Thursday, June 28, 2012

Do The Right Thing

Several congressmen are being blackmailed into doing something wrong, something they don’t want to do, today. A powerful lobby has proven it has bought our Congress and owns our government. An innocent man is being pilloried, his reputation ruined, by shameful partisan thugs elected to Congress by voters who should have known better. And America has taken another step toward its decline as a beacon to the world for free and responsible government. 

The situation that occurred today is yet another example of the political cancer destroying our country: the misuse of governmental institutions of power. Our Founding Fathers drafted a well-balanced system of branches of government, laws, and procedures, that have served this country well up until the Clinton presidency. Then, one political party began a strategy of misusing these institutions to achieve its own partisan goals, regardless of the damage to the country or the institutions themselves, and in the process, 
delegitimizing both.

It began with the Republicans' partisan efforts to destroy the Clinton presidency. Republicans launched multiple investigations into the Clintons’ personal lives, including a real estate transaction made before Clinton became president. The land deal was called “Whitewater” and after spending $52 million of taxpayer money, prosecutors found no evidence of wrongdoing. So instead, they subpoenaed a sitting president for the first time in history and questioned him about his sex life. He lied about a sexual relationship with a White House intern. Under oath. That was perjury. So he was impeached for lying about a blow job. From what started out as an investigation into real estate fraud, which it turned out didn’t exist. This is a misuse of governmental institutions of power – the investigatory power and the impeachment power.

The serious consequence of such misuse of a governmental institution of power was when the time came when it was necessary to impeach an out-of-control president who violated the Constitution repeatedly over eight years, the American people refused to do so, still reeling from impeachment fatigue of the Clinton years. So George W. Bush got away with illegal wiretapping, suspending Habeas Corpus and imprisoning people without due process or trial, scaling back American liberties, torture, conducting an unconstitutional war, and lying to the American people – all because we didn’t want to go through the ordeal of the impeachment process again. What happens when governmental institution of power are misused for partisan gain (to remove a president for a blow job) the toll it takes on our society makes it less likely we will use them again, at least in the near future, allowing corrupt individuals to do real harm and repeatedly violate the Constitution with impunity.

Another example of the misuse of a governmental institution of power is the misuse, again by the Republicans, of the filibuster. The filibuster is a method used to delay or block a vote in the US Senate. (In 1957, Sen. Strom Thurmond filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes to delay a vote on civil rights legislation.) Using a filibuster, one senator can block a bill from being voted into law and bring government to a standstill. This is what is happening today. But unlike the past, when the filibuster was rarely used, Republicans are using it on almost every bill brought by Democrats to ensure that the Obama Administration does not pass its legislation. Republicans do not want President Obama and the Democrats to achieve any political successes, even if the result of their actions is detrimental to the country. These filibusters take up a huge amount of the Senate’s time, time that could be better spent resolving the real issues the country faces.

Instead of focusing on those important issues, like the economy, health care, and energy policies, the Republicans have manufactured a scandal and launched a time-consuming investigation wasting millions of your tax dollars. When the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, Darrell Issa became chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That means he was given the power to conduct investigations of government. The first thing he said was he was going to use that power to investigate dozens of scandals on the Obama Administration, calling it “the most corrupt administration in history”. So, like Don Quixote, Issa set out on a quest tilting at windmills, looking for wrongdoing that didn’t exist. Not one to let the facts or truth get in his way, Issa (you may remember him as the voice of the Viper car alarm in TV commercials -"Please step away from the car") has misused his governmental institution of power to charge the Attorney General of the United States with contempt of Congress – the first time in history a Cabinet member has been charged with contempt of Congress.

Who is Darrell Issa? He is a man of Arab (Lebanese) ancestry who criticized the federal government in 2001 for giving federal funds to New York after the September 11th Attacks, asking "why the firefighters who went there and everybody in the city of New York needs to come to the federal government for the dollars versus this being primarily a state consideration." According to Media Matters, among other sources, "Rep. Darrell Issa's past includes arrests on weapons charges and for auto theft, suspicions of arson, and accusations of intimidation with a gun." Not surprising then, that he has close ties to the gun lobby. Since his election to Congress, Issa has become the richest person in Congress (worth $220 million). Should he be leading investigations or the subject of one?     

