Friday nights are my beer-drinking nights, meaning that instead of having one or two before dinner like I usually do most other evenings, I might drink a whole six-pack. It’s my version of binge-drinking. While it must always remembered that moderation is key; that, as everyone from Aristotle to Buddha to Jimmy Buffett taught, too much of a good thing is bad, and just enough of a bad thing can be good, it is also true that too much moderation (a good thing) can be bad. Sometimes you’ve got to throw moderation out the window, and let your passions run free. And that’s Friday night for me. I regularly triple my normal intake of alcohol on Friday night (to a whole six-pack, but still, I’m getting a bit old to tolerate much more). I usually end up mildly hung over the next day, but otherwise mainly little worse for the wear. I’ve lately been doing my platelet donation on Saturday mornings, which I probably need to change. Being a little hung over and then donating platelets (no, it doesn’t hurt the platelets or impact the quality of the donation) can make for a whole day hangover, as I was reminded Saturday.
So it was last Friday evening (August 24, 2012) that I found myself sitting on a bar stool at the Oak Hill Bar and Grill, which counts for me as a local pub (it is within walking distance of my house), drinking a few draft beers (no, none of the asinine craft beers—in this instance, I was drinking Stella, because this particular bar keeps good, fresh Stella on draft and I challenge anyone to brew a better draft beer than Stella. You may brew a different beer, and maybe, just maybe, if you try real hard and get a bit lucky, it will be as good as Stella. But it won’t be better). The bar has a neighborhood feel to it, though I’ve never seen any of my immediate neighbors there. And I only go maybe once a month or so, and then only on Fridays.
Most Friday nights the family goes out to eat, and I don’t care where, so long as they serve beer, preferably from a tap. One of my favorite restaurants is a local barbecue chain, Jim ‘n’ Nicks, that serves Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. PBR is not as good as Stella. But it still is good, and goes down smooth. I usually have a couple of beers at home before going out to eat, so one of Jim ‘n’ Nick’s’ 32 ounce tankards of PBR is generally all I need to put the moderation away for the evening. But this particular evening the family was otherwise engaged—the son stayed away at school; the daughter went to the high school jamboree football game, and the wife was working late at some human resources shindig (or so she said, I have no reason to doubt her, but also no way to know whether she’s being truthful, and sometimes I like to fantasize that it’s not just me that seems to have dampened her libido; that maybe she’s found someone else to pull the levers of her sexuality. Twenty plus years of monogamy is effectively just another way of describing celibacy). At least for a while, I was there at the bar by myself, drinking a few Stellas, enjoying the vibe from the far end of the bar’s countertop which afforded me a good view of all the comings and goings of the rest of the patrons.
Then the wife called to say she was done, and to ask what I was doing. I told her and she decided to come meet me. She arrived a few minutes later, still dolled up in her work attire, which for that day was a moderately short skirt, with a form-fitting top mostly hidden by a suit-type jacket. She looked good, as always. Damn, if she wasn’t my wife, I might try hitting on her. We sat and chatted for a while—she ordered a Chardonnay, which the bartender helpfully informed was from California, while I kept sipping my Stella. After a while, we decided to stay and eat dinner. I ordered hot wings, and she ordered a patty melt. And while we were waiting on the food, we both noticed a familiar face approach at the far end of the bar to place an order or something. We looked at each other, “Did that look like Don Siegelman to you?” I asked. “Yeah, it did”, she answered. We watched him return to his seat at a table with a bunch of Asian-looking guys, and asked the bartender if it was in fact Don Siegelman. He confirmed it, explaining that Siegelman was big into karate, and owned an interest in the karate school around the corner from the bar, and often came in after a work-out for a beer.
Don Siegelman was Alabama’s governor from 1999 to 2003, the last Democrat to be elected governor. He lost his re-election bid to former governor Bob Riley by less than three thousand highly contested votes. Shortly after losing the election, the Bush Justice Department essentially set out to destroy any chance Siegelman might have had at political resurrection, trying to indict him in 2004, which didn’t stick, but finally succeeding in 2006 in having him convicted of accepting a bribe for what amounted to his acceptance of campaign contributions. Siegelman’s conviction should give pause to anyone that cares just a little bit that we should at least try to be a society governed by laws and not men, because for even the most casual observer, the indictment and conviction was political through and through. It was the Bush Administration coming to the aid of its new Republican governor in Alabama to ensure that he would not be threatened in four years by a resurgent Siegelman—a man he had barely beaten, if actually at all, to gain the governorship. But it is even more complicated and nasty than just that.
In 2005, The Bush Administration Justice Department in North Alabama (the district in which Birmingham is located) was smarting over having failed to gain a conviction of Healthsouth’s former CEO Richard Scrushy on accounting fraud charges. Scrushy really made them look like buffoons, which wasn’t inordinately difficult, as mostly that’s what they were. They had brought about a 150-count indictment against Scrushy, thinking one supposes, that the more charges that can be contrived from the same set of evidence will make the general no-good, bad-apple character of the defendant apparent to all but the most dense or most loyal. But it didn’t work that way this time, and really, never does. Multiple indictments for the same act often seem more like prosecutorial over-compensation, kinda like the middle-aged bald guy driving the sporty convertible, than evidence of the defendant’s culpable character. And that was apparently how the jury saw things as well. Scrushy was acquitted of all charges. All 150 or so of ‘em. Ouch. The US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama at the time, which is ever and always a political appointment, could not have enhanced her political standing with that disastrous outcome.
