Work and Days

Prosecutors to Actors

Whom to Fear? The Patriot Act? Wiretaps? Detention in Cuba?

I doubt the average American is in much danger from some out-of-control government sleuth sending him to the Gulag, or putting her in a camp, or even reading his email.

But there are things to be afraid of—out-of-control prosecutors who can trample all over jurisprudence if their cause is considered to be progressive and politically-correct. The prosecution of Scooter Libby is a travesty. If the federal prosecutor knew he had to select a jury in Omaha rather than Washington DC, he would never bring this non-case to trial.

There are at least four considerations that are troubling about Mr. Fitzgerald’s case: (1) We know that Ms. Plame was not, as originally alleged, a covert, or undercover CIA agent at the time in question, and thus had no secret identity to be exposed; (2) we know the source that leaked the nature of her employment—and it was not Mr. Libby, at least initially and most prominently, but Mr. Armitage who apparently is not to be charged with anything (why not?); (3) we know that Mr. Wilson, as Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, lied about a great deal in connection with his trip to Niger and so far has escaped most accountability and probably will thereby seek to avoid testifying at the trial he once so eagerly demanded; (4) Mr. Libby is therefore being charged with obstruction of justice and perjury—not the original mandate of the prosecutor. Why not shut down the inquiry since it has not fulfilled its mission; then turn over the transcripts and testimony to local prosecutors to see if any feel there is a perjury case to be made? From my limited experience with trials (my late mother was a California Superior and Appellate Court Judge), perjury seems a rare charge, and most DAs do not peruse the testimony of witnesses to find contradictions to establish grounds for such indictments.

But if both Mr. Libby and Mr. Fitzgerald knew that Ms. Plame was not a covert operative, and that someone other than Mr. Libby first mentioned her job status to Mr. Novak, what motive would Mr. Libby have had for lying—other than fear that something he might have said might be construed as some sort of culpable action by a blank-check prosecutor, who during these interrogations already knew, after Mr. Armitage’s confession, that apparently Mr. Libby was not to be the chief target of the original investigation? Lost in all this, of course, is the original concern that Ms. Plame used her influence to select her husband for a sensitive mission, at a time when he was already quite politicized. Meanwhile, Sandy Berger removes and destroys classified documents and gets a slap on the wrist without the worry of a Special Prosecutor.

So Watch Out for the DA

The Duke case is worse. Evidence withheld; procedures violated; confessions recanted. There is no chance the accused are guilty as charged—or of anything other than perhaps being buffoonish, sexually gross, or racially insensitive. But like the Libby case, the accused fit a preordained profile that unleashes the self-righteous mob, whether the Washington media corps or many of the Duke faculty and minority community.

The one danger to civil liberties in the 1990s and 2000s has always been very clear: grandstanding DAs who can bring charges motivated by politics that will break, either financially or psychologically, their targets, especially in this age of sky-high litigation. Again, no liberal outcry arises about such unleashed prosecutors.

Dixie comparisons.

Furor arises about comparing Iraq to elements in the Civil War. I get irate letters when suggesting parallels to the terrible summer of 1864 before Sherman took Atlanta when the betting was that Lincoln would not be renominated, much less reelected. Apparently the outrage comes from even the hint that a George Bush’s perseverance in the face of declining support is anything comparable to a deified Lincoln.

But there are two other less remarked on parallels. First, the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiites, the perennially despised of the Arab world, through one-man/one vote, is as radical in the context of the contemporary Arab world as was emancipation to our own past. To receive an idea of the magnitude of the US-induced change, just image Britain, about 1855, landing in New Orleans, racing up the Mississippi and liberating slaves, and then staying on to jump start democratic suffrage in the South—all to be accomplished while Northerners, Southerners, and Westerners seethed at the foreign interloper, and turned on each other, as particular sectarians sought to ally with or oppose the British.

Another Reconstruction

We are in our fourth year of Reconstruction, and it is eerily similar to the Union efforts from 1865 to 1877. Militias like the Kuklux Klan proliferated. Marshal Law was declared in Tennessee. Judges were shot. Northern troops were too few and far between to protect Republican and black reformers. The public was exasperated that armies like Sherman’s that by late 1864 and 1865 had once sliced through the Confederacy in mere months could not even keep order in a conquered South, despite five military districts initially run by tough veteran Union generals.

Assassinations, kidnappings, and terrorism were committed against supposed “collaborators” such as Republican politicians and black elected officials. Reconstruction administrators were often themselves thoroughly corrupt. And after the scandalous deal of 1876, over a century later books are still being written, as they are of Vietnam and will be of Iraq, about how Reconstruction would have finally worked—despite its legion of terrible mistakes—had only a weary public not given up on it.

