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Apr. 14 2010 — 5:33 pm | 475 views | 1 recommendations | 4 comments

When Goodfellas grow old

Mug shot of John Dillinger

John Dillinger


It is always about the score.

When they were much younger men, the scores were always bigger in scope, the plans worked out months in advance, the steps repeated over and over until any potential for human error was eliminated. In 1980, when they were at the top of their game, Jerry “The Monk” Scalise and Arthur “The Genius” Rachel stole the 45-carat Marlborough diamond out of a London jewelry store in the light of day. They were eventually caught and convicted, but the boldness of the heist still is remembered.

 Last week, 30 years later, the old fellas were at it again, this time at work on their Chicago turf. They had devoted many months to two large-scale heists. One involved an armored car; the other centered on the home invasion of Angelo “The Hook” LaPietra, their now dead former mob boss. They were joined in the planning of the jobs by Robert “Bobby” Pullia.

They studied the ins and outs of that armored car heist as if they were prepping for the Law Boards, the lift set for a Thursday morning when the truck always stopped for a cash pick-up outside of a bank in suburban La Grange. The second job, the home break-in, was to take place in Bridgeport, where the old hoods believed their former capo had several million stashed somewhere inside the well-fortified house now occupied by a lone female. The two jobs, if successful, would set them up for the rest of their days.

 They worked their plan with patience and care, listening to the cops on scanners, switching cars and driving slow and then fast just to see if they were being tailed. It was a job right out of the movie “Heat,” which was directed by the great Michael Mann. Not surprising then is the fact that Scalise, now 73, had been hired by Mann to work as a technical consultant on “Public Enemies,” last year’s movie about legendary bank robber John Dillinger (portrayed by Johnny Depp). In his glory days, Scalise was a top-tier getaway driver, taking to the job because he didn’t want to risk being spotted inside a bank due to a deformed hand which could easily be ID’d by witnesses. This led him to acquire another nickname (they do love their nicknames), “The General,”  since he often kept the hand buried inside a shirt, much like Napoleon.

If you rent the DVD of “Public Enemies” and watch the special features, you will see and hear Scalise part with some of the skill and expertise he often used to rob banks and jewelry stores of their cash and wares. He comes across as smart, savvy, relaxed, comfortable with who he is and what he has spent most of his life doing. And he never claims to be a saint. He is pure hood all the way.

So now they sit where they have sat for so many times over so many years–held without bond, in a cell, waiting for a detention hearing. Scalise, 73. Rachel, 71. Pullia, 69. FBI mob expert James Wagner said after their arrest last week, “These guys don’t have a pension. No matter how old they are, they’re still very dangerous.”

The FBI was on them from the start. Young fellas, middle-age fellas, old fellas, the habits and the MO’s stay the same. They tracked them until the old crew were ready to make their move and then swooped in and slammed on the cuffs. And while they have them in custody, the feds are also looking into their role in a 2007 robbery of another bank in La Grange. They have a getaway car and they have Scalise’s DNA splashed all over that car (DNA was not something Mr. Dillinger had to concern himself with; his problems were wrapped around a love of women and movies).  Now, given the various charges pending against the Golden Boys, they could well spend the rest of their lives behind prison bars, eating their meals off trays.

Scalise has himself a pretty sharp lawyer, but it’s going to take more than smooth talk and a shake ‘n’ bake of the evidence to clear the trio. Their hour-glass may have finally run out.

I doubt these old men would want it any other way. They are career criminals, old school. They are not going to mug an old woman on a subway or toss a guy for his wallet and a paycheck he needs to feed his family. They may be ruthless and cold-blooded and they are indeed thieves but they hit the places where the scores are and they do their best to walk away from a job free of blood with pockets crammed with cash and jewels. In no way do I condone what they do, but if we are to have crime in our midst and we always have and will, I would prefer, as a great cop once told me, to have it be organized crime rather than disorganized crime.

On Easter Sunday, in Times Square in New York City, four people were wounded for no reason other than rival gang members were bored. In New Orleans over the weekend, seven people were shot and wounded because of a gang dispute. These thugs are criminals, too, they just don’t belong in the same cell block as Scalise, Rachel and Pullia.