Despite any evidence of wrongdoing by Attorney General Eric Holder, Issa forced the House of Representatives to vote to hold him in contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate with his “investigation”. Despite Holder's cooperation, testifying before Issa’s committee nine times! Despite Holder's cooperation,  turning over all of the documents Issa asked for except for those he was forbidden by law to release (like grand jury testimony). But Issa wouldn’t take “Yes” for an answer. He sought his political pound of flesh, misusing his governmental institution for partisan gain.

What you need to know:

“Operation Fast and Furious” was not started by Attorney General Holder. It began under a different name, launched by Arizona law enforcement and conducted under the Bush Administration. Holder took over and ended the program. Fortune magazine this week debunked the myth the Justice Department (run by Holder) had a policy to allow guns to "walk", i.e., slip into criminal hands. The opposite was true: the Justice Department tried to prosecute US gun sellers selling arms to Mexican criminals but was told by its lawyers US law allowed such sales. Under US law, a man can walk into a gun shop, purchase 50 semi-automatic weapons for "personal use", step outside the shop and "change his mind" and resell them to anyone - that's legal.

Ironically, Republicans claim the "Fast and Furious"
program – the Bush program under a different name – was a secret conspiracy by President Obama (I guess two years before he was elected) to repeal the Second Amendment. They arrived at this tortured logic by claiming if the US supplied guns to Mexican criminals, Americans would be so appalled by the resulting violence they would demand repeal of the Second Amendment. This fallacy conveniently overlooks the fact we have had much more compelling cases for tighter gun control laws closer to home: the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and thousands of other innocent children nationwide – like the nine-year-old girl shot and killed in the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords  – and Giffords herself having her brains shot out and splattered on a shopping mall sidewalk. President Obama does not need to invent reasons for gun control; they exist in abundance. The truth is, Obama has relaxed gun laws and has never called for the repeal of the Second Amendment. The truth is, no one is seeking to repeal the Second Amendment or the right of citizens to own guns. What is sought by reasonable people is a commonsense limit on what weapons private individuals should own. Handguns and rifles are one thing; automatic weapons that fire dozens or hundreds of rounds a minute are only necessary for one purpose: killing large crowds of people. Ask Gabby Giffords.

This is not a partisan rant. I would make the same point if it were the Democrats misusing governmental institutions for partisan purposes. But Democrats have not done so. It has been the Republicans doing this since the Clinton impeachment hearings, through the filibusters of the Obama years, and now with the vote to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress. The Republicans secured 17 Democratic votes to hold the attorney general in contempt by enlisting their ally, the National Rifle Association, which threatened to count a congressman’s vote in support of Holder as a negative score against them when the NRA issues its politically powerful rankings for the upcoming election. This is a large lobby blackmailing US congressmen into doing what is politically expedient instead of what is right.

Last week, Kenneth Allen found a paper bag atop a trash can outside a Tennessee convenience store. The bag had $13,000 in cash. Mr. Allen turned the money over to the police so it could be returned to the man who had lost it. Like most of us, Mr. Allen could have used an extra $13,000. But he wasn’t thinking of himself (or his political party). "I knew I had to return it," Allen said. "Someone might have needed that for something really important." He was thinking of the greater good.  "It never crossed my mind to take it, because that's not the right thing to do," Mr. Allen said.  Mr. Allen is obviously not a Republican legislator.

"It never crossed my mind to take it, because that's not the right thing to do." Those words bear repeating. They are the hallmarks of honesty and integrity, two qualities we expect from our leaders. It is past time for the leaders of our country, especially the Republicans, to ignore lobbies and self-interest and Do the Right Thing!  

Top 10 Things I've Learned About You

Writing a blog can be a strange experience. We bloggers share our intimate thoughts with our keyboards and computer screens, sending our words into the electronic void, uncertain who, if anyone, will read them. My posts seldom elicit comments, so after a while, I lapse into a false sense of security, believing I'm typing to myself, until I'm shaken from my reverie whenever a reader posts a comment or approaches me in person and says they've read my blog. "So you're the one," I usually reply, wondering who else might be out there perusing my missives.

