Government

DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

A cautionary fairy tale by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

The King Brothers strode through the luxurious lobby of the grand Wilford Washington Hotel. It is a stately old hotel with all the modern amenities. Only the richest of the rich can stay at the Wilford, and the King Brothers were among the one percent that controlled most of the nation’s wealth. It was a particularly joyous night for the highly successful businessmen as they again used their business skills and wealth to get what they wanted.

Your Vote CountsAlthough they were knowledgeable and successful businessmen, Chauncey and Derrick King owed most of their wealth to inheritance. Their father discovered a new way of making energy. It was not the most environmentally responsible method, but it sure made a lot of money.

When old Farley King passed on, Chauncey and Derrick aced out two other brothers to grab control of the largest privately held corporation in the nation. Now they had their sights set on power. They wanted the sort of power that would assure continued success to their business as well as that of their friends. This meant no environmental controls that would limit their production.

The boys were all smiles as they moved to the elevators, one of which would take them to an exclusive penthouse party to celebrate victory. It was election night in the nation and everything was falling into place. Despite the massive price tag of their efforts, they were pleased with what their investment had purchased.

When the doors of the elevator opened, the King brothers found family, friends and a few carefully selected politicians on hand. They all had the opportunity to partake in the best drinks and hors d’oeuvre money could buy.  Chauncey was partial to a particular wine from France, Pierre Jouet Champagne, at a mere $6,500 per bottle. The hotel secured a case of it just for the event.

Cal Rhodes came up to the boys with the latest good news. “We have won another one. Just one more and we will control the Senate as well as the House. There are victory celebrations in just about every one of the party campaign headquarters across the country.”

For all the money the brothers dumped into attack ads and digging up dirt on the other party, they felt they ought to win most of the battles. And win them they did, all night long.

Time to vote! - Marilyn Armstrong

The party went well past midnight as they all kept a careful eye on the western states. The laughing and joking and storytelling of the earlier hours had given way to watching election results. Giant screen televisions around the room had been playing FIX News all night, but now they turned up the sound so everyone could hear. The audience hung on the words of the political reporters they knew and loved.

Elections in Oregon and Idaho were unexpectedly close. While Oregon was supposed to be a battle, Idaho was considered “a lock” for the brothers prior to election night.

“What the hell is going on in Idaho?” Chauncey shouted at Cal.

“I’ll check it out,” was all Cal could say as he went back to working the phones, a task he normally relished. It would not be good for Cal or any of the architects of the Senate strategy if they did not pick up one of the remaining states.

The numbers on the election boards were moving agonizingly slowly. Derrick said to no one in particular, “No one lives in Idaho, how long can it take to count a few votes?” At just past one in the morning, Eastern time, the crowded roomful of conservatives heard the news they’d been waiting for.

“With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, FIX News projects the incumbent Senator from the state of Idaho has held off an unexpected challenge and will retain his seat.”

With that announcement, Chauncey ordered another bottle of his favorite champagne. “Give everyone a glass. Let’s toast this hard-fought, hard-bought victory.” They toasted until the wine was gone and the guests headed home or back to their rooms in the warm, friendly Wilford Washington Hotel.

Derrick went to Cal with hardiest congratulations.

“You know, Cal, it’s time we set our agenda for the next two years. We need to start working on it immediately. But let’s get a good night’s sleep first. We’ve all earned it.” With that, Cal got a big hug from both King brothers before heading downstairs to his room.

On the very next day, with the House and Senate in hand, the King brothers discussed who should be the candidate for the highest post in the land two years hence. Whoever they picked would become their anointed one, their monarch and would serve the brothers well.

They would send him off to live in a big white house. Congress would pass all the Kings’ proclamations and the brothers would live happily ever after.

The very end.

WORDS OF A WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN

How do your opinions compare?

We all have opinions about our country. While some of us are Democrats and others are Republicans, and while some are Libertarians and others are right of the Tea Party, we can generally all agree on certain aspects of the American government and our basic freedoms. Nobody wants our rights taken away and we all want to be good patriots, but what is a good patriot?

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“Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen…” and nothing would seem more certain than this. That is what one well-known American had to say recently, but not all are in agreement with his point of view.

“How can that be?” you might ask. Protecting the country, the Constitution and the countrymen would seem to be the highest priorities for a true patriot.

He added that we also need to look out for “encroachments of adversaries, and those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.  They can be bad policies.” There are many Americans who believe that bad policies are hurting the country. Ask anyone who claims to be in the Tea Party. They will tell you that Obamacare is killing this country. Ask many on the left and they will tell you lack of gun control is killing our children.

But this is not the sort of thing this well-known American is talking about. It could just be “simple overreach and — and things that — that should never have been tried, or — or that went wrong.”

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So the encroachments on our freedoms could be the sort of thing that intrudes on our privacy.  “If we want to be free, we can’t become subject to surveillance. We can’t — give away our privacy,” he told a reporter.

But is that what we are doing? Are we no longer free if we allow the government into every aspect of our lives? Is it right for them to collect data on our computer use, our telephone calls our visits to neighbors? Shall they put cameras and sound recording equipment at major intersections? Should they fly drones over our houses to see what we are doing? What is to be done to preserve our American way of life?

“We have to be an active part of our government. And we have to say — there are some things worth dying for. And I think the country is one of them.”

The problem would seem to many that the average person is not an active part of government. People do not vote. They do not become educated on government policies, although they may re-post misleading graphics to Facebook. They do not protest the encroachment on the things we think are protected in the Bill of Rights. They do not speak out.

BillOfRights

Some may believe that we have to give up liberties to stay safe, but this American will question whether recent historical events “justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.” It is a tough issue, to be sure. Do you think we should give up freedoms to the government without proof as to why this should be? What about the Fourth Amendment?

It would seem the Fourth Amendment might be encroached upon by some programs at home. Do we really believe “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated?” If so, are recent actions of the government violating this idea?

This American does not necessarily disagree with the government’s need for surveillance but adds, “It’s the dirtiness of the way these things are being used. It’s the lack of respect for the public.”

So do you agree that is the problem with government programs? Are some policies bad, or at least the implementation of the policies, because they do not hold respect for the American people? These matters of government programs and their effects on our lives are a sticky business. Do you think things are worse because Obama is the President? Do you think things were worse when Bush was the President? Do you think we would have been better off with Romney or Mrs. Clinton?

Consider carefully and think to yourself how well you agree or disagree with the quotes above? It seems hard to disagree with an American who is defending American beliefs. Do you agree surveillance is necessary for freedom? Are you disloyal if you disagree? Now ask yourself, are you a good American? If you are a citizen of this country my guess is you think you are a good American. Are you a real patriot?

“Do you see yourself as a patriot?” Brian Williams asked this well know American, now living overseas.

“I do,” Edward Snowden replied.

If I now told you all the quotes above are from Snowden, what do you think of them?  Could your opinion possibly have changed about those patriotic quotes?

WHY TERM LIMITS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA — AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN

Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?

Why do you want amateurs making your laws?

Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.

When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.

The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?

The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.

A little more history

Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families.

Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution’s aims to get professionals into government.

Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a very hard temp job with no future.

Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid

Maybe they are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?

Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.

Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.

Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.

Skill and experience count

Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.

We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of old guard, the folks who understand how to work with the opposition to make the process work. It’s the newly elected morons who are stopping progress. Sadly, our experienced old-timers got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.

Above and beyond the skill it take to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob DoleTed Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.

Term limits eliminate all chance of having great legislators

Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?

Garry and Tip O’Neill

If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.

If you don’t elect them, they won’t be in congress

We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates suitable to be President?

We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with others to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.

The President doesn’t run the country

Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault

The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one will want.

It’s close to that already. Mention going into politics to an ambitious young person. Watch him or her recoil in horror.

Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.

