Friday, February 27, 2015

Curmudgeon Walks His Dog


 

Each morning at six-thirty, rain or shine, I walk my peppy little Shih Tzu around the block in my California neighborhood. Yes, I always carry poop bags. I’ll admit, carrying a droopy poop bag back home for discard isn’t as sexy as carting a bag-o-cash to the bank vault, but I got over the ickiness of it long ago.

On these walks I often pass by kids walking to school, some clomping in a steady beat along the sidewalk on skateboards and others taking the shoe-leather express, much the way I did as a schoolkid. And as often as not I hear them talking, laughing and arguing. Oftener, I cringe at the simpleton rap music blaring from their iPods. (Are you telling me that in fifty years these kids are going to be reminiscently singing the lyrics to these songs? Like MC Hammer’s Pumps and a Bump which goes “I don’t like ’em figgity fat, I like ’em stiggity stacked, you wiffity-wiggity wack if you ain’t got biggity back.”)

. . . Hmm. Enough swaggy tongue, let us get back to English you can’t dance to. Here is what happened on today’s walk. My area was shrouded in a weak fog. Walking about forty yards behind two high school-aged boys, I saw that one was eating Cheetos from a bag – I mean pouring a cascade of them into his wide-open mouth and right down his throat, seemingly without the benefit of having to touch teeth. He finished the bag and uninhibitedly tossed it on the ground in my neighbor’s front yard. Then he saw me, yes, the old curmudgeon and his leashed, wimpy little dog not far behind him. (About then I kind of wished I had had a snarling pit bull instead.) Obviously the kid didn’t know if I lived in the home where he had just dumped his unfriendly trash, so he stepped back and scooped up the Cheetos bag. (It was adroitly done, like the way I sweep up my dog’s crap from the middle of the road.) Then, for good measure, he said loud enough for me to hear: “I’m feeling generous today, there’s a trash can over there.”

In return I snorted a sneer at him, something I’ve gotten pretty good at in my old age, which basically says in guttural shorthand, “You’re a moron!”

Carrying his would-have-been litter, he walked on until he came to the curbside trash receptacle (it was trash pick-up day). Then he turned and made sure I saw him lift the lid and put his garbage gingerly into the trash can, as if to grunt back, “See, old geezer?”

Yes, kid, I see all right – right through you: the guilty actions of a litterbug who’s been caught. If this kid actually thinks that being “generous” is doing the right thing only when you’re caught doing the wrong thing, he’s on the expressway to being institutionalized. Okay, a litterbug doesn’t a criminal make. But it does make a kid and someday, an adult, who has little if any respect for, or sense of, community. And, come on, you know this wasn’t his first time. Such crude habitual actions are an infectious symptom of a coarsened American culture. I call it craping on our community values, without a poop bag.

 R.D. Byron-Smith’s books can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and other online booksellers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ten Times 57 Channels and Nothing On


 
As a California appeals court notes, Bruce Springsteen said it best in “57 Channels (And Nothing On):”

Man came by to hook up my cable TV,

We settled in for the night my baby and me,

We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn,

There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.

You can almost hear the three-part harmony of the judges of a California appellate court as they upheld dismissal of a lawsuit by four subscribers against Time Warner Cable, Inc.:

“We do so keenly aware of how this issue affects millions of our fellow Southern California residents. With apologies to Bruce Springsteen, we appreciate the lament of cable television subscribers who feel that although they now receive 10 times 57 channels or more, mostly nothing’s on that they wish to view. We simply hold that federal pre-emption principles bar application of state consumer protection laws in this case. Thus, consumers must present their complaints to Congress or the Federal Communications Commission.”

In other words, yes, cable television sucks but we’re passing the buck anyways.

The state’s Second District Court of Appeal issued its ruling in the case of Sherry Fischer vs. Time Warner Cable Inc. Other states will likely follow it if they have similar cable TV lawsuits.

