Category Archives: Duty

Those moderates I’ve praised? They’re now talking impeachment

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, former CIA case officer.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, former CIA case officer.

Remember when I wrote about Mikie Sherrill, the moderate Democrat who is emblematic of those whose elections tipped the House to the Democrats last year (in contrast to “The Squad,” whose elections meant nothing)? I described her as just the kind of person I’d jump at the chance to vote for, any time.

She’s an example of someone who steers clear of partisan combat, spending her energy on issues of concern to all her constituents, regardless of party. It’s for the sake of people like her that Nancy Pelosi has kept her foot on the brake with regard to impeaching Trump.

Well, she, and her friend Rep. Abigail Spanberger — whom I have mentioned in similar terms — and five other moderate freshmen have now had enough, as they explained in an oped today:

This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand. To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election.

If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense. We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.

As members of Congress, we have prioritized delivering for our constituents — remaining steadfast in our focus on health care, infrastructure, economic policy and our communities’ priorities. Yet everything we do harks back to our oaths to defend the country. These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do…

Why are they doing this? Because of what we’ve learned the last few days, about the possibility that the president of the United States used taxpayer money to pressure a foreign government to help him tar a domestic political opponent.

And because of who they are:

We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country, and throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over…

Because like the intelligence officer who blew the whistle, they are looking at something alarming to people who love their country.

Because duty demands it.

And that’s where things stand now…

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot.

Any of y’all pumped about voting tomorrow? (Trump people, I’m not talking to you…)

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When I saw the above headline this morning, I thought, “Really?

Because the way I (and from what I can tell, millions of others) feel about this election so far, it’s difficult to imagine mustering any enthusiasm for engaging in the process.

Yeah, I think I’ve found someone I can vote for without holding my nose, and that’s good, but all the other stuff going on out there has really cast a pall. Add that to the fact that all the polls assure me that my guy will come in behind the very worst of the lot, and it gets to be a major drag.

Of course, this is when the tough get going, and I will vote, and emphatically encourage every reasonable person I know to do likewise.

But I know that lots of people get easily discouraged from voting by the slightest things — rain, for instance. And this election has been so awful so far — easily the most appalling I’ve ever seen — that you would think only the most dedicated voters would be able to uncurl from a fetal position and drag themselves to the polling place.

Otherwise, you know who WILL show up to vote, and they must not be unopposed.

So, unless you’re planning to vote in the Democratic primary the following week, drop your c___s and grab your socks; off your dead a__es and on yer dyin’ feet. Go do your duty tomorrow…

Capt. Smith sits this one out

Ran into James Smith this morning at breakfast, and expressed my surprise that Vincent Sheheen was running for governor and he was not.

He said he just couldn't afford the time away from his family. As you'll recall, he was separated from the wife and four kids for about a year and a half, most of it fighting those folks President Obama calls the Tolly-bon. He said his wife was supportive, but he couldn't stand to miss the time with his kids. He said a Soapbox Derby event over the weekend (or was in Pinewood Derby? I get those mixed up) underlined that for him; if he were to run for gov, he'd miss such events.

On other matters, I mentioned I had thought of him and the other guys of Team Swamp Fox last night, because I've been watching (via Netflix) the HBO series "Generation Kill," based on the book by the same name by a Rolling Stone correspondent embedded with Force Recon Marines on the tip of the spear in the Iraq invasion in '03. The Marines, who were veterans of Afghanistan, talk about that experience a lot, and are sometimes nostalgic because the way they had fought on that front made more sense to them.

Anyway, I need to get together with Rep. Smith sometime and talk at greater length; I haven't had a chance to do that since he got back.

The sheriff’s dilemma

Hey, y'all leave my twin Leon alone. The sheriff's got enough problems without folks giving him a hard time for saying he wants to apply the law equally. (And no, y'all haven't been piling on so much here on the blog, but I keep reading the letters and so forth…)

That said, I find myself wondering: Is there a case here to prosecute? I mean, are there precedents that lead one to think this is a case worth pursuing?

