HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

June 18, 2007
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


Turning Point

Judge Diana Gribbon Mott of the Fourth Circuit Court is my new hero. It was she who wrote the opinion saying that the president has no right to seize people and keep them in jail indefinitely just because he designates them enemy combatants. The substance of the ruling was good but the language was even better. Judge Mott held that "to sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the President calls them 'enemy combatants,' would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution --and the country."

I wish she had gone forward and declared that the disastrous consequences would have been the establishment of tyranny, but I don't suppose judges can say things like that. She came close, though.

The Bush administration says it will appeal her ruling. The outcome of a contest between people like Bush and people like Judge Mott could determine the nature of the United States for years to come. It's clear, after six years, that the president has not the slightest inkling of what a constitutional democracy is. He wants to do what he likes and he doesn't care what his wishes do to the fabric of constitutional law. We've had chief executives before who wanted to get round the Constitution but none who like Bush wanted simply to scrap it and rule by presidential decree. If the history of this era is ever written soberly and honestly, it will depict him as the most damaging public official we've ever had.


No Relief

Judge Thomas H. Wilson of Monroe County, Georgia has just issued this statement:

"If this court or any court cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here,
then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived
to accomplish -- justice being served in a fair and equal manner."

He was speaking of the ten year prison sentence given to a high school student, who, when he was seventeen, committed a sex act with his willing fifteen year old girl friend. Now, his sentence has been repealed but the young man, now twenty-one, still can't get out of jail because the Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker announced he would appeal the judge's ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court. Mr. Baker, evidently, wants to keep the young man in jail for the full ten years. He has already been in prison two years for what is now a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of a year in jail.  The law applicable to acts of the sort for which he was convicted was repealed by the Georgia legislature, mainly because of near universal belief that the punishment in this case was wildly excessive. But that doesn't matter to Attorney-General Baker.

Just think what had to happen for all this to come about. A local district attorney had to decide to prosecute a high school student with no criminal record for having sex with his girlfriend, and charge him with a crime that carried a ten year prison sentence. A court had to convict him. A judge had to sentence him. And now a state attorney general has to spend a pile of tax dollars to try to keep him in jail.

What's wrong with all these people? The answer is clear. There are no consequences for their vicious behavior. All over the nation people are being mistreated by law enforcement officials. You can read of clear cut cases every day. And yet almost never is there any discipline applied for virtually insane misuse of power. That being the case, what's going to stop it?

The answer, again, is clear. Nothing. The people of the United States will, occasionally get riled up about a particularly egregious abuse of power and demand that the victim get out of jail -- that is if he hasn't already been killed. But we don't hear any serious call for correcting the system or for holding accountable officials who committed far worse acts than the ones they prosecute.


Finally, An Explanation

Watching the TV news a few nights ago, when various commentators were expressing astonishment that President Bush's approval rating was down to 29%, I  found myself asking, how can there be that many? After all, 29% of the population of the United States adds up to millions. It's a frightening thought that millions of Americans approve of George Bush.

Then, just this morning, in a relatively obscure web site, I found the answer (you can find anything on the web). On Kung Fu Monkey, back in 2005, John and Tyrone were having lunch discussion number 145, and Tyrone put forward the explanation that 27% of the voters in any country, any time, are completely irrational. This he calls "the crazification factor." He bases it on the fact that in the race between Alan Keyes and Barack Obama, with Keyes being utterly nuts and not even from Illinois, he still got 27% of the vote.

I found some solace in this because last fall here in Vermont we had a similar senate race in which a guy named Rich Tarrant, who was a dishonest, obviously incompetent cad got about 30% of the vote, after spending millions of his own money on TV commercials so disgusting they made your stomach turn. For weeks I felt we had disgraced ourselves. But, the crazification factor explains the Tarrant vote as well as Bush's approval -- almost.

What about the 2% who approve of Bush and aren't crazy? How do we account for them? Are two percent of the people getting rich off corrupt government contracts in Iraq, or receiving high salaries for work in politicized U.S. Attorneys' offices?


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