an amendment to the federal constitution to block same-sex marriage.

Governor Sarah Palin. When she looks dumb, that's not a disguise.

Now, NONE of the four candidates are advocating for same-sex marriage. And those people who are homophobic to the point they need the 28th Amendment to our Constitution to provide "Thou Shalt Not be Gay and Married," those folks are already voting for Senator McCain, because that don't vote for "that one." But there are lots of people up for grabs who are concerned that a McCain administration might be more interested in cultural wars, than say the fact that the US stock market has lost 40% of its value, or $8.33 trillion USD, in the past 12 months. Economic conservatives and non-stupid people can see 21st century America has bigger fish to fry than theological debates of Adam and Eve and Steve.

But that's not even the worst that Sarah Palin has done. For reasons known only to Governor Palin and her god, Governor Palin is upset that Senator McCain has decided that criticism of Senator Obama's former minister, the Reverend Jeremiah 'God Damn America!' Wright is out of bounds. Shouldn't America hear a battery of attack ads, about how Senator Obama was loosely affiliated with a religious nut? Why WOULDN'T Senator John "Did I tell you about Bill Ayers?" McCain want to do that? Because such an attack would be unseemingly? Uh huh.

Here's my personal opinion (armed with which you can get a small coffee at Starbucks, plus three dollars). Unlike Governor Palin (and pretty much all boxes of rocks), Senator McCain knows that people who live in stained glass houses shouldn't throw religious screwball accusations. Here's what I mean: when in the state capitol, Governor Palin attends the Juneau Christian Center. Last year, the Reverend John Hagee spoke at the Center, bringing his own version of extra-biblical crazy to the True Believers of Juneau. How whacked is the Reverend Hagee?

The Reverand John Hagee. Does he kiss his mother with that dirty mouth? Wikipedia does not say.

A crazed homophobe even among homophobes, in 2006 the Reverend claimed Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans because "that Monday," a "homosexual parade" had been planned (No doubt the parade route included circling the Mississippi home of then GOP Senate President Trent Lott, also destroyed in the storm). As for Islam, in an interview on National Public Radio, the Reverend Hagee said "those who live by the Qur'an have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and teaches that very clearly."

There was also a storm of controversy over the Reverend Hagee insisting the Roman Catholic Church was the "Great Whore" mentioned in the Christian Bible's Revelation of St. John. Still, in May 2008, Mr. William A. Donohue, the President of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, took Senator McCain's Presidential campaign to task for accepting an endorsement by someone so openly anti-Catholic. While Senator McCain broke all ties with the Reverend Hagee, the Reverend Hagee responded by apologizing to Mr. Donohue, and repudiated several of his previous opinions.

Ms. Deborah Kerr. One of my favorites, and not just because she's hot enough to blister paint. Ms. Marni Nixon had to sign a contract, promising never to reveal that she sang for Ms. Kerr in "The King & I." Ms. Kerr then promptly told anyone and everyone who would listen, to the detriment of Ms. Kerr's own career. When asked why, Ms. Kerr said "I didn't sign no [expletive] contract."

John Hagee also reads a reference to 'fishers' and 'hunters' and the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, meaning that to facilitate Christ's second coming, 'Jews' are urged to return to "Palestine" with positive motivation (the fishers), like Mr. Theodor Herzl and Zionism and with negative motivation, the 'hunters' ie anti-Semitic attacks and the Shoah. That said, John Hagee Ministries has donated $8.5 million USD, to help resettle Soviet Jews in Israel, and the San Antonio B'nai B'rith Council awarded Pastor Hagee with its "Humanitarian of the Year" award.

Nevertheless, you'd think a vice president, of all people, would at least know enough to play follow the damn leader, if not stay away from Compare the Religious Crazies. But I think that's the problem: for Governor Palin--like the Reverend Hagee--it will always be news to her that her views of god and the world are not embraced by America.

But what does she care; She's on a mission from god.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why I Don't Care About Gay Marriage -- And You Shouldn't Either

I wasn't going to write about gay and lesbian marriage--and not just because no one cares what I think about same-sex marriage (no one really cares what I think about anything, so you knew THAT wasn't it). No, I have personal reasons for not wanting to write about this issue: Bad memories. Lots of bad memories.

Protect Marriage! After all, it worked for the dodo, passenger pigeons--and spilt milk.