Perhaps I come at this from a skewered perspective. I am the son of an ex-con. I grew up in the company of many men who served prison time or as they referred to it as “my college years.” They would tell stories of the hoods of their youth, from the street genius of Bumpy Johnson to the devotion and skill bank robber Willie Sutton brought to a job in place of a gun. They talked of famous shoot-outs they had either witnessed as young men or heard about through prison bar talk, including the all-night Upper West Side stand of “Two-Gun” Crawley which later became the basis for the classic James Cagney/Humphrey Bogart movie, “Angels with Dirty Faces.” They showed me the spot on 8th Avenue in the 20s, where, inside a shuttered phone booth, the short, violent reign of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll was brought to an end, over 100 machine gun bullets sealing his deal. And I was often told the story of the set-up job done on Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, tossed out of his sixth floor room at the Half-Moon Hotel the night before he was to testify at a mob trial, a handful of police officers stationed outside the door.  Many of these storytellers (my father included)  worked the West Side docks, just a few short streets away, on cargo ships, in the hole of the ”Pistol Piers” run by ”Tough Tony” Anastasia, whose brother Albert helped form the notorious Murder, Inc.  

These and dozens of  other such stories were a part of my childhood, heard sitting around a tenement stoop on long, hot summer nights, johnny pumps open to full throttle, streets filled with people trying to catch a breeze and a break from the heat. Pulling a cold one from a nearby cooler or taking a long drink of home made wine from a jug, they would spin yarns well into the coolness of the early morning. Those nights–Italian music playing from someone’s radio, our mothers huddled around garden chairs sharing the latest in neighborhood gossip, and me and my friends sittings next to gruff men who had survived tough times on hard streets–are ones I will always cherish and hold close.

So, while I don’t appreciate the actions of “The Monk,” “The Genius” or “Bobby,” I understand who they are and why they tried to do what they attempted to do.

They are gangsters from a school whose doors have long been shutttered.

They are the last of a dying breed.

Somewhere, in some bar, in some city, late on a quiet night, many an old timer will raise a final toast their way.

Apr. 6 2010 — 3:13 pm | 222 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

A welcome return to the field of dreams

{{en|Broadcaster Vin Scully singing Take Me Ou...

The voice of baseball--Vin Scully.

Baseball is back and it couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

I can now focus my attention on the beauty of a sport I have loved since childhood and one whose grace and sheer simplicity will help wash away the horrors of what has been a dreadful and frightening winter.

I no longer need to dwell on the sins of my faith, the Catholic Church, and the open sewer it has become, a safe haven for pedophiles and men of God who dress as if they were ordained Kings instead of servants of the people. And while their horrors and sins of omission can never be cast aside, I will  reserve my prayers for the wounded thousands these thugs in roman collars and their enablers have left in their wake and will then focus my attentions on the beauty of a Ryan Howard home run swing or the magnificent grace of an ageless Mariano Rivera each time he steps to the mound. And while I never again will enter a Catholic Church and leave money behind to pay for the trials of child molesters as school after school is allowed to close without any sign of concern from the powers that be, I will always cherish the beauty of an empty ballpark on warm summer evenings. If these evil men truly believe in a power greater than themselves, then they should look to their teachings and do the right thing. But they won’t. They will, from the Pope on down, continue to live like Barons and sin like the devil.

    I can now wonder if Pablo Sandoval of the Giants will continue to grow as a player, the potential heir apparent to the great Tony Gywnn, instead of listening to the hateful and racist remarks put forth by the esteemed members of the Tea Bag party and its various off-shoots. These are men who spit at African-American members of Congress, called Civil Rights hero John Lewis the n-word and threw crumpled bills at a crippled old man. But they claim they are what America is all about and somehow their country is being taken away. Well, if their actions highlight what country it is they claim to be losing, they can have it.

  They also speak about the Founding Fathers at every opportunity, as if any member of that esteemed group, from Jefferson to Franklin to either John or Sam Adams, would spend a second of time in their company. These rodeo clowns often claim to be men of God and faith (which few of the Founding Fathers were) and yet their actions and their words tell us otherwise. They are small-minded and frightened, holding aloft signs portraying the duly-elected President of this country as a Nazi or a Stalinist or a Fascist, having little knowledge of the history of any of those movements. Would their venom, their hatred be as vicious and as fueled by anger and bloodlust if the President of the United States were white?

