SHOCKING NEW REVELATION

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In a press release issued with little fanfare, The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has confirmed that it’s possible to contract Ebola through reading about it online or watching CNN’s coverage of the epidemic.

Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers, insists there is no cause for undue concern as long as people moderate their online reading and CNN viewing and keep a careful watch for symptoms.

SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION

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If you take a peek inside the N. Y. Fed, courtesy of Carmen Segarra (above) and the tapes she made of meetings when she was working there, you’ll discover a truly egregious breach of public trust by the institution, one which should have criminal consequences for its leaders, past and present, like Timothy Geithner below:

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We the taxpayers pay the members of the N. Y. Fed to regulate Wall Street, to make sure it doesn’t engage in reckless and criminal behavior that might, just possibly, bring down the world economy, as it very nearly did in 2008.

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They take our money and do just the opposite — they coddle and suck up to Wall Street, in essence shielding it from meaningful scrutiny and regulation, all the while knowing that if they do this well they can cash in with lucrative jobs on Wall Street once they leave the Fed.

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This is direct theft from the public treasury for personal gain — those who engage in it should be in jail.  Any president who condones it — I’m talking to you, Barry — should be impeached.

GOOD RIDDANCE

Attn. General Holder Testifies At Senate Judiciary Hearing On Justice Dept Oversight

. . . to one of the most corrupt public officials in American history.  He invented the “too big to fail” concept that kept Wall Street firms intact in the wake of extreme and disastrous criminal behavior and kept their executives out of jail.  His relentless war on the press kept it tame in the face of his boss’s equally relentless war on the Constitution.

He leaves behind a legacy of momentous villainy in the service of the plutocracy and state tyranny.

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AN AMERICAN HERO

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Carmen Segarra, the Edward Snowden of Wall Street.  If I were her, I’d be exploring the possibility of sanctuary in a foreign country.

Listen to her story here – for a portrait of the New York Fed as a culture of systemic corruption, like the office of a crooked small-town sheriff working to protect an illegal gambling joint run by his brother-in-law.  The stench is nauseating.

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GEORGE WASHINGTON

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America’s first President is usually seen as man easy to admire but hard to love.  In his public life, and to a great degree in his personal life, he mastered a kind of cordiality without warmth, a modest reserve mixed with a forbidding austerity.  He had a genius for silence, for withholding his true feelings, yet when he made up his mind to something he acted with unflinching resolve.

He was a man you underestimated at your own peril.

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If you read Ron Chernow’s brilliant recent biography of the man, however,you will find it hard not to love George Washington — and not just for his services to his country.  Beneath the artfully crafted facade he presented to the world was a man of deep sentiment and emotion and sensuality, sacrificed over and over again to his sense of honor and duty.

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He was not a natural stoic, not a cold self-satisfied prig — he chose service over inclination as a matter of principle, and endured the sacrifices this entailed fully sensible of the pain and personal loss this choice cost him.

Towards the end of his life, after leading the Continental Army to victory over the British Empire, presiding over the creation of the American Constitution, serving wisely and indispensably as the first American President, he wrote a letter to a woman named Sally Fairfax, the wife of a good friend, with whom he’d had an intense and passionate if platonic flirtation in his younger days.

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He said that the times he’d spent with her were the happiest of his life.  She must have represented all he could have had in this world if he’d been willing to overstep the bounds of propriety, violate his honor, and hers, given up his notions of civic and personal probity, the record of integrity that enabled him to spearhead the creation a new country and bind it into a workable union.

He was not the sort of man to second guess the course he chose, but he was human enough to hold on to a longing for something simpler and sweeter and more enchanting.  You have to love him, if only for that.

BIG MEN

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Reading Ron Chernow’s magnificent biography of George Washington, I find myself getting emotional over the example of the men who led The American Revolution.