Some of my followers are visible despite their silence, having subscribed to my blog through, Networked Blogs, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Amazon, or Shelfari. But some read it namelessly through an RSS feed or land on it through a Google search and bookmark the blog to return anonymously. However, thanks to Google Analytics, I can see what terms they've searched for that brought them to my blog, and try to form a composite profile of you, my readers. So without further adieu, here are this month's top search terms [and why I think they showed up]. Really, I'm not making this up. Drum roll, please.

10. "halos and horns"  [title of my fantasy series]

9. "what makes a character memorable" [from a blogpost]

8. "Facebook girl picture on billboard" [from a blog post on Issues In Internet Law]

7. "layabout bunch of wankers"  [from a blog post on “EastEnders”]

6. "blood red roses"  [One of my eStoryBooks is “The Blood Rose”]

5. "girl lost childhood bear" [sounds like this came from Scooter Libby’s novel]

4. "ripping off fig leaf" [from a post on censorship, alluding to Michelangelo’s David statue]

3. "Dark Shadows Vista Theatre" [from a post about the movie premiere]

2. "Carolyn touches herself and makes noises like a kitten" [from the Dark Shadows movie review post]

1. "werewolf rape"

"Be afraid," my keyboard typed to me. "Be very afraid." The number one, all-time, most searched phrase among my blog readers was "werewolf rape". This is scary. I'm not sure if the term suggests the werewolf is the perpetrator or the victim; frankly, I don’t know which is worse to imagine. I don’t even think it’s possible (then again, if porcupines can mate, I suppose sharp claws and bestial fury might not be such an obstacle). Nonetheless, while I have written stories about many things, including werewolves and, separately, rape, I have never written a story involving both. But it’s good to know if I ever do, I have a ready audience here searching for it. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

An Alarming Development

A beep from my home security alarm system awakened me. I had always known since the day I had installed the system this would happen one day. After all, that’s what I had been paying monthly monitoring fees for, for years. Yet, somehow I had expected something more – sirens, bells and whistles, confetti falling from the ceiling – than an emasculated beep.

The alarm panel read “C2 Trouble”. How informative; as if the alarm beeping had not been indicative of trouble. Since it looked like an error code rather than an intruder alert, I decided to forego a room-by-room search with intent to shoot anything that moved, and instead phoned the alarm company’s emergency number I’ve carried on my phone all these years. I was greeted by a recording informing me the number had been disconnected.

Fortunately, I had also stored the alarm company’s backup number on my phone, so I dialed that. I got another recorded message, this time informing me I had reached a collection company after hours. Hoping there was not an armed intruder outside my bedroom door, I booted up my computer and searched for the alarm company’s number. When I finally got them on the phone, the company representative refused to speak with me unless I gave him my password. So I did. He told me I had given him my alarm code, which was not the same thing as the password, the latter having been created and last used the day I opened the account. Great, I had now revealed my access code to a stranger who was still refusing to speak to me.

I stalled him while running through my list of passwords. I only had 300 on the list. I tried to match the entry date of the password with the length of time I had had the alarm system, and successfully guessed it. Now I was allowed to have a conversation.

He told me the beep was likely a glitch and not to worry about it. I replied, “There aren’t supposed to be glitches in security systems.” He offered to send a maintenance man out to check it—for $130. I said I thought repairs were covered under my contract. “They are,” he replied. “It’s the labor that’s additional.” Since parts can’t be installed without labor, that means all repairs are apparently not covered under my contract. When my salesman gets back from his vacation, we’ll have to chat. Meanwhile, he advised me I could have labor costs covered by adding a $6 a month rider to my contract.

“I’ll think about it,” I said. “In the meantime, how do I change my secret password, which is no longer secret?”

“You need a download to do that,” he replied. “It costs $30. But it’s free on the $6 a month plan.”

“It costs $30 every time I change my password! What a racket!”

“Uh huh,” he replied. “But it covers other downloads, too.”

“What other downloads are there?”

“Say your alarm siren sounds and you can’t shut it off. Call us and we’ll send a download that will turn it off.”

“You mean you’d charge me $30 to turn off the siren?” I imagined irate neighbors in pajamas and nightcaps, with torches and pitchforks at my door.

“Yep, but it’s free if you have the extra $6 a month plan,” he replied.

