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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, July 06, 2007

Catchin' up with Scooter Libby

Sorry for the absence folks. I've spent the week working on a a writing project that pretty much kept me away from home and any sort of computer access.

Basically I spent the week with a family in a tough neighborhood, one of the roughest I've ever seen. The gist of my story is exploring the struggles of "good" people trying to tow the line and live to high standards in a "bad" situation. I don't mean to be cryptic, but that's all I can really give away until I finish writing the project. I hope to finish writing it next week.

Anywho, I'm catching up on news. Really. I haven't paid much attention to what's been happening around me because I haven't really been in a position to listen to radio or catch a TV newscast and I didn't have my laptop with me 'cause it might have been stupid for me to have that thing where I was hanging out. I've called my wife each afternoon to see how she's been doing and I've been hearing about things like kids getting kidnapped and Lewis "Scooter" Libby getting his prison sentence commuted.

My first reaction to the Libby thing was annoyance. But it wasn't fueled by any partisan feelings. I just have a deeply ingrained distaste for even the appearance of impropriety when powerful or powerfully-connected people are involved. I confess if it was Average Joe getting a commutation I probably would have shrugged it off, unless he was a (fairly and honestly) convicted murderer, rapist, etc.

My second reaction was that however distasteful an action, it was the president's legal right to commute Libby's sentence. Most US presidents, at the end of their terms have commuted sentences and issued pardons to dozens - even hundreds - of people at a time. Plus, it's disingenuous for critics to act as though this was unheard of. Former President Clinton was impeached - tried by Congress - for lying. It really isn't a partisan issue.

Still, my third reaction was that it was a bad PR move on the part of President Bush, because he'd made such vehement promises early on in the investigative process to punish any member of his administration found to have played a role in the leak of former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Libby didn't play a direct role. But prosecutors believe he lied about having knowledge of other people's roles. A jury agreed. Now what?

Finally, I think the president should have let the appeals process play out. If an appeals court - or a new jury, upon a new trial - declined to spare Libby then President Bush could have stepped in. Jumping in at this point in time under the pretense that Libby's prison sentence was too harsh sent a very bad message to impressionable kids.

While people on both sides of the political aisle blustered about partisanship influencing the president's decision and Libby's punishment being too harsh or too light, or just right, I believe they ALL missed the point that this commutation sent a message (just like Congress did w/Clinton) that high government officials are not important people to this country. They're not saints. They're not super heroes. They're not even necessarily nice, or good-looking, or smart in some cases. But we've always held ranking officials up on a weird sort of pedestal. Even if we knew nothing about them we respected their positions, their titles.

So when we consider that a plastic-filled rapper like Lil' Kim was "important" enough to receive a year-and-a-day federal prison sentence after being convicted by a duly seated jury of lying to grand jury investigators about her knowledge of a shootout outside a New York radio station involving members of her entourage and members of a rival clique. I think she ended up serving 10 months of it.

I'm kidding about that "important" tag, of course. When some school kid in a Jetsons costume opens a 1990s and early 2000s time capsule 50 years from now, I assure you Kim's CDs will not be in it.

But then there was Martha Stewart. She was "important" enough to serve five months in prison and six months of house arrest for being convicted of lying to the government, among other things.

Again, I kid with the "important." Martha Stewart seems to be a smart business person, and powerful, and hard-working, etc. She makes some mean silverware and dishes too. But, like Lil' Kim, nothing Stewart has ever done has involved the operation of the highest offices of government.

In both Kim's and Stewart's cases, as in Libby's, prosecutors emphasized the importance of the defendants doing some prison time so that a message would be sent that lying to Uncle Sam is not kosher.

So, regardless of which party is your favorite and how many past presidents of both parties have pardoned bad people and commuted prison sentences, if a rapper and a domestic business powerhouse are important enough to do time for lying to investigators and prosecutors isn't an aide to the Vice President of the United States at least as important?

BTW, fellas, once you pass the age of 50 it's time to lose nicknames that end in "er" or "ie." My fam quit calling me Jamie by the time I turned 16. I wish they'd quit sooner. I had a boss at a college job whom everyone called "Rickster." I had a co-worker at that same job called "Boomer." Both men were over 50. It ain't cute.

