Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Explaining the Unexplainable

  Two of America's most newsworthy politicians were in the headlines this week to attempt to explain away revelations about their administration's conduct along with a regular American that had to explain why he used his credit card for a $1,600 breakfast.

  On Friday, President Obama made a speech in which he called for reforms to the country’s spy agencies practice of collecting the phone data and internet usage of all Americans and the surveillance of friendly international leaders. This is a direct result of the revelation of widespread spying and data collection of all American citizens by the NSA and other American intelligence agencies in the name of homeland security.

  The President called for the NSA (National Security Agency) to be stripped of its ability to store their phone and internet usage records but the records and data will still be kept. A panel of outside attorneys will be assigned to consult with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (the court assigned to oversee requests for surveillance warrants and has denied 11 requests in 23 years) to advocate for privacy and civil rights. Nowhere is it explained why the people of the United States NEEDS to have an advocate for their privacy and civil rights from THEIR OWN GOVERNMENT. The president also issued new guidelines to reduce foreign leader monitoring except when there is a compelling national security interest but won’t there always be a compelling national security interest in knowing whether your allies are in agreement or not and if so or not by how much?

  I’m well aware that all these surveillance programs have been in place with every possible combination of Democrat and Republican Presidents and Congresses and I feel sorry for President Obama that this widespread surveillance was made public on his watch. The President made a very nice sounding speech about limiting the seemingly unlimited powers of the nation’s intelligence agencies to spy on its own citizenry but for an administration that has been using its executive order authority to prevent prosecution of illegal immigrants, recognize federal benefits for same-sex couples, and grant countless exemptions from its own health care laws there is very little I see changing. I’m not naïve enough to think that the President could actually get permission to curtail this mass invasion of privacy that has been going on for decades but I would settle for replacing the words ‘Security’, ‘Intelligence’, and ‘Investigation’ with the word ‘SPYING’ until my phone and internet usage is not stored by the government. National Spying Agency, Central Spying Agency, and Federal Bureau of Spying have a nice ring to them, don’t you think? The reason for the speech was to make the casual news listener think something was being done when it will be business as usual for all concerned.

  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced the hiring of a legal team last week to help his administration deal with the investigation of his administration's role in causing massive traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey at the beginning of the school year by closing two of the three entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge. E-mails were uncovered between Christie’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and Christie appointed director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority David Wildstein that suggested the traffic closures were planned as retribution to Fort Lee Democrat Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie in the gubernatorial election last year. Sokolich (who is of Croatian descent) was referred to in these emails as ‘Serbia’. When the news broke, Christie claimed he had nothing to do with the lane closures, fired Kelly and campaign manager Bill Stepien and apologized to the people of New Jersey saying “I am responsible for what happened…I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover.”

  The reason for Christie’s apology and firings are clear: before this scandal he had built a reputation as the front-runner for the Republican nomination for the Presidency in 2016 based in large part of his being willing to step across party lines in order to get aid for state in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and his landslide re-election as governor of a Democratic leaning state as proof of his ‘electability’. There has been rumors of scandal in his administration relating to Sandy aid being dispensed according to the willingness of local authorities in order support certain property developments but they had been kept under wraps. Now that the dam of scandal has broken the mean spirited and silly traffic closure is threatening to be revealed as the tip of the iceberg that will crush Cristie’s ‘Titanic-sized’ political aspirations.

  Now the reason why this happened in the first place can be summed up in two words : ‘New Jersey’. As someone who spent the first two thirds of his life in the ‘Garden State’ I can state it may be the most corrupt place in the universe. I remember getting a parking ticket while stopping at the corner diner for a cup of coffee on my way to work. The officer was writing the ticket while I was leaving the diner and told me I was parked more than 6 inches from the curb (which I was not) and that if I didn’t want any more tickets I should find a new diner until the owner ‘wised up’. As it turns out the diner owner would not provide free breakfasts to Hillside’s finest and every customer got a ticket when they stopped there (This was before the iPod, phone cameras, and even Rodney King). The previous Governor of New Jersey was Jon Corzine, who had to resign as the head of the MF Global investment firm after over a billion dollars went missing amid some shaky gambles with customers money and hid large amounts of debt from federal regulators. And the governor before that, Jim McGreevey, had to resign in scandal not because he was having an extra marital affair with Golan Cipel but because he appointed him as the state’s homeland security adviser and was facing a sexual harassment lawsuit from Cipel for firing him. New Jersey is a political cesspool and to think that any politician from the state would not have plenty of ammunition lying around in case of national aspirations is ludicrous.

