Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Heart of the American (Political) Problem

As an author, it is my job to engage my readers with substantive characters and plot-lines that get them invested in my books. I enjoy hearing their passionate responses, when we have an occasion to chat, whether in-person or through social media engagement. While it is rewarding to me as a fictional author it scares me to the core when it crosses over to the non-fiction world.

A few weeks back I wrote an article asking the question: What Happened to Civility in America. In it, I pointed the finger of blame at politicians and pundits who have worked hand in hand to ramp up the level of acrimony in the United States for their personal gain.  They have gotten remarkably good at being bullies, but when there is pushback, they play the victim card. Now I am here to tell you that the heart of the problem is not that they do this, but that a large swath of the U.S. population actually believes them.

To be fair this truly is bi-partisan and has been going on for a very long time. It is a condition that has plagued both the Right and the Left. In fact I have spoken out about this in the past: The End of Political Party Dominance in America.

But now the lies, half-truths and attacks, like a proverbial snowball, which started its glacial existence as a magnificent little snowflake, have metastasized into a malevolent icy mass that threatens all in its path.

Case in point this tweet from Senator Kamala Harris (D - Ca.)


Now, it’s not so much the tweet from her that bothers me, but its existence as a vehicle. See, I get the fact that she is trying to score political points and that is what politicians do. No, what truly bothers me is the vast amount of replies, likes and re-tweets that serve to take it to its intended destination, Kamala’s political base.  My first inclination was to reply directly, but I fundamentally know that it is a waste of time, so I decided to use this as a premise for this blog.

You see, Senator Harris is engaging in one of three things: Lying, telling a half-truth or she is simply incompetent.

Now that may sound like some serious accusations, but give me a moment to spell this out for you.
Consider the premise. An article by Vox, which boldly claims “Senate Republicans exempt own health coverage from part of latest proposal,” coupled with Senator Harris’ reply, a simple, but substantive: “This is a disgrace.”

The casual reader, as exemplified by the replies to this tweet, would take away two things from this. 1) Republicans are disgusting, greedy, and unethical hypocrites and 2) Sen. Harris, who by virtue of her position as a United States Senator, intimately understands the issue and concurs with the Vox piece.

You would believe that, but you would be wrong.

The opening paragraph of the article charges that: “Senate Republicans included a provision that exempts members of Congress and their staff from part of their latest health care plan.”  It goes on to say that “This exemption could have the effect of ensuring that members of Congress have coverage for a wider array of benefits than other Americans who purchase their own coverage.”

That would be pretty staggering, and point to a serious disconnect between politicians and the people, if it were true, but it’s not. Unlike the thousands of folks that responded to that Tweet, I’m not a casual reader.

The underlying problem with this whole issue goes back to semantics.

Did the Republicans include a provision that exempts members of Congress and their staff from part of their latest health care plan? The short answer is: Yes, which is precisely where Senator Harris wants you to stop reading and re-tweet her post. However, as is true with most things in politics, the long answer is not as cut and dry.

Now we can debate the entirety of the health care issue in America, but the truth, as it pertains to this matter, is that the Republicans are getting ZERO support from Democrats when it comes to this. As a result, they have to pursue this through a process which is called Reconciliation that is bound by several conditions, often referred to as the Byrd Rule, after former Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).

Bumper sticker version: Without the hope of Democrats coming on board, there is no chance to get the 60+ Filibuster-proof votes needed to pass any health care legislation. Therefore, Republicans have to go for a simple majority (51) vote and this this now becomes an issue of the Rules of the Senate as it pertains to Reconciliation.

What that means is that committees (in this case: Finance and HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions)) drafting a bill cannot make changes that are the jurisdiction of other committees (In this case: Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee). A Senate parliamentarian could rule that any proposed insurance change for members of Congress would rightly fall to the HSGAC, which covers insurance issues for members of Congress, and that ruling could jeopardize the bill’s reconciliation status. If this were to occur, then the entire bill would lose privilege and it could then be filibustered. 

But wait a minute; shouldn’t a member of the Senate know this stuff?

The long and short answer is a resounding YES.

So if Senator Harris knows this, then why is she posting something as fallacious as this?
It’s a good question.  

As I mentioned earlier, it’s my belief that she is engaging in one of three things:  Lying, telling a half-truth or is simply incompetent.

Prior to becoming a United States senator, Kamala Harris served as the District Attorney for San Francisco (2003-2011) and California Attorney General (2010-2016). So the idea that she is simply incompetent has little traction. That brings us to lying or telling a half-truth.

Conveniently, Senator Harris never actually makes the false claim against her fellow (Republican) senators, so she escapes the mantle of liar. Rather, she simply tosses out the link, along with her commentary, in an attempt to bait her constituents into running with the lie, which, since they are already pre-disposed to disliking Republicans, they gladly do.

And therein lies the true Heart of the American Problem: US.

We need to understand that politicians and pundits sell a product. One does it to get elected (or re-elected as the case may be) while the other does it for ratings, but in the end we are the consumer that supports it.

I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, Animal House, where Dean Wormer says: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

I fear that is what we have become in America.

We have become fat through all the things available to us here in the U.S. Say what you will about systemic poverty, but the truth is that for the overwhelming majority of folks that live here, we know nothing about what true poverty is. It’s kind of hard to claim how bad things are when you’re lamenting about how miserable your life is on a social media post that you uploaded from your smart phone.

We have become drunk in our own hubris. We have come to believe that we are smarter than we actually are. Yesterday I was talking to my wife about things I consider generational shortcomings. I remarked that when we were younger there was actual work involved in research; including numerous trips to the library where we studied and took copious notes. This generation literally has access to the entire world, at its fingertips, yet they rarely touch on anything more than the surface of a particular topic.    

We have become stupid in our belief that we are being told the truth.  

At worse, the pundits and politicians lie to us simply because they know they can. Often they skew things so that it is only a half-truth, as is the case here, but it is still wrong.  I truly believe that things will not change in this country until we, as Americans, wake up to the deceit that is being perpetrated against us.

It is interesting to note that, in the early days of trying to put together the Affordable Care Act, Democrats were roundly criticized for exempting Congress and their staffers from the exchanges. Ironically, it was the Republicans who pushed the idea that if the exchanges were good enough for other Americans that they should be good enough for Congress. It was an amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R – IA) to the Senate bill that required the federal government offer only health plans that were part of an exchange to members of Congress and their staffs.

Maybe we should demand actual facts and not skewed talking points.

Maybe we should hold politicians and pundits accountable.

Maybe we should, but that won’t happen until we stop being casual readers and start educating ourselves about the issues, rather than relying on cute sound bites.

Maybe we should, but honestly I think we just might be too far gone. I think we have become too invested in all the lies to admit that we have been duped, but that is a topic I will discuss at a later date.


Friday, June 30, 2017

What Happened to Civility in America?

I’m a professional liar; I make things up for a living. In other words I’m an author, it’s what I do. In my books I twist tales of lies, deceit and schemes. For the most part the reader understands that, although I try to hold a few things back until the end. For the most part though, they know who the bad guys and gals are and they understand the underlying truth of their nefarious machinations.

Reality it seems is a bit different.

I woke up this morning and the world is coming unglued because of a tweet by President Trump directed at MSNBC Host Mika Brzezinski and her husband, Joe Scarborough.

I will be the first one to say that I wish that the President refrained from tweeting some of the more inflammatory stuff that he does, but that’s his decision not mine. What I find amusing is the meltdown that usually ensues.

I hate to break the bad news to you, but you need to wake up and smell the coffee, because civility is dead in America folks.

Much to the dismay of the folks on the left, it didn’t die on January 20th, 2017, nor did it die on June 16th, 2015.

No, the truth is that civility died long before that. It’s just that everybody was too busy to notice it.

Civility died when politicians realized that they could openly castigate their opponents and perpetuate false talking points for their political gain.

Civility died when news pundits realized that they could say anything they wanted, including baseless lies, while hiding behind the mantra of Freedom of the Press.

Civility died when we opened up our homes to the folly of reality television; where the most extreme and reprehensible behavior became our entertainment.

No, contrary to what many will tell you, civility didn’t die when we elected Donald Trump; we just exposed the dirty little secret that we had been hiding for decades.

The latest exchange shows that in all its ugly glory, but I am truly having a hard time being upset by it and here is the reason why: Because it’s fake outrage.

You see, for year’s politicians and pundits plied their salacious trade with Immunity.  In other words they fundamentally knew that something wasn’t true, or was a well scripted interpretation, but no one was going to call them on it. Tales were told for political gain and ratings glory. There was a status quo and it was generally adhered to.  

Then along came Donald Trump who walked into the room with a smile and flipped the damn table like some crazy chick on a reality TV show.

