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“What It Means To ‘Love America'”: To Believe We Should Evolve And Change Toward Becoming A More Diverse And Just Society

On May 30, 2013, Kalief Browder was finally released after more than three years in Rikers Island. His crime? There wasn’t one. He was accused of stealing a backpack and the backlog in the courts meant that Browder, who refused to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, stayed behind bars until the prosecutor finally dropped the case. He attempted suicide while in prison.

Meanwhile, it was announced today that Maureen McDonnell, wife of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, has been sentenced to one year and a day. The former governor received just a two year sentence. That means that after being convicted in federal court on fourteen counts of corruption, both McDonnells will likely serve less time in jail than a black teenager who was never convicted and never even went to trial.

This is what FBI Director James Comey meant in his speech last week, titled “Hard Truths About Law Enforcement and Race” when he said, “there is a disconnect between police agencies and many citizens – predominantly in communities of color.” Comey went on to say that bridging that divide is a two-way street that requires law enforcement and communities of color seeing each other more fairly and equally.

But as Jonathan Capehart has pointed out, unlike when President Barack Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder discusses race, the right and its organs like Fox News paid Comey no attention. Because when a white male Republican law enforcement official points out the racial imbalance in America’s justice system, the right wing noise machine suddenly goes silent.

And that goes to the heart of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s ghoulish, repulsive, race-baiting assertion that President Obama doesn’t “love America.” The fact is that Giuliani’s view of America and its history privileges the powerful, so any acknowledgment of the Kalief Browders of the world must be a sign that someone doesn’t “love America.” This has also been manifested in the growing national fight over AP History classes, which conservatives now complain are insufficiently patriotic. Last fall, thousands of students fought back against the right wing ideologues on the Jefferson County School Board here in Colorado a valuable lesson in civil disobedience; and more recently an proposal by Republicans in the Oklahoma state legislature to defund AP history classes gained national attention.

Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe its judicial system should hold the powerful as much to account as the powerless. Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe access to health care shouldn’t depend on your income, that a poor kid with asthma deserves a doctor as much as a rich one. Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe that sacrificing our soldiers to war shouldn’t be done out of dishonesty or caprice.

Maybe some us love our country enough to believe that Dr. Marting King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a profoundly patriotic document. Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe that we should embrace and correct its flaws, not turn a cruel and blind eye to them. Maybe some of us love our country enough to believe it should evolve and change toward becoming a more diverse and just society, not remain calcified by class.

And maybe some of us love our country enough to believe that it is the Rudy Giulianis of the world, and his cowardly enablers like Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, who betray what we stand for and who we aspire to be as a nation.

 

By: Laura K. Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, February 20, 2015

February 22, 2015 Posted by | American History, Criminal Justice System, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Punishment Fit For A Politician”: The Requests For Mercy Seemed To Presume He’d Get Special Treatment Because Of Who He Is

The most touching moment of bipartisanship on the opening day of Congress came not on Capitol Hill, but 100 miles away in Richmond, Virginia, at former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s sentencing hearing on his multiple-count public corruption conviction.

“He’s been punished, been punished indelibly,” former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder told the judge. McDonnell was on track to be a top-tier Republican presidential contender, he went on, and now the dream is gone. Wilder, 83, would know that sting better than most, since he himself ran a very short campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1991.

An appeal centering on McDonnell’s dashed White House hopes was audacious but hardly the only plea for mercy that smacked of entitlement. There was a McDonnell daughter who said her dad should avoid prison because she was about to have his first grandchild. His sister, who said his children (who are adults) need him because he is the “go-to parent” in the (two-parent) family. His political associates, who said he’s a really great person who restored felons’ voting rights and helped foster children.

And then there was this one: If McDonnell went to jail, “it would be like burying something of enormous value.” That came from William Horan, executive director of Operation Blessing International, urging a community service sentence that McDonnell could fulfill by working for his organization.

Forgive me for rolling my eyes. The United States is “the world’s largest jailer,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union, with diverse sources pegging the U.S. prison population at more than 2.2 million. We can safely assume that tens of thousands of people of “enormous value” are “buried” behind bars. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Heck, maybe everyone, depending on how you define “enormous value.” Lots of them are no doubt nice, much needed by their families and will never run for president. And yet, there they are, in jail.

It’s not that I’m inured to the human tragedy here. This was a terrible fall. While our views are very different, I respected McDonnell’s political skills, recognized his potential and admired the pragmatism he showed in signing a badly needed law to rejuvenate the transportation system in his state. Still, the requests for mercy on his behalf seemed to presume he’d get special treatment because of who he is.

Especially amid a difficult national conversation over race, policing, crime and sentencing, this does not sit well. What’s more, in a way McDonnell did receive special treatment. The two-year term he faces was far less than the 10 years prosecutors had sought based on sentencing guidelines, and it came after U.S. District Judge James Spencer said it broke his heart to send McDonnell to jail but “I have a duty I can’t avoid.” McDonnell himself said he was humiliated and humbled, but he also insisted: “I have never, ever betrayed my sacred oath of office in any way.”

