Gates and Crowley and the Real Issue of the Law

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In this world of heightened reality, surrealism has a hard act to follow.   This is a bizzarre place where odd concoctions of thought and fantasy are turned into pronounced theories and devoted belief structures.   The obscure is often mainstream.   The irrelevant is elevated to new heights of culture.

Small wonder the recent Boston tempest between a Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates, and Cambridge Police Sergeant, James Crowley, would erupt into a controversy that would last for days, culminating in part with a beer with President Obama at the White House.   There the three men will hash it out, make peace, and present themselves to the media in some ersatz form of reconciliation.

But suppose Crowley and Gates had a little too much beer in the Oval Office and in a state of inebriation began shouting epithets, escalating in their mighty altercation to something more vulgar.   Suppose they lost their tempers, again, and their heated argument erupted into  fisticuffs, leaving it to our youthful president to break it up.   Now that would certainly be a photo op like none other.   The controversy that began with Crowley confronting Gates in his own house would rage on for weeks and months, perhaps.   Talking heads would pontificate for days as the more mundane aspects of two wars and a failing economy were ignored in the news cycle.   It may even take precedent over the raging salary controversy on American Idol.

Now surely I jest.  Or try to.  But crazier stuff does happen.   There are people in politics who would have been laughable on both sides of the aisle, just a few decades ago.   There are idiots with all types of specious theories, and more idiots who give these theories credibility.   The Gates-Crowley controversy has brought to our attention the national discord on racial relations that, no matter what we do, still lurks beneath the surface of everything.

Others will argue whether Crowley erred or whether his skewed perspective on race prompted him confront Gates in a matter that was either unprofessional or defied procedure.   We can argue all day, and we have, whether it was  racial profiling and a whole bunch of other stuff that escalated the situation to the level of national headlines.  We can argue the macro effects, although by doing so we ignore the more micro effects, the human element that the two men let their tempers get the best of them.   In plain language, it became a pissing contest where feelings where hurt and personalities were slighted.   Such situations often end with poor results.

This is not about race to me, but a more general and, probably, a more substantial issue. The main issue that concerns me is at what point does a police officer have to arrest someone is his own house.  Where is the justification?  Yes, I realize Gates pursued Crowley out of his door.   It would seem by at least some reports that Gates was obnoxious in berating Gates for confronting him about a fabled burglary.  In Gate’s own home.   Gates, understandably, was pissed off and in being so accused Crowley of everything but burning a cross on his lawn.

At that certain flash point, the place where we revisit in our brains and secretly wish we could do over differently, Crowley reacted and arrested Gates.   Did he have the right to arrest him?   Is the fact that Gates was supposedly behaving obnoxiously probable cause for taking him into custody?    Surely Gates pursued Crowley out on the porch.  But he onlyfollowed him to diss him, give him more mouth.  Gates never laid his hand on the cop or really threatened him in any way.   So, where is the law on this matter?

This is an important issue.   Because here rests not only legal precedent to justify Gates’ arrest, but the potential arrest of us all.   This is where precedential law can be decided.   This is the Rubicon where in response to false accusations or misguided interrogations you as a citizen have the right to get mouthy inside your house and on your own front porch,   Or this is not acceptable behavior and the police have the right to run you in.

Yes, I realize that Gates is accused of disorderly conduct.  I realize that the police say his actions were drawing a crowd.   But he was drawing a crowd for perceived slights and on his own porch.   So where is the law on this?   What will happen the next time someone shouts out his displeasure from the shelter of his home?

Any attorney will tell you that most precedential criminal law is hardly decided over the actions of an innocent man.   Be it Miranda, whose case, Miranda Vs. Arizona, established the Miranda Act, who any number of precedential legal cases; the subjects involved were not a bunch of nice guys.   They did something wrong.   They were unsavory characters.   But it was their alleged crimes and the subsequent reactions of the law that determined the precedent and process for the greater good.