Still, according to the powers that be at Yahoo, the California Culture War over their Ballot Measure 8 (BM 8 -- pun intended) has heated beyond the boiling point (if any physics or chemistry hard ons have their noses out of joint, just pretend the 'boiling' is under considerable pressure, so according to Boyle's Law, the temperature is in fact higher than the usual boiling point). In November, Californians can vote to overturn a decision of their state supreme court that held preventing same-sex marriage violates the California Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under California law. The argument in favor of Measure 8 is that traditional marriage will be destroyed, if anyone other than one 'man' and one 'woman' can marry.

Well--it's time for me to come out of the intellectual closet (so to speak). I've got news for you all: that ship has already done sailed. In the immortal almost words of the sitting Governor of the great state of California: "Hasta la vista, baby homophobe." Why? Because first, marriage as an institution was officially 'destroyed' over sixty years ago. And second, no matter what happens with the voting on Ballot Measure 8, California is going to have same-sex marriages. End of story. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even if Ballot Measure 8 passes, same-sex marriages will be bok.

If you care, the trigger man who killed the marriage fantasy is the U.S. federal Constitution, specifically article IV, section 1. That section reads "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State." For the proponents of Ballot Measure 8, that means "D'OH!"

Article IV, section 1 is the full faith & credit clause, and has been hot source of litigation lo these many years. In recent times (meaning the latter half-ish of the 20th century), that clause was the problem and solution for one of the bitterest culture wars that our nation has seen: what exactly does a married couple have to prove in court, before they are allowed to divorce? That culture battle (in my personal opinion) was second only to the struggles over racial and gender discrimination.

This culture war over divorce started, as most wars do, over a simple economic issue. In the Great State of Nevada, a group of men had dropped large amounts of money building hotels, hoping to lure people with more money than sense to visit the Silver State, and leave behind their surplus capital. Success eluded Nevada's promoters, and bills started coming due. Unfortunately for the hoteliers, their 'bankers' were the kind of people who took defaults 'poy-son-al,' as they said back in the day. So, something had to happen. Soon. Nevada needed to offer something really fabulous to get America to come there and spend money----or people were going to get hurt. But what? More exploitation of fake Native American Culture? Not even close.

At that time, America was still shaking off both the trauma from the first World War and a few bad economic shake ups. Nevertheless, a new generation of grifters, grafters, and miscellaneous slimeball fixers would have everyone believe that America was ready to stand tall and proud--especially as we were the only industrial nation whose economy had not been bombed back to the stone age. There was serious money to be made, but first some changes needed to happen to the American psyche. In the 19th century, Yankee (and Dixie as well) values centered on thrift and self-reliance: a good American only bought something if they couldn't make it themselves. And if you didn't have the money to pay cash on the barrel, chances were you didn't really need it in the first place. In a world of cheap bastards, every American strove mightily to be the cheapest and bastardest. All well & good--but a lousy base from whence to build a consumer society.

Enter the evil genius of Advertising. In short order, American 'values' were turned on their head: thrift and self reliance was out, credit and consumer goods were in. If you want to see a good cultural example of this change, watch some episodes of the old Jackie Gleason, Art Carney television program 'The Honeymooners.' Most of that show takes place in Ralph Cramden's (Jackie Gleason) apartment, a real crappy place.

The Honeymooners. Ralph Cramdem may have been mocked for representing out-dated values -- but he did get with Audrey Meadows.

A frequent theme of the show was wife Alice Cramden's (Audrey Meadows) complaints about their quality of life. Ralph defended his frugality (okay--cheap bastardness) by bragging how they had 'financial security' ie ninety dollars in the bank. Ed Norton (Art Carney), on the other hand, lived in an apartment downstairs from Ralph, but the times when the story line moved to the Norton apartment, the difference was striking. Art Carney's character had a cornucopia of consumer goods: a record player that could also record, high quality kitchen appliances, nice furnishings--even the wall decorations and lighting were in sharp contrast to the bleak and dingy Cramden abode. Nevertheless, the show implied that Art Carney's job as a sewer worker and Jackie Gleason's as a bus driver had them both making roughly the same amount of money. The difference was that Ed Norton bought his consumer goods 'on credit,' which (according to Ralph Cramden) caused 'headaches' for Norton--because every week, money was taken out of Norton's paycheck to pay for that stuff. Ralph, not having bought anything on credit, had no such headaches. Of course, the Cramdens were completely miserable pretty much all the time, as opposed to the Nortons, who having abandoned 'traditional' American values ie they bought stuff on credit, were having a gay (no pun intended) ol' time.

The message America sent to itself was "stop being miserable. Buy stuff. You deserve to be happy." Be happy--it was a revolutionary concept, alien to tight-fisted population of recent immigrants and frontierspeople (sic). Heady stuff.