So the Republicans took things to a different jurisdiction, and another US Attorney, this time for the Middle District of Alabama, where Montgomery is located. They still wanted Scrushy, but you can almost see in your mind’s eye the wicked little grins that curled their lips when their diabolical scheme to kill two very important political birds with only one stone pushed its way into their consciousness. They decided to indict both Scrushy and Siegelman for what amounted to the everyday operation of government—a businessman giving a political contribution to a politician in order to curry favor with the politician. You can almost hear the cackles of glee at their own cleverness—they would get revenge for having been made to look like fools in Birmingham, while also ridding Alabama’s current governor of his biggest reelection threat. So they indicted the highly unpopular Scrushy and the ex-governor Siegelman together. Scrushy was accused of having given money to a political fund Siegelman had set up to campaign for a state lottery in return for which Scrushy would be reappointed for his third term to a seat on the state’s Certificate of Need Board that determined where and how many hospital beds a community could have. Since this is more or less exactly what happened, it is no surprise that, even with the Keystone Kops-like tenor of the Bush Administration’s Justice Department in Alabama, they managed to get a conviction. But what Scrushy and Siegelman did was no different than what goes on every single day at every single level of government. As George Will pointed out about the case, if the Supreme Court refuses to review Siegelman’s case, and therein set forth the standard of what constitutes the difference between a bribe and a campaign contribution, any politician anywhere could be convicted of taking bribes.
Nobody much pines for Scrushy, since it is generally believed he got what he deserved, if for the wrong reason. Scrushy’s acquittal in the accounting fraud criminal case was perceived as something like O.J. Simpson’s acquittal for the murder of Nicole Simpson among the vast majority of Alabamians—a terrible travesty of justice. Folks didn’t much care about the collateral damage it wrought to convict Scrushy of criminal bribery, they were just happy he got his. The politicians that decided to bring the case against Scrushy and Siegelman fully well understood how damaging it would be politically for Siegelman to be caught up in the maelstrom of hatred for Scrushy. The Scrushy/Siegelman prosecution was effectively the assassination of Don Siegelman by other means. It served to dispose of a political rival every bit as effectively as a lethal assassination does in the banana republics.
With all that in mind, as I had closely followed the case through the years, and a few beers under my belt, I decided to swing by Governor Siegelman’s table on my way to the restroom, and if the opportunity presented itself, to say hello and offer my support in the fight against his political persecution. The wife didn’t want me to go, pleading for me to please not make a scene. But my instinct told me that people like Siegelman would appreciate someone, even a stranger like me, letting them know they understood what happened, and didn’t like it any more than they did.
As it turned out, Siegelman was just standing up as I returned from the restroom. So I stopped, and after confirming who he was, introduced myself and told him that I just wanted him to know that I believed what they had done to him was criminal. I told him that I was mostly apolitical, but not amoral, and though I had voted Republican more often than not, still, what they had done to him was just plain wrong. And he was absolutely as nice and appreciative as he could be, mentioning that this thing was bigger than him. I agreed wholeheartedly that indeed it was. We chatted a while—I told him we had originally met when I was in high school and he had visited the school during his term as Secretary of State (roughly, 1980). And I mentioned that I had read the George Will article on the matter (I strongly urge you to read it)—and before I knew, he was getting my e-mail address and sending me a link to his petition for a pardon, and accepting my invitation to meet my wife. As we walked over to where she was sitting at the end of the bar, she had a look that was something between demure surprise and utter horror. But it all went well. After introductions and a brief chat, we ended with a handshake, and even a bro-hug, and my promise that I would do whatever was in my meek and humble power to help him past this persecution.
After he left, my wife told me that he still looked good (and he does), and that she really had the hots for him when we met him in high school, setting me to thinking in the back of my mind, maybe this turn of events at the neighborhood bar might also turn out well for me in bedroom. Either way, Don Siegelman is an eminently nice and likeable guy, never my favorite as a politician, but then I don’t generally like any politician, at least not in the abstract. But what’s been done to him is, for a republic that wishes to at least pretend it is ruled by law, utterly wrong.
He did as promised, and sent me an e-mail, thanking me for my expression of support, and providing a link for where to sign his petition. In his e-mail, he sketched out the details of his persecution. Allow me to share some of it with you here:
I penned a post a few weeks back that posed the question of what might happen to Obama if he loses re-election, and the abuse of prosecutorial discretion reaches from the provinces to the national level. I concluded that Obama might very well face the same sort of prosecution that Siegelman has endured, and for much the same reason—that he will present a viable threat to Romney in 2016 because he has one available term left to run. This is not the way to run a republic. Let the people, not the prosecutors, decide who will be their elected representatives. If you can see the danger to this sort of political persecution, please click the link above and sign Governor Siegelman’s petition. It doesn’t matter from what state, or even country, you sign. If you believe that the US should be politically managed better than a banana republic; if you believe that justice should be the same for everyone everywhere; if you believe that laws, and not men, should determine the legality of one’s actions, just sign the petition. Because all that is what this case, which is far bigger than just Don Siegelman, is about. Siegelman is out on bail pending a hearing on resentencing.