  They may be part of America, but it is the ugliest part and I want nothing to do with their white sheet summer sale activities. Instead, I’ll focus on whether my favorite pitcher, Barry Zito of the Giants, can finally put together a solid year and leave the mound a winner by season’s end. Or if Jeff Francoeur of the Mets, who plays the game with boundless joy and energy, can manage to drive in 100 runs and hit over .285. They have earned my attention and respect. The Tea Baggers can go and listen to Rush and his distortions of fact and history (you give weight to the words of a drug addict, you deserve to be called knee-walking dumb) or Mr. America himself, Sean Hannity, the angriest multi-millionaire I’ve ever seen. 

  Thanks to baseball, I will be free to ignore Texas and its quest to change the textbooks of their state (and a few others in the process). Here is just one change they are attempting to put into play in order to be, what’s that phrase? Aaaah, yes. Fair and balanced. They would like to eliminate or minimize Thomas Jefferson and his place in history and replace him with that genius of the modern era, Newt Gingrich. Let’s see now. We lose the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and pick a man who condemned President Clinton for cheating on his wife while he himself was cheating on his wife. That is what Newt brings to the table, plus the fact he has put his name on the cover of a number of unreadable books. In his circles, that ranks him as a genius. Forget him and pay attention to Cole Hamels of the Phillies and see if he can have a solid rebound year or if the Mets pitching rotation is indeed a shambles once we get past Santana.

   I have no room these next few months for Mitt or Rudy and have long walked away from trying to figure out one sentence ever uttered by Sarah Palin that actually makes sense. I would much rather see Derek Jeter throw one from deep in the hole or Pudge Rodriquez call a game as only he can.  Karl Rove will remain on mute while I sit back and watch the great Pujols jack another one out of the park. And Jim Bunning can just disappear into the Kentucky sunset, a bitter old man who once was a great ballplayer.

 Perhaps by the time the first phenom of spring training turns into an early season bust, the job market will continue to improve and people out of work for far too long will find that steady paycheck they so desperately need. For them, it has been the longest of winters and listening to the inaccurate words of angry men fanning flames of racism and hate will not help them get any closer to that elusive job. But spending a few hours watching or listening to a baseball game, in the dead of summer, surrounded by a young son or daughter, maybe while tossing a ball, might be exactly what they need to temporarily put their problems aside. 

 And while China and India go all-in on green energy and jobs, the President is mocked for wanting to focus on the future and bring those jobs to our shores. Instead, we continue to feed our jones for oil, mock climate change and try to lessen the importance of science in our schools, looking to replace it with that seven-day wonder, creationism. I doubt very much the world was created in seven days or six, though I never doubt Babe Ruth called that home run shot back in his glory days and Gaylord Perry threw a spitter every chance he had and with great effect.

 It is now the time for baseball.

It is a sport that once was guilty of the worst kind of racism and it then made the move to correct that horrible injustice. And guess what happened? It only became a greater game. All the screamers and haters sitting in the safe seats (the tea baggers of their day) spewed their venon and ridicule. Other players turned their backs on teammates because of the color of their skin. But the game survived. Those players who stood tall are long remembered and honored. And those others, the ones filled with contempt and jealousy and hate? No one even remembers their names and if they do, it is often with scorn attached.

 So, goodbye to the insane Congresswoman from Minnesota. Aloha to the Minority Leader with the addiction to tanning salons. And a justified turning of the back to every leader of the Catholic Church. It would be wise for them to remember the words of the man whose life they claim to follow: “Whatever you do to the least of me, you do to me.”

If they were true men of faith, they would resign in shame and leave the church in the hands of those who care and do the actual work, the foot soldiers of the faith–the nuns and the brothers.

But all that is for another day and best left to a greater power.

I will instead listen to the soothing words of the great man himself, Vin Scully, as he begins to announce another season of Dodger baseball. He does it with modesty, class, intelligence and a deep knowledge of the game he so very much loves. He is indeed a rare gift and one to be cherished.

 It is time for baseball. A fresh and clean start.

And time to wash away the hatred and filth of a long and ugly winter.


Feb. 8 2010 — 4:12 pm | 882 views | 1 recommendations | 5 comments

Tom Tancredo hates my mother


he would not have let my mother vote.

Over the weekend, a group calling themselves Tea Party Nation held a gathering at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. There, with many dressed in their finest Revolutionary War outfits, they paid good money to listen to a handful of speakers, including someone who briefly served as the Governor of Alaska.