Henry Louis Gates is the exception to most potential precedential law.  He is a preeminent scholar and hardly your criminal element.    He has the respect of his colleagues and much of the country.   He has the reputation most subjects of precedential criminal law grievously lack.   So here rests the perfect place to debate human rights, and the rights of privacy and property and not just racial profiling.   This is a case that as fate would have it is the result of  two men losing themselves to a pissing contest.   But the core issue itself  is a matter of rights that go back to our days as colonies and British subjects.   There are perhaps Fourth Amendment issues resting here.  In any case, it is truly a matter of law.

The incident itself is a pity, if nothing else.   But since it is now among us, resting firmly in our news cycle, it would be more intelligent to shift the perspective to human rights in general and not just the racial issues.   Instead of the talking heads droning on to earn their keep, something significant could be decided here.   But it won’t be.   It is too complex for the news cycle and those who for effective news marketing must line up one one side or the other.  Instead of a serious dicuss we will be forced to endure, if you will excuse the expression, more white noise.   The real issue will not be decided over a beer.   Nor through mediocrce talking points.

When Exceptional People Grow Older

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Years ago, when I was first starting out as a writer, my agent in the Los Angeles had a small second floor office in the old Writers and Artists Building, in Beverly Hills.    On several visits to her, I would run into the notorious gangster, Mickey Cohen.   He was one of my agent’s clients.  Jane was new in the business and maintained an eclectic roster reminiscent of Broadway Danny Rose, only with class.

Since we shared the same agent, Mickey and I would nod at each other and maybe manage a few words.   He was sick and dying, preoccupied with getting his book to press, before he passed on.   He didn’t have much time for chitchat, or maybe I read it wrong and he nothing but time.  He looked lonely and out of touch, out of step in the modern world.  His old bookie joint on just off of Sunset Strip had long been converted into a leather shop and finally a hair salon.

I thought to myself that this had been one of the most feared men in America.   He ruled Los Angeles and was said to have been one of the luckiest gangsters, having dodged several assassination attempts.    He made his enemies pay for such transgressions.   He lived long after them.   And now cancer was taking him down.   He was old and fragile, not the fearsome sort of long ago.

Since that time I have been fascinated by the enigma of age on exceptional people who performed extraordinary deeds.   Age can eventually make us all appear frail and marginal.   Age can disguise our pasts and the things that took place when we were young, virile and a little bit crazy.    But with people, ordinary or not, who committed themselves at one time or another to extraordinary acts, it is so strange how time and age can all but eradicate any sense of the deeds we performed.

On many occasions I found myself staring at persons of some notoriety, waiting for their remarkable character to break through the layers of camouflage and some how reveal itself.   You wait for that projection of energy.  Sometimes you can catch a glimmer, and sometimes you can’t.  Sometimes, depending on life and its fortunes, enough of that character remains, albeit in a slightly muted form.

I was reminded of the vagaries and cruelty of age, recently, when I sat down with an old friend who had been ill for some time.   Here was a man who served as a war correspondent in countless third world garbage dumps, who had interviewed potentates and politicians of every stripe.   He was a man who has investigated some of the greatest scandals of our time.  And now, as he sat across from me, it was tough for him to talk.   Over time and a couple of drinks, however, that special glimmer of significance did overtake his earlier reservation.  He became more animated and under pain and duress projected some of his old self.   Still, seeing an old an ill man in front of me, I had to search of evidence of a greater past.

There was a former member of the Navy’s Underwater Demotion  Unit.  A frogman, before there were Navy Seals.  He was old and moved slowly, but was a wealthy man as a result of having bought and sold enough real estate to develop a good part of Los Angeles.   There was no indicator to what acts of courage this man had performed.  He was just another tired old man, still moving forward in the quest of making a buck.    But he still had the skin burns from the demolition cord he used to blow up enemy submarines that were docked in their bases.   Swim in through the protective netting and swim out again.   A few less submarines.

Some people still retain that sense of character.   Old actors.   Rock and Roll Stars.   Performers still manage to put on that face and put on that show.   An aging Mick Jagger still looks and appears like Mick Jagger of his youth, albeit, a little slower and a little more craggy.   Anais Nin was dynamic almost up to the time she grew terminally ill.   She had that special grace and allure, moved across the room like she was gliding on wheels.   From what friends say, Henry Miller, her lover of yore, maintained his special presence.   Beatrice Wood was still going strong into her 100’s.  She was a world class potter but also the lover of Marcel Duchamp.  Maybe it’s love, exotic romance at its best that keeps some vital and young in spirit.   And delightfully crazy.

I remember meeting the Newton Boys.   They were old time bank robbers, cowboy types who still retained their wit and sense of humor.   With them, ironically, I could see them as they were,  holding up a bank.  If they thought they could get away with it.

And then there are the ones we are left to wonder about.   What would Marilyn Monroe have been like at eighty?   Would Amelia Earhart be dynamic and special, projecting that special aura when they periodically honored her as a pioneer for women’s rights?   John Lennon?

So the next time you see someone who is elderly take a second look.  Before you judge them merely old and frail, pathetically marginal, look for the signs of  an exceptional character .   Not everyone will have it.   Let’s face it, while we can be kind and classify everyone as special, there are some of us, a few of us, who in one form or another have gone the extra mile.   We may not even like what they did.  We may not approve of it.   But we can recognize that at one time or another they did something extraordinary.

Under the layers of personal history, trials, and disappointment, age may have obscured  that special character.  But it can never quite remove it entirely.

Clandestine Operations and the Flaws of Congressional Oversight

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America was shocked the learn that the intelligence community was running clandestine operations against terrorists, including assassination attempts.  Yes, the news media and a good portion of the public recoiled in surprise that the clandestine services were running clandestine operations.   This is what passes for news.

Now, surely, there were some sticky points, some of the centering around our former Vice President, Dick Cheney, and allegations he was running assassination teams out of his office.   Of course, the same man that mistakenly shot his friend in the face at a duck shoot, discovered that forming the hit teams is one thing, actually killing terrorists on their home turf is quite another.   But that is another matter left perhaps for another time.

Or not.   It is tough to assassinate people.  It is not how it looks in the movies, where easy plots and knuckle dragging super heroes have convinced a gullible public that most crises could be resolved in an hour and a half.   It is not how it looks in the movies, either, where a team of stalwart Americans infiltrate enemy terrain, hard and demanding terrain, where they successfully annihilate their quarry, before drifting back into the waiting copters.

Let’s face it, in most places where terrorists hide, it is tough to get there by car, yet alone by mountain paths and jungle trails.   It is tough to find the Terrorist Cave among the other 95,000 caves in half a dozen mountain ranges.   It is tough to get the locals to give up the people that they either revere or who scare hell out of them.   It ain’t easy.

Nevertheless, clandestine services do tend to practice clandestine operations.  And clandestine operations, in order to remain clandestine, have to be…secret.  Keeping secrets in congress is difficult on a good day.   Congress people will blab for any number of reasons, not the least of which is self-aggrandizement and some form of measured gain.   They will talk it up, blow secrets, and otherwise piss on the clandestine parade.

So why on earth would most clandestine services feel comfortable, releasing secrets, strategies, and dangerous tactics into the hands of a very leaky congress?   They don’t like to.   And sometimes they don’t.   Which in turn prompts the calls for more rigorous congressional oversight.   Rigorous congressional oversight can mean any number of things.  It can mean anything from having a clue where the government expenditures are being allocated to using the information as fodder to do an agitprop theatrical drama, playing to whatever base.

Sometimes the regard for those in the clandestine operations is negligible.  A good news story is well worth the trade of a couple, few lives.   Later on the jingo dance of support the troops will more than compensate for the loose lips that can jeopardize an operation.

Of course this is all a matter of perspective.   It is also a matter of balance.  On one hand, a clandestine service without responsible–notice the term responsible–oversight, can shape shift easily from a guardian of our democracy to a fascist sub-service loyal to those who run it.   Doubtful, maybe, but it has happened before.  There are places in the world where the secret service is the pillar upon which draconian governments rest their anti-human laurels.   Can we say Iran?

But then there is the other side.   You blow the cover of the clandestine service and your jeopardize its people and you risk the success of the operation.   If you become over saturated with self-righteous indignation, you pull away the layers of the onion that reveal the mechanism for all to see.  There are some elements of government that simply shouldn’t be all that transparent.   Yes, idealistic as you may be, there are any number of aspects and operations that shouldn’t be aired on some mindless news show.

As for our congress, let’s get real.  While some are responsible individuals with intellect, tact and a reasonable concern for the well being over the country over their own personal gain, there are a fair number that border on buffoonery.   If you don’t believe me, just listen to them.   Far too many are has been Rotarians–sorry Rotarians–who can’t keep an illicit sex affair a secret, yet alone a clandestine operation.    Some can’t keep their own avarice and corruption from being exposed.    Some believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth with humankind some 6,000 years ago.   Some are jingoistic fools in bad haircuts, who only open their mouths to change feet.

So here, perhaps, is the oversight.   These fair souls may pose the guiding light for intelligence operations we can’t always get right on a good day.   Or, sometimes, at all.

But under the age old adage, be careful what you wish for, let’s not get too carried away.   Otherwise, someone who can’t either keep his head out of his ass or his dick in his pants, will be deciding the fate of clandestine operations.   Yes, there has to be oversight, but anything like the now lauded by truly diasterious Stansfield Turner/Frank Church era may not be all that advisable.   Not with the barbarians at the gates.

Cronkite’s Death Marks an Era of News that Passed Years Ago

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There was a time when Walter Cronkite could have run for President of the United States.  He didn’t.   There was a strong possibility he could have won the election, but still, unlike the news hucksters today he want to parlay their two cents of wisdom into a higher office, Cronkite didn’t succumb.

Cronkite had among other things too much integrity.   As the most trusted man in America, Cronkite at his peak did more to encourage us to visit the moon than any other person.   His vast influence helped hasten the debacle of that era, better known as the Vietnam War.   People watched him, and people listened to him.   More importantly, people believed him.

Cronkite was arguably the first true anchorman.   While he was a at the top of the game, there were others who lent their own credibility and integrity to the news format.   The news format, back then, and the network executives who ran that division, assured that it was never mistaken for entertainment, cheap tricks in the guise of news in order to milk the ratings.   The news department was sacrosanct.   Those in other divisions of the networks, there were only networks at the time, well understood you never messed with or tried to influence the news divisions.  Not the entertainment or advertising departments.  No in behalf of sponsors or a celebrity looking for a leg up.   If you did, you had your head handed to you.

And many a newsperson followed those principles.  There were great ones for sure, although many could not necessarily be referred to as anchorman.    Edward R. Murrow, helped put an end to Senator Joe McCarthy, his anti-communist witch hunt against the big red scare.  Lowell Thomas, who on radio, broadcast from just about everywhere int he world  There were the avuncular types, like Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith.  There was the owlish John Chancellor, and of course the notable team of  Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

The list goes on.   These were broadcasters who gave you the news.   Most often they did little to influence your opinion, and if they did so, it was through subtlety in lieu of bombast.   They respected each other, and they respected their guests.   They were responsible for utilizing the great new age of electronic media transmission to its best advantage.   To make people knowledgeable about the world they lived in.

And then there was Walter Cronkite.  We watched him as a news anchor, the host of documentary series, like “Air Power,” and “The Twentieth Century.”   We listened as he urged us to the moon and implored us to end another stupid war.    We had faith in him.  We may have never seen him as a great man, really, but as our wise grandfather, giving us perspective on an ever changing world.   But he was a great man.   And Cronkite and his kind have been sorely missed.  Their passing should cause us mourning and reflection, even if Cronkite and his peers doesn’t get a celebrity laden sendoff from the Staples Center.

We missed them when they went off the air and were replaced by…something else.   We  miss their style and their integrity.   We suffer from their absence.   Cronkite’s death is our loss.   An era has passed us by.   And we are a poorer nation for it.