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  • He was the fall guy.
    The article you're working on sounds really interesting, I can't wait to read it. Have you been living with these folks? I hope you'll tell us the whole back story as well.

    By Blogger fiwa, at 2:25 AM  

  • The whole Libby/Plame thing reminds me of when I was a kid and my older brother would put his finger as close to my nose without touching it, then chant "Point my finger at your nose."
    I would scream and cry and carry on.... until mom came and tried to figure out what the big deal was.

    You wrote a very clear and concise overview of the whole thing, by the way.

    Anxious to read your stay with the tough neighborhood.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 3:25 AM  

  • What about nicknames that end in 'nic?'

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 6:22 AM  

  • This whole Scooter Libby thing, as you stated, does send a message to many folks that if you are well-connected, know people in all the right places, even if you are found guilty of a charge (minor or very serious, makes no difference), while the regular people -the little guys - will have to follow the rules of "do the crime, serve the time" but those well-connected individuals don't have to do the same thing.

    It's a lousy message to keep reinforcing things like that to young and impressionable people as well as to old "unimpressionable" people like me. Fair is fair and a judicial sentences all have a set of guidelines as to how long a sentence is appropriate, etc.

    If I lied to the government about something that was related to foreign policy, security, etc., you can be your bottom dollar that there would be no commutation because the sentence was "too harsh" or it was too hard on my family or whatever!

    Public relations should play no part in things of this ilk. Morals and ethics to begin with would go a long way perhaps to eliminate the need for commutation of sentences, would it not.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 10:52 AM  

  • I love how they tried to pass off Libby's probation and $250,000 fine as a HUGE hardship.

    Turns out he probably doesn't have to serve the probation either and he just wrote a damn check for the fine.

    By Blogger Jay, at 11:01 AM  

  • What kills me with this situation is Bush pardoning anyone. While he was Governor of TX while I lived there, he pardoned no one citing the Jury made their decision. He let more people on death row get executed than any other governor because it's what the jury decided and to let those decisions stand. It really seems he broke tradition for a friend than anything else. And while there is nothing wrong with breaking tradition for a friend, that friend participated in a treasonous act. By definition, no punishment should be too harsh seeing as treason is punishable by death.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:11 AM  

  • The pardon came because it was time for him to go to jail. The appeal was to stall his date of starting his sentence. The fine came from the money raised for his legal defense. The real timing will be if there is commutation of the felony, which will cause his disbarment, and his lose of privilege to practice law. Of course, if he had been Paris Hilton, this would have been waived at sentencing, naturally. We call it two tiered citizenship, the privileged and the rest of us.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 5:20 PM  

  • Spot on with Scooter Libby. He should have done the time. So should a few others, but such is life.

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 5:58 PM  

  • Libby didn't actually do anything. Dick Armitage made it clear HE was the one who outed Plame first.

    I don't know crap about scooter libby one way or the nother, but I watched the case. Scooter was convicted of perjury. Because his recollection of a conversation differed from someone else's. The case will be thrown out on appeal.

    I would have done the time, if I were him. Then when the sentence was reversed, I'd have sued that moron Fitzgerald (who can't find CORRUPTION in CHICAGO)back to the stone age for malicious prosecution. Scooter may be the worst person on the planet, I don't know; but he's in the right on this, and has been railroaded. Bottomline, there's wrong enough for everyone on this.

    By Anonymous og, at 6:49 PM  

  • OK, so don't call me cazzie, call me cazza :)..better still, just don't call me late for dinner HAHA

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 8:13 PM  

  • JB,

    I look forward to reading your story on this family you've been spending time with (whom I presume are located in the SE Florida area). I know I always ride your ass about your commitment and your paper's commitment to positive change in the community versus its commitment to its own bottom line. Personally, I believe the two goals are symbiotic, with media information organzations providing the forum where the people's discussion about progressive social change can be debated in the arena of public opinon. However, my romantic utopian idealism is too fragile to withstand the force of the fact that too often news orgs seem to allow themselves to be whored out by partisan viewpoints. Indeed it would be difficult for corporate boards, in their role as fiduciary trustees of an ocean liner fueled by shareholder greed, to ignore the large buckets of money that less than partisan storytelling generates. It is for this reason that when a profit making venture voluntarily elects to forgo extra cash to uphold a principle, it may be properly recognized as integrity. It's the kind of stuff that wins awards, gets remembered, and I'm glad your profit making enterprise sees the need for your story where most others would not. I'm expecting no less than riveting content from your end.

