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Lautenberg: One Man’s Influence

     Dennis Lanier and I were recently talking about an international trip experience. He reminded me that he had sat in smoking as we flew internationally. Every now and then during the plane ride, I would look at his section and barely see him through the haze of smoke. Now, smoking on a plane would look pretty crazy.

airplane smoking

     I have often thought about how thankful I am that no one can smoke on airplanes. Still, until recently, I could not remember how it happened.


     Then, I read the obituary of US Senator Frank Lautenberg. His recent passing is a reminder of what one person can do. Lauterberg 

      Senator Lautenberg was known primarily as a liberal Senator from New Jersey. Until his recent death, he was the oldest serving Senator.(age 89)

     He served nearly three decades in the Senate. He was the author of the bill that became law that threatened to withhold federal highway money from states, if they did not adopt a minimum drinking age of 21. Now, all 50 states require a person to be 21 years-of-age to buy alcohol. (since 1988)

     The next time that you board an airplane and listen to a flight attendant reminding you that no passenger can smoke, you can thank Senator Lautenberg for being the driving force behind that law as well. Now, a passenger who is caught smoking can also be fined up to $5,000 and can be arrested when the airplane lands.

     That “no smoking on domestic flights” law permanently took effect on February 25, 1990 , because of the lobbying efforts of airplane attendants and politicians like Senator Lautenberg’s who were willing to stand up against the tobacco lobby.  Those are two pretty important laws that are part of Senator Lautenberg’s legacy.

     For pic o’ day, I am staying with the thought of reward:


Saved By the Bell

     Apparently, in medieval times, burying people before they were truly dead was a known problem. That’s why, a pre-burial system was developed and was known as “being saved by the bell“.

     At the time of burial, a string was tied to the “dead” person’s hand, and then the other end of the string was tied to a bell and then tied to a nearby tree branch.  On occasion, someone who was only unconscious who then revive, would obviously ring the bell in a panic; and their family would rush out and dig them up.  Truly…… “saved by the bell”.

     A recent political donation prosecution can fall under that kind of category. Two executives had been charged in an alleged scheme of recruiting political donors for Hilary Clinton’s 2006 and 2008 Senate campaigns.

     On February 16, 2011, a grand jury that was convened in an Alexandria courtroom, charged the executives with illegally soliciting campaign contributions and then reimbursing those donors for the money that they had given to the campaign. It was an illegal way around the campaign donation federal limits.

     In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled in Citizen United  v.  FEC that corporations should be treated as individuals. Now, in the eyes of the law, corporations are entitled to equal political speech and are able to contribute politically, like an individual.

     As a result of that Court holding, the Judge in the potential criminal case against these two executives, dismissed the charges against them. In interpreting that Supreme Court case from last year, the Judge held that it created a loophole and that the charges were really now considered a corporation donation. 

     It didn’t matter that those donors were reimbursed by those two executives because, it could legally come from the corporation anyway. With that recent case, these executives were basically saved by that legal bell.   (US v. Danielczyk May 26, 2011)



Clues of Kagan

     We were huddled around our high school basketball coach. He looked us in the eye and congratulated us on another victory. Then, he grabbed the scorer’s book and began reading the point total. “Crombie had 20 and Saxon had 23; Good job guys.” The rest of us just looked at each other. We didn’t dare shake our heads or say anything but I knew what everyone else was thinking.

     My high school senior year, I worked in the school Printing Department. I can’t say that it was good money.   I was being paid under the guise of “great experience”.  I did learn how to operate a printing press. My job was to basically clean the ink on each of the presses. I’m not sure that anyone even does the old fashioned printing anymore.   

     Anyway, I came up with this “great” idea that I would publish a paper and sell it at school. A couple of my buddies decided they wanted to go in on it. We would all write articles, I would print the paper, and we’d  sell the papers to the other students. We were emerging journalists.

     We called the paper “B-Ball Probe”, because we were going to do stories about the basketball team. I haven’t yet seen any copies pop up on PBS’s “Antique Roadshow” as collectors items; We only lasted 3 publications.

     We reported on the emphasis on scoring,  and how the Coaches put no emphasis on defense, assists or rebounding. This blog isn’t making me look real good, is it? Anyway, I can’t really say that it was “Bernstein and Woodward” reporting,  but apparently it got under the coaches’ collars. (Imagine that?)

     It was great to be a player/reporter because you got the inside story. Unfortunately, there is no freedom of the press when a coach tells you to “knock it off”. I think there might have even been something about a reward of getting to run extra laps everyday,  before practice. I did learn that there is “power in the pen”. I also learned that no one likes criticism; especially from some high school kid. I also learned a new term,  “rabble rouser”.

     Where am I headed with this rabbit trail? Well, I can’t really remember what I wrote back then, but I’m glad I don’t have to be accountable for it today.  That’s why I am always fascinated with the  machinations and process, when a Supreme Court nominee is facing scrutiny by the US Senate. 

     Everyone wants to find anything that has been written by the nominee. They pull out every writing and study it like the FBI studied the Unabomber’s manifesto, looking for clues. Well, maybe that’s not such a good metaphor for law. OK, they study the nominee’s past writings with a fine tooth comb.

     On Friday, 160,000 pages of documents were being readied and about half  were released  from the Clinton Library, which represents  the writings and works during Kagan’s tenure as a Clinton White House lawyer. Now, Senate clerks will begin “combing” over these documents to look for clues that might suggest the thinking and moral compass of nominee Elena Kagan.

     Historically, nominees have repeatedly surprised, when they have become Justices. Some supposed liberals show conservatism and some conservatives become “middle of the roaders”. It may be that the clues are not in past papers. Maybe it would be better served to talk to the everyday people that interact with the nominee and have personal relationships. What influences them today?

     I’m glad that I am not judged by my sophomoric writings of “B-Ball Probe”. Past writings probably show state of mind at the time, or even mood. In fact, maybe they show a leaning toward what an employer was seeking. This nominee’s writings might be  more about President Clinton than about her. Well, I guess it gives something for Senate clerks to work on,  late into the night.  Soon, our airways will be filled with those golden nuggets that were penned back then.

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