Thursday, March 14, 2013

Blitz on Washington--Part 1, Senators

Wed., March 12, 2013
   
     8:30 AM
          Breakfast at Cosi, a coffee shop at 301 Pennsylvania Avenue.  I catch a glimpse of the Capitol a few blocks away, and my chest fills with pride the way it did in second grade when I learned "The Pledge of Allegiance" by heart.  I'm American, I say out loud.  The sky is overcast, the air is brisk, and the procession of cars taking important people to stately office buildings moves with admirable sanity.
          As I eat my bagel I notice that I'm the only one in the coffee shop not wearing black.  Is there an inauguration today, or a funeral?  No, It's Washington, D.C.  The dress code, if you're not an out-of-towner (synonymous with hick?) is:  black suit, black shoes, white shirt, dark overcoat.  Once in a while someone has an orange tie that stands out like a ray of sunrise through a crack in the front door.
 
     8:45 AM
          I walk ten blocks to the Hart Senate Building.  When I cross any street, all the cars come to a halt.  It's a new rule in DC:  pedestrians come first.
         The Capitol is majestic--nothing like it in the world.  But that sculpture of an Indian at the very top was made by a black slave, and is meant to symbolize freedom.  What blindness of intention commissioned this incongruous work of art, and are we still able to pretend, in America, that what we say and what we do are two different things?

     8:55 AM
          You have to plan for long lines if you want to get inside one of the four senate buildings (Hart, Dirksen, Russell) first thing in the morning--or get a special pass, the way the lobbyists do, in which case you can cruise like a star through a side door.  I attached myself to the tail of the long black rope of people, most texting on cell phones, shivering, underdressed, and took my turn going through security.  Once inside, the grandness of the place seemed to elevate my mission.  Everything seemed constructed of marble--pink, gray-veined, pure white.  I am told it was mined from Indiana.

     9:00  AM
          I meet up with John Stacks, who flew in from Little Rock last night.  We rush up the marvelous seven-story spiral staircase to our first meeting, with Hampton Ray, a staffer for Senator Rubio of Florida.  Staffers, legislative assistants and staff lawyers act as go-betweens for congresspeople, often meeting with constituents like me all day, taking notes, acting cordial, and attempting, as one staffer put it, "to figure out which fire is biggest and needs to be put out first."  By the time you get to a congressional leader's office, you have a problem.  Staffers consolidate these problems.  If multiple constituents have the same problem, they try to do something about it--especially if it will sway voters one day.  Hampton takes notes as I tell him the story of the FBI raid and its aftermath and he nods his head sympathetically.  But we're standing through the meeting--all the conference rooms are occupied.   He says he'll "convey" my story to the senator, but I decide to follow up with Senator Rubio in Florida next month, anyway

     9:15 AM
          Senator Boozman's is from Arkansas, so we gained access to his office through John Stacks, his constituent.  Ian Prince, the staffer, tells us that congressional hearings on important matters like gun control (being aired on C-Span all day today) and FBI overrreach are decided by the Chair of whichever committee handles the matter.
          "I care about gun control, too," I say.  "But I care about it on the other side."
          "Yes," he answers.  "If FBI agents wield guns in a irresponsible way, then everyone will want to have guns for defense."
          "Iowa Senator Grasley sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee," John Stacks says.  "Could you ask Senator Boozman to urge Senator Grasley to call for a subcommittee meeting?"
          Ian agrees to communicate with the staffers from all the senate subcommittee members, if his boss agrees.

    9:31 AM
          Senator Rubio walks past us in the hallway.
          "Go say hello to him," John urges me.
          "That's rude," I say.  "He doesn't want to be bothered by us on his way to the bathroom."
          "Oh, shoot," he says, with his Arkansas twang.  "One time I saw my senator pass by, and I went up to him and asked, 'What would it take to get two minutes of your time?'" John tells me.  "He stood there, looked at his watch, and said, 'Go!'"
          "You're braver than I am," I say.
          "After that, we were the best of friends."
          I don't expect to be "friends" with either of my senators.  But i do want them to know what's going on in the lives of their people.

