Wednesday, April 01, 2009

New American Heroism: Sandbags and Justice

Eric Holder came into the Department of Justice after eight years of what can only be termed near-decade of assault on justice. Under the Bush administration, the DOJ was run like some Eastern European communist fiefdom, wherein the agents of justice were used to forward the corrupt, paranoid agendas of herr kommisar Cheney. Under AG’s Ashcroft and Gonzalez, the DOJ was little more than an echo chamber for the crypto-fascistic dogmas of the Bush administration. From Ashcroft’s amen-ing of the scurrilous Patriot Act, with its provisions to tap into the reading habits of Americans by requisitioning library and bookstore records, to the indefensible sophistry that re-defined what torture is and isn’t under Gonzalez (in other words, we don’t torture, therefore if we do it, it isn’t torture), the office of the Attorney General in the United States since 2001 has evolved to look more and more like a tin-pot despot’s choir than an independent protector of the constitution.

I didn’t give much thought to Holder’ appointment. In fact, such has been the damage caused to the DOJ by the Bush-cadre that I rather assume that a degree of entrenchment would stifle any real change for at the near term. After his ill-advised (but accurate) comments about Americans being “cowards” regarding the issue of race in America, I further assumed that Holder may be in possession of a degree of unhealthy narcissism and hubris.

This week, Mr. Holder has done something which, in my eyes, has elevated him to almost Jeffersonian heights. That odious little man, Ted Stevens, Senator from Alaska, had his conviction for making false statements regarding the lavish gifts he had received over the years, overturned by Holder's office. That Stevens is a greedy, petty little jerk is without question. Is the sort of guy you like to see IT stuck TO. But Holder’s DOJ overturned the Steven’s conviction. Why? Because HIS men, the prosecutors, turned out to be bigger scum bags than Stevens by withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense. In other words, the fix was in.

Holder probably could have let the conviction stand. Ignore it. Let it get sorted out on appeal. By instead he stepped in, embarrassed his people, and did the right thing. Will Stevens and company crow? Will he be pitched as the little old man who got pounced on by the big bad guv’ment? Probably. But that doesn’t matter. What Holder has done by overturning the conviction is to draw a line under the Ashcroft/Gonzalez years. He has put “justice” back to the department.


North Dakota came close to experiencing a junior version of Katrina-style catastrophe this past week. Citizens of the Red River Valley, young and old, black and white, volunteered hours and days to sandbag a 15 mile section of their town in the hopes that they could avert the worst ravages of the flooding. Flooding has been the bane of the RRV for as longs as folks have lived there. They were ready this year for 41 feet of water. They got 40.82. Less than a quarter of inch of water made the difference between the town continuing to exist and it becoming a cold Atlantis. But it wasn’t just inches that matter on the outskirts of Fargo, it’s muscle. While there are many stories of self-organizing and fitness-to-purpose, the March 26 tale of two busloads of school kids from the Pine-River Backus school turned out to fill and stack bags to make sure that a 92 year old woman’s home would be protected from the flooding. According to the near-centenarian, she looked out the window that morning and saw “angels coming.”

And why did they do it? Guilt? Fear? Was there a merit badge in the offing? According to one tenth grader, the answer is fairly uncomplicated: “It felt really good to help people.”

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