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.

Rick Perry

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 . . .


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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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Click on the images to enlarge.



Jacques Demy’s films are odd combinations of whimsey, melancholia, fantasy, grace and bittersweet transcendence.  They are always sincerely humane but sometimes, for me, a bit thin, a bit precious.

Lola, his first feature film, from 1961, has its moments of genuine magic, and one wrenching dramatic confrontation, but it has an anodyne quality overall.  Demy loves to set up situations that threaten disaster but end up o. k., or even magically well.  This can start to seem a little too pat and cute at times.


Of course, at other times Demy deals with genuine emotional disasters that are only redeemed by resignation, acceptance and charity, and his films can be deeply moving when he ventures into that sort of psychic territory.  Essentially, Demy’s work is melodrama, inflected in quirky ways — sometimes a bit too fecklessly, sometimes in ways that are surprising and amusing, sometimes in ways that touch the heart memorably.


There’s never been another film artist quite like him.  At his best he’s eccentrically brilliant, and even when he’s not at his best he reveals a spirit that’s sweetly endearing.  Lola is not, to my mind, Demy at his best, but it’s entertaining and charming enough in its own modest terms.  Raoul Coutard’s wonderful black-and-white cinematography, all done on location in Nantes, is alone worth the price of admission.