    That word--Integrity

    That word is at the root of the Scooter Libby story because it is one of the foundations of this little thing called the rule of law that our society is based upon. When George Bush commutes Scooter Libby's sentence, it shows that he disdains the rule of law which results in him having no integrity. A man with no integrity cannot uphold the rule of law because there is no situation where his closely held principles will force him to follow the rules we've agreed to abide by through our collectively adopted Constitution and laws. Integrity and adherence to principle are not mutually exclusive--one is signified by the exercise of the other. If your guiding principle is to subvert the rule of law by never allowing its application to you, then by definition you cannot have the integrity necessary to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Oaths to do the same are empty promises if the intent never exists. The entire W Bush presidency has been one huge exercise in proving that the rules do not apply to them. It is at the heart of every official act of this presidency.

    The only people in this country who show as much contempt for the rule of law as our current president and his appointees are people we jail as criminals. George W. Bush shares an ethos with Michael Corleone--I will do everything in my power to make myself, the family, and our friends wealthy beyond our dreams and to hell with everybody else. Watch the Godfather, Part II again, read the CIA plots to use LCN to kill Castro, and look at the names of the men in charge of the operation. Many of them are working for the White House again.

    When we allow certain inmates to run free, it lessens the effectiveness of our oral and written commitments to uphold the rule of law. Worse, it turns us all into liars. We lie like rugs because we say we believe in the rule of law, but never take any real steps to enforce it. So when our children lie, cheat, steal, and kill, should they expect any response from us but a shrug? Haven't we condoned it all along from other people and ourselves? If we respond differently, what justification do we use other thatn "I'm bigger/stronger/older than you?"

    This action by Bush marks a further step down our path of cultural decline where no one who can be found to take the official roles of government will do it for anything other than a selfish financial or moral reason. The notion of public service for its own sake, because we as people deserve the gift of service to ourselves and it is worth more than money, has been completely obliterated by the slate in power.

    Maybe one day we'll wake up and decide that we are better than that and that the idea that America represents cannot coexist with such capriciousness. That's why I'm looking forward to your story. Because the way we handle the very American problem of the increasing income gap and empty lives of consumptive wealth will show whether we have collective integrity. Sometimes you need to show your hand of principles to prove you're not bluffing about having them.

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 5:15 AM  

  • I have not followed the Libby case closely enough to form a valid opinion on it (although I have figured out that you never lie to the Feds -- you take the Fifth instead), but I was troubled that he was supposed to spend more time in prison than Mary Winkler, who "accidentally" shot her sleeping husband in the back, yanked the phone out of the wall, and then fled to Alabama with her three daughters.

    Maybe Scooter should have used Mary's lawyer. Then he would have gotten no time in jail at all.

    By Anonymous Class factotum, at 9:45 AM  

  • Looking forward to reading the current writing project.

    Wish Bush would go away.

    Congratulations on Burnett 4.0!

    By Blogger katrice, at 7:33 PM  

  • James - if you stop by my blog, you can pick up a surprise there left for you. Why? Because I really believe you, your blog, deserves this commendation! You put out a great piece here and go far to ethics while educating and entertaining those of us lucky enough to have found your blog.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 9:38 PM  

  • @James:

    1st, I look forward to reading your new project.

    2nd, Well, I think Bush's pardoning (commuting his sentance or whatever he did) of Libby was a smack in the face to the American people as much of what this administration has done.

    On the other hand, the American people haven't as of yet demanded accountability of either this administration or of the newly elected congress to do the will of the poeople.

    By Anonymous DJ Black Adam, at 12:58 PM  

  • it was a bad PR move on the part of President Bush, because he'd made such vehement promises early on in the investigative process to punish any member of his administration found to have played a role in the leak of former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

    "....unless they actually get caught."

    He gets it from his father:
    "No new taxes; I will not sign into law any bill that creates new taxes or drastically increases existing taxes....(unless Congress gets the bill on my desk.)"

    By Blogger C.L. Jahn, at 9:25 PM  

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