One of those speakers was former Republican Congressman Thomas Gerard Tancredo, a small man with a giant appetite for hate. During his less than remarkable speech, Mr. Tancredo claimed people “who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English” essentially decided the last election. You know? The one that put an African-American in the White House. He went on to suggest a literacy test be required to insure such a travesity does not ever again happen to the country he claims to love. A literacy test which would effectively bring back the days of Jim Crow. A literacy test which prevented African-Americans from voting. A literacy test which was banned by the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

 Now, you would expect such statements to produce outrage from the crowd or, at the very least, a smattering of boos. Well, you would be wrong, such sane acts do not occur in the Real America of either Tea Party revelers or GOP supporters. Tancredo received wild applause and later was congratulated by Jason Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, who called the former Congressman,”an amazing politician.”

 It is no secret Tancredo hates immigrants–regardless of color or nationality. He doesn’t see them as hard-working people trying to make a life in this country (much like his very own Italian-born grandparents). He puts no human face to them at all. Which means, Mr. Tancredo would have hated my mother.

My mother was born in Italy. By the age of 24, she had already suffered the loss of a husband, a six-month old child and a younger brother to disease and the bombs of World War II. Eight years later, she married my father and spent 35 years in a long, lonely, abusive and poverty-ravaged relationship. In the process, though she spoke barely a word of English, she became a proud citizen of the United States. She voted in every election, even though she could neither pronounce the word ‘vote’ nor spell it. I remember the hours we both put in as she prepped for the test which would certify her as a US citizen. One of the questions was to name the first President of the United States. In the event my mom forgot George Washington’s name, I asked her to keep a dollar bill folded in her hand.

She passed the test and cried when the Judge pronounced her and the others in the crowded room US citizens.

But if Tom Tancredo had his way, she would never have had the chance to vote. Instead, she would be ridiculed by a small-minded man and his merry band of followers. And maybe my mother couldn’t speak English as well as Mr. Tancredo but here’s what else my mother couldn’t and wouldn’t do:

She wouldn’t join a group called Young Americans for Freedom as the student activist Tancredo did and give speeches in support of the Vietnam War. But when it came time to show his real Tea Bag colors, as it did when he received 1-A draft status in 1970, Mr. Tancredo did not go fight as he had urged so many others to do. He came armed with a doctor’s note which claimed he suffered from depression and panic attacks reducing his status to 1-Y deferment. Further proof that the ones who are always eager to send our young men and women into harm’s way have never themselves fought in the field of battle. They just go to the dinners.   

My mother would not raise her hand as Mr. Tancredo did when asked during a Republican debate for the Presidential nomination if he did not believe in the theory of evolution. She knew her Bible and may have lacked for a formal education, but she wasn’t an idiot–she never bought into the theory of a man with a white beard sitting on a cloud who looked an awful lot like Charlton Heston inventing the world and all that’s in it in six days and on the seventh kicked back and popped open a keg of beer.

My mother would not create something called Team America as Tancredo did and put it in the hands of a man who assaulted and insulted an African-American woman and pled guilty to the charges. She would certainly not have kept him on the job after he copped the plea, as Tancredo chose to do.

She would not have voted against the renewal of the Voting Rights Act as Mr. Tancredo has done nor would she have called Justice Sonia Sotomayor a racist as he has done on more than one occasion.

 My mother died in 2004, so she did not hear the words spoken by this angry and bitter man. But there are others who did hear them and said nothing. Not one single representative of the Republican Party has yet to condemn his words. And they have had plenty of opportunity to do so, to come down on the hate and to side with what is good and decent.

 You know who did pin Tancredo to the mat? Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas. On an MSNBC program, Moulitsas came out in favor of health care reform and used the care given to veterans as an example of a government-run program. On the other side, Tom Tancredo scoffed at such a notion and claimed that veterans would prefer a private choice.

And that was his big mistake, taking on Moulitsas. Yes, the right can attack the man and they like to poke fun of him, but the kid has chops and the kid also has done something Tancredo and his ilk never had the courage to do–he served his country. “I’m a veteran,” Moulitsas said. “I did not get a deferment because I was too depressed to fight a war I supported in Vietnam. I’m a veteran and veterans want a more effective V.A.”

 And what did Tom Tancredo do? He demanded an apology for being called what he was–a coward–and when he did not get one he stormed off the show. As he does whenever he is asked to stand his ground and fight, Tancredo runs. Maybe he headed for the doctor’s office to get another note. 

