Zirin on Bonds and the DOJ

Dave Zirin places the prosecution of Barry Bonds squarely within the policies of the Bush Administration justice department:

The Justice Department wins 95 percent of the cases it brings to trial, and make no mistake: this case was about to become part of the other 5 percent. The only thing the Justice Department had in its favor is what it always has, unlimited time and funds, so it’s rolling the dice in hopes that a three-judge panel rules against Illston. It wants the wiretaps, the illegal search and seizures and the acts of intimidation against Anderson’s family all to stand legally. This is frightening, but prosecutors will likely find themselves very disappointed. The page appears to be turning on the entire Bush era of outlaw justice, and Barry Bonds will likely benefit. The case started when Attorney General John Ashcroft, the great champion of the Patriot Act, held a press conference in 2004 to announce that the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative was officially underway. Having the Attorney General convene a grand jury to look into steroid use was extreme overkill, but as commentators remarked at the time, it was a shot across the bow at Bonds.

Most sports fans were very comfortable with seeing the despoiler of the national pastime get crushed. Bonds has had notoriously difficult relationships with the press, fans, teammates and management throughout his career. He is also black, which makes him an easier target. But the desire to see Bonds punished came at a terrible collective cost. The Bonds case has always been about more than the sports media have chosen to dwell on. It’s not about the scourge of anabolic steroids, or a surly, arrogant athlete getting his comeuppance. It isn’t even about perjury. It’s about how the Justice Department under Bush became untethered from the Bill of Rights. This week, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder has released a series of post-9/11 memos that chill the spine.

I don’t buy Zirin’s frequently-repeated charge that the Bonds prosecution is a racial thing. That’s mostly because I haven’t seen a shred of evidence — or a shred of convincing argument from Zirin or anyone else — that race is, in fact, a factor as opposed to Bonds’ sheer stature and his general unlikeability, neither of which are traits on which any one race has a monopoly.

The larger point, however — that the Justice Department has been up to some scary things over the past eight years — is a good one. No, I don’t consider Barry Bonds’ prosecution to represent anything approaching its worst excesses, but I likewise don’t believe such a prosecution would have spun out of a Justice Department whose priorities were straight to begin with.

(thanks to Pete Toms)

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  1. bigcatasroma said...

    I like the Bonds case as just a friendly reminder how evil (my opinion) the previous administration was when it came to meting out justice.  Flagrant violations of law and precedent, scales worse than the “cheating” that was done in baseball.  This whole thing is a sham.

    Now, let’s take a look at those post 9/11 Memoranda.  Where are they???

  2. Craig Calcaterra said...

    I think race enters into why many people had a generally unfavorable view of Bonds to begin with, and I think the DOJ finds it easier to prosecute people who it finds to be unpopular, but I don’t think race itself motivated the decision to prosecute, as Zirin has said explicitly in other pieces.  I think as far as that goes, the DOJ takes its unsavory defendants as it finds them.  Roger Clemens may be instructive here:  I don’t think they go after him like they are if he hadn’t done so much to make himself a villian in early 2008.

  3. APBA Guy said...

    Reminiscent of the Islamist PR use of fatwas from violence friendly Mullahs, the Bush Justice Department likewise obtained contorted, friendly legal “opinions” from tyranny friendly lawyers. Their backup for the worst torture abuses came from John Yoo, a professor at, of all places, UC Berkeley who wrote a lovely opinion that harsh interrogation wasn’t torture until it caused death, organ failure, or permanent organ loss, a definition straight from the Inquisition. Also, in time of war, the President is not bound by the Constitution. Thus war did not need to be formally declared by Congress, since the President is not bound by the Constitution, he can just decide that we are at war, and with whom, whenever he wants and start torturing away. Needless to say the Geneva Convention was dismissed as unbinding also.

    He sounds like a fun guy.

    Yoo has been on loan, EPL style, to a school far from Berkeley.

  4. MooseinOhio said...

    Matt:  I find the Implicit Association Test interesting on a multitude of levels and would be interested in an off-line discussion to get your thoughts.

  5. Kevin said...

    Don’t forget that the 4th Amendment does not apply to suspected terrorist even if they are US Citizens if the military was deployed, and the President can suspend the 1st amendment freedom of speech and press in certain situations.  At least, that is what some of those idiotic memos say.

  6. Michael Standish said...

    Not buying into “Zirin’s frequently-repeated charge that the Bonds prosecution is a racial thing,” is a decent sentiment and is, I suppose, a judicious way of looking at things.

    But Zirin might have been more accurate to say that Bonds’ complexion (esp. combined with his wealth) made him a more “attractive,” as opposed to “easier,” target.