Backgrounder: In 2011, Time Warner paid the Los Angeles Lakers $3 billion for rights to televise Lakers games for 20 years. Time Warner’s subscription rates rose by $5 a month as a result of bundling the basketball games into enhanced basic cable. (Given the Lakers lousy last couple of seasons – Kobe injured and out for much of them – Time Warner might be having second-thoughts.) Then in 2013, Time Warner paid the L.A. Dodgers $8 billion to carry their baseball games for 25 years. The deal sent rates for enhanced basic cable up an additional four bucks month.

The $9-a-month hike for enhanced basic will cost subscribers $11 billion over the next 25 years.

Four subscribers cried foul. Neither Lakers nor Dodgers fans, they sued, claiming bundling of games with existing programs violated California laws against unfair competition. Compellingly they argued that 60 percent of the population doesn’t follow basketball and baseball but were being forced to pay for games they didn’t watch. (How about all those TV shopping shows?) They said viewers that want Lakers and Dodgers games should pay separately for them. The whole thing really gagged them, because as it is, Time Warner was slam-dunking an extra $9 charge down their throats. (They didn’t say that but it’s what they meant.)

Miles from the Staples Center basketball court in the real L.A. court, a judge agreed with Time Warner to dump the suit in what’s called a “demurrer,” which is simply an anachronistic legal term, meaning that even if facts in the case are true, the case is insufficient under law to continue. The subscribers appealed, wasting more than $9 a month. (Their lawyers must have been a sporting bunch or just hungry for an easy-grounder fee because the case had about as much chance as another Lakers Three-peat.) On February 23 the appellate court upheld the dismissal, saying federal communications law allows Time Warner to bundle programming like it did with Lakers and Dodgers games, and cited the “supremacy clause” of the federal Constitution, which makes state laws subservient, therefore California’s unfair competition statutes have no force in the case. Adding more punishment, the court ruled Time Warner could go after the litigants for money spent to defend their appeal. (Kind of like letting the winners pelt the losers’ bus with eggs as they leave.)

So, dear L.A. cable TV subscribers, enjoy the Lakers and Dodgers because you’ve paid admission.

Find R.D. Byron-Smith’s books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and all online booksellers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Our Gal Reports From White House Violent Extremist Conference


 (Editor’s Note: Once in a while I like to turn this blog over to a young, aspiring writer. Today Alice Paradee, a California private college sophomore, reports on her attendance at the White House’s “violent extremist” conference in Washington.)

  

By A. Paradee

 I attended all discussion panels put on by the White House and State Department. Sessions were as diverse as Violent Extremists in the Oil & Gas Industries to Violent Extremist Police Officers, which focused on the case of Christopher Dorner, a fired cop who declared “asymmetrical” war on the Los Angeles Police Department in 2013. I’ve got to say, however, that I really liked the session, attended by school kids, called, Violent Extremists in the Kindergarten: Finger-painting, Slapping and Biting in the Classroom.

President Obama gave a speech at the beginning of the conference and said, “Through presentations, panel discussions, and small group interactions, participants will build on local, state, and federal government; community; and international efforts to better understand, identify, and prevent the cycle of radicalization to violence at home in the United States and abroad.” The President also attended sessions and was nice enough to answer questions from participants.

Here’s a couple questions he fielded at the Kindergarten Violence discussion.

President Obama: “I’ll call on the young man in the plaid Parochial School uniform.”

“Mr. President Obama, this is my Catholic School uniform.”

The President: “Son, I don’t want to bring religion into this conference discussion. Now what is your question?”

“My name is Mark and a bully at my parochial school named Luke takes my milk money. Is he a violent extremist?”

The President: “Oh, and one of the first order, Mark. I know from experience about extremist bullies. At my Madrassa there was this bully named Atta-Atta Etcetera and he would take my lunch money. . . .”

Mark: “What’s a Ma, Madrassa?”

The President: “A Muslim school, but . . . .”

Mark: “. . . You went to a Muslim school?”

The President: “Yes, but . . . .”

Mark: “Are you a Muslim?”

The President: “Young man, that question has been sufficiently answered by my friends in the media.”