My mother would have loved that. She always liked it when punks were shown the door and bullies were beaten at their own game.

 I was ashamed to learn that Tom Tancredo is Italian-American. As if we didn’t have it bad enough with a high drop-out rate and growing drug problem among our youth. And for every Mario Cuomo we get up and out, we somehow end up with a million tattooed melons like the “Jersey Shore” crowd. So, the last thing we as a group needed on our plate was this gnat spewing his venon in Nashville.   

I’m afraid the hate will not end, there are far too many people in this country who feel the way Mr. Tancredo does. Some hide their words better, some are sharper and have learned to use the coded language that their fellow brethern seem to understand and embrace, others are brazen and shout it out loud and often. The election of an African-American has given them free reign to open the flood gates of hatred–of minorities, immigrants, gays, working women, or just anyone who is not like them, looks like them, thinks as they do.

I don’t know what kind of an America these people who ridicule science, insult hard-working immigrants (many who have sons and daughters fighting overseas, Mr. “Can I have another Xanax”  Tancredo), mock gays, hate unions, and point with disdain at other countries as if our land was perfect and free of poverty and strive want.

They do seem eager to embrace war, that never seems to bother them, so long as they are not the ones doing the fighting and the dying.  

They look to the past for their answers, a past where they controlled the levers, where they decided who could vote and who couldn’t and who could work and who had to sit by the sidelines and watch. 

A past filled with discrimination and hatred.

A past where a woman like my mother would be laughed at for not being able to say the word ‘vote’ or spell it. As if that very act serves as the calling card of a model citizen.

A past where the tools of ignorance were embraced as if they were a badge of honor.

A past that is all too painfully crawling on its belly toward our present.

Jan. 20 2010 — 11:43 am | 514 views | 2 recommendations | 1 comment

Robert B. Parker: The Professional

The Godwulf Manuscript

The first Spenser novel, published in 1973.

A good man died yesterday.

A good man who just happened to be a great writer.

Robert B. Parker was 77, knocked out by a heart attack while he sat at his desk at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts doing what he loved and what few could do any better–write a story. He leaves behind an impressive body of work, 69 published works of both fiction and non, with a few more in the pipeline due to hit stores later this year. He also leaves us with a character who will never die, one who is destined to live for as long as detective fiction and good novels are allowed to exist, a rough but romantic private eye by the name of Spenser.

The 38 books in the Spenser series which began in 1973 with the publication of “The Godwulf Manuscript” and went up to last year’s aptly titled “The Professional,” kept alive the long literary line that began with Hammett and Chandler, went down river with Ross MacDonald and flowed into open waters with Ed McBain. The novels are complete and vivid portraits of a complicated man living in Boston, a city he loves as much as any woman or friend, doing his best to bring a small taste of justice to those so often damaged by shadow figures with deep pockets and veiled agendas.

 Parker’s Spenser was no burnt-out PI living on unfiltered cigarettes and stale coffee. He loved to cook, liked fine wine, was loyal to a fault to his lethal friend Hawk and his passion for the ladies never wavered, especially the love of his life, Susan Silverman. There was a lot of Robert Brown Parker in Spenser, the eternal character whose first name few know (initially he was going to be called David, after one of Parker’s two sons. But Parker didn’t want to exclude his other son, Daniel, so he decided to give his creation only the one name). Both Parker and Spenser eat in the same restaurants; they both love basketball and jazz; they are both veterans of the Korean War; and they can both throw a punch in a pinch.

 While Parker honored the traditions of Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald, he went them several steps better. He modernized the PI novel, opened the pages of his stories to include strong African-American, Hispanic and gay characters. His women are not damsels in distress, but women who can handle the hard ground as well as any man and, on occasion, best him at his own game.

 In 1977, Parker began a second series, this one featuring Jesse Stone, a small-town police chief trying to sift through the dark sands of his past. There have been eight Stone novels in all with a ninth due later this year. A third series, this one led by Sunny Randall (a character originally written for the actress Helen Hunt) as a private investigator on the prowl, went six novels deep. And still there was more.

Parker didn’t so much work at the business of writing, he attacked it. He wrote ten pages a day and then re-wrote until he was pleased with the words springing from the page. He was at his desk every day, the disciplined author eager to master his craft, getting better at it with the passage of time.