AMERICAN PIE CHART

I just read a post that details how poorly America fares — statistically — stacked against other countries. Our health care (probably one of our worst problems and clearly still unsolved) is an area in which we rank poorly. Shamefully.

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We aren’t the richest country or the most productive. We have relatively high unemployment and our purchasing power per capita is unimpressive. We get salaries that sound good, but the cost of living overran our paychecks long ago. We’ve lost more jobs to automation than outsourcing. One machine, one robot replaces a dozen or two workers.

US_Income_Distribution_1968 (1)There are few jobs for unskilled laborers that can support a family. We manufacture too little, depend too much on service-based work.

Americans are convinced their government is awful. Corrupt. Really, our government is merely inefficient and quagmired in oppositional party politics. The answer is electing better people. In the U.S., you get the government you elect. While you complain, you might want to look in a mirror and consider if you’ve done anything to deserve better. Funny how after morons are in office, nobody voted for them. How did that happen?

Statistics are fragments, not a story. We’re having hard times and I doubt we’ll see the end of them quickly. We have work to do. Rethinking where people will work and what they’ll be paid.

We need to figure out what we want from our government — really. Without the hyperbole and entrenched party positions. For all that, we don’t exactly live in Hell.

Statistics need context. We are not even close to a seriously corrupt nation, regardless of perception. I’ve seen corruption. We’re amateurs.

I wonder if Americans would really like living in one of those top-rated countries, like say Finland. Where 90% of your salary goes to taxes. You get great services and a safety net. You won’t wind up living in a crate and you’ll never die because you can’t afford surgery or medication. But there’s payback. You will live under socialism.

Yes, I have lived in a socialist country. It’s not terrible. It’s not the nightmare portrayed by Conservatives. It’s not heaven, either.

US_Income_Distribution_2009Mostly, it means working harder or better doesn’t get you a promotion, more money or even recognition. You are whatever your G rating is and move up  by seniority. It’s secure, but dull. Not much incentive to work harder or think creatively.

Mind you, plenty of people can’t imagine living any other way. Lots of others would rather be here and would happily take their chances on capitalism. They think we complain too much. They have a point.

A friend of mine lived in Belgium for 15 years.

He described it this way: “In Europe, if they don’t say it’s allowed, you can safely assume it’s forbidden. In the U.S., if they don’t tell you it’s forbidden, you know it’s allowed.”

That’s a huge difference. This country isn’t statistics. It’s history, national character.

Like every other country, we have our strong points as well as serious problems to solve. We’ve made some progress, more in some areas than others. But unlike small homogenous countries — like Finland — we’re a conglomeration of people from everywhere, different in more ways than we are the same. We’re never going to be like those other countries. We like our freedom too much.

We are what we are. Good and bad.

BORING STUFF YOU IGNORED IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Back on Facebook, the site I love to hate. Someone who ought to know better is saying “Here’s a suggestion: To solve this government shutdown, call a general election and let the people decide what should be done. Should we continue with the shutdown or go back to running the government? Sounds simple to me!”

Election day 2012

And getting the response:  “What’s simple to us is hard for our elected officials!”

It’s not hard for our elected officials. It’s impossible and illegal for our officials — elected and otherwise.

Not only that, but we do not have any mechanism that allows a plebiscite wherein everyone gets to voice his or her opinion and The Government has to Abide by Our Vote. How would that work, exactly? To which part of our legal system does that belong? Judicial? Legislative? Executive?

I’m pretty sure we have to pass laws via the legislature. To change laws, we have to get rid of old laws via the judicial branch and/or enact new laws. Which brings us back to the legislative branch. Or to put it another way — congress. If you don’t like the bozos in congress, don’t vote for them. What? You didn’t vote? Well then. I guess you got what you deserve.

The executive branch (aka The President) can’t enact laws. He can use his influence to try to get congress to create laws he likes. He can veto laws he dislikes although presidents do not use their veto much. It’s a thing. Oh, and congress can overturn a veto if enough members of congress agree. Like that’s going to happen.

So — after we have this entirely illegal “public opinion election,” who will enforce “the will of the people”? To the best of my knowledge, there is no force of law to public opinion. There never has been.

Returning to Facebook, I post a little something. Because I love it when I absolutely, positively know no one is going to pay any attention to me. I say: “You can’t just ‘call an election’ in the U.S. This isn’t Great Britain where members of parliament vote “no confidence’ to jumpstart a new election. The U.S. has scheduled elections. Beginning and end of story. The Constitution specifies how and when elections will be held. You can vote down a government in England. You cannot do it here.”

Everyone ignores me. Probably because I’m so smart.

So what can you do about all the stuff you don’t like? Between scheduled elections, you are free to gripe, whine, wail, argue, rant, piss and moan … but you can’t vote until the next scheduled election.

Green is for going.

Green is for going.

It’s one of several fundamental differences between our government and parliamentary governments (like England, France etc.). Americans are always saying how superior our government is, yet they don’t seem to know how it works. Hmm.

So I love it when folks call for an election to change something they don’t like. As if the United States has ever or could ever “just call an election” and “let the people decide.” Even in a parliamentary government — which is nominally more responsive to public opinion — you can’t just “call an election” anytime citizens are displeased with what’s going on.

Somewhere in every government throughout history a lot of citizens are/were/will be unhappy with whatever the government is or isn’t doing. If you had an election every time a bunch of people were mad at the government, we’d always be in the middle of an election.

Wouldn’t that be fun!

You are not required to like what’s going on, but if you want to participate, you need a fundamental grasp of how your government works. The boring stuff you ignored learned in grammar school. Today, you’re all grown up and your government is boring. I know. It’s not fair.

Feel free to ignore me. I should never read anything on Facebook. It just pisses me off.

 

If Other People Took On A “Government Shut-Down” Approach… THE BYRONIC MAN

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

“You have cancer, which is horrible. The treatment is chemotherapy which should help but I think there should be something better, so I’ve decided to let you die. I will be charging you for the treatment, though.”

“I realize we lost the big game, but we really wanted to win, so we’ve locked the gates of the stadium, and no one is allowed to go home until you change the scoreboard and give us the game ball.”

“I can see you spent a lot of time setting the menu and preparing Thanksgiving dinner, but I think the way turkeys are raised is inhumane, so I’ve set fire to the house.”

“Well, the brake pads are thin, your radiator hose is cracked, and this timing belt has had it.  I can fix it all, and would be happy to, but I also noticed that the door latch is sticking, and I just hate doors, so I’ve put your car in the back lot until the door falls off.”

“I am aware that I voted for you, but that was on the assumption that you had the ethics and intellectual ability to put the good of the people you serve ahead of childish games, feeble-minded combatism, and partisan posturing, so I will be voting for someone else in the next election.”

Oh, wait. That last one makes sense, doesn’t it.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

Well put, my friend. Horrible but funny.

See on thebyronicman.com

The Constitution of the United States

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

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We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

For those who have never read the Constitution — and for we who may need a refresher (it being a long time since school days), here is a link to a transcript of the Constitution by which ALL Americans are sworn to abide.

Regardless of party. Regardless of whether or not we like the President. We are a nation of laws, not extortion.

We are all supposed to care about this country. We can disagree, but holding the government for ransom and putting it in harm’s way — for ANY reason — is wrong. Unethical, immoral and unpatriotic. Maybe worse. We have laws for a reason.

Democracy is a slow, frustrating form of government. Totalitarianism is far more efficient. Is that what we want?

Rent “Seven Days in May” or find it on Netflix. Either version. Consider its message. Consider what message we are sending to the world right now. Shame on us.

See on www.archives.gov

A dream of freedom

When I lived far away and spoke of home, no matter how long I lived away, I knew where home was. America.

What’s America? A dream of freedom, a failure of reality? An amazing constitution that nonetheless signed on for eighty years of institutionalized slavery? The greatest nation on earth? The greatest oppressor in history?