Mark: “Okay, Mr. President . . . You were telling me about Atta-Atta taking your nickels for milk. . . .”

The President: “Yes. Now I won’t call Atta-Atta a Muslim extremist, that would be, well, just extremely wrong. But your bully Luke and my bully Atta-Atta are examples of playground extremists.”

Mark: “What can I do about my bully?”

The President: “Well, unlike me, you cannot call in a drone. (Laughter in the room.) What you need in this instance is a coalition. A group of students, teachers and administrators to sit and talk about this problem. Hold a conference, in other words.”

Mark: “What if they’re unwilling to attack the problem?”

The President: “What problem? I’ll take another question. The woman in the hijab.”

“President Obama. My name is Anisha . . . .”

The President: “. . . Oh, yes, the ‘deep thinker.’”

Anisha: “Thank you, sir. I want to know why you won’t call Islamic terrorists, Islamic terrorists?”

The President: “As I have said fifty seven thousand, two hundred and ten times previously, it is because there is nothing Islamic about these terrorists. They are violent extremists. That makes it fifty seven thousand, two hundred and eleven. Let’s not get caught up in this Islamophobia of Fox News.”

Anisha: “How can I be Islamophobic? I’m Muslim. I call these savages who cut people’s heads off Islamic terrorists. I am willing to, as a Muslim. You’re not a Muslim and you are unwilling to. It makes no sense to me. I do this because these terrorists are also Islamic. Obviously only a few Muslims are Islamic extremists, but we should still call them what they are. If a man who lives in New York murders another, do we call him a New Yorker or a murderer?”

The President: “You are a clever one, Anisha, but calling them Islamic is like calling the leader of the Inquisition, Tomas de Torquemada, a Catholic.”

Anisha: “He was Catholic, sir.”

The President: “Don’t get on your high horse, with me.”

***

I also attended the session titled, Extremists in Congress: The Threat of the Tea Party and other Teabaggers. (A personal note: House Speaker John Boehner attended, and he looks just as orange in person as he does on TV.) After President Obama announced he was giving a presidential freedom medal to Lois Lerner, the IRS official who allegedly sicced revenuers on the Tea Party, he took questions.

The President: “Over here, the young man in the yarmulke.”

“Mr. President my name is Sidney and I was frankly saddened when I heard your spokesman say the Islamic terrorist in Paris who killed people in the Jewish market chose his target at random. How can you say such a thing?”

The President: “There is no evidence of it, and you know I was a law professor. There is insufficient evidence that he selected this Paris market by any means other than by randomness.”

Sidney: “But, Mr. President, the store is named HyperCacher!”

The President: “So what? It could have been Safeway.”

Sidney: “HyperCacher means Super Kosher, you know like in kosher food for Jews.”

The President: “Hey, I know people in New York City who shop at Jewish delis and they aren’t Jewish.”

Sidney: “Still, sir, with all due respect, it was Super Kosher. Do you honestly believe he would have shot up a store named the Mecca Market?”

The President: “Extremists in the Middle East kill Muslims, too. Just the other day 21 Egyptians were beheaded.”

Sidney: “They were Coptic Christians, Mr. President.”

The President: “Oh, my staff just called them Egyptians. Let’s turn to another questioner. Up here in the front. You – the man dressed like a Republican.”

“Mr. President, Sir, I want to continue on the point of your reluctance to call a spade a spade.”

The President: “Why inject race into this?”

“Mr. President, I didn’t – you did. You and your Attorney General Mr. Holder do that a lot! Besides, the English expression to ‘call a spade, a spade’ comes from classical antiquity’s phrase to ‘call a fig, a fig’ and had nothing to do with race. It was later changed to ‘call a spade a spade,’ referring to a gardening tool and not, I might add, to a deck of playing cards. The phrase has been used race-neutrally by such authors as Dickens and W. Somerset Maugham. It has no ethnicity to it. It means, Mr. President, to tell it like it is.”

The President: “I don’t need a professorial lecture from you. What’s your question?”