The theory in favor of the sheriff going after Michael Phelps goes like this: A rich, white, international celebrity shouldn't skate for doing something that poor, obscure, black kids do time for. That sounds good. Equality before the law and all that.

But I wonder: How many of those poor, obscure, black kids were put away on the basis of the sheriff having heard that they smoked dope at some time in the past, accompanied by a photo that in and of itself is vague. If the alleged perp weren't admitting it, we wouldn't know that was him, or that he was actually smoking dope through that bong. (Before you scoff, I had a good friend in college — a boy from Clio, as it happens — who had shoulder-length hair, and who liked to use Zig-Zags to roll himself a joint made of pure pipe tobacco. If not for the sweet smell, no one would have believed that wasn't dope. But it wasn't. It takes all kinds to make a world, you know.)

If you make me pick a number, I'd say the number of guys doing time at the Alvin Glenn center, or in the state pen, who were put away on that sort of evidence would be approximately zero. Generally speaking, if you're not holding at the time of arrest, the cops don't bother, right? So how is this equality of the law, speaking in terms of way things actually work in the world?

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the prisons are full of people who were nailed when somebody posted a picture of them apparently toking on MySpace. I'd be quite interested to hear evidence to that effect.

What it was really like at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’

Vanloanjack
        Jack Van Loan in 2006.

By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
ON MAY 20, 1967, Air Force pilot Jack Van Loan was shot down over North Vietnam. His parachute carried him to Earth well enough, but he landed all wrong.
    “I hit the ground, and I slid, and I hit a tree,” he said. This provided an opportunity for his captors at the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
    “My knee was kind of screwed up and they … any time they found you with some problems, then they would, they would bear down on the problems,” he said. “I mean, they worked on my knee pretty good … and, you know, just torturing me.”
    In October of Jack’s first year in Hanoi, a new prisoner came in, a naval aviator named John McCain. He was in really bad shape. He had ejected over Hanoi, and had landed in a lake right in the middle of the city. He suffered two broken arms and a broken leg ejecting. He nearly drowned in the lake before a mob pulled him out, and then set upon him. They spat on him, kicked him and stripped his clothes off. Then they crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt, and bayoneted him in his left foot and his groin.
    That gave the enemy something to “bear down on.” Lt. Cmdr. McCain would be strung up tight by his unhealed arms, hog-tied and left that way for the night.
    “John was no different than anyone else, except that he was so badly hurt,” said Jack. “He was really badly, badly hurt.”
    Jack and I got to talking about all this when he called me Wednesday morning, outraged over a story that had appeared in that morning’s paper, headlined “McCain’s war record attacked.” A flier put out by an anti-McCain group was claiming the candidate had given up military information in return for medical treatment as a POW in Vietnam.
    This was the kind of thing the McCain campaign had been watching out for. The Arizona senator came into South Carolina off a New Hampshire win back in 2000, but lost to George W. Bush after voters received anonymous phone calls telling particularly nasty lies about his private life. So the campaign has been on hair-trigger alert in these last days before the 2008 primary on Saturday.
    Jack, a retired colonel whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing for more than a decade, believes his old comrade would make the best president “because of all the stressful situations that he’s been under, and the way he’s responded.” But he had called me about something more important than that. It was a matter of honor.
    Jack was incredulous: “To say that John would ask for medical treatment in return for military information is just preposterous. He turned down an opportunity to go home early, and that was right in front of all of us.”
    “I mean, he was yelling it. I couldn’t repeat the language he used, and I wouldn’t repeat the language he used, but boy, it was really something. I turned to my cellmate … who heard it all also loud and clear; I said, ‘My God, they’re gonna kill him for that.’”
    The North Vietnamese by this time had stopped the torture — even taken McCain to the hospital, which almost certainly saved his life — and now they wanted just one thing: They wanted him to agree to go home, ahead of other prisoners. They saw in him an opportunity for a propaganda coup, because of something they’d figured out about him.
    “They found out rather quick that John’s father was (Admiral) John Sidney McCain II,” who was soon to be named commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Jack said. “And they came in and said, ‘Your father big man, and blah-blah-blah,’ and John gave ’em name, rank and serial number and date of birth.”
    But McCain refused to accept early release, and Jack says he never acknowledged that his Dad was CINCPAC.
    Jack tries hard to help people who weren’t there understand what it was like. He gave a speech right after he finally was freed and went home. His father, a community college president in Oregon and “a consummate public speaker,” told him “That was the best talk I’ve ever heard you give.”
    But, his father added: “‘They didn’t believe you.’
    “It just stopped me cold. ‘What do you mean, they didn’t believe me?’ He said, ‘They didn’t understand what you were talking about; you’ve got to learn to relate to them.’”
    “And I’ve worked hard on that,” he told me. “But it’s hard as hell…. You might be talking to an audience of two or three hundred people; there might be one or two guys that spent a night in a drunk tank. Trying to tell ‘em what solitary confinement is all about, most people … they don’t even relate to it.”
    Jack went home in the second large group of POWs to be freed in connection with the Paris Peace Talks, on March 4, 1973. “I was in for 70 months. Seven-zero — seventy months.” Doctors told him that if he lived long enough, he’d have trouble with that knee. He eventually got orthoscopic surgery right here in Columbia, where he is an active community leader — the current president of the Columbia Rotary.
    John McCain, who to this day is unable to raise his hands above his head — an aide has to comb his hair for him before campaign appearances — was released in the third group. He could have gone home long, long before that, but he wasn’t going to let his country or his comrades down.
    The reason Jack called me Wednesday was to make sure I knew that.