  Christie's problems are of his own making and will likely quash any hopes he has for national office but I don't think a politician can rise up to the top in New Jersey unless they have built a political machine that can punish enemies as well as reward friends. President Obama has far less to answer for since the surveillance agencies he is attempting to rein in have been in place for decades before he took office. But Christie and Obama have commonality in that they have to explain the pervasive corruption and surveillance as if they aren't baked into the DNA of the political systems they preside over.

Worth $1,666.61? Very possible!!
  Having to explain away embarrassing situations isn't just the province of the political elite. Jim Andrews in South Carolina had some explaining to do when he was mistakenly charged $1,666.61 for his breakfast at a Waffle House two weeks ago and paid the bill with his credit card. When Andrews couldn’t get the charge reversed at the restaurant he brought his case to WHNS Fox Carolina after which he got his charge refunded by the Waffle House main office. Andrews claims he almost got a heart attack when he saw the receipt and he was lucky that he had enough credit on his card to cover the charge. Andrews also was upset that he still had to pay for his meal and offered the sage advice to ‘Look at those receipts before you sign it’.

  The news report said that Andrews was “careful with his money” at the 59 second mark (You can see it here). I don’t know what passes for being careful with money in South Carolina but I don’t think signing a $1600 breakfast bill qualifies. An example of being careful with your money would be when the clerk at Casey’s General Store tried to charge me $1.18 for two Old Wisconsin beef sticks last week and I was quick to point out that they were 59 cents each BUT 2 for a dollar. Andrews probably qualifies as a cheapskate since if he had taken the time to write down a tip for his server he would have noticed the mistake and Andrews is also wrong about being lucky he had $1600 in credit to charge the bill since if he didn’t have the credit, the charge would have been declined and that would have been the end of the story.

  The Waffle House cashier should have noticed the mistake but once the charge is entered I wouldn’t have tried to reverse it either and would have told the customer to dispute the charge when he got home. Many of the shoe retailers I’ve worked with don’t let anyone but the owner reverse credit card charges to prevent their employees’ friends from charging merchandise only to reverse the charges a few days later.

  I think the reason for Andrews’ outrage is twofold: he is embarrassed for having paid $1600 for his breakfast and he is likely laying the basis for a future lawsuit by claiming he almost had a heart attack and got ill from the stress the $1600 bill caused him. As someone who virtually lived at the Waffle House when I lived in Florida and a patron of the Gaffney, South Carolina Waffle House I wish Andrews would count his blessings, one of which is his close proximity to a Waffle House as opposed to the poor souls in many other parts of the United States (like IOWA) that don’t have access to a Waffle House to visit and enjoy a T-Bone with eggs, coffee, and hash browns that can be scattered, smothered, covered, topped, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, and country!

  I could have used some extra surveillance or at least a healthy breakfast when making last weeks football picks or maybe I could have tried to buy off the officials. I went 0-2 and saw my mythical playoff winnings shrink from $380 to $160. Looking back, picking both road teams was unexplainable. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s defense played well enough to hold the Broncos to 26 points although the Broncos could have gotten 40 or more points if they weren't content to milk the clock with a large lead. The Patriots real problem was an offense that couldn’t move the ball on the ground or protect Tom Brady. The 49ers could have gotten me to even and had the ball inside the 20 yard line with a minute left to win the game when quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s third turnover of the fourth quarter sealed my fate. I was mostly unimpressed by the Seahawk offense except that they made enough big plays to get points and Russell Wilson played a mostly mistake free game at quarterback which I found very impressive. If only the 49ers were playing the point spread they could have covered with a last minute field goal but that is the problem with picking the points – it is a different game than the teams are playing. I don’t have to make my Super Bowl pick this week so I’ll spend the next week figuring out my play and checking the weather reports for Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey where the Super Bowl will be played.

No comments: