Happy ‘It’s Not President’s Day’ Day

It’s not President’s Day. I know, I know, the White Sales say differently, so do the five car dealerships I just passed on Route 44. But, it’s not, because there’s no such holiday as President’s Day. It’s just Congress’ way of making Washington’s birthday fit a three day weekend.(Really – see Section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code).

washWashington’s birthday was a major holiday in the U.S. long before the Civil War, it was formalized as a Federal holiday in the 1880’s, it took an act of Congress in the late 1960’s to muddle the waters.

There was a push to move holidays to the Monday schedule we now enjoy. Given the proximity of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, Illinois tried to roll Lincoln’s Birthday into the already celebrated Washington’s Birthday Federal Holiday.

Since this new holiday, giving us all a three day weekend in the middle of February, would celebrate two prominent former presidents it was naturally enough labeled ‘President’s Day’.

Who would argue with a day devoted to Washington and Lincoln? Well, Virginia in the mid-1960s for one. The late unpleasantness between the States was only a hundred years old and Virginia didn’t like the idea of a usurper from Illinois sharing the spotlight with its most visible son. Virginia blocked the proposed bill in the House of Representatives in the discussion stage. It never passed.

The third Monday of February was designated Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday remains as it was – a state by state optional holiday. It has never been a Federal holiday.

Interestingly, Presidents since the 1968 Act don’t seem in a hurry to correct those who refer to President’s Day, opting instead to embrace the all inclusive, let’s celebrate all the Presidents Day. As in, it’s a day celebrating all 45 of us (or does Grover Cleveland get to celebrate twice?), because, hey, all President’s are created equal.

It has become the equivalent of ‘every kid gets a trophy’ – except most kids deserve it. Take, for instance:

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Warren G. Harding, he gets a trophy even though he wandered around behind the bench picking daisies while the others played;

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William H. Harrison, he only showed up for two practices and one game, but he wanted to be there;

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James Buchanan, John Tyler, and Franklin Pierce …. even though after election they were the other team’s most valuable player . . .

Could do this all day…. but that would be a waste of a nice, sunny, Washington’s Birthday .

In Re: Michael Flynn

Writing this for a friend who wanted to know what I thought about Michael Flynn.

When I heard the news that Flynn was waiving indictment and pleading guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI, I didn’t need to be told that Flynn had agreed to cooperate with Mueller.

Here’s why:

TSDLEMA EC007Werner was arrested in 2005 in Greenwich, Connecticut after spending a few afternoons wandering up and down Greenwich Avenue buying watches at every jewelry store.He used a different credit card at each store. None had his name on it.

A clerk high up on the avenue grew suspicious – as will happen when you ask someone to charge four very upscale timepieces to four different credit cards and ‘oh, by the way, the magnetic strips are all messed up, would you mind terribly manually inputting the numbers?’

The clerk called the Greenwich Police Department, which at the time was conveniently located on Greenwich Avenue. They arrested Werner at his car, they found twenty-eight credit and ATM cards in different names, six California driver’s licenses in various names, and dozens of credit card slips in the trunk.

When they searched his house in Westport they found over a quarter million dollars worth of watches, dozens of fake credit cards, fake driver’s licenses, a credit card making machine, several PCs, a hundred or so blank cards. And a semi-automatic .22 pistol.

The pistol was an additional charge because Werner had a prior felony record. He had been arrested by the FBI in California in 1990 and was convicted, after a trial, of bank fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, false statements, currency structuring and using a fictitious name. He was sentenced to 98 months in Federal prison.

After his release, he ran out on his federal probation in California to settle in Connecticut and ‘start over’.

Werner was facing state and federal charges. I saw all his paperwork and listened to him at length for far more than anyone should ever have to listen to a narcissist who reveled in his narcissism. I knew with utter ‘I took this class in law school’ certainty that his plea negotiations with the feds were starting in the mid-100 month range.  The gun was the least of it, the names he had been buying high-end watches in had all been hacked. And, the federal probation office was somewhat displeased.

There were also state charges that were still piling up and, over all, his case was a mess that only promised to get messier and uglier over the next year or so it would take to fully investigate.

But, it didn’t go that way.

Werner was arrested in late September 2005, the matter was disposed of with a guilty plea the following February, five months is an ungodly quick turnaround on such a complicated matter. Unless.

Werner pleaded guilty to a single count – possession of a firearm by a felon. There were no other charges. He was sentenced to 27 months, he served 16, undoubtedly in a very comfortable camp.

The government got (eventually) the superhacker Max Butler, and a Wired.com editor got a bestselling book, Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground.

That’s how this always works. Since such deals are never predicated on giving up people down the chain …

The 11th hour of the 11th Day …

rrhicks

Today is Armistice Day.  It’s still celebrated in one manner or the other around the world, mostly, unsurprisiww123ngly, by the countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, last vestiges of the British Empire that they are.

Dwight Eisenhower changed Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day in 1954, though it took decades to sort it out (On the 11th? On the Monday closest? What about the 27 states that already had Armistice Day in their holiday playbook?).

Eisenhower noted that The War to End All Wars hadn’t and Armistice Day had taken on a different meaning,

“… Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the…

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This Day in June, 1876

For a guy who named his company Forlorn Hope, I don’t really get the fascination with the Battle of Little Big Horn.

