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Matt Murphy could have been ripped to shreds, if not for the SFPD, when he caught home run ball #756. However, despite his lumps, he holds a piece of history, the baseball which launched “out the yard” to break “the most hallowed record in all of sports”.

The film, Blind Spot is a video interview with Traudl Junge, Adolf Hitler’s personal secretary (yes, that Adolf Hitler). It’s incredible to watch. There is no background music, the camera does not move, there are one or two fade-ins and no additional footage is added. Nevertheless, you can’t help but sit in amazement because this person was right next to the most infamous man of the 20th Century.

Fog of War is an interview with Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. Granted, this film does have plenty of historical footage, some excellent bits of editing, and an excellent score by Philip Glass, but McNamara himself is completely engaging.

What is the fascination with certain aspects of history? Each of the above fall into different categories, Murphy: Touching History; Junge: Infamy; McNamara: somewhere between history and infamy. What determines the intensity of our fascination? Sometimes, it is the prospect of selling a piece of history for a great deal of money (selling a baseball). Other times, we may feel a personal connection to the subject because it affected our lives in some form (serving in Vietnam). It may even be morbid fascination (“What was the monster really like?”).

Additional Links:
NPR: Errol Morris Interview

The Right of the State

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NPR did an interesting story on U.S. States taking possession of unclaimed property. This property extends from real estate to jewelery to un-cashed checks. The story immediately brought to mind the old saying, “Possession is nine tenths of the law,” and the term “eminent domain” also came to mind. All of the preceding terms are merely different ways in which the state can exercise power over the citizenry.

What options does a person have when the law is stacked against them, however unfairly? Anyone that is a victim of the state claiming their property might be able to take office-x to court, but do most people have the money to retain the legal council to win that battle?

This is ridiculous. Who is going to have an unclaimed piece of property? At the very least, people have to pay taxes on it. There is no way that is could unclaimed for any substantial period of time. I initially thought the same thing, but consider two things, and be patient with the explanation.

One: Real estate (or property, at least) is the basis of inherited wealth. After the Civil War, freed slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule, not money or gold bullion. If you invest in land today, you would be hard pressed to loose money on that investment.

Two: Imagine that someone owns a house. For whatever reason, said person suffers an untimely demise. Because of the untimely demise, he was unable to put his affairs in order (make out will, contact family, etc…) The nearest relatives live in a foreign country and do not check in very often. By the time they get around to looking for passed relative, the state has seized the property.

Still sound crazy? Listen to the report (top link). Some states spend hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating property that they can seize, but only thousands on locating rightful owners. Add to this people loosing their homes because they cannot keep up with taxes, changing building codes, and/or inflation in mortgage rates. Still seem far-fetched?

Democrats Press the Virtual Palms

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The CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate took place on July 23, 2007, though I would not call it a debate. It was more of an informal gathering and presentation forum, sort of like a book-signing. Questions were gathered from around the country and posed to candidates, some questions to the entire stage, some to just one person.

As with any book-signing, the object is to appear personable, and get people to like you enough to buy what you are selling. Sadly, this was what I expected and what I got. This appearance did little to shine any new light on any of the candidates, nor did they make any new stance or clarify their positions. To be fair, they only got 30 seconds each to respond to questions, but they were flogging the same horses as before. To sum up the impression I got:

Dennis Kucinich – “I’m not insane. I’m a real Democrat, not a liberal Republican.”
Hillary Clinton – “I have experience. Just because I haven’t held office before does not mean I don’t understand politics.”
Chris Dodd – “I may look old, but I’m not. I can be progressive and inventive.”
Barak Obama – “I”m going to change the political machine in Washington to make more sense. Yes, I’m still black.”
John Edwards – “I”m a very sensitive man. I have compassion due to my experiences.”
Mike Gravel – “You’re all taking money from special interest groups and lobbies.”
Joe Biden – “I have no personality.”
Bill Richardson – “I leave no impression at all.”

The reasons that most people feel that the Democratic race is between Obama and Clinton is because of their race and sex, respectively. As I heard George Stephanopoulos phrase it, “It’s a battle to see if America is more racist or sexist.” Sadly, at every appearance, Clinton has to say, “I’m very proud to be a woman,” (as if it is something to be ashamed of), and Obama has to say, “Yes, I’m black. Trust me. If I go through the wrong neighborhood, they will lynch my ass. I know I don’t dress like the black people you see on 106 & Park, and I’m not speaking in fluent Ebonics, but I’m really black.” To give Obama credit, he has come up with about a 100 different ways to say, “Yes, I’m black.”

