Trial lawyers will tell you that any good prosecutor could convince a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.
Well, meet that ham sandwich! Here in my burg of Austin, Texas, a grand jury has just indicted Gov. Rick “Rooti-Toot-Toot” Perry, a real ham — only not as smart. He’s charged with official abuse of power — specifically, threatening to veto all state funding for a public integrity unit that, among other things, was investigating corrupt favoritism in one of the governor’s pet projects. Perry was trying to muscle out of office the woman who is the duly elected head of that unit, presumably to halt its inquiry. Leave office, he publicly barked at her, or I’ll take away all your money. She didn’t, and he did.
Not smart, for that’s an illegal quid pro quo, much like linking a campaign donation to an official favor. This led to a judge, a special prosecutor, a grand jury and now the indictment of the gubernatorial ham sandwich.
Perry and his Republican operatives quickly denounced and even threatened both the special prosecutor and the jurors as partisan hacks who, in Rick’s words, “will be held to account.” Thuggish as that is, the national media have mostly swallowed Perry’s hokum that he’s the victim, indicted for nothing more than exercising his veto power. It’s crude politics, Rick howled. But political candidates should avoid getting defensive — as old-timers put it, any candidate who’s explaining is losing.
So it’s a hoot to watch Gov. Rick “Oops” Perry try to explain away his felony indictment for abusing his gubernatorial power. His first ploy has been to try dodging real questions by turning the indictment into a circus.
He literally mugged for the cameras when getting his mugshot taken as he turned this courthouse moment into a raucous Republican political rally. Image consultants had advised him to ditch the horn-rimmed glasses that previous image makers had told him to wear so he’d look smarter. Also, he wore a light-blue tie, for the consultants said that color conveys trust. Of course, he always coifs his trademark hair, but they also told him to apply skin makeup to avert any sweaty look and to put cool packs on his eyes on the morning of the shot so he wouldn’t look haggard or … well, guilty. Think pleasant thoughts as the picture is snapped, they instructed, and smile — but a humble smile, not an overconfident one.
Perry did all of the above, except the humble smile, giving his usual arrogant smirk instead. The day before his courthouse circus opened, Ringmaster Rick brought in the clowns — a whole troupe of $450-an-hour, hotshot lawyers wearing red power ties, came blustering onstage with Perry from out of a back room, as though tumbling out of a tiny clown car. Introduced as the indictee’s legal dream team, each tried to outdo the other in a slapstick show of résumés, puffing themselves up as junkyard-tough lawyers who would shred this prosecutor and his flimsy case. Meant to show how strong Perry is, the pack of lawyers only raised another question for Perry in the public mind: If the charges against you are nothing, as you keep saying, why do you need so many heavyweight, extremely pricey lawyers?
Perry has hornswoggled the pundits, but don’t let them fool you — Perry clearly abused his power as governor. Again, the issue is not Perry’s veto, but his linking of a veto threat to his effort to oust an elected public official. As for his hamming it up about being a poor victim of Democrats, the judge who appointed the prosecutor is a Republican, and the prosecutor himself was nominated to federal office by President Bush I, and endorsed by Texas’ Republican senators. This indictment is not a show. It’s way more serious than Perry is, and the real explaining he’ll have to do will be in a somber courthouse — under oath. To keep up with Perry’s circus, go to Texans for Public Justice at www.tpj.org.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, August 27, 2014
“It’s Your Money”: Speaker Boehner’s Lawyer Is Charging The American Taxpayer $500 An Hour To Sue Obama
Last January, a Washington attorney named David Rivkin co-authored an article in Politico Magazine that laid out a legal theory that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) now plans to use to sue President Obama because the president is not implementing Obamacare fast enough. Yet, as ThinkProgress laid out shortly after Boehner announced that he would file the lawsuit, Rivkin’s legal theory rests upon “a glaring misrepresentation of a recent Supreme Court decision that undermines much of the basis for this lawsuit.”
Nevertheless, Boehner decided to hire Rivkin to represent the GOP-led House in its suit against the president. Rivkin’s price? $500 an hour, all charged to the American taxpayer.
The contract caps Rivkin’s fees at a total of $350,000, although, if past is prologue, this cap will rise quickly. During the litigation challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, Boehner hired former Solicitor General Paul Clement to defend anti-gay discrimination at a fee of $520 per hour. Although an early iteration of Clement’s contract capped his total fees at $500,000, the total cost of Boehner’s legal services rose to $2.3 million. Clement’s legal fees were also charged to the American taxpayer.
