Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Smoking

In August of 1977....I "shipped" off to Air Force basic training.  It was about five weeks into this six-week period....that we came to do a all-day hike or march.....to another part of the installation, and I was introduced to the C-rations package.

It was a cardboard box....similar in size to a cigar box, and had several food items to provide nourishment.  To be fair about it....it's wasn't bad....but it wasn't going to be something that I could eat daily for weeks (like they did in Vietnam).  I should note here....it was the first and last time I ever ate C-Rations.  Within two years....they'd gone to some modern new technology, and six years later....MREs finally arrived.

Amongst the items of the box....was a small cardboard container with two cigarettes.  As part of your nourishment.....you were given some matches and these two cigarettes.  Brand?  I don't remember that part.  No.....I didn't even smoke them.  One of the heavier smokers in the flight picked up everyone's unused smokes for use later.

Over the twenty-two years in the Air Force.....I came to note fifty odd experiences around cigarettes, smokers, and smoke-breaks.  I worked early on with one Vietnam vet NCO who sat in the office for eight hours and chain-smoked.....his ash tray by 4PM was completely full and overflowing.

While stationed at Barksdale....the barracks had an unknown natural gas leak....which got noted in a substantial way after a guy had showered and come back to the room to chill....while lighting a cigarette (some pretty nasty burns over his face).

Three years ago while working at the Pentagon, I watched a fairly hostile discussion erupt over the planned idea of banning all smoking from the center courtyard of the building.  Smokers versus non-smokers.....all enthusiastic about their way of life and the need to fix a problem.

This past week....the Secretary of Defense got peppy on the idea of banning cigarette sales at the BX and commissary system.  In his eyes....the sales are unhealthy and the discounted sales are a bad thing.  It's not just about throwing a fake variant of cost onto the sales.....the idea is to plain ban all sales.

Smokers have put up a strong argument about this....why not ban beer and booze sales on all posts and bases as well?  The club management guys and golf course managers are a disturbed over that suggestion.....at least a quarter of their profits come from beer and booze.

What happens if the ban takes effect?  I'm guessing some folks will want soda sales banned as part of the blame process.....as well as high-sugar candy items.  Toss in Pop-tarts, and a dozen other 'bad' items that the BX regularly sells.

Some guys will start to appear around base....with cigarettes to sell....privately.  If you deploy somewhere....a guy will be standing there with a full bag of cigarettes....selling for two-hundred percent of the normal cost.  Sarge will get all angry about the cost factor, and the Colonel will yack for hours over this terrible climate of capitalism.

Some folks will start to devise smoking areas that are five-hundred to a thousand feet from the office building....just make life more miserable for the smokers.

It's an odd feeling to view my introduction to military smoking on that hot August day in 1977....sitting under some shaded area.....enjoying the basic grub of a C-Rations package.....and noting those two free cigarettes at the bottom of the cardboard box.  They were literally giving them away to me.  Now?  Banning possible?

Political Intrigue at the County Level

One of the little corruption gimmicks I learned while in Arlington and observing DC.....was the "hidden-gift" trick.

The DC city council had a number of departments, and various financial accounts in each.  Each year, revenue would be collected and disbursed out to the departments.  Over in the recreation department, there was this account to 'gift' funding out to foundations and charity operations which helped various cultures and groups in DC....related to physical activities.

So one of the city council guys had been smart....created his own charitable foundation to bring softball to the kids of DC.  Over a year or two....the foundation sought $300,000.....and the foundation got it.

The money?  Well....it got routed around, and eventually gets moved from one account to another, and eventually....the city council guy buys a motorcycle and SUV for himself.....then goes on a number of golf trips.  My belief is that he would have continued this trend for twenty or thirty years.....but someone in the financial audit area of the city council went back to look at results.  The episode got noted, and turned over to the feds.  Eventually, they came with a search warrant....proved the case....and offered the guy a deal.  He would do time but it's not that much.  Sadly, he had to resign his position and return the $300,000.  As of two years after the fact....he'd only returned $50,000 and it was generally believed that he'd declare some version of bankruptcy and slide out of the whole deal at the end.

This week.....in Huntsville, Ala (my home region).....this little episode popped up.

There's been heat going on between the new city board of education chief and the city council.  The new guy (former Army Colonel).....is changing a lot of things.  He's even gotten down to redrawing the school districts.  One of the county commissioners is hot on these changes and wanting to slow the whole thing down, and possibly undo some of the changes.

As you might expect....there's some comments being slung by a number of folks in Huntsville over both parties.

Well....the education chief came out with an odd observation.....there's two checks written out from an education account from three or four years ago.....blessed by this county commissioner....going to an entity that is not blessed by law to receive the funding.  They want an audit.....independent audit of course.

My guess is that there's not just two of these checks.....that they will start to find a few more....begging more questions....all leading back to this one county commissioner.  It'll take at least six months to complete the audit, and it'll come out probably a few weeks prior to the November elections (my hunch).

This county commissioner under suspicion?  I'm guessing that he's a bit worried over potential affects from this audit.  Maybe the two checks can be explained in some way that makes some ethical sense.  Maybe, it's legit but simply misunderstood.  Or maybe.....it's corruption to the second-degree and this guy's November chances are now cut in half.

Some guys will likely meet for the Democratic Party over the next month, and look at potential damage there in Madison County from this audit.  My guess is that they will suggest to this guy affected....if any of this is proven true....your odds of winning are lost.  Why not just announce you won't run, and the Party will find a new guy to stand to your position?  Anger and frustration will erupt......this wasn't supposed to end like this for a long political career at the county level.

The money from these checks?  $20,000 total.

About every week now.....I notice Republicans and Democrats....under some investigation or plea deal being worked.  The corruption angles are more developed than they were twenty years ago.  You'd think that folks would worry about prison time or losing their self-respect.....but that doesn't seem to worry these folks.  It's a sad state of affairs.....and doesn't appear to be getting better.