 Parker wrote four novels set in the Old West (with a fifth coming out this year). One of them, “Appaloosa,” was turned into a feature film starring and directed by Ed Harris. He completed Raymond Chandler’s last novel, “Poodle Springs,” and then wrote a sequel to Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” called “Perchance to Dream.” He published two YA novels (with still a third coming our way) and four stand-alones, including my favorite Parker novel, “All Our Yesterdays.”

 And the hard work backed by the talent paid off.  His books were almost always bestsellers, earning him millions. He earned even more from the Spenser TV series in the 1980s that starred the late Robert Urich and the yearly CBS Jesse Stone TV movies with Tom Selleck in the lead role. On occasion, he would write with his wife Joan (whom he met when both were still toddlers). Together, they published two works of non-fiction and several television scripts. In 1994, he joined with the Japanese photographer Kasho Kumagai for a coffee table book called “Spenser’s Boston,” which mixed four-color photos of the city Parker knew and loved with excerpts from his novels.

 He won enough writing honors to fill a half-dozen shelves, including the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America (the Hall of Fame for those in that end of the arena) and earned both a Masters degree and a PhD in English Literature from Boston University. He also spent a brief time working in the “Mad Men” advertising world of the late 50’s and early 60’s (much like his contemporary and compadre in crime, Elmore Leonard).

  I didn’t know Robert B. Parker well. I interviewed him several times in the 1980s, during my years earning money working for newspapers and magazines. He was funny, smart, sharp and terrific company. He knew his sports as well as he knew how to pace a novel and had an insatiable curiosity to know as much as he could about any subject that piqued his interest. He was a writer who lived in the real world and that reality is reflected in his work. His stories are filled with flesh and blood characters, many drawing the short straw of life, forced to go up against those with the means and the will to always get their way. Spenser was there for them, eager for the fight, never taking a step back, especially when the client lacked the money or the power to take on the ones who worked out of large corner offices or in the mouth of a dark alley.

 Robert B. Parker will be missed, but the work will live. It is true for all the great ones and he was one of our best. The tales he told will be found on library shelves, bookstore racks, in Kindles or whatever other forms the written word will take these next several years. They will be there for those who want to learn about a great American city, or for those eager to grab a new recepie or get a leg-up on a good bottle of wine, or find out which restaurant to hit next time they’re in town.

 They will be there for those who want to see an injustice made right and a criminal brought down, the Spenser way. They will be there for anyone who loves great dialogue and characters who live and breath on every page.

They will be there for anyone eager to hold a great story in their hands.

A great story told to them by a gifted writer.

Robert Brown Parker of Massachusetts.



Dec. 31 2009 — 2:05 pm | 326 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Congressman Eric Massa: The Street Fighter

{{w|Eric Massa}}, member of the United States ...

Give 'em hell, Eric

      Democratic Congressman Eric Massa has been in office less than a year. He represents a district, the 29th in upstate New York, with a Republican voting pattern, and he won his seat by a mere 5,000 votes. You could therefore assume that Congressman Massa would be lumped in with the cluster of blue dog Democrats who quake and quiver whenever they might have to take a stance or place a vote that would put them in danger of winning re-election.

  But Eric Massa has never been a man to quake and quiver and that’s not going to change just because he is now a member of Congress. He was born a fighter and has been one all his life and, in his short time in office, he has put on the gloves and gone after any and all he thinks are placing this country on the wrong track, whether they are members of his own party or the we-march-as-one Republicans.

 And Eric Massa is one of the few in Congress who can back up his words with the actions of his life. He is the son of a career Navy officer and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981. He served the Navy for 24 years, rising through the ranks and ending his career as an aide to General Wesley Clark when Clark was NATO Supreme Allied Commander. Massa didn’t leave by choice. He left because he was told he was going to die.

 While still in the Navy, Massa was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was told the chances for a cure were slim.  He left the Navy, took the fight to cancer and beat it into remission. He was a Republican in those days but turned his back on that party after the  decision to go to war with Iraq; instead, he went to work in New Hampshire to campaign for his former boss, Wesley Clark, during his failed bid for the presidency.

 Now, as a member of Congress, Massa has become a popular target for right-wing radio and the Republican attack machine.  He is opposed to the war in Afghanistan, calling it, “a fool’s errand.” He claims, ”We will never create a Jeffersonian democracy in that country and the members of our military should not be sent to fight and die simply to secure an election.”  He sees the job of our soliders in these troubled times as a simple one. “Our mission is to kill or capture terrorists,” he has said. “It does not call for an occupation of any foreign nation.” He also was less than pleased that the massive costs of both wars were funded off-budget.