However much money Rivkin ultimately collects from the American people, he is unlikely to win his lawsuit if the judges who consider it follow existing law. As a general rule, a plaintiff bringing a lawsuit must have actually been injured in some way by the person they are suing. Neither Boehner nor any other member of Congress, however, has been injured by President Obama’s decision to delay implementation of the provision of the Affordable Care Act at issue in this case. Additionally, in a 1997 case called Raines v. Byrd, the Supreme Court explained that suits brought by members of Congress alleging that their institutional rights as lawmakers have been injured are highly discouraged.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, August 25, 2014
You’ve probably never heard of Claudette Colvin. And yet, had history twisted in a slightly different direction, she might loom as large in American memory as Rosa Parks does now while Parks herself would be a little-remembered seamstress.
Colvin, you see, did what Parks did, nine months before Parks did it. In March of 1955, the African-American high-school girl refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. Local civil rights leaders had been seeking a test case around which to build their fight against segregation on the buses and briefly considered rallying around her.
But it turned out Colvin had used some pungent language in defending her right to her seat. She cried and struggled against the police who arrested her. Worse, the 15-year-old was pregnant. Knowing white Montgomery would seize upon these things to attack her, civil rights leaders passed on Colvin and bided their time.
Their patience paid off in December when bus driver J.F. Blake demanded the dignified and reserved Parks, 42, give up her seat. She said, “No,” then submitted quietly to arrest. Still, most of us would agree Colvin’s pregnancy and behavior had no bearing upon the only salient question: Was segregation wrong? Although civil-rights leaders had no practical choice but to take those issues into account, they were nevertheless irrelevant to the issue at hand.
Much as many of the questions being asked about Michael Brown are now. In the days since the unarmed 18-year-old black man was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, some of us have acted as if the important questions here are: Did he shoplift cigars from a convenience store? Did he strong-arm the proprietor? Was he a bad kid?
Here’s a blanket answer: Who cares?
Not to deny those things are newsworthy. But they are also useless in answering or even framing the one question that really matters: Was Brown, as witnesses say he was, standing with hands raised in surrender when he was killed? If the answer to any of those other questions is yes, they justify him ending that fateful day in jail — not lying face-down on a street.
We’ve seen this before. The national dialogue on the shooting of Trayvon Martin came to be dominated by arguments over how he was dressed, his suspension from school and his marijuana use instead of the central question of whether George Zimmerman was justified in following and shooting him.
Now here’s one Linda Chavez writing in the New York Post that it is somehow misleading — too sympathetic, perhaps — to describe Brown as an “unarmed … teenager,” although he was, in fact, exactly that. Meantime, The New York Times observes that Brown “was no angel.” But do you need to be an angel not to deserve getting shot while unarmed?
Some of us, it seems, need Brown to be the personification of hulking, menacing black manhood. Others, it must be said, need him to be a harmless teddy bear. But he was, by most accounts, just a middling man of both flaws and promise, challenges and hope who was yet in the process of becoming — not unlike many kids his age, black and white. Not unlike Claudette Colvin.
Has nothing changed since 1955? Must we await the coming of the Rosa-Parks-of-getting-shot-while-unarmed before we can address how the nation’s perception of young black men as somehow inherently dangerous too often leads to undeserved suspensions, dismissals, incarceration and death?
Shame on us if that’s what it takes. Human rights are not contingent upon character reference and background check. So it is immaterial whether Michael Brown was a bad kid. Or, for that matter, a good one.
He was a kid who may not have deserved what he got. And that’s the only thing that matters.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald, August 27, 2014
This year Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chose to spend Father’s Day with two GOP political sugar daddies, Charles and David Koch, at their annual retreat, this time at the lovely St. Regis Monarch Bay resort in Orange County, California. As befit the day, McConnell brought the love: “I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you’re doing. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”
It’s a good thing McConnell sucked up to the wealthy right-wing industrialists. He could be looking for a job soon, once Kentuckians (and opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes) hear the audiotape of the session obtained by the Nation. (A transcript can be found here.)
The same weekend ISIL began approaching Baghdad, and Eric Cantor had just lost his primary for, among other reasons, being too cozy with big donors, McConnell took time to schmooze the Kochs and their network of funders and organizers. He wasn’t the only Senate candidate there: the next day, GOP Senate nominees Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado joined the retreat, the Nation’s Lauren Windsor has reported, and all pledged allegiance to the Kochs.
“The exposure to this group and to this network, and the opportunity to meet so many of you, really started my trajectory,” kvelled Ernst, who attended the summit last year. (You can hear audio of her remarks at the Huffington Post).
But only McConnell was devoted enough to spend Father’s Day addressing the Kochs – and only McConnell said anything substantive enough to ensure him home-state trouble.
Kentuckians may find themselves chagrined to learn that McConnell promised the Kochs and their friends that he would intensify gridlock if Republicans win control of the Senate. While legislation requires 60 votes, he noted, budget bills only require a simple majority, and he promised to attach “riders” defunding Obamacare, financial regulation laws and the entire Environmental Protection Agency to any spending bill — riders that President Obama would likely veto, which could trigger another government shutdown.