June 25, 1876. Custer’s Last Stand . . .  has any other piece of our history generated more (a) ‘experts’, i.e. everyone who has seen a movie or read anything on Little Big Horn; (b) books per capita of men engaged in battle – just under 700 troopers with Custer, perhaps as many as 1800 Native American warriors, 4,275 books listed on Amazon today; (c) debates – scholarly and otherwise – over exactly what happened; (d) movies; (e) [really] bad art; (f) [really] bad acting; (g) enduring myths?

Just  to get a bit of perspective, the Seventh Cavalry’s total casualties for the day were 258 killed, 52 wounded – that’s right, wounded, Custer’s command was not wiped out, he split his forces (through the mists of time one can almost hear him thinking “it worked for Robert E. Lee”), the five companies unlucky enough to follow him were annihilated, the others managed to get along under extraordinarily harsh conditions without their leader (who was hardly beloved in any event).  Three hundred and ten casualties – that represents about six minutes of fighting at Antietam, Marye’s Hill, Cold Harbor.

June 25, 1876It’s a curious and very American phenomenon, this veneration, fascination with what amounts to a nasty skirmish. Less than three years later the British would lose 1,300 men (every infantryman) to 20,000 Zulus at Islandlwana.  This generated surprise and disgust in the UK (and the obligatory formal painting) but no sub-culture “Chelsmford’s Last Stand” – although part of that battle was fought during a solar eclipse that gave it a glow of eeriness not present at the Little Big Horn.  June 25, 1876The very next day about 180 British soldiers held off at least 3,000 Zulus for 24 hours at Rorke’s Drift – that was briefly celebrated, then forgotten until the movie Zulu was released in 1964 (on many Top Ten war movie lists, mine included).

There doesn’t seem to be the same fascination with the United States’ worst defeat to Native-Americans. One that dwarfs Little Bighorn.

November 4, 1791 on the Wabash River in Ohio.  One quarter of the full strength of the American army under Gen, Arthur St. Clair met forces of the Western Confederacy under Little Turtle and Blue Jacket. The Native Americans annihilated St. Clair’s forces. Of St. Clair’s 920 men, 632 were killed, 264 wounded. The American casualty rate of 97.4 percent is the worst casualty rate for a single action in American military history to date.

And yet, no books, no movies, no one’s walking the banks of the Wabash by Fort Recovery, Ohio trying to figure out where St. Clair went wrong (he was one of the few survivors, so no general going down … plus, he didn’t wear buckskins).

Custer’s Last Stand, though, endures.  As excellent a writer as Nathaniel Philbrick, fresh off one of the best non-fiction books of past years, Mayflower, saw the need for yet another book about it.(I haven’t read it yet, but I hope he did what David Hackett Fischer did in Washington’s Crossing and included several chapters on mythology, art, books, etc).

Archaeologists still comb the field debating where and when Custer fell (shouldn’t they be looking for the lost Ark or something more . . .  relevant?); 400,000 tourists a year go out of their way visit the field in the middle of nowhere; there’s probably a dozen more books on the way.

On any given day in the middle of the summer there’s probably more people walking the fields than there were combatants, and that’s just …

By the way – is They Died with Their Boots On the most entertaining-least-historically -accurate movie of all time?

The Box

rrhicks

Someone, somewhere, sometime last week asked me to explain ‘plea bargaining’. My first attempt was fairly pathetic and I was about to bag it with a ‘I can’t talk about it’ sigh of self pity when the perfect image hit me – the box. Then the whole thing fell into place and it goes like this:

When you are held in pre-trial detention, in the absence of bail and most forms of common decency – the ‘back stairs justice system’ I oft times talk of – plea negotiations are surreal. Cut off from family, friends, potential witnesses and access to files and, well, evidence, it’s pretty much like playing poker without being allowed to look at your cards.

My plea ‘negotiations’ began with “Okay, hey, they may convene a Grand Jury and try to get an indictment, but if you get ahead of it, save them the time and trouble…

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Speaking of Royals . . .

rrhicks

In honor of the birth of yet another royal baby – a discussion between William Hanlin and General McClellan concerning the French princes on McClellan’s staff – and royalty in America:

. . . the door swung open and three men, two in magnificently tailored uniforms, the other dressed like a private, strode into the room.

Philippe_d'Orleans_Comte_de_Paris_1862McClellan was on his feet in an instant, moved to them with hand extended. He shook hands with them in turn while uttering a string of French greetings.

The result of all that was a taxing of my rusty French and my introduction to three surprising additions to McClellan’s staff – the Prince de Joinville and his nephews, the Duc de Chartes, and the Comte de Paris. Three princes of the House of Orleans.

They left us in heightened moods, a standing invitation to a HD_PrinceRobertD'Orleansnight at The Willard, sore shoulders from their back…

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The Ice Cream Truck and Baltimore

rrhicks

What happened to Freddie Gray? I have no idea. Obviously. I do, however, have an inkling. As would anyone ever transported by police, sheriffs, marshals, Correctional Officers, or any one else in law enforcement who transports more than one prisoner at a time.

In Connecticut, the DOC transports inmates with court dates to local jails for parceling out to the courts. They use buses and vans. Connecticut State Marshals move inmates from jails to the courts. They use the Ice Cream Truck. AKA, the Plea Bargain Express.

The Ice Cream Truck is exactly what it sounds like, it is one of these:

icecreamtruck no

Turned into one of these:

icecrtruck1

A squat, tinny, dark truck, split into two sections by a sheet metal wall etched with  graffiti going back to first Bush Administration. Low metal benches run along both sides; the roof is about three and a half feet high. Inmates are manacled together…

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