     9:35 AM
          Senator Bill Nelson doesn't have time for me.  But we speak with his staffer and give him a copy of the youtube "Rampant InJustice documentary, along with some notes about a similar raid on my clinic.  "I'll be sure to let him know," the staffer tells me.

     10.00 AM
          We travel through underground tunnels connecting all the senate buildings, the Capitol and other buildings.  I am told that the tunnels serve more than the purpose of getting around without having to go outside.  In case of a military attack on Washington, congresspeople can descend below ground for safety, There is a train, too, which is filled with staffers and people from the media.

     10:30 AM
          The lobbies of these interconnected buildings are swarming with people.  Some of them have badges:  National Association of Railroad Passengers;  National Association of Chain Drugstores;  Medical Equipment Suppliers of Mississippi;  Oxford House;  Americans against Poverty.  Everyone has an agenda--there are hundreds of petitions today, but the congresspeople only have two ears each.
How can I be heard?  Maybe I should simply go home.

     11:30 AM
           Congressman Harper of Mississippi is in the Cannon Building.  We meet with his staffer, Ty Mabry.. There are pictures of the delta flooded with water and wreckage after Katrina.
          "We are asking our congresspeople to send letters to the senators on the Judiciary Committee," we say.  "Will Senator Cornyn be receptive to our problem?"  We tell the assistants about FBI raids, guns, warrants, and waste in their investigations of alleged white-collar crime
          "He'll certainly be interested," the assistants assure us.
          "You staffers and congresspeople have so many people appealing to you every day.  How do you decide which ones to listen to?" I ask.
          "There are rivers of people, and every single one has a problem," Ty said.  "It's a question of figuring out which fire is the biggest, and needs to be put out next."
           Everyone is very gracious.  Maybe it's southern gentility.  I know the staffers have to give the impression of listening.  But do they really care?
          We'll see, I guess.  Is our fire big enough?

     12:00 Noon
          Senator Pryor  (AK) sits down to a conference with us.  He is accompanied by his Chief-of-Staff, Andy York, and his legal counsel.  He is aware of the raid on Mountain Pure, Gibson Guitar and Midamor.  We talk about what can be done.
          "In the Senate, everything starts out with a little background," says Sen. Pryor.  "You talk to Leahy (the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee) to see if he might be receptive.  Is Leahy hearing this kind of thing from others?"
          "Have you heard about FBI raids like this from other constituents?" I ask.
          "Yes, there have been some stories.  But from a legislative standpoint, you have to look at protocol.  There should be a protocol that's followed.  Has the FBI breached protocol?  Has the IRS?  If so, the cases get thrown out."
          "Shouldn't something be done at a legislative level to change statutes under which FBI agents are operating, if they're too liberal, and if civilians and businesses are being harmed?"
          "Yes, but let's not jump to conclusions.  We have to do our homework.  When I ask other congresspeople to do something, they take it very seriously.  They want to do it.  So I have to make absolutely sure I'm not asking them to do something that stands in contradiction to what they believe.  I have to know the facts."
          Then, he shakes our hands and left the room.  His shoes seem heavy, as though weighted down with Ozark rock.
          Andy fills us in on how he can help.  He says he'll reiterate his request to the FBI and IRS to provide him with their protocols for agents, and their criteria for raids.  His first request went unanswered.  He'll find out whether legislation (like RICO) no longer makes sense, at least in the context of small business raids, and whether other congresspeople might take in interest in these raids.

     1:00 PM
          We take a break at nearby Union Station, a metro stop that looks more like a glamorous shopping plaza.  We plan our next round of meetings over Maryland crab cakes and Stella Artois on draft.
          Two granite plaques outside are engraved with the following:

               LET ALL THE ENDS THOU AIMST AT BE
               THY COUNTRY'S THY GOD'S AND TRUTHS
               BE NOBLE AND THE NOBELENESS THAT
               LIES IN OTHER MEN SLEEPING BUT NEVER
               DEAD WILL RISE IN MAJESTY TO MEET
               THY OWN 
       
     

     
  
         

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