“Can I stop bending over? My back is hurting.” I hung up half-hoping there was an intruder in the house; I felt like shooting someone. Then, I considered canceling the service. After all, I already had an effective alarm system and she only cost me a few dog biscuits a day.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Requiem for a Welterweight

I seldom write about sports. I lack interest in baseball, football, basketball, soccer, or golf. But I make an exception for two sports: horseracing and boxing. Both were favorites of my grandfather, who put himself through law school by boxing. His name was Manny P. and he was the father figure in my life. He was born today, June 9th, so it seemed an ideal way to celebrate his birthday by attending his favorite sport tonight: boxing. Another Manny P -- Manny Pacquiao -- was defending his WBO Welterweight Champion title against his undefeated opponent, Tim Bradley.

I studied clips of both fighters’ past bouts, discerning their fighting styles. Pacquiao lacked grace and true boxing style, but had an extremely effective strategy. He brought speed and a pair of fists that were like pistons to the ring. From the opening of the first round of his fights, Pacquiao’s lightning-fast fists would pound his opponent, who would shield his face and begin the match on the defensive. Some of Pacquiao’s shots from his wild blitzkrieg would land on their target, disorienting him. Few opponents had a chance to regain the offensive. By the time they were able to counterpunch, their heads were probably spinning from all the blows. Bradley, in his fights, was a more polished boxer. His punches were more varied and executed with more grace. He did not resemble any of the great boxers, but his style was more traditional, more professional. Unlike Pacquiao, he exhibited great defensive skills, ducking and weaving so as to allow few of his opponent’s blows to land on him. (To be fair, Pacquiao was mostly on the offensive and seldom needed to call on defensive skills.).

Although both fighters weighed in at 147 lbs., Bradley was more muscular and appeared larger. He had longer arms, affording him wider range, and this, I felt, could be his key to an upset victory, if he were smart enough to study Pacquiao’s previous bouts, as I had, and adapt his style to compensate for Pacquiao’s strengths. Bradley liked to stay close to bring maximum impact to his jabs. What he needed to do was step back, take advantage of his range and let Pacquiao tire himself out as his piston punches failed to connect. Then, Bradley need only come in with an occasional right hook that would reach Pacquiao’s jaw. In short, stay out of range, wear down his opponent, and hit him as often as he could. If he could do this, he would also gain a psychological advantage, placing Pacquiao on the defensive, a position to which he was unaccustomed.

Bradley is black and Pacquiao is Hispanic, and I observed there was no question the blacks in the audience were rooting for Bradley while the Hispanics cheered on Pacquiao. Most people (90 percent in an HBO poll) expected Pacquiao to win. At the weigh-in, Bradley tried to intimidate Pacquiao, acting like a bad boy in the hood, getting within less than an inch of his face, dodging in and out. Pacquiao stood still, grinning. He appeared cocky and complacent, while Bradley later described himself as “hungry”. I recalled Shakespeare’s words from “Julius Caesar”: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look... Such men are dangerous.”

I knew the outcome would be determined in the first round. If Bradley followed my strategy, he could pull off an upset and become the new Welterweight Champion. If he did not take advantage of his longer range and continued his strategy of staying close to his opponent, Pacquiao would win. I watched, waiting to see Pacquiao’s lightning-fast piston fists pound away. If Bradley’s gloves rose to cover his face, placing him in a defensive posture at the outset, then I knew he would join the long list of defeated contenders. But when I saw Bradley step back and swing at Pacquiao, I knew he had done his homework. I watched him put Pacquiao on the defensive for the first round and could tell from Pacquiao’s face he realized he was not in the same fight he thought he had entered. Bradley kept Pacquiao on the defensive for most of the night and made him work for his title. By the second round, the complacency had subsided from Pacquiao’s face, replaced by anger and a determination to win. Indeed, Pacquiao showed some strong offensive moves in later rounds. But it was too late. Bradley had trained long and hard for the fight. He began determined. Lean and hungry men are dangerous.

The fight lasted all 12 rounds and many were surprised when a split decision by the judges declared Bradley the winner. Not me. I felt he deserved to win. He used brains and brawn. It was a good fight. Grandpa would have enjoyed it.