McDonnell has come off as just that oblivious throughout this debacle, in which he and his wife Maureen were convicted of taking more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams, as they helped Williams promote an unproven dietary supplement called Anatabloc. The roster included vacations, clothing, jewelry, golf outings, $15,000 to cater a daughter’s wedding, a $50,000 loan to Maureen, and a $70,000 loan to McDonnell and his sister. All this from a man who wanted something from them. But the governor apparently didn’t see anything wrong with that.

With his polished manner and swing-state credentials, McDonnell was a much mentioned vice-presidential prospect in 2012 until his name suddenly vanished from the conversation. How much do you want to bet that happened the moment Maureen urged Ann Romney to try Anatabloc for her multiple sclerosis? I’d put money on it. It was nevertheless disconcerting — or “dangerously delusional,” in Spencer’s words — that McDonnell’s legal strategy was to blame everything on his wife. Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak summarized it thusly: “So, Maureen McDonnell wrestled the Rolex on him? Muscled him into Willams’s private jet? Held him at wife-point until he drove the Ferrari and smiled for the camera?”

It goes without saying that life is unfair. The current Virginia governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, will never need a Jonnie Williams because his own business ventures made him a wealthy man. Yet McDonnell had options he did not exercise. If he was so interested in money, he could have made a mint in private legal practice at any time. Instead he chose to be a JAG officer, a state legislator, attorney general and then governor — jobs he knew would not make him rich. He also had the choice of not associating with Williams and taking his largesse.

Like most of the 2.2-plus million serving time, McDonnell made some wrong choices. Cynics about our justice system can take some comfort from the fact that his punishment is not limited to the death of his higher ambitions.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, January 9, 2015

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Bob McDonnell, Politicians, Public Corruption | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Must Stop Inflating Our Elected Leaders”: No More “His Excellency” For Men Who Are Anything But Excellent

What are we to make of the conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, an erstwhile presidential aspirant, and his wife Maureen on a bevy of federal corruption charges? The case held plenty of entertainment value for the schadenfreude-prone among us, but was there any broader meaning in it? It’s tempting, after all, to dismiss it as a sui generis story, given the uniqueness of the McDonnells’ predicament (dallying with a vitamin-supplement promoter?) and Virginia’s absurdly lax landscape (the state has virtually no limits on gifts to elected officials.)

But I would argue that there is a larger lesson to be taken from this tale. The McDonnell saga is, to me, just the most glaring recent example of a tendency in American politics and government that has bothered me for some time: our weird, unhealthy inflation of executive elected office at all levels of government. As the McDonnell revelations unspooled, first in the dogged reporting of the Washington Post’s Roz Helderman and Laura Vozzella and then in the trial itself, it became clear that driving much of the McDonnells’ behavior was their extremely exalted conception of the office of governor.

This conception not only contributed to the McDonnells’ extraordinary sense of entitlement but also fed the pressures that led them to accept the favors of the vitamin-supplement salesman, Jonnie R. Williams Sr. For one thing, Maureen McDonnell felt great anxiety about being sufficiently well turned out for her husband’s 2010 inauguration and, generally, about living up to the expectations for being the First Lady. Think about that for a second: in the 21st century, a woman needed to worry about performing a role called “First Lady” because her husband was the elected head of one of the nation’s 50 state governments. Does this happen elsewhere? Does the wife of the head of Germany’s state of Lower Saxony (whose population is roughly the same as Virginia’s) fret about living up to the role of “Erste Frau?” Is the wife of the premier of British Columbia or Saskatchewan worrying about whether her wardrobe will measure up?

Sure, one could write some of these anxieties off to Maureen McDonnell’s personal insecuritiesbut not entirely. After all, her husband was taking on a role in which it was deemed appropriate, by traditional protocol, for him to be referred to as “His Excellency.” (Virginia is hardly alone in thisConnecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and West Virginia all use this royalist language, a holdover from colonial times.)

The title was hardly the only trapping of office that could’ve led the McDonnells to believe they were monarchs of a sort. They lived in an official mansion, after all, with an executive chef (who, it turned out, was the man who got the scandal rolling when he reported the McDonnells for Williams’ $10,000 check to pay for McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding catering.) The chef, Todd Schneider, recently noted to The Post that he would “often get texts from the first lady about the mansion’s food late at night, sometimes after midnight.” Yes, the wife of the democratically elected governor of one of our 50 states was sending notes to the taxpayer-paid chef at her taxpayer-paid mansion to express her menu preferences. Since when did we become “Downton Abbey”?