    Perhaps things are better in e.g. Columbus than in Boston, but around here I didn’t catch the same sorts of street comments about McGwire’s #70 as I did about Bonds’ #73. [There are a number of books (some even good) that address any sample size objections about this remark.]
    Then again, “easier” might actually be the better word: It would suggest promiscuous careerism on the part of the DA, (as in Tom Waits’ “I don’t care who I have to step on on my way down”) and a brute lack of prosecutorial ethics (as in Lenny Bruce’s “In the halls of justice, the justice is in the halls”).

    This sort of dereliction (as in J.P. Donleavy’s “####’s ####, even on judgement day.”)may only be “scary things” to some, but I say if you let ‘em practice on the small stuff, there’s no telling how good they might get…

    Especially if they got their mitts on some steroids.

  7. fifth of said...

    Where is the evidence that the prosecution is not, as you put it, “a racial thing” – a charge not even advanced in the linked article? How does the two-time election of a white man with an affected “Cowboy” image by a white majority in elections where people of color voted heavily for his democrat opponents not qualify as “a racial thing”? How is the extreme corruption of the DOJ engendered under Bush not, flat out, a “racial thing”? It just seems a complete and utter oxymoron to maintain that the vicious prosecution of a black man under the Bush DOJ can be termed to be something other than “a racial thing.”

  8. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Michael and Fifth:  I guess what we’re arguing about is whether one must presume that any prosecution of a black man by the justice department is a racial prosecution unless shown to be otherwise or whether we must presume that a prosecution of a black man is NOT a racial thing unless some evidence is shown that it is. 

    I’m open to all manner of intellectual discussion about that question, but speaking practically, the only way to combat a race-based prosecution is by establishing via some evidence that the prosecution was bogus.  Show me that there is utterly zero evidence for the charge. Show me something which suggests a racist motive by law enforcement.  Show me some evidence that a disproportionate number of racial minortities have been charged with this particular crime.  Shoe me SOMETHING. None of those things appear to be at play in the Bonds case.

    I’ve long argued that this was a case that should have been dropped, but that’s an argument based on the unreasonable resources brought to bear in the prosecution and the slim hopes the government has to win in the face of Anderson’s lack of cooperation.  But there isn’t an utter lack of evidence here, just an utter lack of admissible evidence. There is much to suggest that law enforcement (Novitsky) is going somewhat crazy, but nothing to suggest that he has targeted anyone based on race or that he’s exceeding his powers.

    It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the Bush Justice Department and administration as a whole.  I think what has been done to the fourth and first amendments (among other things) in our name is a crime.

    I don’t, however, see how any of that has any bearing on this particular case.  And if we can take any lesson away from these past eight years, it’s that lumping disparate people and things to together and calling of it something rotten—be it “terrorist” or “evil” or, yes, “racist”—is not helpful, and is likely pretty harmful.

  9. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Note: the previous comment was only directed to Fifth Of, not Michael.  I had meant to make a longer comment addressing both of them, got distracted, and then lost my train of thought.

  10. fifth of said...

    Craig, you have responded to a strawman argument that the prosecution of Bonds is/was “racist” simply because Bonds is black. Sure, if the prosecution based on de jure racist discriminatory intent, there is no evidence of such that has come to light. But who gives a flying expletive? In your post, you specify two key things (and nothing else on this subject): that the DOJ pursued the prosecution because it was in line with the goals of the Bush Admin, and that it was not “a racial thing.” Well, dude, does it just not occur to you that the Bush administration was per se “a racial thing”? You’re argument is that the prosecution was not egregious and that therefore there is a problem with Zirin et al’s arguments. Well, pardon my french, but how does a racist executive branch doing what it typically does not qualify as “a racial thing”?

    Instead of responding to the argument that ‘Bonds’ prosecution was racist because Bonds is black and represents many of the things that racists dislike about black people,’ why don’t you respond to the argument that the typical behavior of the Justice Department under the Bush administration (though, frankly, such an argument is applicable for any administration since 1870) is indeed very much “a racial thing”? Critics like Zirin and myself are not responding to your argument that, within the racist standards and practices of “justice” established by the white elite in this country, Bonds’ prosecution does not stand out as a particularly egregious instance of racial animus or bias. Such an argument, though certainly conceivable, is not at issue.

    I understand that it may be obvious to put aside the “racial” dimension of such a case if your main interest is to discuss it in terms of prevailing discourses on the law and on baseball. But the critical literature on the Bush administration that earnestly addresses “racial” issues certainly isn’t about distinguishing the de jure / intentionality cases from the de facto cases; it focuses on elaborating how “racial” issues permeate everything that Bush and his staffs have done.

    Perhaps you should link me to something Zirin has written about Bonds that you have actually refuted, as the reference to race in the linked article is shorter than your paragraph rebuttal, and carries with it an undeniable grounding in social reality: “He is also black, which makes him an easier target.”

    Further, your response is alarming in that Zirin spends more time linking OTHER DOJ actions implicitly with racism in the linked post. The persecution of Muslims has a highly obvious “racial thing” going on. The use by the Bush admin of Yoo, with his Asian-American status and his place on the UC Berkeley faculty (which, for the record, has many conservatives, reactionaries, squares, white libertarians, etc.), had obvious “racial thing” components. What is alarming is that Zirin has, subtly and classily, made in his post the argument that race played a FUNDAMENTAL ROLE in the DOJ(my interpretation – he has really only made the argument, in that post, that it had massive implications), and you have responded by agreeing that Bonds’ prosecution fits in with the DOJ’s MO while taking pains to say that Bonds prosecution was not “a racial thing”!

    Cesaire’s assessment of colonialism as a process of “thingification” (that is, it turns the colonized into “things” rather than human beings) has a corollary in that the actions of colonizers upon the colonized are similarly turned into “things”, outside the realm of ethics (a cornerstone of Enrique Dussel’s discourses on philosophy). To turn the prosecutions of a state that actively pursued a wide variety of retrenchments of racial power schemas into mere things to be termed racist or non-racist is, to me, a waste of time and a move of profound disrespect to its millions of innocent victims. Just because a legal system has determined (against great, though by design outnumbered, opposition) its own standards for what makes a case racially motivated doesn’t mean that the actions of that legal system have any business being discussed by third parties solely in terms of the system’s own rubrics.

  11. Matt M said...


    Thanks for the response/clarification. I think we agree on the race issue here. Part of the reason Barry’s been an easy villain is the color of his skin (obviously, his personality hasn’t helped him either). That’s how I read the article at hand, though after a second reading, I suppose he could be arguing that the prosecution itself was racially motivated.

    Personally, I don’t believe that Bonds’ prosecution was racially motivated. On the other hand, I can see why some people feel that way. We’ve had two ballplayers charged and both happen to be minorities. Meanwhile, still no charges against Clemens. It’s easy to read something into that, but then, Raffy’s not been charged either.


    To be honest, I’m still not sure what to make of the AIT, and I’m certainly no expert in the field. After taking it, it was hard not to feel like it means SOMETHING; I’m just not sure what. If, after these initial expressions of utter stupidity, you’re still interested in exchanging views (or can explain what it means), you can reach me at mattDOTmcsnATgmailDOTcom. Obviously, the capitals are replacements for the appropriate symbols.

  12. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Fifth—there’s nothing in Zirn’s previous work to refute, because while he has made allusions to Bonds’ prosecution being racially motivated, he has never offered any evidence.  I offered my original comments about that in the post simply so readers will know that, while I endorse most of Zirin’s point, I don’t endorse the claim that there’s a racial element here.

    As for your other comments, you’re getting way far afield from anything I feel qualified to talk about. Yes, arguments can be made about the very legitimacy of our legal system in light of the past 300 years of history.  And indeed, it sounds very much like you have decided that our system is illegitimate.  That’s your prerogative.  Personally speaking, I don’t share that opinion, but more importantly, none of those arguments are helpful to us in practically assessing the legitimacy of a specific case, which is where my interest in this subject lies for purposes of this blog.

  13. tadthebad said...

    Quick question: are we saying that the Bush Administration, indeed every presidential administration in the history of the US, is a racially biased one?  If the answer to that is “yes”, then is the current administration racially biased as well?  Just asking…

  14. Neal said...

    Craig, while I agree that you are on firm standing, at least based on the legal standards for race as a factor in prosecution, it dawns on me that those same standards also allowed the following:(remember this is off the top of my head, so forgive me if they aren’t in any sane categorical system)
    crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine discrimination, not a racial divide, as long as you ignore that almost everyone convicted under the much stronger crack laws was black. Ruling: not racial.
    The idea that as long police can justify a stop for any legal reason (a violation is almost a certainty in most traffic situations, one mile over speed limit) that the true reason for the stop is no longer pertinent, and of the course, the subsequent “consented” to search.
    Sorry, all I’m really trying to say is, the justice system as whole is racist, and the standards set are self-serving. This begins from the voter, to the legislature, to the executive and it’s agencies, to the judiciary.
    Fifth goes a little farther than he should, but he is probably correct.
    Black, Arrogant, Athletic, and cheat = hated =prosecuted with a passion.
    White, Arrogant, Athletic, and cheat = disdained, but not really dispised = where’s the prosecutorial fervor?
    Not at all a racial thing.

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