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.