All of the aforementioned?

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

Like a person, America is all things, contradictory things. Mythic. Iconic. A place of extraordinary natural beauty, preservers and despoilers. The best government, the worst failure.

All of the above.

Government fails. All government perpetrates injustice, murder, cruelty, intolerance then tries to bury the truth … like all good all people who do bad things. Find me one that has not. I dare you.

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It’s a terrible thing that governments and nations are made of human beings. Such flawed clay from which to build. Wrong-headed people with good intentions. We don’t get it right, but try (usually) to do the right thing. Our failures are human. That we keep trying is divine.

Government is corrupt, will always be. We deplore corruption as we reap its benefits. We fervently object to any corruption which doesn’t give us a piece of the pie, but love and protect corruption that rewards us. You don’t? Really? You sure?

We aren’t our government, legislators, even our history. We are all this, more or less. Are we greatest amongst nations? What do you mean by that? Biggest? We aren’t, never were. Richest? Not today. Best form of government? Maybe.

We are a light to the world and embody a promise as perhaps does no other place on earth. We have ridden to the rescue of peoples and nations when no other nation would dare. And destroyed others. Been spit on for the good we do and applauded for the evil. Sometimes, it’s hard to know which is which.

We’ll do it again because we’re just that kind of place.

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The American Hall of Shame: A Not-So-Little List

For commentary, you can read You’re ALL out of order.

These are the details, the who’s who plus the what and when of America’s federal convicted political criminals. Note I say convicted because I’m sure there are lots more that weren’t caught … or haven’t been caught yet. This not only isn’t everyone at the Federal level, it doesn’t deal at all with the state and locally elected criminals, from governors, to mayors, judges and the thousands of local pols. Truly too many to name. That’s not a post. That’s a multi-volume book.

Boston State House

So, to reiterate, this list contains only federal officials, appointed and elected, indicted and convicted while in office. More than a few of them were re-elected after conviction and some while still serving time. You get the government you deserve.

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Many people who were convicted during the term of one president did the crime and the time (and were elected or appointed) during an earlier presidency. Typically, regardless of political affiliation, new presidents pardon the miscreants convicted from earlier administrations. It’s a courtesy, one President to another. Nice.

On the other hand, it’s heartwarming to know if you get nailed, the next guy in office will pardon you too.

Obama (D) Presidency

Judicial Branch
  • Samuel B. Kent (R) The Federal District Judge of Galveston, Texas. Sentenced May 11, 2009 to 33 months for lying about sexually harassing 2 female employees. Appointed by George H. W. Bush (1990).
  • Thomas Porteous (D), Federal Judge of the US District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana), impeached, convicted and removed from office December 8, 2010. Charges of bribery and lying to Congress. Appointed by Bill Clinton (1994).
Legislative Branch

Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) pled guilty February 20, 2013 to fraud, conspiracy, making false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, and criminal forfeiture after using approximately $750,000 in campaign money for personal expenses. Not yet sentenced.

2001–2009 George W. Bush (R) Presidency

Executive Branch
  • Lewis Libby (R) Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney (R). ‘Scooter’ convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Plame Affair, March 6, 2007. Sentenced to 30 months and fined $250,000. Sentence commuted by George W. Bush (R), July 1, 2007.
  • Lester Crawford (R) Commissioner of the FDA, resigned. Pled guilty to conflict of interest. Sentenced to 3 years suspended and fined $90,000 (2006).
  • Claude Allen (R) Advisor to President Bush on Domestic Policy. Arrested for multiple felony thefts in retail stores. (2006) Convicted and resigned.
  • Darleen Druyun (D) Principal Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. Pled guilty to corruption charges, sentenced to 9 months and fined $5,000, with 3 years supervised release and 150 hours community service.
Legislative Branch

Jack Abramoff CNMI congressional influence peddling scandal involving immigration and minimum wage laws. Congressmen convicted in the Abramoff scandal included:

  • Tom DeLay (R-TX) House Majority Leader. Reprimanded twice by the House Ethics Committee. DeLay resigned June 9, 2006. Illegally channeled funds from Americans for a Republican Majority to Republican state legislator campaigns. Convicted  in 2010 by a Texas court of money laundering and conspiracy. Sentenced to 3 years.
  • Michael Scanlon (R) former staff to Tom DeLay: working for Abramoff, pled guilty to bribery.
  • Tony Rudy (R) former staff to Tom DeLay, pled guilty to conspiracy
  • James W. Ellis (R) executive director of Tom DeLay’s political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), indicted for money laundering.
  • John Colyandro (R) executive director of Tom DeLay’s political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), indicted for money laundering.
  • Bob Ney (R-OH) pled guilty to conspiracy and lying in exchange for legislative favors. 30 months.
  • Duke Cunningham (R-CA) pled guilty on November 28, 2005 to conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion (Cunningham scandal). Sentenced to 8+ years in prison.
  • William J. Jefferson (D-LA). August 2005, the FBI seized $90,000 in cash from Jefferson’s home freezer. Was re-elected anyway, but lost in 2008. Convicted of 11 counts of bribery and sentenced to 13 years, November 13, 2009.
  • Jefferson’s Chief of Staff Brett Pfeffer, sentenced to 84 months for bribery (2006).
  • Bill Janklow (R-SD) convicted of second-degree manslaughter for running a stop sign and killing a motorcyclist. Resigned from the House. 100 days in county jail plus 3 years probation (2003).
  • Jim Traficant (D-OH). Convicted on 10 felony counts of financial corruption. Sentenced to 8 years in prison. Expelled from the US House of Representatives. (2002)
  • Larry Craig Senator (R-ID). Married Senator and vocal critic of Clinton’s affair, pled guilty to disorderly conduct in a Minneapolis airport men’s room, after having been arrested on a charge of homosexual lewd conduct (2007).
  • Frank Ballance (D-NC) admitted to federal charges of money laundering and mail fraud in October 2005. Sentenced to 4 years.

1993–2001 Clinton (D) Presidency

Legislative Branch
  • Mel Reynolds (D-IL). Convicted of 12 counts of bank fraud (1999).
  • Walter R. Tucker III (D-CA). Sentenced to 27 months 1996, extortion and tax evasion (1995).
  • Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). Convicted on 11 counts of illegally using campaign funds for personal use (1997).
  • Austin Murphy (D-PA) convicted of 1 count of voter fraud for filling out absentee ballots for members of a nursing home (1999).

House Banking Scandal — 450 members of the House of Representatives overdrew their checking accounts and were never penalized. Six were convicted of related charges, and 22 others were sanctioned by the House Ethics Committee (1992):

  • Buz Lukens (R-Ohio) was convicted of bribery and conspiracy.
  • Carl C. Perkins (D-Kentucky) pled guilty to a check kiting multiple financial institutions including the House Bank.
  • Carroll Hubbard (D-Kentucky) convicted of illegally funneling money to his wife’s 1992 congressional campaign.

Congressional Post Office scandal (1991–1995) was a conspiracy to embezzle House Post Office money through stamps and postal vouchers to congressmen:

  • Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) — sentenced to 18 months, 1995.
  • Joe Kolter (D-Pennsylvania) convicted of 1 count of conspiracy. Sentenced to 6 months.
  • Jay Kim (R-CA) accepted $250,000 in illegal 1992 campaign contributions. Sentenced to 2 months house arrest (1992).

1989–1993 George H. W. Bush (R) Presidency

Judicial Branch
  • Robert Frederick Collins (D) Judge of the US District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana). Convicted of bribery. Sentenced to 6 years 10 months.
  • Walter Nixon (D) US Judge (Mississippi) (appointed by Lyndon Johnson,1968). Impeached by House and convicted by the Senate for perjury (1989).
Executive Branch

Catalina Vasquez Villalpando, (R) Treasurer of the United States. Pled guilty to obstruction of justice and tax evasion (1992).

