Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Remembering Elvis, Remembering Dad.

I was just shy of turning eight years old when Elvis died. Dad came home from work and played his Elvis records for hours. We were all so very sad as Elvis was a huge part of the pop culture of my youth, everyone loved him. I was raised on his music as he was as much a part of the music I listened to then as was the disco and pop of my generation.

Of all his songs that I enjoy, I have two favorites. The first is In The Ghetto which was released the year I was born. As sad as that song is, whenever I hear it, I am reminded of good times. That song brings back memories of Christmas and I think it's because that's when I first heard the song.  The second fave is My Way. Sure Sinatra did it great, but Elvis did it better. I get goosebumps when I hear his rendition. I come away from that song inspired. As I got older, I really began to appreciate that song more and what it truly means.

I can remember dad singing the lyrics to Elvis songs when he was in a good mood and just to entertain us he'd do a few Elvis moves that would make us laugh. He instilled in us an appreciation for the man and the music which I have to this day. Not only that, but his music reminds me of my childhood, the good times, and of course, dad.

Initially when I wanted to write my thoughts about the anniversary of Elvis's death, it was about paying tribute to the man and his music but then as I thought more about it, I realized this was more a tribute to my dad. Listening to Elvis's music conjures up thoughts and good times with dad. He was quite a presence and anyone who knew him would certainly agree. As it is with all of us, dad had his share of strengths and weaknesses but he did the best he could. I'm quite sure if he were here today,  he'd say he could've done better and he'd be right but then again, that's true for all of us.

The day dad died, I wasn't ready...none of us were...but he was, of that I am certain. I didn't know it then but I came to realize it later. Looking back to the months and days leading up to it, I believe he knew it was his time. Don't ask me how he knew, he just did.

If anyone embodied the spirit of My Way, it was dad and so...on this day, instead of honoring Elvis, I'm going to honor my dad, who passed away in March 2009, just three days before his 63rd birthday.

Something tells me Elvis would be okay with that.

 And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way

Sunday, July 10, 2016

"We've got to do better, and I now know we can." --Natasha Howell

These two recent facebook posts by Natasha Howell inspire me today. Remember, each of us has the power to make a difference in the lives of others. ONE KIND GESTURE has the ability to multiply exponentially and change the world.

"We've got to do better, and I now know we can." --Natasha Howell

Yes, Natasha, we can. And we will!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Some reading material

Whatever we think about what went down doesn't really matter. Now we have to move on. I checked CNN, Washington Post, Politifact, Hillary's website and Fact Check.Org for a few tidbits of info. I highly encourage reading the full articles for more perspective, these are just excerpts.

FBI boss Comey's 7 most damning lines on Clinton

1. Extremely Careless
2. Should Have Known
3. Especially Concerning
4. Still obligated to protect it
5. Generally Lacking
6. Hostile actors
7. Sophisticated adversaries

Updated: The Facts About Hillary Clinton's Emails
Was it allowed?  Yes. The laws, regulations, and State Department policy in place during her tenure permitted her to use a non-government email for work.

Hillary Clinton's email: Did she follow all the rules?
As we found in a prior fact-check, Clinton’s office sent a memo in 2011 to State Department staff that said they should not use personal email accounts for department business. The memo went to diplomatic and consular staff worldwide in response to a warning from Google that hackers had targeted the Gmail addresses of government workers. While the memo encouraged staffers to avoid using personal email accounts, it fell short of prohibiting their use.

Hillary Clinton's Emails: What You Need To Know
On March 10, Clinton told reporters she set up the private email server because she did not want to carry two devices with her. She also said she had handed over 30,490 work-related emails to the State Department and deleted 31,830 emails she considered personal.

On March 28, Representative Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican who was a member of the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks, said Clinton's lawyer had told the committee the former secretary had deleted all emails from her personal server, which meant that those emails deemed "personal" by Clinton herself (and therefore not handed over to the State Department) were presumably gone for good.

Clinton's multiple devices
Hillary Clinton emailed her staff with multiple devices while serving as secretary of state, according to a source with knowledge of the emails, a revelation that raises questions about a main defense Clinton has used in her email controversy.

Clinton used an iPad and a Blackberry for email, the source said Tuesday, confirming an Associated Press report that Clinton emailed with staff about both work and personal issues on her iPad.
In a press conference at the United Nations earlier this month, Clinton explained that she used a personal email because she only wanted to have one phone, not two.
"When I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department," Clinton said, "because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two."

Hillary Clinton said 'my predecessors did the same thing' with email
There’s a couple problems with Clinton’s talking point that her State Department predecessors used email practices similar to hers.

First of all, there’s the fact that most of Clinton’s predecessors did not regularly use email. Just four former secretaries of state have held the job during the prominence of electronic communications: Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.

According to MSNBC, an aide for Albright said she "did not use email while she was in office" from 1997 to 2001. And Rice, head of the State Department from 2005-09, was not a habitual emailer either, according to multiple reports.