For the new viewers, who had just tuned in, it was an extraordinary example of a bully, someone who was completely unhinged and out of control.

Oh, the inhumanity of it all!

But for other viewers, who’d been watching for a while, it was simply the last straw that broke the camel’s back.  You see we had all watched the little subplots throughout the years; the goings-on behind the scenes. So by the time the table had been flipped, we all knew it was a long time coming. You see, the truth is that the last person to act out wasn’t the bully, but the victim who had simply grown tired of being pushed around; which takes us back to today.

Whether you like it or not, the President is hitting back and maybe it is about time. You see, I don’t ascribe to the belief that Donald Trump is a bully and that civility died with his election. I believe that it just exposed the incivility of the real bullies.  

I have little empathy for the folks in politics and the media. They’ve been acting the part of the bully for years and finally someone hit back. Now they realize that they are not as tough as they believed they were and have gone off crying to mommy and daddy. It’s like Kathy Griffin posing with a bloody mock-up of the President’s head. She knew exactly what she was doing and it was to further her celebrity. So when the backlash hit, her tears, and claims of being a victim, were not only hypocritical they were also hilarious.  

There is something magical about watching a bully get what they deserve.

I can't compete with this level of awesomeness !!
You see, she claims to be a comic, but there was nothing comedic in what she did. It was purely for political shock, designed to give her ‘D-List’ career (her words, not mine) a bump, so she deserves to get called out on it.  She only compounded her screw-up when she stood in front of a mic and claimed that ‘Trump broke me.’  

It would be like me, putting down my keyboard and grabbing my axe, then jumping on stage to steal the show from Zoltan Bathory of Five Finger Death Punch. I would wholly deserve the ridicule that would ensue.


Then again, in the immortal words of P.T. Barnum, “There is no such thing as bad publicity” and I could think of worse things than being mentioned in the same sentence as Zo, but I digress.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I wish that the President didn’t tweet some of the things he does, but I am not going to fault him without first ID’ing who the instigator was.  Many in the media, and those up on Capitol Hill, are castigating the President, but just like Mika Brzezinski, they don’t have a leg to stand on.

Consider this for a moment. Earlier this month the MSNBC host went on a verbal tirade. During which she referred to the President as a “Narcissist”, “Mentally Ill’, “Not Well”, “Ignorant”, “Stupid”, “says he can grab women anywhere” and further insinuated that he might have homosexual tendencies. Yet now I am supposed to have empathy for her? Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

From day one Donald Trump said “I’m a counter puncher. You hit me, I’ll hit back.” Now everyone seems shocked because that’s what he is doing?

It’s time to pull up your big girl pants, Mika, and take the lumps you deserve. If you want to criticize him for his policies, have at it. If you want to investigate anything, go for it, but if you think you can make it personal and not get any blowback, you are extremely naïve.

Here’s a news flash folks:  If you want civility you need to learn to act civil first.

How about talking about facts, instead of going on personal attacks?

To be fair, this is not a left or right thing. In fact, it is a truly bi-partisan issue.  I didn’t agree with President Obama on a great many things, but I could give you articulate reasons for my positions. I didn’t yell or scream to get those points across and I certainly didn’t resort to name calling. Yet, that seems to be the norm these days.

I don’t like what we have become in this country and I fear where we are going. When political discourse devolves into nothing more than baseless rhetoric, screaming matches and finally violence, we have lost our way.

I have always wanted to believe that this truly is not who we are as Americans, but maybe I’m the one who is naive. Perhaps what we are seeing now is the shedding of the facade. Perhaps we are just now showing our true colors.

As a wordsmith, I create stories in my mind, than I commit them to paper, to entertain the reader. All authors strive to create a plausible story-line, even when the plot might seem to be wildly exaggerated. I’m watching what is happening in this country and I find myself being profoundly sad and yet jealous at the way this is all unfolding.

I would be proud to spin this tale and yet this is not fiction.  We are not readers, we are witnesses. Instead of watching the sordid goings-on of fictional characters, we are watching other humans destroy this country for their political gain and media ratings.  If we wait for them to change, this will end up being a tragedy on the scale of a Shakespearean play.

It has to start with us. We have to learn how to be civil again with one another. We might not agree on the issues, but we have to treat each other with respect. Only then can we claim to have the moral high ground to demand the same from our elected officials and journalists.