Sadly ire was only vented after this public appearance. I guess that no one wants to attack anyone on television anymore… well, except Mike Gravel. The candidates must all hold hands and smile and love God, country, the American way, freedom, life, liberty, blah blah blah. Then again, Gravel just seemed one-track-minded and pissy. He has a great point. Even though the candidates may not appear to be taking money from “special interest groups”, they are receiving large donations on behalf of corporations. These large donations may still have strings attached. (May have strings attached? Who am I kidding?) Another great message in bad packaging. Really, his name is Mike Gravel and he comes across as a hostile, angry old codger? It’s like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.

Is it possible to have a candidate that has some fire, but doesn’t appear hostile?

A Republican CNN/YouTube debate is planned for September 17. If the Democrats are supposed to be the more charismatic party, I’m not sure I want to tune in. Then again, I’m curious about the questions that will be taken.

Submit Questions for the Republican CNN/YouTube debate

Official Websites of Democratic Candidates:
Dennis Kucinich
Joe Biden
Hillary Clinton
Chris Dodd
John Edwards
Mike Gravel
Barak Obama
Bill Richardson

Executive Gangsta

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Proper English does not always have a phrase that will accurate describe a person, place or thing. The English dictionary has to add words every year. The word “microchip” did not exist in dictionaries of 1908, just as word “iPhone” may be added to a dictionary in the coming years. Some of the additional words include street vernacular, or slang. There might be only one word that appropriate sums up Newark Mayor Sharpe James, and he might even appreciate the usage, “Gangsta”.

Notice that this is a derivative of the word, “gangster”, which would call to mind hoods that are under the employ of prohibition-era underworld figures, men with fedoras and tommy guns, who refer to women as “dames” and police as “coppers”. “Gangsta” has a different connotation. A Gangsta is whatever he needs to be to get his money, his job done, or his desires met. He is anywhere from drug dealer, to pimp, to armed robber, to mayor. The most important attribute of the Gangsta is his unapologetic way of getting what he wants, however and/or with or by the expense of whomever. Sharpe James is most assuredly, a Gangsta.

Gangsta may also be used as an adjective to describe the means and ways that someone unabashedly carries out his/her desires. “Did you see the way he took over that board meeting? That was gangsta.” “Did you hear the way he cursed that guy out. That was gangsta.”

The film Street Fight documents the 2002 mayoral race between Corey Booker and Sharpe James. The film is definitely one-sided, because Sharpe James would not allow himself to be filmed, and employed police and other personnel to ensure that he was not filmed. James was able to dispatch director Marshall Curry with a few flicks of the wrist, and an officer or staffer would strong-arm Curry from the location. That was gangsta. Booker is a fair-skinned black man. There is a very large black population which James campaigned to in Newark. He went so far as to call Booker a white man. That was gangsta. James had the Newark police take down Booker’s campaign posters a few days before the election. Damn, that was gangsta. Sharpe James is about as gangsta as a Gangsta can get.

James was so gangsta, that he was charging plenty of personal expenses to the people of Newark. Reading the charges, I was reminded of another official that was accused of misuse of city funds. However, this fellow was not in Newark, but New York City, and while he has plenty of dirt on his hands, he is not quite Gangsta material. This gentleman was Russell Harding.

Russell Harding was brought to my attention by Tom Robbins’ excellent articles in the Village Voice, detailing his numerous offenses and difficulties the Village Voice had in obtaining documentation of these offenses under the Freedom of Information Act. (Links to Robbins’ articles on Harding are at the bottom of this entry. I cannot recommended reading these articles enough.) The first time I read these exposes, it blew my mind. I was shocked that something like this could happen in this day and age where your every purchase and expense can be tracked. Sure Harding was son to then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, Ray Harding, but the expenses were up to $400,000. Robbins even devoted a segment to whistleblowing, specifically concerning the Harding case. How could this have gone on for so long?

