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Strom’s Steamy Past

The senator with the longest and steamiest past is of course Strom Thurmond,a man so legendary in his satyriasis that Lyndon Johnson’s daughter Lyndaonce said that when Thurmond, then almost 60, asked her to go bike ridingwith him in the Washington suburbs, her father-for the only time in herdating years-said no. This story comes from a biography of Thurmond, Ol’Strom, written by Jack Bass and Marilyn Thompson and published last year.It has plenty of good stuff in it, not least concerning Thurmond’s fervidpursuit of women, which once prompted Sen. John Tower to make the famousremark-often attributed to Thurmond himself-that “When he dies, they’llhave to beat his pecker down with a baseball bat in order to close the coffinlid”.

In the early 1940s, when Thurmond was a judge in South Carolina, thestate was convulsed by the saga of Sue Logue, a woman whose husband, J.Wallace Logue, was shot dead by his neighbor Davis Timmerman in a disputeover the price of a calf. Logue brooded and vowed revenge. She retainedthe services of a family friend who was also a local cop, who in turn hireda man to kill Timmerman. With Timmerman dead, it wasn’t long before thekiller told all, and police cars were mustered outside Sue Logue’s farmhouse.It was a standoff until Thurmond arrived at the scene, turned out his pocketsto show he was unarmed and was admitted into Logue’s house, where he dulypersuaded the denizens, include Sue, to give themselves up.

The local view was that Logue had reason to trust Thurmond, not leastbecause they had been having an affair for some time. Three weeks afterThurmond escorted Logue out of her house, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harborand Thurmond volunteered for duty. One view in South Carolina, cited byBass and Thompson, was that he was eager to escape the rumors now circulatingthroughout the region. As the authors write: “The stories still whisperedin Edgefield tell of Strom’s long affair with Sue, who campaigned for himwhen he ran for county superintendent of education and whom he allowed toteach in the county schools despite unwritten rules generally excludingmarried women from teaching positions. Her reputation for sexual prowesswas such that men told stories of her reputed vaginal muscular dexterity.The lore includes a tale of her and Strom found flagrante delicto in thesuperintendent’s office.”

By the time Thurmond got orders to report for active duty in April 1942,Sue Logue and her associates had been convicted and sentenced to death.The three were killed in the electric chair on Jan. 15, 1943, Sue Loguebeing the first woman ever electrocuted in South Carolina. Bass and Thompsonwrite, “Randall Johnson, a black man who supervised ‘colored help’at the State House and often served as driver and messenger, drove Sue fromthe women’s penitentiary to the death house at the main penitentiary inColumbia. In the back seat with her, he said many years later, was Thurmond,then an Army officer on active duty. They were ‘a-huggin’ and a-kissin’the whole day,’ said Johnson, whom Thurmond later as governor considereda trusted driver… In whispered ‘graveyard talk’-the kind of stories notto be told outsiders-the word around SLED (State Law Enforcement Division)was that Joe Frank said his aunt Sue was the only person seduced on theway to the electric chair.”

So much for Strom, only minutes away from necrophilia. His sexual escapadesmake Bill Clinton look like a piker.

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Last Word From LBJ

In the wake of the impeachment drama, it might be useful to refresh oursense of presidential dignity by consulting Ron Kessler’s book Inside theWhite House: “Lyndon Johnson was furious. Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird,had caught him having sex on a sofa in the Oval Office with one of the handfulof gorgeous young secretaries he had hired. Johnson blamed it all on theSecret Service, which safeguarded the Oval Office and the rest of the WhiteHouse. He said, ‘You should have done something,’ recalled a Secret Serviceagent. “We said, ‘we don’t do that. That’s your problem.'” EventuallyLBJ arranged for a buzzer to sound in his office when Lady Bird left thedomestic sector of the White House and headed his way.

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Serra on Justice

Ask us who are the salt of the earth, and we will tell you, criminaldefense attornies. For many an unfortunate they are the first and last lineof defense, and even though the criminal bar has its share of frauds anddead-beats, the criminal defense bar is packed with selfless types who workextremely hard for not much money. They see the system in all its arroganceand cruelty, and fight it every day.

One of the best defense attornies on the west coast is Tony Serra, famousfor defending native Americans. He defended Bear Lincoln, charged with killinga sheriff’s deputy in Mendocino county, California. Serra got Bear off thecapital charges.

At that time Serra gave a striking account of what he called the KGB-ingof America. From time to time, in speech or print, he reprises the theme,and it is worth repeating.

Problem number one: snitches. Ever since torture (“the Third Degree”)was phased out in the early 1930s as the prime investigative tool of lawenforcement, the culture of snitching has metastasized. As Serra says, “weprobably have more nomenclature for informants than does any other culture.We have citizen informants, confidential informants, informants who arepercipient, informants who are participatory, informants who are merelyeyewitnesses, informants who are co-defendants, informants who precipitatecharges by reverse stings. Our system is permeated by the witness or theprovocateur who is paid by government for a role in either revealing orinstigating a crime.”

If defense attornies went out and bought witnesses they’d be hit withcharges of obstructing justice. But prosecutors routinely slide witnesseswads of cash and hold out that infinitely potent bribe, freedom, or theprospect of freedom on an accelerated schedule. Ask yourself, how greatis the power of a bribe to knock ten years off a prison term? What’s thatworth in cash? What cash is the equivalent of ten years’ liberty?

And so the texture of criminal justice is that of snitching, of confectingfalse testimony, of bearing false witness. The beating heart of the criminaljustice system today is the snitch.

Serra’s next complaint is about grand juries, whose use has grown ata staggering rate over the past generation.

“Today,” Serra points out, “99.9 per cent of all federalcases involve indictment by grand jury. That means no preliminary hearing,no discovery prior to indictment, no confrontation, no lawyer present onbehalf of the accused.” (Unless you happen to be Bill Clinton, presidentof the United States.) “The accused isn’t there, and doesn’t see, hear,confront, cross-examine his or her accusers.” It can be a felony todisclose anything that happened or what your testimony actually was. Wewere giving a lurid illustration of the abuses this secrecy can engenderwhen Monica Lewinsky’s actual grand jury testimony was made public. We wereable to compare her words with independent counsel Ken Starr’s misrepresentationof them in his report to congress.

Serra rightly indicts the grand jury system – originally developed inEnglish common law as a means to go after the rich and powerful, and nowused as “an instrument of oppression… another secret tool of an expandingexecutive branch.”

Next: mandatory sentences, which are an obvious abuse of the constitutionalprinciple of separation of powers, since the law enforcement agencies nowstipulate the sentences and the judiciary has to go along. Serra definesthis abuse well: “When mandatory sentencing occurs, the legislative,actualized by the executive, has swallowed up the judiciary, which becomesa rubber stamp.”

Serra finally points his finger at the eroding of bail. These days there’sa presumption against bail, and consequently an onslaught on the fundamentalpresumption of innocence. The jails are filled with unconvicted people.

And finally, there is the constitutional right to a “speedy trial”- a right fast becoming a joke, as people languish behind bars for a yearor more, with no more legal representative speed than a drowsy snail.

There you have it. The cops abuse your fourth amendment protections againstunreasonable search and seizure and arrest you; you are either denied bailor find bail set at a prohibitive level; so you sit in jail for a year,after which a jailhouse snitch tells the prosecutors you confessed to him;you go up before a jury and are convicted on the basis of false testimony,and mandatory sentencing puts you away for fifteen years.CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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