I just pray it is not too late.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The shots heard round the United States

I awoke this morning to the news that Louisiana Representative Steven Scalise had been shot, along with two officers from his United States Capitol Police security detail and two other persons, while attending practice for an upcoming Congressional charity baseball game. 

I would like to say that I am shocked, but I am not. In fact, I am honestly surprised that it has taken as long as it has to happen. I actually broached on this topic in my first book: Perfect Pawn.

While the shooter is ultimately responsible for his actions this morning, I lay the blame directly at the feet of both the politicians and media for creating the environment that led up to this attack.  An examination of the shooter’s social media account highlights all of the inflammatory talking points which most of us have become immune to. I say most because obviously some folks, like the shooter, take the hyperbole to heart and it is exactly why I say that the politicians and media both bear complicity in this heinous act. To be fair, I draw no distinction along either party line or news outlet, as this has been building for decades.

Maybe I take these issues more seriously than most because I spent five years doing dignitary protection in New York City.  I worked closely with members of the Secret Service, State Department DSS and the aforementioned Capitol Police dealing with potential threats to protectees. You learn early on in that business that it doesn’t take much to push some folks over the line. Many times it is a personalized affront; where they feel that the subject of their hatred has wronged them in some way. However, the alarming trend that I am seeing now is that people are being told, by both the media and politicians, that they have been wronged.

We have always been a politically divided country. In fact, I previously wrote about this topic regarding the problem with political parties and one excerpt in this post was written five years ago, almost to the day. It explains how they are dividing us for their gain.

While it is true that there has always been politically motivated incivility in this country, the direction we have been heading, over the last two decades, has sadly been all too clear for some of us. The vilification, and outright demonization, of individuals, for political gain or ratings, has created the world we live in today. What is changing is the level of inflammatory rhetoric that is being used.

Over the past few months we have seen some folks in the entertainment world blasting the President. Mock assassinations, beheadings, as well as a host of verbal tirades that are meant solely to dehumanize him. Because once you have dehumanized a person you can do anything you want to him with impunity. If you need a case study in this type of behavior look no further than Nazi Germany and their treatment of the Jews.

Now, I will be the first one to say that no politician should be protected from the people’s disagreement. We have a right to air our opposition to anything we might disagree with. I am a gun owner and fully support the 2nd Amendment. I also served in law enforcement for over two decades so I do have a significant understanding about crime and safety in America. But I also understand that, while there are around 55 million gun owners in America, there are around 325 million people in the United States and many of them do not. What is within our control is how we discuss the issue. If you simply choose to yell at me with nothing more than regurgitated talking points in all likelihood I will just walk away. That doesn’t mean you have won anything, it just means that I value my time and breath.

Spend longer than five minutes on any social media platform or the comment section of any online news organization and you will see just how ‘uncivil’ we have become to one another: Libtard, Teabagger, Left-Wing Loon, Right-Wing Nut Job, and these are the nice things, most is simply unfit to print.  What is truly sad to me is that we simply cannot have a difference of opinion. Once someone says they don’t believe in something they are immediately labeled and castigated.

So what is the purpose of all this vitriol? Well, at the end of the day it basically comes down to two things: Power & Paychecks.

The media sows the seed of discontent because it drives ratings. They want viewers or readers and you attract them with bold rhetoric or headlines. It doesn’t have to be true, or even address the real issues; it just has to be salacious. Ratings and readerships equal bigger paychecks for those involved. Politicians want power, so they appeal to their base. They vilify the other side as being hardliners, when they are in the minority, so that you will re-elect them. If you re-elect enough of them they get the power, but they still vilify the other side as being obstructionists. They count on you being too confused to see that each is only one side of the same political coin. Why? Because they really don’t have the desire to fix anything nor to address the real problems we are facing.

As I sit here writing this I wonder to myself if this is even worth it? Will anyone stop and actually listen?

The problem is that no one really wants to think they have been duped. We want to think we are smarter than that, but we are like the parents who refuse to believe that their child was really at fault for something, even when the cops bring them home. We make excuses for the bad behavior as we seek to blame someone else like the teachers, cops or the amorphous system, whatever that might be. Because God forbid we should admit that a) we didn’t raise them right or b) that they truly are personally responsible for their bad behavior.

So should we be surprised when the media and politicians wring their hands and feign shock when something like this happens. Neither group will take responsibility, even though they have been fanning these flames for some time now. No, now the blame game begins and first up is: Guns!!

Almost immediately the anti-gun folks, like Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, seized the moment and began re-directing the narrative by attacking guns. As if the gun, and not the shooter, was responsible.