Legislative Branch
  • Nicholas Mavroules (D-Massachusetts). Convicted of extortion, accepting illegal gifts and failing to report income. Pled guilty to 15 counts in April 1993. Sentenced to 15 months. (1993)
  • Albert Bustamante (D-Texas) — Convicted of accepting bribes (1993).
  • David Durenberger Senator (R-Minnesota) — Denounced by Senate for unethical financial transactions and disbarred (1990). Pled guilty to misuse of public funds. One year probation (1995).

1981–1989 Reagan (R) Presidency

Executive Branch

Housing and Urban Development Scandal concerned bribery by selected contractors to get low-income housing project government contracts:

  • James G. Watt (R) United States Secretary of the Interior, 1981–1983, charged with 25 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. Sentenced to five years probation, fined $5,000 and 500 hours of community service.
  • Deborah Gore Dean, (R) Executive Assistant to (Samuel Pierce, Secretary of HUD 1981–1987, and not charged). Dean was convicted of 12 counts of perjury, conspiracy, bribery. Sentenced to 21 months in prison (1987).
  • Phillip D. Winn (R) Assistant Secretary of HUD, 1981–1982, pleaded guilty to bribery in 1994.
  • Thomas Demery, (R) Assistant Secretary of HUD, pleaded guilty to bribery and obstruction.
  • Joseph A. Strauss, (R) Special Assistant to the Secretary of HUD, convicted for accepting payments to favor Puerto Rican land developers in receiving HUD funding.

Wedtech scandal: Wedtech Corporation convicted of bribery for Defense Department contracts:

  • Mario Biaggi (D-New York) sentenced to 2½ years. (1987)
  • Robert Garcia (D-New York) sentenced to 2½ years.

Iran-Contra Affair (1985–1986) involved secret arms sales to Iran in an attempt to secure the release of hostages and let US intelligence agencies fund Nicaraguan Contras (violation of Boland Amendment):

  • Caspar Weinberger (R) United States Secretary of Defense, indicted on 2 counts of perjury and 1 count of obstruction of justice on June 16, 1992. Weinberger received a pardon before his trial from George H. W. Bush on December 24, 1992.
  • Robert C. McFarlane (R) National Security Adviser, convicted of withholding evidence. Given 2 years probation. Pardoned by President George H. W. Bush.
  • John Poindexter (R) National Security Advisor, was convicted on April 7, 1990 for his role in the Iran-Contra Affair. Convictions were reversed in 1991 on appeal .
  • Oliver North (R) Member of the National Security Council, was fired by President Reagan on the same day Poindexter resigned. North was found guilty of perjury and conspiracy, but charges were overturned on appeal.
  • Elliott Abrams (R) Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, convicted of withholding evidence. 2 years probation, pardoned by President George H. W. Bush.
  • Michael Deaver (R) White House Deputy Chief of Staff to Ronald Reagan 1981–85, pled guilty to perjury related to lobbying activities and was sentenced to 3 years probation and fined $100,000.

Sewergate: A scandal in which funds from the EPA were selectively used for projects which would aid politicians friendly to the Reagan administration:

  • Rita Lavelle (R), assistant EPA Administrator, US Environmental Protection Agency misused ‘superfund’ monies and was convicted of perjury. Served 6 months and fined $10,000 with 5 years probation (1984) (Note: And let’s not worry about cleaning up those hazardous waste sites.)
Legislative Branch
  • David Durenberger Senator (R-Minnesota), denounced by the Senate for unethical financial transactions (1990) and disbarred (1995). Pled guilty to 5 counts of misuse of public funds. 1 year probation.
  • Donald E. “Buz” Lukens (R-Ohio). Convicted of two counts of bribery and conspiracy (1996).

ABSCAM FBI sting involving fake ‘Arabs’ trying to bribe 31 congressmen. (1980). The following Congressmen were convicted:

  • Harrison A. Williams Senator (D-New Jersey) was convicted on 9 counts of bribery and conspiracy. Sentenced to 3 years.
  • John Jenrette Representative (D-South Carolina) sentenced to two years in prison for bribery and conspiracy.
  • Richard Kelly (R-Florida) accepted $25K. Claimed he was conducting his own investigation into corruption. Served 13 months.
  • Raymond Lederer (D-Pennsylvania) “I can give you me” he said after accepting $50K. Sentenced to 3 years.
  • Michael Myers (D-Pennsylvania) Accepted $50,000 saying: “…money talks and bullshit walks.” Sentenced to 3 years and was expelled from the House.
  • Frank Thompson (D-New Jersey) sentenced to 3 years.
  • John M. Murphy (D-New York) Served 20 months of a 3-year sentence.
  • Mario Biaggi (D-New York), Convicted of obstruction of justice and accepting illegal gratuities he was sentenced to 2½ years in prison, fined $500,000 for his role in Wedtech. Resigned just before expulsion from the House. The next year he was convicted of another 15 counts of obstruction and bribery (1988).
  • Pat Swindall (R-Georgia) convicted of 6 counts of perjury. (1989)
  • George V. Hansen (R-Idaho) censured for failing to file out disclosure forms. Spent 15 months in prison.
  • Frederick W. Richmond (D-New York),Convicted of tax evasion and possession of marijuana. Served 9 months (1982)
  • Dan Flood (D-Pennsylvania) censured for bribery. Deadlocked jury. Pled guilty, got 1 year probation.
  • Joshua Eilberg (D-Pennsylvania) pled guilty to conflict-of-interest. Convinced president Carter to fire the US Attorney investigating his case.
Judicial branch scandals
  • Alcee Hastings (D-Florida), Federal District court judge impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate of soliciting a bribe (1989). Subsequently elected to the US House of Representatives (1992)
  • Harry Claiborne (D-Nebraska), Federal District court Judge impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate on two counts of tax evasion. He served 1 year.

1977–1981 Carter (D) Presidency

Legislative Branch
  • Fred Richmond (D-New York) – Convicted of tax fraud and possession of marijuana. Served 9 months in prison. Charges of soliciting sex from a 16-year-old boy were dropped after he agreed to counseling (1978).
  • Charles Diggs (D-Michigan). Convicted on 29 charges of mail fraud and filing false payroll forms in kickback scheme. Sentenced to 3 years (1978).
  • Michael Myers (D-Pennsylvania) Received suspended six-month jail term after pleading no contest to disorderly conduct charged stemming from an incident at a Virginia bar in which he allegedly attacked a hotel security guard and a cashier.
  • Frank M. Clark (D-Pennsylvania) pled guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion, June 12, 1979. Sentenced to 2 years.

Koreagate scandal involving alleged bribery of more than 30 members of Congress by the South Korean government represented by Tongsun Park:

  • Richard T. Hanna (D-California). Convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison.
  • Richard Tonry (D-Louisiana) pled guilty to receiving illegal campaign contributions.

1974–1977 Ford (R) Presidency

Legislative Branch
  • James F. Hastings (R-New York), convicted of kickbacks and mail fraud, he also took money from his employees for personal use. Served 14 months at Allenwood penitentiary (1976).
  • John V. Dowdy (D-Texas), Allegedly tried to stop a federal investigation of a construction firm. He served 6 months in prison for perjury (1973).
  • Bertram Podell (D-New York), pleaded guilty to conspiracy and conflict of interest. He was fined $5,000 and served four months in prison (1974).
  • Frank Brasco (D-New York) sentenced to 3 months in jail and fined $10,000 for conspiracy to accept bribes from a reputed Mafia figure for truck leasing contracts from the post office and loans to buy trucks.
  • Richard T. Hanna (D-CA), convicted in an influence-buying scandal (1974).