I think I got the answer from my modest personal experience. At my previous job, the President received a fair amount of treatment that some people would consider an Executive Privilege. Granted, this is not the same as the U.S. Presidents Executive Privilege, but not completely dissimilar. At the top of the food chain, there are fewer people to answer to, and people will automatically afford you special treatment in the hope of getting closer to the top rung. I am not suggesting that he abused his position. Again, though I am not entering his name or where I used to work, I want to make it clear that to the best of my knowledge, he never abused his position. I never heard anything about him misappropriating funds or stealing money for his personal benefit.

However, I will say that he did not shy away from preferential treatment. Though he would say “we” in speeches about salary freezes and budgets, and though he like to be called by his first name, and though he wanted to be “one of us”, he did not shy away from his lofty position when it suited his taste. Case and point: The maintenance staff would shovel his walkway first when it snowed. Maybe it was an executive perk, but something about it just struck me as wrong, and frankly, not very manly. He did not complain when lunch was brought to him at his table. For that matter, he didn’t mind assessing blame to people he did not care for either. (In the effort for full disclosure, yes, I was one of those people. However, I was exonerated of all charges on every occasion, included an offense he blamed me for when I was not even present when said offense took place.) Nonetheless, everyone would turn their head when they saw what he did, they took is as matter of course with a shrug of the shoulder and say, “He’s the President.” Did the same thing happen with Harding and James?

Once all the charges against James and Harding are lumped together, they seem monstrous. However, imagine that you are working with them, working in an environment where it is understood that high ranking officials will receive certain perks. One person turns their head when one charge comes in, another person looks in the other direction when an expense is fudged, another person shrugs shoulders when a voucher crosses the desk, and so on, and so on, and so on. All of the expenses, and problems, taken one at a time, over a long enough period of time may not have caused anyone to say anything, but invoke the rationalization process.

Sadly, we know that this rationalization does not apply to those lower on the chain. Should the lowly secretary of a minor official incorrectly fill out a time-sheet, she may be called into closed door meeting and reprimanded. Should the office worker ask to be reimbursed for purchasing necessary office supplies, he can be needled about each individual item, its purpose, its importance.

The people in higher office that must act in a manner according their position often fail to live up to their title. They take for granted the fact that they are the face of the people below them, that they represent more than themselves, and more than their own interests. Very often, these people believe in their own divinity within the corporate hierarchy, whether earned or otherwise. It is the lower man on the totem pole that must act beyond reproach. He has to be a saint just to be considered competent. “If he was really worthwhile, he would have a more important job. The janitor has a job fitting with his moral fiber. The CEO has his job because of his values/character.” Sadly, that’s about as gangsta as it gets.

Russell Harding Links
The Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee:
Ticket to Ride
Party Harding
Harding’s Hustle
Low-Class Act
Bonus Baby
The Private Lives of Russell Harding
Where Are the Whistle-Blowers?
Russell Harding’s Vanity Fair
Russel Pleads Guilty
Sentenced to 63-months

Pardon Me… Oh, sorry… Commute Me.

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On July 2, 2007, President George Bush commuted the 30 month prison sentence of Lewis “Scooter” Libby on charges of perjury and obstructing government justice. (Copy of the commutation order)

I’m not going to recount the entire case, though it’s interesting. I think you can go to your favorite news site to recap if you desire.

This story demonstrates the importance of having friends with influence. If I get convicted of any crime or misdemeanor, there is no way for me to get out of serving my time. As with most other areas in life, you need to know the right people (or have the right amount of money) to get the things you want.

Some people are crying, “His sentence was only commuted, not pardoned. He’s still guilty of a federal crime. He’s going to loose his law license and serve probation.” Give me a break. Probation instead of serving 30 months in jail? I’d take that deal. Loss of income? Get real. He could write a book and make plenty of money back on the advance alone, not to mention the lecture circuit that Ronald Martin very accurate wrote about. “Libby will no doubt make a ton of dough on the lecture circuit thanks to Republican sycophants, and will dip his finger in the cesspool of ‘consulting’ fees.” Well said.

After the initial week of outrage following the commutation, there has hardly been a peep out of anyone. It’s a surprise that all the moral indignation in the air cleared so quickly.

Turns out that presidential pardons are not exactly uncommon. See the tally of pardons.

If you would like to get a federal pardon, here is a handy 12 step guide.