“Why won’t you call Islamic terrorists, Islamic terrorists? They are Islamic, like the young woman said at the last panel discussion, and terrorists. What do you call the Muslim gunman who killed those people in Denmark the other day?”

The President: “He was born in Denmark. That makes him a Danish extremist. Do I have to sign an executive order to get you people to understand the concept?”

***

The session on Violent Extremists Who Bomb Government Buildings got sparse attendance, and there was a complete retelling of the 1996 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh that killed 168 people, which, it was pointed out, is still the worst case of domestic terrorism in the United States. The session also focused on the Ku Klux Klan and Southern church bombings.

President Obama: “So as we have seen, all faiths have their violent extremists, and many, many, many of them have been homegrown in the United States of America. And let us not forget the Inquisition. For the next question I’ll call on the mother, holding the little cherub.”

“President Obama, I am a devout Christian and mother of four children, and this is my daughter, little Mary. The Islamic terrorist group called ISIS is using the Internet to recruit young minds, and as many as a thousand a month are heading to the Middle East to wage jihad and behead people, just like they do in the video games they play. What can we do about this?”

The President: “Finally, a good question and I have a good answer. I have thought this one through in the Oval Office with my closest advisors. . . . We need to raise the minimum wage. ISIS gets millions in oil money and extortion money and pays its young violent extremists well. We must stay competitive in the global economy. A higher minimum wage will keep our youngsters at home. I have time for one more. Yes, you, to my left. By the way, haven’t I seen you on You Tube? Yes, you’re the lady who collects skins of rattlesnakes in Arizona, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. President, all reptiles shed their skins. It’s called ecdysis. My specialty is the rattlesnake.”

The President: “Anything so venomous gives me the willies. (Shy laughter in the room.) I’d rather just stay away, and let the thing slither off where it wants. What is your name and what is your question?”

“I’m called Valerie the Rattlesnake Lady, and I watched a video of a Jordanian bomber pilot being burned alive by ISIS. Did you see that?”

The President: “To be honest, I averted my eyes.”

Valerie: “Mr. President, I was looking at the program for this conference and I like the titles, like Violent Extremism in George Bush’s Texas; Violent Extremism in the Bible Belt; and Violent Extremism on Wheat Farms in the Pacific Northwest. But I don’t see anything about the violence on our urban streets, such as Chicago, where blacks shoot and murder thousands of blacks. Isn’t that violent extremism, too?”

The President: “Valerie, Valerie, Valerie. This is the second time today somebody has thrust race into this conference. This black-on-black thing is a rightwing canard, and frankly, racist. You don’t hear Jesse Jackson and my buddy Al Sharpton talking about this, do you? The blacks you refer to, well, they are simply squabbling over turf. Whites did it in the Old West; you’ve heard of range wars, haven’t you?”

Valerie: “But, Mr. President, isn’t ISIS fighting over turf?”

The President: “I want to thank everyone for attending today. I have got to go to my last session, Violent Extremism in Rural America’s Work Place.”

***

The discussion group on Workplace Violence was very well attended, indeed, and the President introduced several of his Staff that were there and he thanked them for the conference, which he called “the greatest conference on violent extremism ever held in the modern era.” He also said it only proves that “the meeting is mightier than the sword.” I personally didn’t like the phrase, but I noticed the President wasn’t using a teleprompter at the time, and I figured it was just him talking off the top of his head. Several rural work place violence cases were gone over in minute detail, including one where a Muslim who had photos of Osama bin Laden on his Facebook page had cut off the head of a fellow worker, a woman, ISIS-style at a food factory in Oklahoma. Afterwards President Obama opened it to a few questions. (He made a quip about a golf tee time, which brought chuckles, mostly from his staff.)

“Mr. President, my name is George, and as you can see by my uniform I am a member of the United States military, and proud of it. I know there has been a lot talk here today, but isn’t it time we go over there and kick some ISIS butt?” (Heavy applause followed.)

The President: “It’s lowly corporal, right?”

George: “Yes, sir, and at your command, sir.”