So far so good. But, what was making Americans unhappy, besides not buying piles of crap? Well, ever since God got all pissy with Adam and Eve about eating apples, and Adam tried to weasel out by pinning the blame on Eve, marriages were bad news for lots of people. 'Traditional' marriages were strong (meaning long lasting), not so much because the couples were thrilled to be together, but because having a unit consisting of a 'homemaker' and a 'breadwinner' was an economic necessity. Being happy together was pretty much beside the point. However, in an industrial economy, the economic ties on marriage begin to disappear, leaving only the social bounds. In a word: what God (as opposed to Mammon) had joined together, let no man put asunder. That's why back in the day, divorce not only carried a social stigma (the children of broken homes was a social, as opposed to an architectual, phenomena), but carried serious legal baggage as well. Specifically, legal divorce was possible only with a judicial finding of 'fault' by one party--and that was what we call in the legal game "a big fat, hairy deal." If the wife was found "at fault" for the break up of the marriage, most states prohibited a court from awarding spousal support--a serious economic penalty at a time when women's roles in the workplace were marginal at best. Consequently, divorce trials were morality plays of joint burning humiliation. A Finding of Fault needed more than evidence that one party was unfaithful (that means "gettin' busy" with someone else, kids). The "innocent" party had to suffer some physical distress (beyond emotional distress) because of the affair. Finally, proof of fault usually required testimony of witnesses--like from private dectectives who peeped in windows or examining hotel sheets for telltale stains. Ugly stuff. An attorney once told me he read an old Oregon case, where a judge was so disgusted with the behavior of BOTH the husband and wife, the judge refused to find anyone at fault, and denied their petition for divorce.

Clearly, a need was there--if only some civic minded jurisdiction would be willing to make a pile of money fulfilling that need. Enter: Nevada!

What does an American court need to enter a decree of divorce? In a word: jurisdiction over the parties. I can't walk over to my local Portland, Oregon state court, and file a lawsuit against my high school EX-FRIENDS over the mean things they said about me at our recent class reunion in California. Those folks are not Oregon residents, so Oregon courts cannot issue a binding judgment against them. In general, state courts only have jurisdiction over residents, or people with a certain level of business and contact with that state.

Mr. Benjamin Siegel. He did more damage to the instution of marriage in America than a gross of same-sex marriage partisans. But he did dress really nice.

As for what constitutes a 'resident,' in most states, to establish residency for the purpose of having the ability to use the state court system (ie jurisidiction) you need to live in that state between six months and a year. But not in Nevada! The good people in the Nevada legislature decided that if half of a couple lived in the Silver State for SIX WEEKS, Nevada would have legal jurisdiction over not only husband and wife, but also the marriage as well (provided the other half of the couple agreed to Nevada's jurisdiction).

So what? you may ask. Here's what: if Nevada had jurisdiction over Mr. Adam, Ms. Eve, and their marriage, then Adam and Eve could get divorced under the laws of Nevada. And what did it take to get divorced in Nevada? Nevada became the first 'no-fault' divorce state. That means the divorce trial would go something like this:

Judge: "Mr. Adam, are you telling this court there are irreconcible differences between you and Mrs. Eve that have led to irreparable damage to your marriage?"
Adam: Yes.
Judge: Mrs. Eve, do you solemnly swear there are irreconciable differences between you and Mr. Adam that have let to irreparable damage to your marriage?
Eve: I do.
Judge: By the power invested in me by the Great State of Nevada, I pronounce you DIVORCED. You may now kiss whoever you damn well please.

Did this nefarious scheme to get unhappy people to plop down good money for a month and a half hotel stay, enjoy the varied attractions of life in Reno or Vegas, and then leave as a happily divorced ex-couple, actually work? Like gangbusters, to coin a phrase. But before you start thinking badly about Nevada sneakiness, Nevada is hardly unique in the hallowed halls of opportunism. For example, you might want to ask why Wyoming is the 'Equality State.' In 1869, Wyoming territory became the first American state/territory to allow women to vote, just because they felt so strongly about women's rights. Uh huh. Actually, Wyoming needed lots more folks to move there, before they could become a state. So just like Mars in those terrible 1950s sci fi movies: Wyoming needs women! The promise of universal sufferage proved a pretty good draw.