They weren’t perfect by any means.  They were motivated by economic self-interest as much as by idealism, and they were hypocrites.  They took the field in their great war for liberty accompanied by slaves.  They allowed blacks to fight beside them in the Continental Army without the slightest intention of allowing those blacks to share fully in the fruits of the victory they might win together.

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But when push came to shove, time and time again they transcended themselves.  They got caught up and swept along by the idea of liberty and it changed them, moved them to do fine and noble and courageous things, things virtually unprecedented in history and in their own lives.

They were big men, capable of rising to big occasions, big challenges.  In American politics today there are no men or women as big as they were.  We are squandering the great gift they left to posterity.

MASTER OF THE SENATE

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I just finished this third volume of Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson.  The fourth volume, The Passage Of Power, is now on its way to me.  I’ve tried to make my way through the work slowly, to prolong the pleasure, and so I won’t have such a long wait for the fifth and final volume, which won’t be out for several years, but it’s not working out that way.  Caro is just too compulsively readable.

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The Years Of Lyndon Johnson is like a vast Victorian novel, on a scale that would have daunted even Dickens (though perhaps not Tolstoy).  It bristles with life, with amazing characters and amazing incidents and amazing revelations that compel attention.  Indeed, if we didn’t have evidence of Caro’s prodigious and meticulous research, we might easily dismiss his work as fiction.

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It’s the most important work about the nation since de Tocqueville‘s Democracy In America — a comprehensive education in American institutions, American aspirations, American delusions, American idealism, American skulduggery.  Reading it ought to be considered a civic duty — a thoroughly pleasurable civic duty, like watching fireworks on the 4th Of July.

PERRY’S DEFENSE

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In their motion to dismiss the indictment against him, Rick Perry’s lawyers (above) made a curious legal argument.  They said that Perry had an absolute legal right under the Texas Constitution to veto funding, or threaten to veto funding, and an absolute legal right under the First Amendment to say anything he wanted to say while exercising that veto right.  Therefore, they conclude, these two acts, the exercise of a veto and the exercise of free speech, being both in themselves legal, can’t be linked to establish felonious coercion.

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Think about this in another context.  You are openly carrying a firearm (somewhere where this is broadly legal, like Alaska), you show your firearm to someone, you say, “Your money or your life.”  According to Perry’s lawyers, this would not go to establishing attempted robbery because, if openly carrying a firearm is legal, you have a legal right to show your gun to anyone, and because, under the First Amendment, you have a legal right to say anything while showing off your gun.

Hmmm . . .

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In the real world, of course, no state allows you to openly carry a gun and use it for purposes of intimidation or threat — just as Texas doesn’t allow a governor to use any of his otherwise constitutional powers for the purpose of coercing another public servant.

In some cases, exercising two legal rights in concert can add up to a legal wrong.

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THE YEARS OF LYNDON JOHNSON

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Epic, majestic, magisterial — it’s hard to find words equal to Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, now just one volume away from completion.

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Five massive volumes on any historical figure might seem like overkill, but not in this case, because Caro is just as interested in the social and political context of Johnson’s life as he is in biographical details.

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As a congressman in the 1930s, Johnson was instrumental in bringing electricity to his district, the hard-luck Hill Country of Texas, where Johnson was born.  Caro details the dazzlingly complex political maneuvers Johnson employed to do this, but he also wants you to know what the accomplishment meant — so he devotes a long chapter to describing the day-to-day life of Hill Country ranchers and farmers, and particularly Hill Country ranchers’ and farmers’ wives, in the days before electrification.  The result is the best, most powerful and most harrowing evocation of daily frontier life and labor ever written.

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And this is just one example of Caro’s ability to illuminate the world Johnson moved in, the world that made him and the world he changed, for better and for worse.

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Johnson was a fabulous, mythic creature, not least because he understood the way American political life was changing in the 20th Century — understood how a ruthless and tireless man could ride those changes to a position of unprecedented power.

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The story of Johnson’s life is wildly entertaining, wildly inspiring, wildly depressing — because it exposes the deep corruption of the American political process along with its unaccountable ability to accomplish great things.

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You simply can’t understand America in our own time without understanding the dark genius and eccentric idealism of Lyndon Johnson.  He was a man who, like America itself, can never be explained or fully known — a man at the very heart of the paradox that is America.

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HEY, GOOD LOOKIN’

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Rick Perry is conducting his public defense against his indictment for abuse of power like a political campaign.  His booking on the charges was the occasion for a jaunty and rousing speech and even the mug shot (on which the gag poster above is based) turned out to be a successful photo op.  That mug shot may be the best of all his official portraits.

Perry knows politics, particularly Texas politics, as well as anyone who’s ever lived, which is one reason he’s the longest-serving Texas governor ever.  He seems to be a political animal down to his fingertips, so it’s instinctive with him to turn a fingerprinting session into a campaign event.

Perry is also contemplating another run at the Presidency, so it’s important for him to limit the national public’s perception of the damage from the indictment.  Treating it like a silly gnat that he can swipe away with the flick of a wrist is just the ticket for that.

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In the courtroom, it may not be so simple.  Perry is accused of violating a very plain and very Texas sort of law which prohibits an official from using his power to coerce another public servant into taking an action that the other public servant doesn’t want to take.

In the wake of her very public and very humiliating arrest for drunk driving — very drunk driving — Perry tried to get Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg (above) to resign.  A lot of people agreed that she should, but she refused to.  So Perry apparently used various implements in his tool box to force her to resign, including a threat to veto funding for a government watchdog agency she headed, a threat he eventually carried through on.

Perry knew he would win the public relations battle over his actions, as he largely has, but he failed to take the anti-coercion law into account.  Linking his veto threat specifically to Lehmberg’s resignation was, on the face of it, a clear violation of that law.  Perry may well win the public relations battle over his case and still get convicted of a felony or two.

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Perry is like a modern-day John Henry, a man who knows how to drive steel with a hammer better than anyone else, but is baffled by the task of operating a screwdriver.  That bifurcation of skills and perception is the fascination of the man, and will be the fascination of the trial.  He and his legal team will try to bring Perry’s hammer into the courtroom.  The prosecutor will try to turn the jury’s attention towards the mishandled screwdriver.

It will be one of the most interesting political trials since the days of Watergate.

THE CASE AGAINST PERRY

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Commentators on Rick Perry’s indictment are falling into a pattern — mischaracterizing the charges against him, and then defending him or attacking him on the basis of those mischaracterized charges.  Perry is not charged with using his power, specifically his power of line-item veto, in an irresponsible or unethical way — he’s charged with using those things for the one purpose he’s legally bound by Texas law not to use them for, namely, attempting to coerce a public servant, Rosemary Lehmberg, into taking an action she didn’t want to take and wasn’t legally required to take, resigning from office.

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Perry’s motives for doing this are irrelevant.  He may have, as he’s argued, simply wanted to rid the state of an official who’d lost its confidence, due to her problems with alcohol and the law.  He may have, as his opponents have argued, really wanted to replace her with a Travis County DA less liable to tangle with his administration.

Neither of these things are important to the case as a legal matter, and won’t figure into the prosecution’s arguments, which will try to prove that Perry committed a felony or two by attempting to coerce a specific public servant into resigning, which the law forbids.

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As a defendant, Perry has in his favor the presumption of innocence, the affection of most of his fellow Texans, and the notion, on both sides of the aisle, that the charges against him are sketchy, punishment for playing hardball politics as usual.  But the law is the law, and a very careful, reportedly non-partisan prosecutor has determined that he broke it.

Spinning the case as a question of ethics, or intention, or partisan politics is the business of Perry’s supporters and enemies.  The trial will deal with facts and the law, and none of the spin will figure into it at all.  I suspect that this will take a lot of the pundits, and those who follow them, by surprise.