The President: “We have a vast coalition doing that, already. The other day I watched a pick-up truck being blown up by a laser-guided bomb. It’s really cool, there’s this big video screen in the Oval Office. I mean the explosions are really big. We’re kicking serious butt right now, Corporal George. We’ll destroy ISIS one pick-up at a time.”

George: “How many do they have, sir?”

The President: “I haven’t the foggiest. . . . Let me take another question. The man in the lab coat, up front here.”

“President Obama, my name is Dr. Smith, as in Medical Doctor – none of that Ph.D. crap.”

The President: “. . . Or, Juris Doctor, I imagine.”

Dr. Smith, M.D.: “Right. My question is this: During the panel discussion you kept referring to the case of Army psychiatrist, Dr. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at Fort Hood in August 2013, as workplace violence.”

The President: “Because that’s what it was!”

Dr. Smith, M.D.: “Sir, I mean no disrespect whatsoever, but even Dr. Hasan admits he was waging jihad.”

The President: “He murdered co-workers. Not on a battlefield. It was workplace violence. Period.” (President looks at his watch.)

Dr. Smith, M.D.: “Okay, whatever. But if Dr. Nidal isn’t an Islamic terrorist, what do you call him?”

The President: “A violent and extreme psychiatrist.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

NCAA's Punt On Secrecy Flops


The secrecy freaks at the NCAA have failed in their ridiculous attempt to foist their Star Chamber rules on the rest of us.

A California appellate court ruled Friday state law requires that documents in the NCAA’s investigation of USC running back Reggie Bush remain unsealed.
 
The ruling came in a defamation lawsuit filed in 2011 by a former University of Southern California assistant football coach against the National Collegiate Athletic Association after the NCAA punished him in its investigation of Bush, who was looked into for allegedly receiving cash and other prohibited benefits while playing college football.

After appealing NCAA sanctions against him, Todd McNair sued the NCAA for defamation. Significantly a trial judge gave him permission to examine the association’s Bush investigation file, about 400 pages. As a result, the NCAA sought to seal the records from the public, and the trial judge refused.

The Los Angeles Superior Court judge who reviewed the records ruled that e-mails between NCAA representatives in the case “tend to show ill will or hatred” and said the conduct was “over the top” and “malicious,” which could certainly be interpreted to help McNair’s legal case.

The NCAA, which represents 1,200 colleges and universities, then asked an appeals court to keep the records secret, saying that NCAA investigations of colleges and student athletes for rules violations are always kept under wraps and not made public. The NCAA found out Friday that its secrecy rules might work fine in a monarchy, but not in the public courts of California.

California’s rules of court provide that judicial records are presumed open to public inspection unless a litigant can show a compelling reason to seal them. In its ruling, a three-judge appellate court said the NCAA had not provided a convincing case for sealing the Bush investigation documents.

The Los Angeles-area justices noted California’s tradition of court openness and cited California Supreme Court rulings codifying it. The NCAA failed to “carry its burden to demonstrate that its interest in the confidentiality of its enforcement proceedings overrides the constitutional right of access and the presumption of openness,” the justices said in the opinion.

In summing up, the justices got around to the real legal issue at stake.

“We are cognizant that the NCAA, whose mission is to promote intercollegiate amateur athletics, provides an important public service,” they wrote in the ruling. “However, our analysis is based on the First Amendment. The constitutional right of public access to, and the presumption of openness of, documents submitted at trial (are) designed to protect the integrity of our judicial system.”
 
In other words, the NCAA obsession with secrecy stops at the courthouse steps.
 

R.D. Byron-Smith’s books are available at all online booksellers.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

One Man's Torture Is Another Man's . . .


My publisher just released an interesting "narrative essay" on CIA torture by Franklin Alfred Kirby Edwards. I've read the book (in pre-release at iBooks, Amazon and other online booksellers), and I've got to say while torture isn't meant to be laughed at, I committed that sin many times while reading. I know Franklin Edwards to be a first-class intellect. But this book shows he's also a satirical essayist with few peers. On the more personal side, Franklin is a guy who wears bolo ties to parties, bursts into long passages of Latin during conversations, and practices the unpardonable sin of drinking fine cabernet sauvignon with ice cubes. He lives on a farm with a pet alpaca named "Mukie" -- after reading the book I know who the alpaca is named for. You will too. Reprinted with permission, below is a passage from The Water Board Jungle by Franklin Alfred Kirby Edwards, copyright 2015 Pilar Publishing, to be released February 6. 
 