 Massa is in favor of health care reform, though he prefers a single-payer system. He called Senator Charles Grassley’s comments comparing the proposed end-of-life care to the government wanting to kill our grandmothers “an act of treason.” He has also challenged former Vice-President Dick Cheney to debate him on the merits of the war on terror. “I’ll go on his home turf, Fox, and go head to head with him,” Massa has said. “He stands on quicksand when it comes to matters of national security.”

 To add weight to his argument, Congressman Massa notes that it was Cheney who is personally responsible for the release of the terrorists who planned the Christmas Day underwear bomb attack on Northwest flight 253, sent out of Gitmo in 2007. That it was Cheney who dropped the ball in early August, 2001, leading  to the deadly attack of September 11. That it was Cheney who argued that the war front be in Iraq, distracting our aim from the terrorist target.

 ”I’m sick and tired of Cheney taking shots not only against this administration but, by implication, any man or woman who served their country,” Massa said. ”He needs to go away.”

  He has also rebuked Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina for holding up the much-needed vote to name Erroll Southers as head of the TSA out of fear Southers might allow his workers to join a union. “This is not about Democrats, progressives, liberals, conservatives or Republicans,” Massa said. “This is an issue for Americans. We have some tremendous problems to solve in this country. Guys like him need to get out of the way so we can get to them.”

 As to those on the right so quick to attack President Obama for taking 72 hours before his  response to the Christmas Day attempted plane bombing, Massa had this to say: “The President took the time to gather the facts before he spoke. Bush didn’t say a word for seven days after the shoe bomber attempted his attack. Seven days.”

 I would love to see a debate between Rep. Massa and Dick Cheney. Especially when the main issue would be fighting terror and wars and putting our young men and women in harm’s way. Those are issues Massa has experienced first hand. The only action Cheney has seen involves hiding in a bluff waiting, as Vince Vaughn said, forced to hunt in “The Wedding Crashers,”  “for the big bad quail to come out and get him.” 

 If you can beat cancer, as Eric Massa has done, bringing down a man who has always let others do the fighting for him–from Vietnam dodging to Scooter Libby–should be a cakewalk. 

  We need more elected officials like Eric Massa in the halls of Congress. Not afraid to disagree with the sitting President of his party, a man who argues with facts and logic, who looks out for the men and women in uniform with more than mere words and flag waving but with concern for their well-being and safety. A representative who votes on issues because they are good for this country, not for his wallet, and knows some of the calls that are made could well cost him votes come the next election cycle.

  I don’t know if Rep. Massa is right on all the issues. But I do know he gives weight and thought to his every decision, educates himself about the issues he confronts, and always tries to remember that every vote he casts has an impact on a man who has just lost a job in his district or a woman who cannot afford medical care for her child or a soldier sitting in a sand pit in the dead of night, fighting an an enemy he cannot see. 

  These are serious times and we need serious people at the helm.

We need real fighters, not ones who have made careers pretending they were.

We have a President to lead us now and not through movie tough guy talk or buy jumping off a fighter plane declaring an end to a war still being fought. We need him to lead by making decisive moves at the right time and under the right circumstances and against the right target. And we need him to listen to voices of calm.

If  President Obama is as smart as I believe he is, one of those voices  will belong to Congressman Eric Massa.

Retired US Naval Officer and cancer survivor.

A fighter in every way.

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    About Me

    I've written eight books (A Safe Place; Sleepers; Apaches; Gangster; Street Boys; Paradise City; Chasers and--coming in July, 2010-Midnight Angels). I've written a dozen film scripts and a half-dozen TV pilots and am working on my next one now, Night and Day for Lifetime. I also worked as a writer/producer for Law&Order and was managing editor of the CBS series Top Cops. When I was much younger I worked at the New York Daily News and for way too many magazines to list (most of them no longer in business). I love sports, politics, travel, wine, dogs, reading, working out, great Italian food, old friends, history, movies, television, plays. I live in the city where I was born, worry about my kids even though they are adults now and love quiet time in the country with my wife. The older I've become, the more liberal I've become and I don't believe everyone is entitled to an opinion. I believe everyone is entitled to an informed opinion. I hope my posts will bear that out.

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