So, here we are: Adam and Eve live in say Virginia. They decide the marriage thing isn't working out. Adam, he spends six weeks in Nevada (and drops a pile of money there as well), then hops a train back home with a piece of paper that says DIVORCED. For the people of the Great Commonwealth of Virginia, that was bad. But it got worse: Adam, freshly rid of Eve, decided to marry Lilith. Would Virginia not only recognize a 'quickee Nevada divorce' (I'm not making that term up) breaking the bonds of a VIRGINIA marriage for no reason, but also then be forced to recognize a NEW marriage? Not bloody likely. I mean, Sic Semper Tyrannis (Virginia's state motto) and all, but that was just too much. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the concensus of American state courts was: 'SCREW YOU, NEVADA!'

Lilith, painted by John Collier in 1892. You know that this is 'art' and not 'porno,' because it's over 100 years old.

Now, for Nevada, that was bad. I mean, six weeks in Reno was loads of fun & great for the sinuses and all--but that wasn't going to get Adam married to Lilith back home in Virginia. And if Adam couldn't get Lilith, Adam wouldn't be coming to Nevada. Time to call in the big dogs, Nevada.

After finding a Nevada resident who could read good, Nevada marched in the federal court system and pointed out that full faith & credit given to JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS of every other state MEANS full faith & credit for ALL judicial proceedings--including Nevada judicial proceedings that granted divorces. The gauntlet was thrown! America then responded in two ways. First and foremost, there was the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth over the sanctity of marriage, the need to preserve marriage as an institution, marriage as a bedrock for our civilization, God hates people who get 'no-fault' divorces...all the same crap that's now used to attack same-sex marriage today. The better argument, though, was that the Nevada divorces were not really 'judicial proceedings.' Returning to the earlier example, Adam and Eve's marriage in Virginia meant that Virginia retained jurisdiction of the marriage. The good people of the Commonwealth of Virginia used their state political process to both define what makes a valid marriage, and what it takes to dissolve that marriage. So if Virginia wanted her citizens to stay both married and bloody miserable, that was Virgina's perogative. A six week vacation in Reno should not be enough to erase Virginia's decision to take an interest in defing and preserving marriage.

A pretty good argument--but no cigar. In 1942, the US Supreme Court in Williams v. North Carolina, 317 US 287 (1942) ordered the state of North Carolina to honor a Nevada no-fault divorce, based on the full faith & credit clause, allowing Mr. Williams to marry the Lilith of his dreams.

Ms. Elizabeth Taylor. I have no idea what her views are on same-sex marriage, but she sure knows her onions about divorce.

So, if Americans could get a divorce judgment for any reason (or even no reason) in Nevada, and that judgment was good everywhere, what does that mean for states who wanted to make divorce hard to get? It means those stringent divorce laws become meaningless--except for the people who couldn't afford to go to Nevada. But 'sucks to be poor' has always been a deep seated, fundamental American value. Nevertheless, the handwriting was on the wall, and the handwritng said "Mene Mene Tekel u-Sorry Charlie!" By 1983, every state but South Dakota and New York had adopted Nevada's no-fault rule for divorce. In 1985, South Dakota finally enacted no-fault divorce, leaving only New York with a watered down version of fault-based requirement for divorce.

But even with everyone having the same basic requirements (or lack thereof) for divorce, family law litigation around full faith and credit is still cooking up a storm. For example, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), a 1980 federal statute, tried to keep non-custodial parents from snatching their own kids, running to the courts of another state, and grabbing a conflicting judgment for child custody. Following passage of the PKPA, a proposed state statute called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), set clear guidelines as to which of several competing states should have jurisdiction in deciding matters of child custody. To date, 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the UCCJEA, meaning in virtually the entire nation, there is a clear answer as to what state court has jurisidiction to resolve any disputes over child custody, visitation, and support.

What does all this have to do with same-sex marriage? Given the chain of court cases following Williams v. North Carolina, if one state (or even a jurisdiction) allows for same-sex marriage, that marriage must be recognized everywhere else in America. A couple cannot be married only in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California, but not married anywhere else. And if the parties to same-sex marriages are themselves divorced and have kids, there is a body of law that dictates who has what rights where--regardless of one man and one woman, or any combination thereof. So if those fiesty states that allow same-sex marriage want to provoke a constitutional crisis, they can. But do they? Big Time, as Dick Cheney would say.

Look at Massachusetts. In 2003, their Supreme Judicial Court held that preventing same-sex marriages violated the state constitution, opening the door for gay marriage. But that door stopped opening in 2006, when the Supreme Judicial Court upheld a 1913 statute that prohibited non-residents from getting married in Massachusetts, if that marriage would be void in their home state. So, same-sex couples could get married--but only if they were Massachusetts residents. Bad news, same-sex marrying types--NOT! After five years of failed voter initiatives and legislative hijinks, Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill on July 31 2008, repealing that 1913 statute--meaning that anyone who wants to can go to Massachusetts and get a same-sex marriage, recognized as a public act (or judicial proceeding--you pick) not only in Massachusetts, but now everywhere else.

But let's say (just for poops & giggles), Californians this November do pass their Ballot Measure 8, and California no longer recognizes same-sex marriage. Even assuming every same-sex marriage in California is then voided, what would happen if all those couples hopped a plane to the Commonwealth of the Bay State, got married, and caught the red eye back home? WHOOPS! NOW they're married.

Ms. Annette Benning and an unidentified man, plotting to destroy marriage -- and then pin it on the gay and lesbian rights movement!

The only thing opponents of same sex marriage can do is have the nation adopt an amendment to the federal constitution, banning same sex marriage. How easy is that? Without going into specifics, the last amendment to the federal constitution was ratified in 1992--some silly amendment about timing of legislators' pay raises. Before that, the 26th Amendment (giving 18 year olds the vote) was ratified in 1971. And before that, the 25th Amendment (clarifying Presidental succession) was ratified in 1967. Amending the federal constitution is not something that happens real regular (just ask your grandmother about the ERA).

So here's where we are. Since 1942, marriages can be dissolved for no reason, and states who don't like it can't stop it. Today, roughly half of all US marriages end in divorce. Dennis Rodman marries Carmen Electra--for ten days. Britney Spears marries Jason Allen Alexander for 55 hours. By any objective measure, 'marriage' as an institution has already been destroyed by no-fault divorce. Any and all damage our nation and culture can suffer from 'ruining' marriage as an institution--either from same-sex marriage or whatever else--that's already happened.

But even if all that whole sordid history of no-fault divorce had not happened, and different-sex marriage retained all its value and power from the good ol' days when people who hated each other stayed together and just drank themselves to death, how exactly how would allowing couples of the same sex marry damage heterosexual marriage? Does anyone oppose gay marriage, because they think they personally might accidently marry someone of the same gender? No, they are afraid that the other people--the STUPID PEOPLE--will suddenly start marrying the same sex with abandon. And that would be 'bad.' (See previous post: "Dumb People Ruin Everything").

So------that's why I am not getting all worked up about California's Ballot Measure 8: No matter how hard you try or how much you care, you're going to have same-sex peoples getting married and living in California.

* * * * *

I began my long march through the history of divorce, by alluding to the fact that I still carry some painful baggage on this issue. Now, a normal person who's a two time loser at matrimony (cough cough) might be expected to be skittish on all things marital. But that's not my problem. No, my pain runs deeper.

The year is 1988, and I'm a second year law student, living la vida jurisprudence and lovin' it. I'm taking the long Constitutional Law class, and enjoy it to the point that there are audible groans all over the class every time I raise my hand. But then came Bad Day at Full Faith and Credit Rock. The professor gave a brief background on Williams v. North Carolina, and some wisenheimer had to ask what the heck difference it made to a state if a couple got a no-fault Nevada divorce, and then married someone else. On behalf of the forces of truth, justice, and historical accuracy, I then tried to explain WHY a state would have an interest in making people who hated each other stay married--a principle I did not believe in, because it's (in a word) wacked. While not technically a violation of the Mark Twain Rule ("Never argue with an idiot: people watching might get confused which one of you is the idiot"), there was no doubt just who was the class idiot that day.

On the plus side, after that awful day, I pretty much stopped talking in that class--which I guess was good news for everyone else.

But let me tell you: fifty years from now, there will be Constitutional Law classes talking about same-sex marriage and the full faith and credit clause, and some joker sitting in the back will say 'What the heck is the state interest in keeping gays and lesbians from marrying? Does anyone really think they're going to accidentally marry someone of the wrong sex? I mean, after the wedding and all the rice is thrown and the little brothers all get drunk and puke at the reception, the couple gets to the hotel--will one guy say 'What the hell--You're a DUDE?' and the other guy says 'What? You mean YOU'RE a dude? OH NO! And now it's TOO LATE! Not even an annulment can save us, because our dream of a nice church wedding is shattered forever!"

Dramatization of law school nerd -- only more fashionably dressed.

And everybody will laugh. I pray to the cowboy buddha that the class nerd-o just laughs with everyone else, and doesn't try to explain the social and political importance of an institution where over half end in divorce in less than five years. Sometimes we learn from other peoples' mistakes--and sometimes, we're the other people.

But we digress.