This inflation was especially extreme in Virginia, which has an especially grandiose notion of its state governmentThomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, “the Virginia way,” and all that. But you see the puffery of executive office all around the country, in members of both parties. You see it in Texas governor Rick Perry traveling the country with a veritable platoon of state police troopers at his side. You saw it in the reports of Maryland’s attorney general, Democrat Doug Gansler, who got a kick out of having his official state-police driver turn on the siren and drive on the shoulder while on routine business. You see it in virtually every utterance and step taken by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who bestrides his state like some latter-day King George III (except when he’s being flown by helicopter to his son’s baseball game and then driven by car for the remaining few hundred feet from copter to bleachers.) And you see it at the federal levelnot just in all the pomp that has come to surround the presidency (that’s a whole story in its own right) but in the puffery that attends even anonymous Cabinet secretaries. I remember once seeing Ray LaHood, the amiable and utterly anodyne head of the Department of Transportation, being swept into a convoy of tinted-window SUVs, with earpiece-adorned guards, as he was leaving Capitol Hill after testifying on bike paths at a minor committee hearing. Heck, even the acting head of the White Office of Drug Control Policya man who, truly, not 10 people in this country could pick out of a lineuphas a security detail.

How did this happen? How did a country that was founded in rebellion against royal overlords become so prone to its own sort of executive self-importance? Part of it has to do with the problem that my editor Frank Foer laid out in an essay in the current issue of this magazine, on the ways in which our federalist system and delegation of powers to countless fragmented municipalities has created thousands of little princes with their own fiefdoms and aggrandizing tendencies. But it may go even deeper than that, to some ancient feudal habits deep within us that allow and even encourage our elected leaders to think they’re lords of their domain. Regardless, it’s time it stopped. No more “His Excellency” for men who, more often than not, are anything but excellent.

 

By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, September 5, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Bob McDonnell, Elected Officials, Public Corruption | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pipe Dreams Do Come True”: Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell Completes His Epic Political Fall

Bob McDonnell’s only been out of office for 10 days, but his post-gubernatorial life is already off to a rough start.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors charged the former Virginia governor and his wife, Maureen, in a corruption case over gifts the two received from the head of a dietary-supplement company. The former first couple is charged with requesting clothes, money, trips, golf accessories, and private plane rides from former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams in exchange for their influence in helping get Star Scientific off the ground.

The most infamous favors were a $15,000 catering tab that Williams footed for the McDonnell’s daughter’s 2011 wedding and a $6,500 Rolex which Williams bought for Maureen to give to her husband. A Washington Post investigation last summer found that Williams had given more than $120,000 to Maureen McDonnell and a corporation owned by Bob McDonnell and his sister. In July, McDonnell said he would pay back all gifts from Williams.

Maureen McDonnell had bought thousands of shares in Star Scientific in 2011, and met with potential investors for the company in Florida, in addition to helping Williams get meetings with Virginia health officials. The McDonnells also hosted a launch event for the company’s dietary supplement at the governor’s mansion that fall.

The indictment lists $140,805.46 worth of property subject to federal forfeiture, including multiple pairs of Louis Vuitton shoes, two sets of golf clubs, two iPhones, and a silver Rolex engraved with “71st Governor of Virginia.”

Williams resigned as Star Scientific CEO in December. Bob McDonnell is the first Virginia governor to ever face criminal charges. He and his wife face 14 felony counts.

Even though the charges aren’t a total out-of-the-blue surprise, they are still astonishing for someone who had so many Republican hopes pegged to him. It was only a few years ago that Bob McDonnell was being mentioned as a potential future Republican vice presidential or presidential nominee. McDonnell was touted as a possible GOP savior as recently as last February. Even as late as last fall, Politico found that the governor was “defying political gravity” and was pulling off a “remarkable feat of political survival.”

In November 2009, the governor called questions about his presidential aspirations “pipe dreams down the road.” Just over four years later, “pipe dreams” seems pretty apt.

 

By: Matt Berman, The National Journal, January 21, 2014

January 22, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just A Shift In Strategy”: Virginia’s Gov Bob McDonnell Repays Loans, Says He’s “Deeply Sorry”

The scandal surrounding Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), which has intensified in recent weeks and threatens to push him from office, took an unexpected turn today when the governor apologized for causing “embarrassment” and announced he has repaid the loans he and his wife received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

From a statement posted online (pdf) today:

“Being governor of Virginia is the highest honor of my 37 years in public service. I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens. I want you to know that I broke no laws and that I am committed to regaining your trust and confidence. I hope today’s action is another step toward that end.

“Virginia has never been stronger and I plan to focus on creating even more jobs and facilitating greater opportunity during the last five months of my term as your Governor. Our work together on education, transportation, pension reform, voting rights, and economic expansion has produced great results for Virginia.”

The statement, the authenticity of which has been confirmed by The Rachel Maddow Show, goes on to say that Virginia’s first family has repaid Williams’ loans, including a $52,278. 17 loan to Maureen McDonnell in 2011 and two 2012 loans totaling $71,837 given to a real-estate business the governor owns.

The Washington Post noted today’s move “appears to represent a shift in strategy.” That’s certainly true — up until now, the governor insisted he had nothing to apologize for, and wasn’t in any rush to repay the generous loans the Star Scientific CEO sent his way.

Of course, if McDonnell expects this to resolve the matter, he’s going to be disappointed. After all, the scandal goes well beyond the loans, and included, among other things the extravagant shopping spree, the engraved Rolex watch, the lake house vacation, and the use of a Ferrari. There’s also all the steps, of course, the governor took on Williams’ behalf.

In other words, the scandal is far from over.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 23, 2013

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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