1969–1974 Nixon (R) Presidency

Watergate: A Really, Really Big Scandal

Watergate (1972–1973) was about Republican “operatives” bugging Democratic Party National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel entailing a burglary. Which was discovered and exposed in the biggest and baddest government scandal of modern times and the only one that led to the resignation of a sitting president. The only resignation of any sitting president.

If you are too young to have watched the spectacle on television, you can catch up by watching “All The President’s Men.” It’s not as good as the real thing, but it’s as close as you’re going to get. You might watch “Frost-Nixon” too.

The attempted cover up of the affair by President Richard Nixon (R) and his staff resulted in 69 government officials being charged and 48 pleading guilty, including 7 for actual burglary. Eventually, Nixon resigned his presidency. It wasn’t what he did that got him. It was his stupid attempt to cover it up. If he had admitted it and apologized, it probably would have blown over.

Eventually all the malefactors found Jesus, wrote books, and made a fortune on the lecture circuit. Presumably, justice was served. There’s a moral in there. I have no idea what it is.

The following were indicted and convicted:

  • John N. Mitchell (R) former Attorney General, convicted of perjury.
  • Frederick C. LaRue (R) Advisor to John Mitchell, convicted of obstruction of justice.
  • Richard Kleindienst (R) Attorney General, found guilty of “refusing to answer questions” given one month in jail.
  • H. R. Haldeman (R) Chief of Staff for Nixon, convicted of perjury.
  • John Ehrlichman (R) Counsel to Nixon, convicted of perjury.
  • Egil Krogh (R) Aide to John Ehrlichman, sentenced to 6 months.
  • John W. Dean III (R) Counsel to Nixon, convicted of obstruction of justice.
  • Dwight L. Chapin (R) Deputy Assistant to Nixon, convicted of perjury.
  • Charles W. Colson (R) Special Consul to Nixon, convicted of obstruction of justice.
Legislative Branch
  • Cornelius Gallagher (D-New Jersey) pled guilty to tax evasion. Served 2 years.
  • J. Irving Whalley (R-Pennsylvania) In 1973, received suspended 3-year sentence and fined $11,000 for using mail to deposit staff salary kickbacks and threatening an employee to stop her from informing the FBI.
  • Martin B. McKneally (R-New York) 1 year probation and fined $5,000 in 1971 for failing to file income tax return. He had not paid taxes for many years prior. (Note: They’d have tossed me in jail and thrown away the key.)
  • New York US Representative James Fred Hastings (R-NY) was a delegate to the 1968 Republican National Convention and the 1972 Republican National Convention. Elected to Congress in 1968. Served from January 3, 1969 until he resigned January 20, 1976 after being convicted of taking kickbacks and mail fraud. Served 14 months at Allenwood penitentiary (1976).

1963–1969 Lyndon B. Johnson (D) Presidency

Legislative Branch

Ted Kennedy — Senator (D-Massachusetts) drove his car into the channel between Chappaquiddick Island and Martha’s Vineyard, killing passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a suspended sentence of two months (1969). He also went on to be one of the nation’s finest legislators. Again, there’s a moral in there. Having taken that drive, it’s hard to believe it happened the way he said it did. I liked Teddy. I just didn’t believe him.

1961–1963 Kennedy (D) Presidency

Frank Boykin (D-Alabama) was placed on probation and fined $40,000 following conviction for conflict of interest and conspiracy to defraud the government. Pardoned by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

1953–1961 Eisenhower (R) Presidency

  • Thomas J. Lane (D-Massachusetts) convicted for income tax evasion. Served 4 months, but was re-elected three more times before his 1962 defeat due to re-districting (1956).
  • Ernest K. Bramblett (R-California) Received a suspended sentence and a $5,000 fine in 1955 for payroll padding and getting kickbacks.

1945–1953 Truman (D) Presidency

  • Walter E. Brehm (R-Ohio) convicted of accepting illegal contributions from employees. Received 15 month suspended sentence and a $5,000 fine.
  • J. Parnell Thomas (R-New Jersey), member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), was convicted of salary fraud and given 18 months and a fine. Resigned from Congress in 1950. He was imprisoned in Danbury Prison with two of the Hollywood Ten he had helped put there. (Note: Karma’s a bitch.) After serving, 18 months, was pardoned by Truman (D) in 1952.
  • Andrew J. May (D-Kentucky) was convicted of accepting bribes in 1947 from a war munitions manufacturer. Sentenced to 9 months, then pardoned by Truman (D) in 1952.

1933–1945 Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) Presidency

John H. Hoeppel (D-California) convicted in 1936 of selling an appointment to the West Point Military Academy. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 4–12 months.

1921–1923 Harding (R) Presidency

Teapot Dome Scandals: The Harding administration was rocked by scandals caused by Harding’s old Ohio friends who he had appointed to positions in his administration, known as the Ohio Gang. My mother to her dying day was convinced Harding was poisoned by his own “people.”

They did say it was food poisoning. Perhaps what they left out was what kind of poison was in the food?The list of the convicted included:

  • Albert Fall (R) Secretary of the Interior, bribed by Harry F. Sinclair for control of the Teapot Dome federal oil reserves in Wyoming, the first (but by no means the last) U.S. cabinet member to be convicted. Served two years (1922).
  • Charles R. Forbes (R) appointed by Harding as the first director of the new Bureau of Veterans Affairs. After constructing and modernizing VA hospitals, convicted of bribery and corruption. Sentenced to two years.
  • Thomas W. Miller (R), Head of the Office of Alien Property: convicted of fraud by selling German patents seized after World War I and bribery. Served 18 months.

1901-1909 Theodore Roosevelt (R) Presidency

  • Henry B. Cassel (R-Pennsylvania) was convicted of fraud related to the construction of the Pennsylvania State Capitol (1909).
  • John Mitchell Senator (R-Oregon) was involved with the Oregon land fraud scandal, for which he was indicted and convicted while a sitting US Senator (1905).
  • Joseph R. Burton Senator (R-Kansas), convicted of accepting a $2,500 bribe (1904).

1869–1877 Grant (R) Presidency

Whiskey Ring: Massive corruption of Ulysses S. Grant’s (R) administration involving whiskey taxes, bribery and kickbacks ending with 110 convictions (1875).

1777–1868

  • Matthew Lyon (Democratic Republican-Kentucky). First Congressman to be recommended for censure after spitting on Roger Griswold (Federalist-Connecticut). The censure failed to pass. Also found guilty of violating John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts and sentenced to four months in jail, during which period he was re-elected (1798). Setting a precedent, I guess.
  • John Pickering, Federal Judge (appointed by George Washington) was impeached and convicted in absentia by the US Senate for drunkenness and use of profanity on the bench though neither act was a high crime or misdemeanor (1804).

Improving the Quality of Corruption

DOWN WITH GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION! Defenestrate the politicians!

Right. Sure.

Without meaning to sound as cynical as I really am, please give me an example of a non corrupt government. Anywhere. In the history of government. From the first known government (Egypt? China?) to now. Just one. On any continent. Any form of government, even a tribal council. Because as far as I know, there is no such thing.

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I just finished reading “Imperium,” a fictionalized (not very) biography of Cicero. It gave me a headful of reality check on government corruption and I realized that we Americans don’t have a grip on serious corruption. Now, Rome, those guys understood corruption. They were serious about their corruption. We are just dilettantes compared to them! More on this later.

Boston State House

Never in this world, has there ever been a government free of corruption. It is the nature of government to be subject to … uh … um … what shall I call it? Oh, okay. Got it.

Pressure.

What do you mean by that?

Well, let’s see. Money. That’s a fine traditional form of corruption. Right up there, we have nepotism, a form of corruption whose popularity never wanes. Otherwise known as “my family and friends.” Hey, they just need jobs, you know? It’s not a big deal, is it? Find me a small town where the government — such as it is — isn’t composed of entrenched old families, their friends, friends of family, cousins of the friends of the families, their brothers and sisters in-and-out-of-law.

Okay, how about constituents? You know, like when we tell our pols what we want them to do or else we throw them out on their asses. The stuff you and I want and demand, the stuff we think our government owes us because we are the people who elected them.

Jail 1882

“What?” you say? “Isn’t that what government is all about?”

Right you are! A little question for you.

Does the fact that we want it mean it is inherently moral? Just? Righteous? Even legal? If you believe that, I have a bridge you can buy really cheap.

UxbridgeTownHall300-72

We want what we want. We don’t really care whether or not it benefits everyone. We, here, in this town, need new bridges over the river. We need our roads repaired. Sewers installed. A new high school. A bigger library. Screw other towns, the rest of the state and the nation. We want what we want. We want it now. We deserve it. We voted for you and we expect you to make it happen.

Pols who deliver the goods get re-elected. That’s the way it works. That’s the way it has always worked. And always will. If you don’t think the electoral process itself is a form of corruption, you are missing the point.

It doesn’t matter who is applying the pressure — or why. The process of gaining and retaining power unavoidably invites — guarantees — corruption.

I am sure — without knowing the specific nation, people, form of government or period of history — the process and its representatives were corrupt. Politicians did, are doing and will always do whatever they must to continue to be politicians. In some cases, that is the same as continuing to breathe. The stakes get higher in non democracies and/or totalitarian regimes.

Then there’s the urgent desire of everyone in public service who didn’t come to power with a private fortune, to make and keep as much money as they can before they get kicked out of office. Or just plain kicked or put up against a wall and shot, depending. It’s why our Founding Fathers — who were smart, sophisticated, and understood reality — thought it was better to elect wealthy people to office. Because rich people were less subject to bribery. In theory, anyhow. Duh.

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Not everyone lusts for money. Some merely lust for power, lots of it. It’s not less corrupt than taking bribes, just a different twist on the same story. Power is a great leveler because no one — rich or poor — is immune to the siren song of power.

Me? I just want officials to do something good while they hold office. Even though it requires they placate many people however they can without getting caught, killed, impeached, indicted, imprisoned or exposed on Facebook, Twitter or CNN. Cynical? Moi?

I think we should start a movement for better corruption. Require corrupt politicians to use their power — however ill-gained — to pass laws that make the world better in my opinion. And when all is said and done, it’s my opinion that counts, right?

Boston Commons and Statehouse-HP-1

I want laws that will help the economy, create jobs, lower taxes, improve health care, eliminate racism, bigotry and discrimination. If my representatives line their pockets in the process? Well okay, but deliver the goods. It’s the least they can do.

Yeah, I’m cynical. Totally, absolutely cynical. Accept payoffs and kick-backs. Hire your extended family, their friends and relatives. Please, just do some good while you are at it.

If I have to pay them off, I’d like to get value for my money.

Daily Prompt: Ripped Into the Headline — I have misplaced my outrage …

Not everyone gets my sense of humor. Despite that, I persist in being myself. I realize irony is wasted on a lot of folks and allusions to movies, books, and history merely annoy them. I just can’t help it. I gotta be me, even if it confuses and aggravates a big slice of the population. I’m just not everybody’s cuppa tea.

Right now, I’m walking around laughing, sometimes hysterically, at the gigantic fuss, furor, and scandal over NSA listening to our phone calls.

So last night, when we were nicely tucked into the most comfortable bed in the world, I said to Garry:

“Can you think of any government anywhere, or any time in the history of humankind, during which governments have not spied on their citizens or subjects?”

He honored me with a thoughtful few seconds before answering … or maybe he was just twiddling with the remote control.

“Nope.”

“I think the way it works is this. First, we invent heads of state. Kings, presidents, emperors, whatever. Next, they invent a secret police so they can keep on being the head of state. The only thing that seems to change is the technology. And the quality of the dungeons.”

“Yup.”

“I think it’s a mistake to try and monitor all those telephone calls. I mean, they are just going to be buried under more data than they handle, so instead of getting more information about real problems, they are just going to get lots of jabbering kids yakking with their friends, people arguing with customer support, and boring conversations by people like us. We never say anything interesting on the phone. We hardly talk on the phone at all.

“Yup.”

Our conversation has continued into today as Garry has pointed out that he is positively shocked to hear that the NSA is listening to our phone calls. SHOCKED!

I said I would have to compose a strongly worded letter and send it to someone, although I’m not sure who.

office with nan

Americans seem to have a national need to be outraged about something or other. We apparently require a level of constant civic hysteria, maybe to keep the news from being boring. Scandal keeps ratings up and gives talk show hosts something to rant about. It gives both liberals and conservatives something to accuse each other of doing, even though every administration has done pretty much the same stuff and always will. They did it in ancient Rome and Greece. Egypt, too. Governments spy on their citizens. The more prominent you are, the more dangerous you are perceived to be, so the more attention is likely to be paid to you.

I’m wondering how long this is going to stay on top of the news. Because nothing is going to change. Ever. Governments will spy on their citizens. Citizens will be outraged. The outrage will be ignored. Eventually, everyone will move on to the next big thing.

I actually think our security moguls are shooting themselves in the foot trying to monitor so many people. At a certain point, everything and nothing are identical. If you try to collect every conversation, you wind up knowing less than you did when you targeted actual likely evil-doers. But hey, what do I know, right?

I’m having trouble getting myself worked up over this.

You see, I remember Richard Nixon. I even remember the end of the J. Edgar Hoover era. I’ve read history. Unlike some people, who apparently actually believe that all those traffic cameras have been installed to monitor traffic, I know they are there to keep track of us. You. Me. All of us. Is someone monitoring them all the time? Hardly likely. But if anyone is looking for me — or you — well, I’m sure they will have no trouble finding us.

Did I know the NSA was monitoring phone conversations? Not specifically, but it’s hardly a revelation. Do I believe that if we form protest groups, write letters to congress, they will stop watching and listening? Are you kidding? They aren’t going to stop and making a fuss about it is likely to make them take a long hard look at me. I would prefer to skip that.

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My government spies on me. And you. And everyone else. They were spying on us during the 1960s. They were spying on my parents and their friends in the 1950s and 1940s. What’s your point? Obama didn’t start this. Bush didn’t start it. FDR didn’t start it. Abraham Lincoln didn’t start it. It’s been going on as long as there have been governments and it will never end. Nobody asked my permission and my objections will accomplish nothing. Privacy is an illusion and if we ever had any, we lost it a long time ago.

I know I should be appalled, angry, enraged at the intrusion into my private space, but instead I keep laughing. I am incapable of being appalled. I have completely run out of outrage. Our dogs remain undisturbed and my husband amused. This particular crisis will have to go on without us.

Someone else will have to be outraged on our behalf. Please, whoever you are, don’t forget to send that strongly worded letter. Send me a copy. For my records.

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Weekly Writing Challenge: The State of the State: Dying of Laughter

It took me five months to get a new oncologist from Fallon, the HMO that runs my Medicare Advantage plan. It began last November when, in a necessary cost-cutting move, I gave up my Medigap policy and signed on with Fallon Senior Medicare Advantage plan.

Dana Farber lobby

To get started on the wrong foot, the customer service person who signed me up gave me incorrect information. She had assured me Dana-Farber in Milford was covered by Fallon. This turned out to be untrue and left me without an oncologist. I was annoyed, but not wildly upset. They said I could see my Dana-Farber oncologist once more and I figured I’d get a referral from him.

custSVC

That turned out to be overly optimistic. My oncologist didn’t know anyone at UMass in Worcester — Fallon’s only cancer care facility in Worcester County. Like many satellite facilities  for larger institutions, it’s hard for them to keep ambitious young doctors on staff. They stay a while, then move to better paying jobs at bigger more, prestigious hospitals. A few doctors stay, usually those who live locally, but most move on. It’s a bit of a revolving door, personnel-wise, though it really isn’t their fault.

