Archive for August, 2013

I Can’t Always Avoid U.S. Foreign Policy

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Where’s this pressure to open another theater of war coming from?

Who would actually benefit besides those in our government bought off by defense contractor lobbyists?

Who says Attack Syria_Where Excuses Go to DieAmericans like me aren’t indifferent to innocent men, women, and children being killed with chemical agents, but we’ve grown increasingly wary of the distractive properties of a constant, multi-front war. After all, between the money spent on the aforementioned contractors and the banks backing them, America itself has been ransacked and destabilized. And who’s looking out for us while we go acting abroad on behalf of others? In fact, how can the United States authentically serve as peacekeeper, lead by example, or stand up for the little guy if we’re too busy forcing this world police thing down everyone’s throats — including those of our own majority? The credibility of American might (and ethical standards) exists not because our elected leaders keep insisting on it, but because we’ve won a few; because we’ve overcome some. But now America’s foreign policy feels like we’re still pulling the trigger, but the chamber is empty.

President Obama feels strongly that America needs to “send a message” to brutes like Bashar al-Assad. Yet if we target and destroy Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles in a “limited” and “narrow” attack that in no way demands regime change, won’t the message be: Use chemical weapons and we’ll shoot some missiles at your bunkers but not remove you from power? This kind of shock and awe sounds more like shove ‘n shoo.

If, on the other hand, Obama & Co. stick to humanitarian aid  –terrible as that may seem–  might we instead finally send the message that America won’t be baited into intervention? Won’t it signify our intention to start holding our cards closer to our chest? Might that not help us be taken even more seriously in the long term?

Less isn’t more, you say?

Fine. But isn’t it smarter to avoid military engagement with Syrian Opposition Forces made up of jihadists and fighters about whom we know so little? Before you answer that, scroll down this long list of those groups who make up the opposition.

One last question: Does America represent the power of unilaterally exercised principles, or the principles of unilaterally exercised power?

Avoiding Shortsightedness in Prison Reform

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Eric Holder isn’t using prison reform as a means to rehab his image

 Why Go Easy on Junkies? Part II
Evan Vucci:APLast week, Attorney General Eric Holder called for the reform of mandatory minimum prison sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Almost as quickly, Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson dismissed the move as symbolism. In “Eric Holder’s Drug War Speech: Don’t Get Too Excited Yet,” Dickinson predicts that Holder’s proposed policy changes will have little impact. Why? In a nutshell, too many inmates. Then Dickinson adds, “We’re not used to hearing U.S. Attorneys General talk this way.” Now, couldn’t that have been your title, Tim?

Writing for the investigative nonprofit ProPublica, Cora Currier implied a different sort of conspiracy. “The Sweeping Presidential Power to Help Prisoners that Holder didn’t Mention” suggests a betrayal of those given life sentences for possession of drugs with the intent to sell. Currier’s point is that Holder “skipped mention of the sweeping power the president has to shorten or forgive a federal prisoner’s sentence,” whereas I think aggressively prosecuted drug offenders don’t need rescuing from the president. Instead, it’s the system that needs to change. I’m also inclined to remind Currier that Holder’s avoidance of the hot potato of clemency and pardons in his speech does not a conspiracy make.
 So come on you guys, give the rigidly uninteresting bureaucrat a break already! (more…)

Elmore Leonard R.I.P.

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The height of irony was devouring Elmore Leonard novels in prison.

Mister Millimeter Will See You Now If prisons produce better criminals, I was lucky to come out merely more sarcastic than when I went in. Elmore Leonard helped me get there – and taught me that exclamation points are worse than all the plagues in the Bible.

My family was, and still is, rather incisive, so when it came to the discovery of certain writers, I found authenticity in those who trafficked in quick comebacks and smartass remarks. Under the noses of bitchy nuns, schoolmate Chuck Miller and I traded copies of Don Pendleton’s pulp war-on-the-Mafia series, The Executioner. Pendleton’s stories were blunt and read similarly to how movies like The French Connection, The Seven-Ups, and The Friends of Eddie Coyle felt.

We were just kids then, gaining access to all this stuff through older brothers and neighborhood teenagers. Little did I know what Elmore Leonard would have in store for me. Compared to him, Don Pendleton might as well have been script-writer for Dragnet. Still, though Leonard would be the author to show me a celebration of the criminal spirit, I didn’t discover his novels until I myself was behind bars.

Reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment just prior to being sentenced was a philosophical turning point, the likes of which I hadn’t previously experienced. Devouring Leonard’s Maximum Bob while trying to drown out the sounds of cellblock idiocy was an comparable epiphany. Leonard’s criminals were very similar to those with whom I was housed: sarcastic, daring, flamboyant, smart, haphazard, mean, self-sabotaging, and double-crossing. They spoke of pistol-whipping, bad lawyers, booze, payoffs to cops, drive-bys, finders-keepers, knife fights, knife fights with women, snitches (both living and “dealt with”), hustling cash like there’s no tomorrow, and detectives, detectives, detectives! They were giant, fat, tired, old, young, short, stupid, one-armed, covered in ink, loud, and witty.  (more…)

Why Go Easy on Junkies?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Reforming mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.

RYAN SHULTZQ: What’s in it for you?

Q: Why should you care?

Q: Nonviolent criminals are still criminals, so why go easy on junkies?

A: Mandatory minimum sentencing reform for nonviolent drug offenders is not “going easy on junkies.”

In fact, nobody’s going easy on the junkies, especially junkies themselves. Addiction is a prison in its own right, and when our laws dictate that we actually imprison as many as we can for as long as we can, we perpetuate a cycle of inmates returning to their communities as maladapted as when they were prosecuted.

Still, does helping to change the life of an imprisoned drug addict sound wrong to you? Then think of it this way: Why should taxpayers like you and me spend upwards of $50,000 a year to simply house an addict? We’re not actually helping them become productive citizens, after all; a recent LA Times editorial on California’s incarceration woes reminds us that “prisons have been notoriously ineffective at purging inmates of their addictions, illnesses, gang ties or antisocial attitudes.”

Besides, junkies usually commit crimes the way lab rats run in circles or jump through hoops – because they’ve either been stimulated or manipulated into doing so. On the other hand, lawbreakers like me – convicted and sentenced to prison for robbery – are deliberate. We have getaway cars and backup plans. I’ve never seen a junkie or a lab rat with an escape route. (more…)

The Writer’s Discipline in the Digital Wilderness

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

The wilderness of self-publishing is where my excuses went to die

Foret Allemagne by Michael LangeAll digital photography by Michael Lange


The digital revolution has forced traditional publishers to look a lot like Dick Cheney. It did the same thing to the music industry, too, before the record labels went out like the inflexible, teeth-gnashing dinosaurs they were. I do respect old-school publishing’s heritage of absolutism, but in the same way I’d defer to the Cigarette Smoking Man from “The X-Files” if he tapped me on the shoulder.

What I no longer fear is the stigma of bringing my book to market on my own. I’m way past the point of no return financially and self-assuredly. No, I had no idea how difficult this was going to be, nor did I know how to avoid making it harder. But then my starting point was, “Hi, I’m an ex-felon and here’s my 480-page manuscript about my prison sentence. Will you read a chapter and…”

Yeesh. I wouldn’t wish that opener on my worst enemy!

But seriously, if my journey could begin at a maximum security facility where I traded soap with murderers with open sores for pencils and paper, you, friends, have no excuse not to put your stories out there, satisfy your creative obsessions, and realize your dreams and goals. (more…)