 
Here is where I stand, right off.

Okay. So you agree with many who say the CIA’s methods such as waterboarding were torture, and shouldn’t have been done. What’s more you believe that torturing terrorists should never be done under any circumstances.

All right. Let’s apply that standard to what happened in Pakistan only days after the Senate released the CIA report.

Nine Taliban terrorists stormed a school and murdered 132 uniformed schoolchildren.

So tell me, say, by chance they had caught one of these seven gunmen before the school attack. You’re telling me that you absolutely would not have used any means possible, even “torturing” the terrorist in an attempt to force him to reveal which school was going to be attacked.

You still say no.

But it might have prevented the carnage and the murders of all those children.

One hundred and thirty two of the little darlings died.

Your answer is still no.

All right, I want to introduce you to the mother of one of those dead kids because I want you to explain your tortured logic to her.

You’d rather not, would you?

Let’s raise the stakes substantially.

Two al Qaeda terrorists have just planted a “dirty bomb” in a large U.S. city, and, an hour before it is set to explode killing thousands and contaminating the city for several lifetimes, one of the two terrorists is apprehended by police.

Would you beat the location of the bomb out of him?

No.

You still say no?

Okay, let’s remove the question from the abstract. I forgot to tell you, your grandmother is babysitting your three children two blocks from where the terrorists hid the bomb in a brownstone.

Would you torture him to save grandma and the kids?

You seem alarmed but hesitant, even confused.

. . . I’m waiting.

And the bomb’s ticking.

What? Do I have to water board you to get your answer?
 
 
Books by R.D. Byron-Smith are available at all online booksellers, including his non-fiction top sellers Dinner With A Killer and Epitaphs.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Federal Memo: When It Comes To Paying Taxes, Do As I Say, Not As I Do


We were warned.

And by none other than Founding Father James Madison, who wrote: “You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

Today three of four Americans distrust government.

Obviously the current White House renter, who claims to be a Constitutional scholar, is a big reason for this disturbing statistic. His churlish spate of executive orders shows the president must have been shooting jump shots in the Harvard gym when his law class was reading Madison’s Bill of Rights. That said, unmistakably mistrust of government stems from deeper regions of the American psyche than political personalities. The unfortunate truth is Americans are losing trust in democracy itself, the kind Lincoln spoke of eloquently at Gettysburg – “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Especially younger ones who find the “American Dream” of their parents slipping through their fingers, Americans no longer believe government is “of,” “by” or “for” them. Rather, it’s for the benefit of a few.

I am not talking about the richly overused term, one-percenters. Okay, they’re rich and drive Teslas and vacation in the Hamptons. But, they hold no sway over you, really. I am talking about government employees. They’re the new privileged class. Worse yet, they stay on top because they write the rules you must play by. A handful of government paper-pushers at the IRS have a greater impact on your life and livelihood than a thousand one-percenters at Malibu beach.

I could go on all day about taxpayer-paid public pensions in California amounting to more than $100,000 a year, and about local government officials who retire at age 55 and get more in retirement money each year than they made for working. But, I’ll spare you. Let’s talk about federal employees, including officeholders, who owe back federal income taxes. And there’s a lot of them, boy.

The back-tax issue boiled over recently when the no-nothing commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Mr. John Koskinen, warned Congress that cutting the IRS budget by 3 percent will cause all kinds of troubles (for taxpayers of course) by delaying tax refund checks. It is January. Time of year employers send out W-2 wage withholding documents, and Americans begin to either calculate how much they will owe in federal income taxes or think about how to spend their tax refunds. My suggestion is Mr. Koskinen and his IRS horde take a look inward to solve their budget worries.

That is because employees of the IRS and other federal agencies owe $3.3 billion in back federal income taxes. In total, 318,462 federal employees owe an average of $10,391 each in delinquent taxes. Those involved make up a full cross-section of federal government, including Defense Department ($45 million); Justice Department ($21.9 million); Veterans Affairs ($146 million); Treasury, of which the IRS is part ($9.3 million); Air Force ($56.1 million); Navy ($69.1 million) and Social Security Administration ($22.1 million).

By no means has the White House been immune from the contagion of back-tax fever: 41 people in the Obama White House owed $831,055 in taxes, including the president’s former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who owed $42,000 in taxes. The White House explained it was an “oversight” on Mr. Geithner’s part. (Had you misstated your taxes by $42,000 it would have been called a crime.)

And before Congress gets too smug, it has its own tax scofflaws. On the House side 420 people owed a total of $6.5 million in back taxes, while 217 people in the Senate owed $2.7 million. What’s more the rate of delinquent federal taxes among Congressional workers is even higher than the rate for IRS employees. It’s against the law for the IRS to name people who owe taxes so it’s hard to say how many of these deadbeats are elected representatives. It is known that one-time Senator Tom Daschle pulled out of heading the federal Health and Human Services Department after it was disclosed he owned $120,000 in taxes. Obviously he can’t be the only elected official on the delinquent tax rolls. And get this. Among bureaus with the highest rate of tax delinquency is court services – yes, the federal courts (8 percent), the guys who sentence us for cheating on our federal income taxes.

Of course the list of tax scofflaws only came to light after a news organization filed a formal request to release it under the Freedom of Information Act. In other words the IRS wasn’t about to rat out its own, willingly. Adding insult to injury, employees of the Government Accountability Office, which investigates how tax money is spent, owe $900,000 in taxes.

What does all this mean? Anybody who has ever owed taxes to the federal government knows exactly what it “should” mean. When the rest of us owe taxes we are fined and even threatened with prison food. So, you pay up, and fast, buddy. If you’re working in private business the IRS can step in and confiscate your wages. They don’t call it theft but a garnishment. Even if you crawl and beg for a monthly payment plan, the bullies at the IRS will still put a lien on your house. If you don’t watch it, buddy, you’ll find yourself and your three kids living in a tent under an overpass on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles.

But, does that happen to federal-worker-tax-deadbeats?

Well, no; they get bonuses instead.

Between 2010 and 2012 the IRS paid $2.8 million in bonuses to employees who were cited for using drugs, cheating on unemployment benefits, misusing government credit cards, and failing to pay taxes. In fact, about one thousand IRS employees who failed to pay taxes got $1 million in cash bonuses. (Is it too much to expect them to pay their back taxes with bonus cash?) Want a little more grief? Here goes: IRS officials even snubbed federal policy enacted in 2011 to limit bonuses to 2010 levels by giving bonuses bigger than the year before. Keep in mind some of these IRS employees “understated” their incomes, a raw violation of tax codes. Al Capone did the same thing and got whacked by the feds. If you understate income to avoid taxes it could mean the slammer.

“It’s no wonder the American people find it hard to believe the IRS needs more money when the agency fails to collect back taxes from their own employees and instead rewards them with bonuses,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican. Efforts making it illegal to owe taxes to the government and work for the government have gone nowhere. It is time for Senator Hatch and his House and Senate Republican pals to put money-where-mouth is and pass legislation requiring federal employees to pay their delinquent taxes or hit the road. Current law says federal employees may be canned for owing taxes, but that’s too wishy-washy. Additionally, legislation should target IRS workers, making it a firing offense for any employee who cheats on his taxes. It’s akin to a department store employee stealing merchandise from the back room. He’d be terminated forthwith.

At minimum, what you might call a no-brainer, federal employees who owe taxes should be barred from receiving bonuses.

So what does this mess come down to?

It is no national secret that federal employment has transformed the Washington, D.C. region into the most affluent spot in the nation. Federal workers view themselves as a “special kind of person,” as one opinion writer put it, a person “above average working Americans.” Put another way: money goes from your wallet into their pocket. Letting them skate on obligations to pay federal income taxes is yet another example of a developing trend, a double standard, nationally: one set of rules for them and another for us. It is getting tough to stomach, without clenching your teeth. With each passing year evidence of this them-versus-us dynamic, like a disease, metastasizes. This cancer on government is why Americans who don’t rely on government handouts are fast losing trust in their democracy’s ability to govern evenhandedly. Theirs is becoming the government the wise Madison warned about, a government class unable to control itself. Indeed, ours is becoming a government to make the great-thinker Lincoln shiver in his tomb, a government of, by and for – themselves.
 
R.D. Byron-Smith's books are available at all online booksellers.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Copycat Hospital Murders Have 20 Year Echo


Two medical murder cases separated by an ocean and twenty years are eerily similar, almost perfect “copycats.”

This week a male intensive care nurse in Germany confessed to killing 30 patients at a hospital by injecting them with heart drugs, which immediately made me think of cardiac care nurse Robert Diaz, who, in the 1980s, murdered patients in California hospitals by injecting them with heart drugs.

Choice of murder weapon by these two killers is near-identical. And, other similarities are so astounding and outside the realm of coincidence that it isn’t unreasonable to suspect the German nurse, known only as Niels H., knew of Nurse Diaz’s murder methods before he began killing patients.
 
Diaz’s murders made international headlines and were well known in medical circles when the German nurse began his training in 1994. There’s even a suggestion German nurse Niels H. intended to best Diaz’s murder total, “boasting” to a cellmate that he is now “the biggest serial murderer in postwar history.”
 
German authorities say he might have killed 150 to 200 patients over a two-year span, beginning in 2003, at the hospital near Bremen, Germany where he worked, although today he is only being tried for three hospital murders. Diaz, who never confessed but was convicted of a dozen murders and died of natural causes on death row in 2011, might have killed as many as 50 patients over a span of months in 1981 at hospitals where he worked in Southern California.

In the California murders authorities dug up bodies to find out whether they had lethal doses of the heart stimulant Lidocaine in them, key evidence used later to convict Nurse Diaz and sentence him to death. In Germany, authorities are now exhuming as many as 100 dead to test for lethal dosages of a similar heart drug, Gilurytmal. Both heart drugs are used in hospital emergency rooms and can cause seizures and death in large doses. Both killers injected the drugs directly into the veins of patients. Their victims were extremely vulnerable, with German nurse Niels H. murdering mostly terminally ill patients in the ICU. Likewise, Diaz picked his victims carefully by murdering mostly critically ill elderly patients being cared for by him in cardiac and intensive care units.

Neither nurse ended life for purposes of mercy killing.

The German nurse says he injected patients because he then wanted to attempt to resuscitate them, to impress other nurses. In my book about the California hospital murders, Dinner With A Killer, I also disclose why Nurse Diaz killed, even though “motive” was never mentioned at his trial. Book highlights include my exclusive interviews with the serial-killer nurse months before his arrest. (Note to German authorities: The book gives details of how California investigators put together the complicated case against Diaz, down to testing of body organs and tissue.)

Additional similarities between the German murders and Nurse Diaz’s unmerciful handiwork are shocking. Each worked the night shift in the intensive care unit and was often alone with victims. Each had a bad marriage, and like in the case of Diaz, empty vials of the murder drug were found in rooms of dead German patients, and, as with Diaz, fellow nurses became suspicious of Niels H. and had “funny feelings” about him, calling him “unlucky” because he was always around when patients died. His colleagues said similar things about Diaz. When Niels H. worked the hospital’s death rate soared, as it did when Diaz worked. Similarities between the two cases even extend to how German clinic officials tried to explain away the “mysterious” deaths, much the same way California hospital officials tried to do three decades ago. (Note to German clinic officials: The book tells why you should never try to whitewash a murder in a hospital.)

Dinner With A Killer by R.D. Byron-Smith is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers.