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.

MORE TEXAS IRONY

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When Rick Perry tried to encourage (or, according to the indictment against him, coerce) Rosemary Lehmberg, the DA of Travis County, to resign, he argued plausibly that her drinking problems, which landed her in jail, had eroded trust among Texans generally in the Public Integrity Unit she headed.  So he threatened to veto funding for that office unless she resigned, and carried through on that threat when she didn’t.

Perry was probably right about the erosion of trust in Lehmberg, but who knows for sure?  I doubt if Perry conducted any scientific polling on the issue, and Texas history is full of politicians who couldn’t hold their liquor yet served without controversy in their posts.

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Lehmberg’s problems with alcohol and with the law would certainly have distracted her from her duties, for a while, but as far as I know Perry never offered any concrete evidence that Lehmberg’s office wasn’t performing its statutory functions in a competent way.  It was all based on Perry’s notion, reasonable though it may have been, that there was a public perception of incompetence.

Perry’s own legal problems will certainly distract him from his duties as governor, for a while — probably far longer than Lehmberg’s DUI conviction and jail term distracted her — but Perry clearly has no intention of stepping aside as acting governor until his legal problems are resolved.

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And if someone argued that being indicted for two felonies created a perception of incompetence on the governor’s part, requiring his resignation, he would hardly be moved to do so.  And finally, if the Texas legislature voted to de-fund any of the various agencies Perry controls, in an attempt to coerce him into resigning, he would be well within his rights to take the legislators to court.

Texas has a law against attempting any such coercion of a public servant.

MORE ON THE PERRY INDICTMENT

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Rosemary Lehmberg, the District Attorney of Travis County, Texas, does not serve at the pleasure of Texas Governor Rick Perry — she serves at the pleasure of the voters of Travis County.  The law Perry has been accused of violating, by trying to coerce Lehmberg into resigning, was designed to keep such lines of demarcation clear.

It’s actually a pretty good law, and totally in line with Texas ideas about government.  It promotes the decentralization of power by prohibiting powerful officials from bullying less powerful officials, setting a strict limit on the power any particular official can exercise.

Rick Perry

Perry’s indictment thus contains a profound irony.  Texas libertarians and conservatives are being hoist by their own petard, with one of their own tripped up by a law designed to enforce their own beliefs about limiting the power of government officials.

The debate seems to be centered on whether or not Perry was right to want Lehmberg to resign, and a good case can be made that she should have, but that’s not the legal issue in play — it’s whether or not Perry tried to coerce Lehmberg into resigning, in violation of Texas law.

Big difference.

LONE STAR

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I have a certain amount of affection for Rick Perry.  His lackadaisical style and common sense approach to governance have served his state well for a long time.  The economic success of Texas through bad times for the economy in general has benefited not just the fat cats but all Texans across the economic spectrum.  Now, however, his common sense has run afoul of the laws of Texas, which have always sought to limit the power of elected officials — a limitation that Perry endorses as a core principle.

The District Attorney of Travis County, a Democratic enclave in a Republican state, is charged with investigating the ethics of the lawmakers who work in Austin, the seat of Travis County as well as the state capital.  This creates a natural tension between a Democratic DA in Travis and a Republican state administration.

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The current DA, Rosemary Lehmberg (above), had some personal problems recently — she was arrested for driving around stinking drunk and didn’t behave well in police custody.  Many people, across the political spectrum, thought she should resign, but she didn’t — she served her jail time, went into rehab and carried on.

Perry decided to try to force her out of office.  He argued that this was a simple matter of good governance, though of course her resignation would also allow him to appoint her successor, a Republican less inclined to tangle with his administration.

What Perry did was veto the funding for the Public Integrity Unit Lehmberg headed — on the face of it a reasonable measure, since it could be argued that Lehmberg’s office had lost the confidence of the public and shouldn’t be entrusted with public funds.

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What Perry didn’t take into account was a Texas law making it a felony for a governor to use his power to coerce another public servant.  His veto was clearly an effort to coerce Lehmberg into resigning.  Her resignation might very well be a good thing for the state of Texas, and would certainly be a good thing for Perry, but Perry was legally prohibited from trying to coerce it.

Hence a real Texas mess.  Most Texans would not be inclined to criticize Perry for wanting Lehmberg to resign, calling for her to resign — but there was that law forbidding him from trying to coerce her into resigning, which it seems he did.

Texans want severe limits on the power of elected officials, but they tend to look the other way when they exceed their power for the good of the state.  Those two impulses have now come into conflict in a most ironic and spectacular way.  It’s all very . . . Texan.

RAND PAUL

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In the wake of the ghastly events in Ferguson, Missouri, Rand Paul, almost alone among politicians of national prominence, called for the demilitarization of the police.  It was a more courageous response than we got from Barack Obama, who called for calm, or Hillary Clinton, who said nothing.

Instantly liberal pundits started trying to discount Rand’s statements, reminding us that he once had doubts, on ideological libertarian grounds, about provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and calling his current position opportunistic.  In fact, Rand has been speaking out about the disproportionate persecution of blacks by the police for months.

Image: File of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivering remarks at the State Department  in Washington

Liberal pundits are deeply threatened by acts of political courage by conservatives, probably because they know how appealing they are to the public at large in this age of liberal pusillanimity and downright cowardice.  In the latest poll about possible match-ups in the 2016 Presidential race, Hillary now leads Rand by only 6 points.  Not long ago she led him by 12 points.

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That trend will continue.  Hillary is playing not to lose — a losing strategy, as any poker player will tell you.  Rand is putting his chips in play.  He’s driving the game — Hillary is just trying to run out the clock and stay in it.  She’s the fish at the table.

Rand is not doing as well against his Republican rivals for the nomination, but the debates could change that.  In debates between the principled Paul and the mealymouthed Clinton, it would be no contest.

THUGS

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When I was 17, working a summer job at the track in Saratoga Springs, New York, some co-workers and I managed one night to illegally purchase a case of beer.  We took it out back of the local high school, into a dark area where we thought we’d be hidden, and started drinking.

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A police cruiser, on a routine patrol or perhaps alerted by people living near the school, pulled up into the parking lot by the side of the school and spotted us.  We ran, climbing an 8-foot chain-link fence behind the school.

When I got to the top of the fence I heard the police firing shots into the air and commanding us to stop.  I didn’t stop — I vaulted the rest of the way over the fence and ran though a succession of backyards until I’d put the school far behind me, eventually making my way to where I was living without further incident.

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I was breaking the law in several ways that night — I’d helped buy beer while under age, I was consuming it in a semi-public place while under age, and I was trespassing on city property.  If this had all happened in a black section of town, if I had been a young black male, I wonder if the police might have felt empowered to shoot at me instead of into the air as I was failing to abide by a lawful police order.

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Michael Brown had apparently broken the law in several ways on the day he was shot in Ferguson, Missouri — swiping some cigars from a convenience store, walking down the middle of a street, perhaps failing to abide by the lawful order of a police officer.

You could say he was acting like a thug on that day, just as you could say I was acting like a thug that night in Saratoga Springs — except that no one would have said it of me.  Because I was white, I was just a teenager doing something stupid and irresponsible.  It never occurred to me that I might get shot for running away from the police, for acquiring and consuming beer illegally.

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It was a youthful indiscretion, which probably amused the police more than it outraged them — a youthful indiscretion that I was proud, at the age of 17, to have gotten away with.  I knew it was wrong, but at 17 I didn’t care.

Michael Brown paid for his youthful indiscretion with his life — because he was seen and treated as a thug . . . and it’s hard to doubt that he was seen and treated that way primarily because he was black.

FERGUSON

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In the wake of events in Ferguson, Missouri:

Barack Obama has called for calm and reflection.

Hillary Clinton, clearly still huddling with her handlers to find the the most politically advantageous position to take, has said NOTHING.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul has called for the demilitarization of the police — the only response that might actually help black Americans in a practical way.

SAUDI AMERICA

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Normally I can keep in check my rage against modern American Puritans, but that’s mostly because I live in Las Vegas, where vestiges of social freedom remain.  When I venture out into Saudi America, I lose it.

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America has become a land of moral pygmies — able to coolly tolerate the Surveillance State, the Nanny State, the epidemic of obesity, the murder and mass incarceration of blacks at the hands of the Police State, the fraud of corporate “democracy”, the subversion of The Constitution, but outraged like a ravished virgin if someone smokes a cigarette within 20 feet of the entrance to a non-smoking establishment in, say, Arizona.

To all of you Americans who support laws restricting smoking, just because you don’t happen to like the smell of tobacco smoke, among whom are many people I consider friends, I say — “Fuck you, fuck you where you breathe.”  You are pathetic moral zeros who need to get a life.  Now.

I love you — but you are pathetic moral zeros who need to get a life.  Now.

AMERICA

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. . . is not Barack Obama’s security state.  It’s not the government in Washington owned and controlled by corporations.  It’s not the majority of morally insane stooges of the plutocracy currently sitting on the Supreme Court.

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America is you and me, we the people — with the power and the duty to take our nation back from the deranged criminals who’ve hijacked it from us.  It’s a mission we must undertake, by any means necessary, out of obligation to our past and to posterity.

THE VOICE OF AMERICA

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So when we think about the nation we think about our country, we think about our home, we think about the people living in it and we think about its values. When we think about the state, we’re thinking about an institution.

The distinction there is that we now have an institution that has become so powerful it feels comfortable granting itself new authorities, without the involvement of the country, without the involvement of the public, without the full involvement of all of our elected representatives and without the full involvement of open courts, and that’s a terrifying thing –- at least for me.

That’s Edward Snowden speaking in a new interview in The Guardian.  We’re so lucky that we still have American citizens like this, though they seem to be in shorter and shorter supply.  Their enemies, like Barry Obama, are the real traitors, and belong in jail.

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If you think that Barry Obama represents this country, represents America, represents you, you’re living in a dream world.  Barry Obama represents a totalitarian corporate state of which you are merely a dispensable subject, with no rights beyond those he chooses to grant you out of the goodness of his heart.

Read the whole interview here — it’s long, but essential:

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With thanks for the link to PZ . . .