Even this didn’t faze me. I’m past surgery and chemo. I’m in the maintenance phase. I go for checkups and blood tests. Once a year they scan me to make sure nothing is growing someplace it shouldn’t. Nonetheless, I’m only 2 years from the initial discovery of two separate tumors and there have been a lot of cancer deaths in my family. Mother. Brother. Both maternal grandparents and I’ve had cancer twice, so there’s no reason to assume I’ll ever be entirely safe. I’m not acting crazy because I feel it’s a bit soon to stop monitoring me.

My doctor assured me that the facility is good, but he couldn’t help me find a new doctor. He suggested I call the HMO and ask them who do they have in medical oncology with a speciality in breast cancer.  I already knew my PCP couldn’t give me a referral because she said so. She had suggested I get the referral from my oncologist. Back to square one.

I called Fallon.

She said — this is a quote: “We do not list our doctors by specialty.”

“What,” I asked, “Do you list them by? Alphabetically?”

I mean, seriously, if you don’t list doctors by specialty, how in the world can anyone get an appropriate referral? This is supposed to be senior health care organization. It’s not as if cancer is a rare event. There’s a lot of it going around. I patiently — really patiently — explained I needed a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer. That yes indeed, cancer doctors are highly specialized and it really did make a difference and no, there’s no such thing as “just an oncologist.” If ignorance was bliss, this was one deliriously happy young woman.

After I explained for the dozenth time it would not be okay to send me to “just any” oncologist, that I wanted someone who knew about my kind of cancer and moreover, I want a doctor who has been out of medical school for at least 5 years. I’m not ready to put my life in the hands of a baby doctor. My life, my choice.

I spent over an hour trying to make some progress, being repeatedly told I needed to go to my primary care doctor and get a referral from her. Despite my explaining she had already told me she didn’t know the doctors at UMass Oncology, it was like talking to a doll who only has three or four recorded phrases. By now, my good nature was gone and my fangs were showing.

It took another 45 minutes and further reiterations of the same information to get transferred to a supervisor. I told the story again. Finally, she said she would “research the problem” and get back to me.

I called my doctor’s office, explained that I hadn’t been able to get a referral from the oncologist at the Dana-Farber, nor could I get a referral from Fallon and they seemed to be of the opinion my family doctor should send me to the right doctor even though I had told them that Dr. S. didn’t know the doctors in Oncology at UMass in Worcester. I needed someone to step up to the plate and help me.

A few hours later, my doctor’s office called back and gave me a name, an appointment, and a phone number. The appointment was for just a few days hence, also my birthday. I didn’t want an oncology appointment on my birthday. Nor did I need an appointment immediately. I had just had my big annual scan and wouldn’t need to be seen again for six months, so I called the doctor’s number to change the appointment to something sensible.

I got transferred then transferred again and wound up talking to Lisa, the administrator for the Breast Cancer Care department. It turned out that the doctor with whom I’d been booked was a surgeon, not a medical oncologist and that in any case, they couldn’t do anything without my medical records which were scattered through three hospitals and a doctor’s office — each located in a different town.

Lisa said not to worry, she would take care of it. Remarkably she did. She changed the appointment and booked me with a doctor who specialized in my type of cancer, called all the various offices and ordered my medical records send to UMass. Said if I had any kind of problem, give her a call and she’d fix it because women with cancer shouldn’t have additional problems because they already had quite enough. My opinion precisely. But wow. What a difference a woman with intelligence and a willingness to actually provide customer service can make!

Shortly thereafter, my doctor’s assistant called asking why I’d cancelled the appointment she had made for me. I explained that she had booked me with a surgeon. I’d already been surged so I needed a different kind of doctor. She was pissed off because it hadn’t been easy to get that appointment and seemed impervious to the difference between a medical oncologist and a breast cancer surgeon. I explained — again — that a surgeon would not be able to help me because I don’t need a surgeon. I have no breasts, but I really do need my medical records … and she said yes, Lisa from UMass had called about that but she wasn’t sure where to send them.

“Didn’t Lisa tell you where to send them?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then … why don’t you send them where she told you to send them? What am I missing?”

“But you cancelled the appointment I made!” she said, still angry.

“I changed the appointment. Really Lisa changed it because the doctor to which you were sending me was the wrong doctor. Now I have an appointment with the right kind of doctor. I’m not blaming you, so why are you mad at me?”

And so we went back and forth for a while until she finally accepted she had booked the wrong doctor, but I assured her that I truly appreciated her efforts. Since this is my life, getting the right doctor was my goal regardless. Sorry to upset you.

“Oh,” she said. Not a “sorry” in the batch.

“Right,” I said.

I’ve gotten a lot of calls from Fallon since then, all of them wanting me to explain again why I wasn’t happy with their customer service. I said a patient should be able to call and get names of appropriate doctors and at least some basic information about the doctor, like how long he/she has been in practice, their specialty, from what medical school he or she graduated and on which boards he or she is certified. And this information is fundamental to medical care and I am entitled to this information and they are obligated to provide it. Nor, I pointed out, is this such a difficult thing to accomplish. I could produce an appropriate data base in a couple of days using the internet and making a few phone calls. The problem could be solved with a memo sent to all customer service personnel in an email. Lives could be saved and it wasn’t an insurmountable problem. It just needed someone to recognize they had to do something and just do it. Although everyone agreed with me, I had the definite impression that no one would do anything about it. Inertia always seems to win over doing the right thing.

The day was only half over and I was not done with medical misinformation.

When I finally finished the marathon calls to Fallon, I got a call from Humana Insurance to remind me I hadn’t made a  payment this month.

I hadn’t made the payment because I cancelled the insurance when I switched to a Medicare Advantage (HMO) program. I didn’t want to switch but I couldn’t keep paying the almost $200 a month for my Humana policy.  When, at the end of November, I signed up with Fallon, I called Humana and explained I was changing to an advantage plan and needed to cancel my Humana policy as of the first of the year. I was told that as soon as my new program kicked in, the policy would automatically be cancelled and there was nothing more I needed to do.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” I was assured.

So, there it was, the middle of March and Humana is harassing me for money I don’t owe. When they called again, I finally got a person on the phone and pointed out I had called and cancelled at the end of November 2012.

Western Digital 3TB My Book Essential External Desktop Hard DriveThe representative said that he could see in his records I’d called to cancel, but I’d been given incorrect information. I was required to send them a letter; I could not cancel by phone or on-line. I pointed out that I signed up on-line and on the phone, so why did I have to write a letter to cancel? “Those are the rules,” he said.

“I want to speak to your manager,” I said. He explained that the manager would tell me the same thing. I pointed out that I didn’t care, I wanted to talk to a manager, and I don’t owe them any money. He said I’d have to file a dispute to not pay them because although it was their fault and they have it in their own records that I called in advance to cancel the policy, it didn’t matter. I was going to have to fix the problem, even though they were the ones who had caused it.

I thought my head was going to explode.

The manager reiterated that indeed they had given me incorrect information, but now it is my problem. Tough luck lady.

I hung up before I said something really rude. I believe there was steam coming out of my ears.

I took a slow, deep, cleansing breath, then called the other customer service department, the one whose number is printed on back of the membership card.

The lady I spoke to looked it up, agreed they had given me erroneous information, contacted the cancellation department and assured me it was fixed. I have a name and a number in case it isn’t. I pointed out that until this snafu, I’d had positive feelings about Humana and would have recommended them.

They had handled my claims promptly without haggling, but they had burned a whole year of good will in about an hour. I pointed out that I was not going to pay them any money because I didn’t owe them any money and they know it. I wasn’t going to send any letters or dispute any charges. They could put it all where the sun doesn’t shine. And thanks for everything. Have a good day.

File:Humana.jpg

The Humana Building

It had grown dark while all this was going on and as the day had gone from morning to evening, my hard drive had been doing a full system back up. It was, I was glad to see, nearly complete.

As I hung up the phone, panting with exertion though I hadn’t gotten up from the office chair, the backup announced itself finished. I registered the hardware, did whatever I thought I was supposed to do. Garry got back from the grocery store and I put the stuff away. The dogs started howling for dinner. Life closed around me. The dog’s dinner was half an hour late and they were telling us they were so hungry they were going to fall over from weakness, poor darlings. They lie like dogs. Of course, they are dogs, which accounts for it.

So passed my day. Now, it’s eight in the evening. Either everything is fixed or it’s not, but I’m done. Totally and completely out of gas, I am ready for some mindless entertainment. Please,  do not give me anything to think about for at least 24 hours.

How come so  many blatantly incompetent people have jobs? Why are they working when so many others are unemployed?

Something is terribly wrong. I just don’t have enough strength to figure out what it is, much less fix it.

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We live in a nation of laws … even when it’s not easy or convenient.

Today I read a rant on Facebook by someone who still can’t accept the cruel reality that the election ended and his candidate lost. He declares that President Barack Obama is not his president, will never be his president. As if he gets to pick his own personal President, separate from the inconvenience of a legal election.

Flag

I feel obliged to point out that if you are an American citizen, the legally elected President of the United States is your President, whether you like him, voted for him — or not. If you are unhappy with the results of the election and you are a citizen of this nation, you have only two choices.

  1. Obey the laws of this country including accepting the duly elected President as your President and as your Commander-in-Chief.
  2. Abandon your identity as an American, renounce your citizenship, and move to another country if you can find one that will have you.

-

There is no other choice until 2016 and there’s no guarantee that you’ll like the results of that election any better than you liked this one. Until then, Barack Obama is your president, my president, and the President of every other citizen of this country. You do not have a choice. This is a nation of laws which we follow even when it’s not convenient or easy. That is the price you pay for living in a democracy.

You cannot claim to be a patriot while simultaneously rejecting our system of government. I have lived through presidencies of men I thoroughly disliked, for whom I didn’t vote, and who I thought were harming our nation and myself, but I never had the temerity– or disrespect — to declare that the President wasn’t my President.

I believe in our system of government, laws, and justice system. It’s not perfect, but it’s way better than most. I don’t make a big deal about it. I don’t wrap myself in the flag. I just follow the laws, try to work within the system to effect change. I vote. I don’t trust people who make a big fuss about how patriotic they are. The more noise they make, the more I wonder what they are hiding.

I’m fed up with self-declared patriots who are not merely unpatriotic, but actually treasonous. If you don’t like our system of government, go somewhere you like better, but don’t tell me you’re a patriot. You’re not.

Did you sell your freedom? Did you get the check yet?

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s not by accident that in the Bill of Rights — the preamble to the U.S. Constitution — is the first amendment. It concerns the three fundamental freedoms on which we base our society. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech and press and  freedom of assembly — including the right to complain and petition to the government — are basic to our way of life. These are the bottom line. If you take them away, it changes everything.

Our Last Freedom: Wave Bye Bye

Welcome to the new world, because two out of those three freedoms are already gone and we’re working on getting rid of the last one.

Freedom of religion was the primary reasons most Europeans settlers came to North America. Most were looking for a place where they could practice their religion in their own way … not that it stopped them from oppressing anyone who didn’t like their version of religion, but I digress. Hypocrisy is as American as apple pie. The very first settlers came to escape religious oppression, so first and foremost, we guaranteed the right to practice — or NOT practice — religion. This right is absolute. No interference is acceptable. But if all you very Christian fundamentalists have your way, we won’t have religious freedom either. You’ll move your version of God into our classrooms, courtrooms, and bedrooms. Those of us who aren’t Christian or just don’t like your version of Christianity? Tough. You have God on your side, as has every oppressor throughout history.

It doesn’t matter how right you believe you are. You have no right to impose your religious beliefs on me. I have the right to not agree with you, to practice something completely different than you do, and if I so choose, to practice nothing at all. But you’ll never understand that.

The Lost Freedoms

Freedom of speech and of the press has kept this country from losing itself many time throughout the years. Those nosy reporters determinedly seeking truth then telling the world what really happened or is happening have always been our first and best line of defense against oppression.

That protection is gone. It no longer matters what the constitution says. Virtually all media outlets are owned by big corporations whose goal is to sell whatever version of “truth” will make the most money for them. News is company policy. It has nothing to do with truth, right, or wrong.

We have lost that protection — and ironically, we didn’t lose it to the government. The law protects the press from government encroachment. What our founding fathers never considered was that we would sell our freedom to the highest bidders. We didn’t need protection from our government; we needed protection from each other.

The press is owned by corporations made up of people for whom money is everything. Journalists are gone. Now, we have stooges whose job it is to make sure whatever their parent corporation wants, they get. Advertisers have final say on whether or not a story is released. If news makes a major advertiser look bad, it disappears.

Movie and book “reviewers” don’t bother to offer real opinions. Why bother when you can rewrite press releases provided by the studio or publisher? The same thing happens in the world of technology. Writers enthuse and praise hardware and software they’ve never seen or tested. Their “reviews” are based on corporate public relations packets.

Freedom of Speech from the Four Freedoms serie...

Freedom of Speech from the Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell

Our “free press” is gone. Don’t blame the Democrats. Don’t blame the Republicans. Blame yourself because you were too lazy to fight to keep your freedom. You let them hoodwink you, believe whatever you are told like good little sheep.

We are lied to, propagandized, and intentionally misled by politicians, so-called writers, and talking heads who cannot be trusted. If we catch them lying, we say “Oh, everyone does it” and let them get away with it.

If we don’t care about truth, why should they? A lot of us wouldn’t recognize truth if it banged us over the head and many of our most upstanding citizens don’t care whether or not something is true. As long as it agrees with their prejudices and preconceptions, it’s okay with them.

Freedom of assembly? What’s that? Remember Kent State? How about Occupy Wall Street? How freely have they been allowed to assemble?

We aren’t free. We sold our first amendment rights and I never even got a check. Maybe it’s in the mail.

Can we reclaim our freedoms?

What do you think? We the people have been brainwashed. We think freedom of religion means freedom of MY religion, the Christian religion. We don’t care who we trample as long as we win. We don’t protect anything but our own interests and we don’t care who gets hurt in the process. If freedom means you get to do whatever you want and what happens to anyone else is not your problem, then it’s not worth much anyway.

Americans don’t want to see how thoroughly they are owned. Big business bought the press, the electoral process, and you. Me too, though I’m going screaming and kicking. People really think Fox News is news. If they read it in a newspaper, or hear it on TV, it must be true. Whatever anyone proffers as  truth, they believe it without corroboration, despite there being unlimited versions of truth all competing for their allegiance.

Corporate America will never allow we the people to run our own lives again. We will never be allowed to assemble or ask for redress of grievances. There will be SWAT teams to make sure we disperse.

Though we still have freedom of religion, a lot of people are eager to take it from us and plenty more seem more than willing to help them.

We have the Internet, but for how long? We kept that by the skin of our teeth just last week. Don’t think the same corporate interests who tried to push SOPA and PIPA through congress won’t try again. Next time, they’ll wait until you aren’t looking.

Every day, another piece of our freedom gets chipped away. We let it happen. We buy lies. Hate overrules common sense. We vote for anyone who says what we want to hear, even if these are people from whom we would normally not buy a used car. It’s easy to lose your rights, harder to get them back.

At least I grew up in a free country. Do you care whether or not your grandchildren have the same opportunity?

Maybe it’s just as well I’m getting old. I don’t want to see what it’s going to be like in this country in another 50 years. It’s too awful to contemplate.