Irony and Iraq

I’m currently writing a long essay about irony and Iraq. And there are several paradoxes. Democrats and Republicans who voted for the war, are now bailing as loudly as they once called for Saddam’s head.

Some neocons who demanded in 1998 that Clinton take out Saddam, now castigate Bush for doing so. Recent exposés detailing too few troops, too much naiveté, too much democratic idealism, too little worry about Iran—are written by the same authors who warned in 1991 about too much realism, too little support for idealistic reformers, too much worry about Iran, too many troops, etc.

In the 1980s James Baker was demonized by liberals as a high-priced, petrodollar lawyer masquerading as a realist diplomat; now he is canonized as a sober pragmatist. George Bush was attacked in 2000 for deriding nation-building—now after 9/11 he is attacked as the most daring nation-builder since Harry Truman. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd were aping John McCain through most of 2004-6 about Bush’s fatal decision to send too few peacekeepers; now they are furious that he is sending in more. And on and on, the only constant being that the New York/Washington elite scramble hourly to adjust their views to the perceived pulse of the battlefield—perceived being the operative word.

The Great California Freeze

No global warming here. At Huntington Lake at 7200 feet last night it was about 5 degrees and had been below zero earlier. Here in rural California, it was around 22 this week and below. So I’ve been spending most of the day fixing frozen water pipes that have cracked or trying to unclear those up in the mountains. Most of the surrounding citrus orchards look ruined. There is not all that much sugar yet in the fruit, and the ground has been really dry—just the conditions to ruin the crop when the cold hits. Otherwise grape and deciduous tree-growers like the hard cold, since it gives good dormancy by ensuring sufficient collective hours (500 or so) below 50.

When driving through California each week from the Sierra to the Coast, what is most apparent is declining farm acreage. It is not just urbanization, but cumulative low prices that put growers out of business—that and high wages, insurance, workers’ compensation, and taxes. Grape, cotton, tree-fruit, wheat acreages are all down. And with current fights to restore 19th-century conditions to the Kings and San Joaquin Rivers there will only be less irrigation water, as a time when more people are moving to the interior. We forget that the Great Central Valley of California is by nature, except for a few miles near its rivers, a desert wasteland, and without irrigation would revert to that pre-20th century status rather quickly.

Anyone who has seen the wonderful work of the San Joaquin River Conservancy agrees that restoring these rivers is a noble–and necessary–undertaking; but the rub is how to do so and still supply enough water to fuel agriculture, an art that for nearly two decades has produced more food with less water but is now running out of ways to economize. Raising or building more damns would store more water in Sierra lakes, and allow more runoff for both farming and rivers, but purists oppose that as well, even as millions of acre feet run out to the delta in wet years while none at all flows in dry.

The message is unmistakable: we want more land for houses, more water for suburbanites, recreation, and nature— and our current standard of living maintained. At some point, someone should remember the multi-billion-dollar California agricultural industry functions in a hostile business and government climate only due to the skill and perseverance of farmers—and the near perfect soil, water, and weather conditions of California for agriculture.

Much of the standard of living of central California is based on those invisible in our midst who can figure a way out to convince Japanese, Chinese, Europeans, and Asians in general to import top-quality California almonds, beef, dried and fresh fruits, cheeses, wine, fibers, and juice. The San Joaquin Valley does not have numerous top universities, sophisticated high-tech industries, a defense or film or tourist sector to speak of, timber, minerals, or sports teams; but it is blessed with the best farmland and most skilled farmers in the world. We would be idiotic to forget that. In short, I used to lament the end of small farmers who were the cultural bedrock of our communities, but now I fear for farms of any sort disappearing altogether.

<stronLaudator Temporis Acti

My friend and former collegue Bruce Thornton argued today over the perceived decline of masculine actors. True or imagined? We agreed that a Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, or Richard Gere was no Bill Holden, John Wayne, or Gary Cooper et al. The closest to the Old Breed seemed to be something like a Bruce Willis, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro or Jack Nicholson.

But more interesting, where are today’s character actors, whether the Western geniuses like a Slim Pickens, Ben Johnson, Warren Oates, LQ jones, or Struther Martin, or the brilliant unpredictable types such as Richard Boone or Jack Palance? Our favorites that might qualify were Robert Duvall, Christopher Walken, John Malkovich, and Dennis Hopper, who all managed to exude a sense of fatalism, a little craziness, and a certain disdain for the sensitive male.


I haven’t yet seen a modern heavy play a role quite like Boone did in Hombre or Palance in Shane. Sorry, just haven’t.