So that leaves Powell, a regular email user, as Clinton’s only predecessor who serves as a useful comparison. When we reached out to the Clinton campaign, they pointed us to Powell.

Like Clinton, Powell used a personal email address. However, there’s a big difference: Clinton hosted her email on a private server located in her home. Powell did not.

Many politicians use private addresses, but private servers like the one Clinton used are rarely seen, said John Wonderlich, a policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group focused on government transparency, for a prior PolitiFact story.

And there’s a big difference between a private account, which is generally free and simple to start, and a private server, which requires a more elaborate setup.

The Atlantic speculated the Clintons "may have wanted to be in control of the encryption of their correspondence, ensuring that no third parties — whether commercial, hacker, or government — were able to snoop on them."

Fact Checking the Hillary Clinton email controversy
"When Clinton addressed reporters on March 10, 2015, she had a prepared statement with four points she wanted to make. The first point she made was that she “opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.” We didn’t rate this claim at the time, as the situation was fluid.

But new information now casts doubt on her excuse that she simply wanted to carry one device instead of two. At least twice in her tenure, she was open to carrying two devices or having two separate email accounts — especially when her use of personal email led to communications breakdowns with her staff. Moreover, the State Department’s inspector general said Clinton never cleared her use of her private email on a private server even though she had an obligation to do so — and that the department would not have approved it had she asked. She earned Three Pinocchios."

Hillary Clinton misstates key facts in email server case
"Two employees in the Office of Information Resources Management discussed concerns about her use of a personal email account in separate 2010 meetings. One of the employees stressed in one of the meetings that the information being transmitted needed to be preserved to satisfy federal records laws. They were instructed by the director of the department "never to speak of the Secretary's personal email system again," according to the report."

A Guide To Clinton's Emails
"Did Clinton or her staff violate any federal laws or policies?  Comey said the FBI found evidence of “potential violations” of federal law, but such cases are generally not prosecuted. “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” Comey said.

It’s clear, though, that she violated department policies. Comey said, “To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”

Similarly, the IG report found that Clinton violated department policies that were in place at the time. That report cited the case of Jonathan Scott Gration, a former ambassador to Kenya, who ignored instructions in July 2011 not to use commercial email for government business and resigned in mid-2012 when the department initiated disciplinary action against him. “[T]he Department’s response to his actions demonstrates how such usage is normally handled when Department cybersecurity officials become aware of it,” the report said.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

On Independence Day We Celebrate All Who Made Victory Possible

In our earliest history lessons we were taught that America was founded by a small group wealthy intellectual white men.  While it is true that men like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock contributed greatly and deserve their place in history, they weren't the only ones.

Take the people of Worcester, Massachusetts who, in the wake of the Intolerable Acts fought back against the Crown. The Acts outlawed town meetings, replaced elections of sheriffs, judges and jurors with direct appointment by the Crown. The people basically shut down their government and thousands of patriot militia around the state marched on their towns and unseated Crown appointed officials. By fall 1774 the people of Massachusetts had overthrown the Crown appointed government and taken back their state.

During the War, women boycotted English-made goods, kept businesses running, supported  soldiers on the battlefield with cooking, laundry, gathering firewood and nursing the injured. Nancy Hart disguised herself as a man and infiltrated British camps gathering info on troop movements. Dicey Langston began spying when she was a teenager, using connections with Loyalist family and friends, to get information. Servant Betsy Hager refurbished British weapons for the Continental Army and cared for injured soldiers.

A number of black slaves participated in the cause. Crispus Attucks, a merchant seaman in Boston demonstrated against the British troops and became the first casualty of the war. Agrippa Hull and Peter Salem fought in the militia. James Armistead was a patriot spy who served as a double agent. His bravery collecting intel within Benedict Arnold's camp helped Lafayette and Washington form a French-American blockade which crippled the British and led to surrender. Thousands of blacks served on the battlefield, on navy ships and noncombatant roles.

Joseph Plumb Martin

Joseph Plumb Martin was an ordinary young man who joined the Connecticut militia at the age of 15 and served under General Washington for seven years. His detailed diary of his war experiences brought to light the daily life of the average soldier. In an excerpt, he writes, "About the middle of the day some of our galleys and floating batteries, with a frigate, fell down and engaged the British with their long guns...The cannonade continued without interruption on the side of the British. Our men were cut up like cornstalks. I do not know the exact number of the killed and sounded but can say it was not small...perhaps less than five hundred in all."

Nanyehi also known as Nancy Ward, was a Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, a Ceremonial Chief who sat in on councils and made decisions. She served as a peace negotiator and ambassador for her people and was well-respected by the settlers who crossed through Cherokee territory. She often warned of impending Indian attacks and even sent food to starving militias. During the Revolutionary War, she chose the side of the Patriots and supported their cause believing the only way the Cherokee would survive was by conceding land and peace to the Americans, knowing it could risk the Cherokee way of life.