Citizen Slackers

Of course, I was not picked for jury duty this morning. I’m never picked. That’s my third time in the same magistrate’s court. Basically, they see you coming with a coat and tie on, and you’re free to go. Or rather, they see me coming in a coat and tie, and they can’t get rid of me too soon.

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. Yes, I was let off the hook. So was everybody else, except the defendant, who I assume still faces the charge.

Magistrate Scott Whittle sent us all home without a trial. I was scheduled to be there at 9, and I was getting back into my truck to leave at 9:27. In between, taxpayer time and money (I’ll get a $13 check for showing up) were wasted, and justice was undermined. Why? Because of you, the jurors who did not show up. (Well, maybe not literally you, but pass it on; eventually the message will reach a guilty party.)

Supposedly, 30 or 40 (note that my numbers are going to be sketchy here, as I wasn’t there as a journalist and had even neglected to bring a pen) jurors had been summoned. The magistrate said only 13 or 14 showed, although I counted only 11 people who seemed to be there in that capacity. But only six were needed to try the case.

It was a DUI case. The defendant was a 30ish young woman, and she had retained counsel. Of course, we who might have been jurors checked her out. I did, anyway. She was well-groomed, attractive, with a nice figure — although there was a certain haggard look around her eyes. For lack of information, I was left to guess that was a result of a) her present circumstances; b) having lived an unusual stressful life for her age; c) heavy drinking; or d) all or none of the above. I don’t know about you, but at times like this, forced to sit still with no immediate task before me, I start constructing a biography for a person, based on nothing of substance. I saw her as a person of a certain promise, perhaps a hard worker, who had had disappointments in her life, perhaps an unpleasant divorce, which brought her to a local tavern where she either did or did not have one too many. (I suspect that all jurors do this to some extent, and the job of counsel is to infer whether a potential juror has constructed the right narrative, from his client’s point of view.) If I had observed her longer, I would likely have come up with an entirely different portrait; my mind doesn’t object at all to switching to diametrically opposite conclusions without notice, given new evidence. And officially, not a bit of evidence had been presented.

The voir dire went through the usual questions. We were supposed to stand up and explain if any of the statements applied to us. I puzzled over whether to reply when the judge asked whether any jurors had friends or family member who were cops. I thought of all the local, state and federal cops I know, and was wondering how the court might interpret "friend," and had decided that my relationships with cops were irrelevant since I would not be prejudiced by them…. and by this time, of course, the court had moved on. One guy worked for Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. A lady had religious objections to drinking. Since there was no question to the effect of, "Do you have strongly held, and widely published, opinions regarding the inadequacy and slackness of the state’s DUI laws?" it looks like I might have a chance, and I was beginning to look forward to examining the evidence (I purely love the chance to apply my mind to something outside of my usual routine; it strokes some sort of pleasure center in my brain, which is probably why I blog), including the videotape I saw on the prosecution table… but of course that was not to be.