He also attacked Democrats for wasting time on their “gosh darn proposals” – like raising the minimum wage, which Kentuckians support by almost 2-1, and extending unemployment insurance, likewise backed by his state’s voters.
Here’s what McConnell said on those points, verbatim.
We can pass the spending bill, and I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill: No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board.
And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage — cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment — that’s a great message for retirees; the student loan package the other day; that’s going to make things worse. These people believe in all the wrong things.
Kentuckians can decide who believes in all the wrong things come November.
In June the Nation first reported on the annual Koch retreat, loftily titled “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society,” and heavily focused on helping the GOP take back the Senate. 2016 contender Sen. Marco Rubio attended along with McConnell, but it was the man the Kochs hope will be the Senate majority leader come January who headlined the crucial session “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights.”
If dollars themselves could vote in Kentucky politics, McConnell would defeat Grimes in a landslide. At the Koch retreat, the Senate veteran depicted himself as a tireless soldier for the freedom of money in politics. He described the right to make unlimited political contributions as “the one freedom, that without which we can’t do anything.” His fealty to the cause of money in politics got embarrassing at times.
According to the Nation, McConnell talked about his many filibusters of campaign finance reform the way other men his age describe war battles. “The worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law,” McConnell told the Kochs and their friends. Others might say 9/11, or the day President Reagan was shot (or further back, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr.) But not Mitch.
The only people he praises more than the Koch brothers are the five-member Supreme Court majority that voted to abolish McCain-Feingold in the Citizens United decision, calling the John Roberts-led bench:
The best Supreme Court in anybody’s memory on the issue of First Amendment political speech…[Now] you can give to the candidate of your choice, You can give to Americans for Prosperity, or something else, a variety of different ways to push back against the party of government…I’m really proud of this Supreme Court…It’s only five to four, and I pray for the health of the five.
But not the other four, obviously. Tough luck, RBG.
When David Koch himself, during the question and answer session, complained about a New York Times editorial lamenting the influence of big Koch money, and asked about Democrats’ attempts to start the process of amending the Constitution to state that Congress may in fact regulate campaign contributions, McConnell was at his feistiest.
“This is an act of true radicalism,” McConnell declared. “It shows how far they’re willing to go to quiet the voices of their critics … The IRS, the SEC and the FEC. They’re on a full-tilt assault to use the power of the government to go after their critics.”
By comparison with the seasoned McConnell, Senate candidates Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner were restrained, as Lauren Windsor reports in the Huffington Post. A grateful Gardner, happy about all the Koch-related third-party money flowing into his race, told the crowd that among the people most excited about his run was “the station manager at Channel 9 in Denver because he knew the activity that would be taking place on the airwaves.”
Tom Cotton likewise thanked the group for its role in his success. “[The Koch-funded] Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state … building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state invested in their communities,” Cotton explained.
But only McConnell went on record endorsing the Koch brothers’ entire big money agenda, while mocking popular “gosh darn” Democratic policies like a minimum wage hike, restoring extended unemployment insurance and easing the student loan burden. McConnell’s role in blocking her student-loan compromise earned him a visit to Kentucky by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, on behalf of Grimes. ”Mitch McConnell says it’s more important to protect the billionaires,” she told the crowd. “And that’s what this race is all about.”
It would be ironic if the Koch brothers won their GOP Senate majority, but McConnell wasn’t around to lead it.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, August 27, 2014
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but yesterday, as part of his 180 degree turn on the topic, Sen. Marco Rubio was said to be “hinting” that Republicans might just, oh, shut down the government or something if Barack Obama took major executive action to expand (or even maintain) DACA. Today Rubio’s new ally on immigration policy, Steve King of Iowa, was more explicit, per a report from the Des Moines Register‘s Kathie Obradovich:
Congressman Steve King said today the threat of another government shutdown could be Republicans’ leverage to pass border security and immigration legislation this fall.
Congress must act before the end of September to either approve a budget or continue spending at current levels to avoid a government shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner has said he expects action on a short-term continuing resolution next month.
King, R-Kiron, said “all bets are off” on a continuing resolution if President Barack Obama follows through with reported plans to deal with immigration issues without Congress.
“If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear …,” King said. “I think the public would be mobilized and galvanized and that changes the dynamic of any continuing resolution and how we might deal with that….”
Even if Obama does not act unilaterally on immigration reform, King says he believes the continuing resolution is still a bargaining chip for GOP priorities. “When we hear some of our leaders say there will be no government shutdown, that’s the political equivalent of saying there will be no boots on the ground,” he said.
Now the congressional leadership probably won’t like this kind of talk. But like Rubio himself, they’ve pretty much delegated immigration policy to Steve King. So they can’t really complain if Captain Ahab thinks every conceivable issue in Washington is subordinate to bringing down the white whale.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 27, 2014