Never one to lose a political opportunity, McAuliffe twice said "we lose 93 million Americans a day to gun violence." Not exactly sure where he resides, but the United States would be devoid of life within a business week with those numbers.  I think the number is actually 93, but even that is political math. If you're interested, read this post on Stat's & Gun Control.

McAuliffe then went on to say "there are too many guns on the street," but then added that the issue shouldn't be raised today, after he himself had raised the issue today.

Hypocrisy…………Shocking, I know.

Now my news feed is filled with politicians saying: ‘An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us’ and ‘I pray we can resolve our differences’……. That’s so refreshing and wholly disingenuous. What’s spurring on this sentiment is that it hit too close to home and they realize that if someone on the left target someone on the right that those roles could easily be reversed next time and that is downright terrifying to them. Prior to today it was all rhetoric, today it is reality. Welcome to the world you have created.

My fear is that we have crossed a line that we cannot undo. It’s like opening Pandora’s Box and then lamenting how we should have left it closed. Too late.

The first shot in anger is always the toughest, the second and third become much easier. I pray that won’t happen, but the odds are not good. What needs to be done is for the folks to step back and apologize for the daily doses of enmity that they have been dishing out. They need to apologize to the American people that they have been fanning the flames for their own gain, not for the people, but that would take personal responsibility and I don’t think they are mature enough for that.


I pray that this was a one-time event, but in my heart I truly believe this was just the opening salvo.

Kudo's to the men and women of law enforcement who prevented this from being a massacre, by doing what they do everyday: putting themselves in harm's way and protecting the innocent. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Perfect Pawn - Free (Memorial Day Week)

Just in time to kick off your Summer Reading, I am re-releasing an updated version of my debut novel, Perfect Pawn.

From May 30th through June 3rd, 2017, you can add the e-Book version to your summer 2017 reading list for free.

Perfect Pawn tells the story of James Maguire a former Navy SEAL and a retired NYPD Detective who is faced with investigating the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend who went missing from a one-car accident.

The one thing you find as an author is that with each passing year and each new novel, you become a better writer. With this in mind, we went back and did a re-edit / update. While the story line is not affected, there are some additional 'conversations' between characters that enhance the book, as well as removing some of the inter-chapter 'head' hopping that took place. All in all I think this new edition will greatly appeal to the reader.

For this edition I also updated the cover artwork to make it readily identifiable.

If hope that you enjoy the book and I would be grateful if you would be so kind as to leave feedback when you are done.

You can check out all my books by clicking here: Other Books by Andrew G. Nelson

Thank you so much and happy reading !!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Uncommon Valor II - Challenge Coins of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit

Back in the summer of 2015, just as I was getting ready to publish: Uncommon Valor - Insignia of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, the collecting world erupted with a new area: Challenge Coins. At the time I questioned whether I should be the book on hold and include this field, but the more I researched, the more I realized that I would need a lot more time.

I had already invested five years into the cloth insignia history, so I decided to publish that book and then devote the necessary time to properly investigating the coin phenomena. To give you an idea of just how quickly coin fever has gripped the hobby, consider that my first book documented nearly a century of ESU insignia history and comprised roughly 130 pages. This follow-up is nearly the same page count, but only goes back to the late 1990's, when the first ESU coin came out.

Like the first book, this has been a labor of love. At times it felt like I was investigating some deep, dark mystery and at other times banging my head against the desk seemed like a completely acceptable option. In the end it didn't take five years, but it did take almost two.

As much as I love writing these books on ESU, I realize that I much rather write fiction. It is much simpler to create stories in your head, as opposed to conducting research. In the field of non-fiction you only get one chance at being right.

Fortunately, the hard work has paid off and now I add another new book to the catalog. If you are interested in the NYPD ESU or challenge coins, I believe you will thoroughly enjoy this book. It contains over 100 photographs and offers collectors a glimpse at some of the rarest challenge coins produced by the various Trucks and Specialty Units, many of which have never been seen before.

I want to extend my sincere thanks to those members of ESU who afforded me the opportunity to ask innumerable questions and who provided photos of their coins. You are truly the Finest of the Finest.

It is amazing to me, as I submit the file for printing, that this will be my ninth book. It seems like only yesterday that I was holding Perfect Pawn in my hands for the first time. Now it is time to put my non-fiction endeavors to bed for awhile, as I take back up the further adventures of James and Alex.