When I was called, I stepped to the front of the courtroom and eyed both the defense and prosecution tables as neutrally as I could (the very first lady called up had smiled ingratiatingly, in a way that seemed to say "Will you be my friend?" to the defense table, and she was of course promptly seated). I gave my name and occupation. And then, something happened that actually surprised me: The trooper, who was the only person at the prosecution table, asked that I be excused. The defense never even got a chance to dump me!

Anyway, my experience was the common one, and when we had run through the pitiful pool that was present, there were only four jurors seated. There was that first lady — middle-aged, heavy-set, nonjudgmental-looking, caucasian. Then there was this really big white guy — well over six feet, probably somewhere between 300 and 400 pounds; I think he said he worked for a local government planning office, but I’m not sure. Two black women, each about the age of the defendant or perhaps a bit younger, neither of whom had set herself obviously apart in the voir dire — no religious objections or experience with DUI or cops as friends, as near as I can recall.

As soon as it was obvious we had run out of (acceptable) jurors, the magistrate gave us a little talk that he had apparently had occasion to give before. He said this kept happening in this court — plenty of jurors summoned, not enough showing up. He kept saying, "It may sound like I’m fussing at y’all, but I’m not;" it was all those who hadn’t showed. He allowed as how the court might have to start getting tough with people who didn’t show, which was in itself a revelation to me. I had gathered that there were automatic, swift penalties for not showing. I had not thought not showing was an option. After all, the letter I had received at my home (indicating they knew where to find me) had said, in bold capital letters:

** FAILURE TO APPEAR MAY SUBJECT YOU TO PUNISHMENT FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT.

I guess the operative word there was "MAY."

Anyway, the thrust of Mr. Whittle’s homily was that we should to home with his thanks, but once there we should tell friends, family and neighbors that it’s important that they show up when called to duty, that the wheels of justice could not turn without them, and so forth.

I would have written this post anyway, but it’s nice to have the judge’s imprimatur on my message. And I’ll go him one better. I’ll say that this is precisely what’s wrong with this country: We’re a nation of slackers. Our theme song is that obscure ditty by Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Don’t Look Now:"

Who will take the coal from the mine?
Who will take the salt from the earth?
Who’ll take a leaf and grow it to a tree?
Don’t look now, it ain’t you or me.

Who will work the field with his hands?
Who will put his back to the plough?
Who’ll take the mountain and give it to the sea?
Don’t look now, it ain’t you or me.

(Chorus:)
Don’t look now, someone’s done your starvin’;
Don’t look now, someone’s done your prayin’…

Don’t look now, but someone else is fighting our wars for us, and we’re perfectly happy to let someone else pay for them, too. And someone else is showing up for our — ahem, your jury duty. We live for our own convenience, and elect people who tell us we’re right to do so. "Duty" might as well be a term from a dead language, as far as most Americans seem to be concerned.

In my Sunday column, I pleaded for a leader to step forward who would at least try to tap into something better in us, but I well know the odds against this. David Brooks enumerated the problem (although he didn’t describe it as a problem) in a column this week — a column I would have run in today’s paper, but it didn’t lend itself to art, which I need to make the page work out (I ran Samuelson instead).

So you see, everything’s related. And for that matter, everyone, in South Carolina at least, is no more than a degree or two of separation from everyone else (which suggests to me at least that we have a certain duty to one another). As I was leaving the courtroom, the defense counsel introduced himself, saying we had a mutual acquaintance. As it happened, that acquaintance is a longtime SLED agent. So if the trooper hadn’t dismissed me, I guess I might have heard a question like, "Mr. Warthen, you did not acknowledge during voir dire being acquainted with any law enforcement officers. But is it not true…"

But that never happened. In fact, nothing happened. It was just a waste of time for everybody.