So, on this Independence Day, while we owe our gratitude to the men who placed their signatures on the Declaration, for they did so at risk of being hanged if the outcome of the war had been different, we are equally grateful to the ordinary men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities who also risked their lives to defend freedom on the battlefield and home front. Were it not for their bravery and the courage of their convictions, we most certainly would not be here today. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Grieving Never Stops

16 years ago a family was torn apart.

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On Friday June 16, 2000, my cousin Kathy Inman, her husband Billy and their 16-year-old son Dustin, were traveling from their home in Woodstock, Georgia to their retreat in the mountains of North Georgia, to celebrate Father's Day with a weekend of fishing. As they waited behind a car at a stoplight in Ellijay, a speeding vehicle plowed into them from behind, wedging Kathy's Grand Am into the car in front of them. The force completely crushed the backseat and Dustin and his dog Lucky died instantly. Kathy and Billy were seriously injured and airlifted to the trauma center in Atlanta where they both lapsed into comas.

While we were all trying to understand this senseless tragedy, my aunt and uncle and Billy's family had to make arrangements to bury their grandson and possibly his parents because we just didn’t know if they would make it. I recall sitting in my aunt’s kitchen as she talked about not knowing how many funerals they’d have to plan, when she picked up Dustin’s wallet that had been given to them by the police. The wallet was stuffed with cash that he'd been saving to buy a car. She showed it to me and then she started to cry.

Billy was discharged after a few weeks, scratched and bruised and suffering from memory loss, while Kathy remained much longer due to her more extensive injuries that required rehab. During a visit with her in the hospital, she recalled to me in very few words, because she wasn't able to talk much, that she knew Dustin was gone before anyone had told her. She told me that he’d visited her at the scene of the accident and told her he was okay.

After her hospitalization and rehabilitation, Kathy went home to begin the rest of the recovery process. Due to brain damage and spinal injuries, she faced a very long, painful rehabilitation. We'd all had hope she would make a full recovery but sadly, 16 years later, she’s confined to a wheelchair, enduring constant pain and frequent visits to her doctors.

The man who committed this crime, Gonzalo Gonzalo Harrell, aka Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez, admitted to police at the scene that he'd fallen asleep at the wheel. After complaining of stomach pains after the accident, he was taken to a local hospital in Gilmer County where he was left unattended by police and escaped, never to be seen again.

Police determined that Gonzalo Harrell was an illegal alien with a North Carolina driver’s license. In 2001, he was indicted by the Gilmer County Grand Jury on several charges including vehicular homicide. In 2002, the FBI issued a federal warrant charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. A nationwide manhunt ensued with his face broadcast on America's Most Wanted and other news programs. A few years later, through Billy's tireless efforts, law enforcement authorities located a man they thought to be Gonzalo Harrell but the man told police he was actually Harrell's brother Roberto. Forensic experts determined this was true and so the manhunt continued.

Billy has been on a crusade these past 16 years pushing for immigration reform and justice for families who have experienced the loss of loved ones at the hands of individuals who are in the U.S. illegally. He is not anti-immigration, he is anti-illegal immigration. Billy and Kathy's story has been featured on nearly every major news outlet over the years and all they've wanted out of it is justice. Recently Billy received a letter from the Department of Justice informing him of the inability to extradite Gonzalo Harrell to Mexico because that country does not criminalize vehicular manslaughter without intent to commit a crime. In an effort to placate Billy, the letter went on to state: "Notwithstanding the limitations of the law, you should be comforted by the fact that your efforts have not been in vain. Your tireless fight for justice has reached the highest levels of both the United States and Mexican governments and your family's loss has touched us all."

Not high enough apparently. There is no comfort for Billy and Kathy and they feel their tireless fight has fallen upon deaf ears. Billy’s exhausted and feels like a failure at times for not being able to bring to justice the man who decimated his family. He told Breitbart in March of this year, “I want something done so this doesn’t happen to others, but there’s just too many people that just don’t care. Even when you have family members that tell you we’re wasting our time. They say it’s making my wife worse, and the depression and all of the issues she’s got going on worse. They say it’s just dragging her heartache out even longer—they don’t understand that our heartache isn’t going to be any longer or lesser either way."

Billy wants to care for Kathy in the manner she requires but it’s difficult. She’s in pain and discomfort every single day. She wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and crying. In addition to her physical pain, the emotional pain is overwhelming. They’ve accepted their son's death but they cannot accept the manner in which he died and the fact that the man who did it is free to live his life and hug his three children every single day.

Dustin's death left a devastating impact on his family. For his parents, there is no comfort or peace. They take it day by day and do the best they can but every single day they’re reminded that their son will never age, attend college, get married, have children of his own, and grow old and gray. The dreams Billy and Kathy had of retiring one day and moving to a cabin in the mountains and spending time with their grandchildren will forever remain just a dream.