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Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

STRIPPING DOWN FOR THE FBI

In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement on September 27, 2013 at 12:00 am

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has always encouraged Americans to report anything they consider a threat to national security or a violation of Federal law.

But recently the FBI has adopted a practice that is almost certain to sharply decrease the number of people willing to report knowledge of a crime.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine named Jim visited the San Francisco field office of the FBI.  He wanted to report a violation of Federal computer fraud and harassment laws.

This meant visiting the San Francisco Federal Building (technically named the Phillip Burton Federal Building, in honor of the late San Francisco Congressman).

At 450 Golden Gate Avenue, located close to the Civic Center and City Hall, it serves as a courthouse of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

It also lhouses offices for such Federal law enforcement agencies as the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshal’s Service.

To enter, you must first show a driver’s license or State ID card.  Then you must remove

  • Your belt
  • Your shoes
  • Your watch
  • Your wallet
  • All other objects from your pants pockets
  • Any jacket you’re wearing
  • Any cell phone you’re carrying

All of these must be placed in one or more large plastic containers, which are run through an x-ray scanner.

Then, assuming you avoid setting off any alarm system, you’re set for your next big screen test.

This comes when you enter the 13th floor office of the FBI.

According to Jim: You walk into a large room filled with several comfortable chairs that sit close to the floor.  Ahead is a window such as you find in a bank–made of thick, presumably bulletproof glass.

A secretary on the opposite side greets you, and asks why you’ve come.

You say that you want to speak with an agent about what you believe is a violation of Federal law.

If you’ve done your homework, you should know at least the general legal area this violation falls under.  And you’re even better-off if you know what division of the FBI is assigned to handle it.

For example: Jim knew the acts he wanted to report were a violation of Federal anti-computer hacking and harassment laws.  He also knew that these violations are handled by the FBI’s Cybercrime Division.

So he asked to speak with an agent from that division.

The secretary said she would see what she could do.  But before he could speak with an agent, he would have to show her his driver’s license or State ID card.

The secretary made a xerox of this, and then handed the card back.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, he had to fill out a single-page form, where he was required to provide his:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Social Security Number
  • The reason he wanted to speak to an agent

Of course, he could refuse to fill out the form.  But then the secretary would refuse to let him meet with an FBI agent to gain help in resolving his problem.

In Jim’s case, his request to speak with an agent specializing in Cybercrime was denied.   He would up speaking instead with the “duty agent”–whichever luckless person has been assigned to deal with the public that day.

Unofficially, the “duty agent” is the one who takes the “nut calls” from, among others, the mentally disabled who claim they’re picking up KGB transmissions in the fillings of their teeth.

In Jim’s case, the “duty agent” he drew specialized in Gang Violence.  While this is definitely a worthy subject for investigation, it had nothing to do with the matter Jim wanted to talk about.

The agent candidly said he knew nothing about cybercrime.  Which meant he couldn’t give Jim even the barest information about what he might expect to happen after submitting his report.

Fortunately, Jim had thought ahead enough to write up a detailed, three-page report of the cyber attacks he had recently experienced.  He now gave this to the agent.

The agent promised to forward it to the Cybercrime Division.

Jim asked when he might hear from someone there.  The agent said this was highly unlikely.

Jim was surprised.  The agent was in turn surprised that Jim would expect anyone to get back to him.

“I would think,” said Jim, “they would want to ask me a few questions.  And give me some idea as to what was going on in my case.”

The agent said that if the FBI wanted more information, they would contact him.  And, no, they wouldn’t give him any hints about what–if anything–was happening in his case.

That was assuming they chose to investigate it.

No one at the FBI ever contacted Jim.

So if you want to report a crime to the FBI, be prepared to give up a lot of your own privacy beforehand.

And don’t expect to receive even the courtesy of a call-back in exchange for all of it.

REAL IMMIGRATION REFORM

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on September 26, 2013 at 12:02 am

If Americans decide they truly want to control access to their own borders, there is a realistic way to accomplish this.

(1) The Justice Department should vigorously attack the “sanctuary movement” that officially thwarts the immigration laws of the United States.

Among the 31 “sanctuary cities” of this country: Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; San Francisco; Santa Ana; San Diego; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; Dallas; Houston; Austin; Detroit; Jersey City; Minneapolis; Miami; Denver; Baltimore; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New Haven, Connecticut; and Portland, Maine.

These cities have adopted “sanctuary” ordinances that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about one’s immigration status.

(2)  The most effective way to combat this movement: Indict the highest-ranking officials of those cities who have actively violated Federal immigration laws.

In San Francisco, for example, former District Attorney Kamala Harris—who is now California’s Attorney General—created a secret program called Back on Track, which provided training for jobs that illegal aliens could not legally hold.

She also prevented Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from deporting even those illegal aliens convicted of a felony.

(3) Indicting such officials would be comparable to the way President Andrew Jackson dealt with the threat South Carolinians once made to “nullify” any Federal laws they didn’t like.

Jackson quashed that threat by making one of his own: To lead an army into that State and purge all who dared defy the laws of the Federal Government.

(4) Even if some indicted officials escaped conviction, the results would prove worthwhile. 

City officials would be forced to spend huge sums of their own money for attorneys and face months or even years of prosecution.

And this, in turn, would send a devastating warning to officials in other “sanctuary cities” that the same fate lies in store for them.

(5) CEOs whose companies–like Wal-Mart–systematically employ illegal aliens should be held directly accountable for the actions of their subordinates.

They should be indicted by the Justice Department under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the way Mafia bosses are prosecuted for ordering their own subordinates to commit crimes.

Upon conviction, the CEO should be sentenced to a mandatory prison term of at least twenty years.

This would prove a more effective remedy for combating illegal immigration than stationing tens of thousands of soldiers on the U.S./Mexican border. CEOs forced to account for their subordinates’ actions would take drastic steps to ensure that their companies strictly complied with Federal immigration laws.

Without employers luring illegal aliens at a fraction of the money paid to American workers, the flood of such illegal job-seekers would quickly dry up.

(6) The Government should stop granting automatic citizenship to “anchor babies” born to illegal aliens in the United States.

A comparable practice would be allowing bank robbers who had eluded the FBI to keep their illegally-obtained loot.

A person who violates the bank robbery laws of the United States is legally prosecutable for bank robbery, whether he’s immediately arrested or remains uncaught for years. The same should be true for those born illegally within this country.

If they’re not here legally at the time of birth, they should not be considered citizens and should–like their parents–be subject to deportation.

(7) The United States Government–from the President on down–should scrap its apologetic tone on the right to control its national borders.

The Mexican Government doesn’t hesitate to apply strict laws to those immigrating to Mexico. And it feels no need to apologize for this.

Neither should we.

(8) Voting materials and ballots should be published in one language: English. 

In Mexico, voting materials are published in one language–Spanish.

Throughout the United States, millions of Mexican illegals refuse to learn English and yet demand that voting materials and ballots be made available to them in Spanish.

(9) Those who are not legal citizens of the United States should not be allowed to vote in its elections.

In Mexico, those who are not Mexican citizens are not allowed to participate in the country’s elections.

The Mexican Government doesn’t consider itself racist for strictly enforcing its immigration laws.

The United States Government should not consider itself racist for insisting on the right to do the same.

(10)  The United States should impose economic and even military sanctions against countries–such as China and Mexico–whose citizens make up the bulk of illegal aliens. 

Mexico, for example, uses its American border to rid itself of those who might demand major reforms in the country’s political and economic institutions.

Such nations must learn that dumping their unwanteds on the United States now comes at an unaffordably high price.  Otherwise those dumpings will continue.

CAN LAWBREAKERS BE LAWYERS?

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 25, 2013 at 12:00 am

Can a known lawbreaker act as a lawyer?

Many California legislators are trying to make this possible.

Assembly Bill 1024, which passed the state Legislature in mid-September, 2013, would allow the state Supreme Court to license lawyers, even if they are illegal aliens.

Specifically, the bill states:

This bill would additionally authorize the Supreme Court to admit to the practice of law an applicant who is not lawfully present in the United States, upon certification by the committee that the applicant has fulfilled those requirements for admission, as specified.

The bill has been sent to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

Fittingly, the bill was introduced by a Hispanic–Assembly member Lorena Gonzales (D-San Diego)–on behalf of another Hispanic, Sergio Garcia.

Garcia was born in Mexico and smuggled into the United States by his parents as an infant.  He left at age nine and returned when he was 17. He applied for legal residency in the mid-1990s.

He worked his way through college and law school.

But that argument didn’t cut any ice with the Justice Department of Barack Obama.

Federal law bars the state from issuing an attorney’s license to illegal aliens and prohibits them from working as lawyers, the Justice Department said in an August 1, 2012 filing with the California Supreme Court, which had requested its opinion.

The 1996 law denies “public benefits” to illegal aliens.  It was drafted to “preclude undocumented aliens from receiving commercial and professional licenses issued by states and the federal government,” Justice Department lawyers told the court.

The State Bar’s Commitee of Bar Examiners and California Attorney Genera Kamala Harris said that Garcia should be admitted to the bar, arguing that federal law leaves such issues up to the states.

Yet legal scholars say no law firm could legally hire him, and his citizenship status could disqualify him from representing some clients.

Many of those supporting Garcia claim he is the victim of racial prejudice.  This is the knee-jerk reaction whenever a Hispanic seeks immunity from American jurisprudence.

On May 20, 2010, Mexico’s then-President Felipe Calderon addressed a joint session of the United States Congress–and attacked the Arizona law that allows law enforcement officials to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

Felipe Calderon

According to Calderon, the law “introduces a terrible idea: using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement.”

Racial profiling?  Consider the popular Latino phrase, “La Raza.”

This literally means “the race” or “the people.”

In the United States, it’s sometimes used to describe people of Chicano and Mexican descent as well as other Latin American mestizos who share Native American heritage.

It rarely includes entirely European or African descended Hispanic peoples.

So when Latinos say, “The Race,” they’re not talking about “the human race.” They’re talking strictly about their own.

In his lecture, Calderon condemned the United States for doing what Mexico itself has long done: Strictly enforcing control of its borders.

Yet consider the racial profiling situation in sunny Mexico.

Mexico has a single, streamlined law that ensures that foreign visitors and immigrants are:

  • in the country legally;
  • have the means to sustain themselves economically;
  • not destined to be burdens on society;
  • of economic and social benefit to society;
  • of good character and have no criminal records; and
  • contribute to the general well-being of the nation.

The law also ensures that:

  • immigration authorities have a record of each foreign visitor;
  • foreign visitors do not violate their visa status;
  • foreign visitors are banned from interfering in the country’s internal politics;
  • foreign visitors who enter under false pretenses are imprisoned or deported;
  • foreign visitors violating the terms of their entry are imprisoned or deported;
  • those who aid in illegal immigration will be sent to prison.

Calderon also ignored a second well-understood but equally unacknowledged truth: Mexico uses its American border to rid itself of those who might otherwise demand major reforms in the country’s political and economic institutions.

The Mexican Government still remembers the bloody upheaval known as the Mexican Revolution. This lasted ten years (1910-1920) and wiped out an estimated one to two million men, women and children.

Massacres were common on all sides, with men shot by the hundreds in bullrings or hung by the dozen on trees.

A Mexican Revolution firing squad

All of the major leaders of the Revolution–Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, Francisco “Pancho” Villa, Alvaro Obregon–died in a hail of bullets.

Francisco “Pancho” Villa

Emiliano Zapata

As a result, every successive Mexican Government has lived in the shadow of another such wholesale bloodletting. These officials have thus quietly decided to turn the United States border into a safety valve.

If potential revolutionaries leave Mexico to find a better life in the United States, the Government doesn’t have to fear the rise of another “Pancho” Villa.

On September 2, 2007, Calderon gave away the game when he said in a speech: “I have said that Mexico does not stop at its border, that wherever there is a Mexican, there is Mexico.”

Apparently Mexico has decided to re-conquer North America, by ensuring that “wherever there is a Mexican, there is Mexico.”

TWO WAYS TO AVOID A SHUTDOWN: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 24, 2013 at 12:00 am

The 1938 Munich Conference taught an invaluable lesson in foreign affairs: Caving in to the demands of insatiable thugs leads to only more demands.

That was what British Prime Minister Nveille Chamberlain learned when he sought to appease Adolf Hitler, Germany’s war-intent Fuehrer.

Chamberlain believed that by giving in to Hitler’s demands for “the German part” of Czechoslavakia known as the Sudetenland he could avoid war.

On September 29, Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier met with Hitler and signed the Munich Agreement, resulting in the immediate German occupation of part of Czechoslavakia.

The Czechoslovakian government had not been a party to the talks.  Their “allies” had sold them out.

Chamberlain returned to England a hero.  Holding aloft a copy of the worthless agreement he had signed with Hitler, he told cheering crowds in London: “I believe it is peace for our time.”

Winston Churchill knew better, predicting: “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”

And so they did.

It is not too late for President Barack Obama to apply this lesson from history.

With the United States facing a disastrous government shutdown unless the President surrenders to the latest Republican extortion threats, Obama can:

  1. Invoke the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and/or the Patriot Act;
  2. Rally the American people against this criminal threat to the security of the Nation.

Second Option: Calling upon the American people for their support

President John F. Kennedy did just that–successfully–during the most deadly crisis of his administration.

Addressing the Nation on October 22, 1962, Kennedy shocked his fellow citizens by revealing that the Soviet Union had placed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.

After outlining a series of steps he had taken to end the crisis, Kennedy sought to reassure and inspire his audience. His words are worth remembering today:

“The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are, but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

Just as President Kennedy called on his fellow Americans for support against a foreign enemy, President  Obama can rally his countrymen against an equally ruthless domestic enemy.

During such a national address, President Obama can reveal such blunt truths as:

  • Republicans have adopted the same my-way-or-else “negotiating” stance as Adolf Hitler.
  • Like the Nazis, they are determined to gain absolute power–or destroy the Nation they claim to love.
  • They raised the debt ceiling seven times during the eight-year Presidency of George W. Bush.
  • But now that a Democrat holds the White House, raising the debt ceiling is unacceptable.
  • Despite Republican lies, we cannot revitalize the economy by slashing taxes on the wealthy and  cash-hoarding corporations while cutting benefits for millions of average Americans.
  • We will need both tax increases and sensible entitlement cuts to regain our economic strength.
  • The Affordable Health Care Act frees Americans from the greed-fueled tyranny of the insurance industry.
  • Americans who could never hope to obtain medical coverage–for themselves and their families–can now do so.

Finally, President Obama can end his speech by directly calling for the active support of his fellow Americans. Something like this:

“My fellow Americans, I have taken an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’

“But I cannot do this on my own. As citizens of a Republic, each of us carries that burden. We must each do our part to protect the land and the liberties we love.

“Tonight, I’m asking for your help.

“We stand on the edge of economic and social disaster.  Therefore, I am asking each of you to stand up for America tonight–by demanding the recall of the entire membership of the Republican Party.

“As President John F. Kennedy said:

‘In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty.’

“This is the moment when each of us must decide–whether we will survive as a Republic, or allow ruthless political fanatics to destroy what has lasted and thrived for more than 200 years.”

President Obama has taken forceful action against America’s most ruthless foreign enemies—most notably, Osama bin Laden.

If the Nation is to survive, he must now act just as forcefully against America’s most ruthless domestic enemies.

Fortunately, there is still time for him to do so. The fact that he has not done so in the past does not rule out his doing so now.

He needs to only remember–and act on–the words of another American President–Andrew Jackson–who counseled: “One man with courage makes a majority.”

TWO WAYS TO AVOID A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 23, 2013 at 12:10 am

Republicans are once again playing extortion politics–threatening to shut down the government unless they get their way.

And their way means abolishing The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

But this is a nightmare that doesn’t have to be.

There are, in fact, two ways to avoid it.

Assuming that President Obama doesn’t once again surrender to Republican extortion demands, he has two formidable weapons he can deploy:

First Option: RICO to the rescue

The Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a provision of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.  It authorizes prosecution for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.

It has been applied to not only the Mafia but to individuals, businesses, political protest groups, and terrorist organizations.  In short, a RICO claim can arise in almost any context.

Such as the one President Barack Obama faced in 2011 when Republicans threatened to destroy the credit rating of the United States unless their budgetary demands were met.

And such as the present case when Republicans are again threatening the security of the Nation with extortionate demands.

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys.  Among those crimes: Extortion.

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”

The RICO Act defines “a pattern of racketeering activity” as “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years…after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.”

And if President Obama believes that RICO is not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he can rely on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism.  Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

Demanding that the President de-fund Obamacare or face a potentially disastrous government shutdown clearly falls within the legal definition of “activities…intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior are now legally in place.  President Obama need only direct the Justice Department to apply them.

President Obama can direct Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether Republican Congressman—and their Tea Party cohorts—have violated Federal anti-racketeering and/or anti-terrorism laws.

  • Holder, in turn, can order the FBI to conduct such an investigation.
  • If the FBI finds sufficient evidence that these laws had been violated, Holder can empanel criminal grand juries to indict those violators.

The fact that members of Congress would be criminally investigated and possibly indicted would not violate the separation-of-powers principle.  Congressmen have in the past been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.

Such indictments and prosecutions–and especially convictions–would serve notice on current and future members of Congress that the lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage as part of a negotiated settlement.

On August 1, 2011, Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” wrapped up his program with a search for “options” to avoid another round of Republican extortion tactics.

Chris Matthews

“I want to know what steps the president ‘could’ have taken to avoid this hostage-taking.

“…Is there another way than either buckling to the Republicans or letting the government and the country crash?

“How does he use the power of the presidency, the logic, emotion and basic patriotism of the people to thwart those willing to threaten, disrupt, even possibly destroy to get their way?”

The answer to his questions–then and now–is: Replace the law of fear with the rule of law.

Or, as Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, instructed future leaders in The Prince:

I conclude, therefore, with regard to being loved and feared, that men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince, and that a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on what is in the power of others….”

Instead, in 2011, Obama surrendered to Republican extortion demands.  As a result, the United States suffered a massive loss to its international credit rating.

But there was another way Obama could have stood up to Republican extortionists.  And it remains available to him now–if only he has the courage to act.

TWO WAYS TO AVOID A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 20, 2013 at 12:15 am

Republicans are once again playing extortion politics–threatening to shut down the government unless they get their way.

And their way means abolishing The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

They’re enraged that millions of uninsured Americans might receive medical care on a par with that given members of the House and Senate.

So on September 20, the House will vote on a short-term government funding bill that will include a provision to defund Obamacare.

That provision is a no-go for Senate Democrats and President Obama.  If the House and Senate can’t work out a compromise, many functions of the federal government will be shut down indefinitely on Oct. 1.

Republicans have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government unless their constantly escalating demands were met.

In November, 1995, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, carried out his threat. Gingrich unwisely admitted that he did so because President Bill Clinton had put him in the back of Air Force One during a recent trip to Israel.

The shutdown proved a disaster for Republicans. Clinton was handily re-elected in 1996 and Gingrich suddenly resigned from Congress in 1998.

Still, the Republicans continued their policy of my-way-or-else.  In April, 2011, the United States government almost shut down over Republican demands about subsidized pap smears.

During a late-night White House meeting with President Barack Obama and key Congressional leaders, Republican House Speaker John Boehner made this threat:

His conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through Title X legislation.

Facing an April 8 deadline, negotiators worked day and night to strike a compromise–and finally reached one.

Three months later–on July 9–Republican extortionists again threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their demands were met.

President Obama had offered to make historic cuts in the federal government and the social safety net–on which millions of Americans depend for their most basic needs.

But House Speaker John Boehner rejected that offer. He could not agree to the tax increases that Democrats wanted to impose on the wealthiest 1% as part of the bargain.

John Boehner

As the calendar moved ever closer to the fateful date of August 2, Republican leaders continued to insist: Any deal that includes taxes “can’t pass the House.”

President Obama had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012. But in mid-July, he simply asked congressional leaders to review three options with their members:

  1. The “Grand Bargain” choice—favored by Obama–would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues.
  2. A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion.
  3. The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

And the Republican response?

Said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee: “Quite frankly, [Republican] members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.”

Noted political analyst Chris Matthews summed up the sheer criminality of what happened within the House of Representatives.

Speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” on July 28–five days before Congress reached its August 2 deadline to raise the debt-ceiling–Matthews noted:

“The first people to bow to the demands of those threatening to blow up the economy were the Republicans in the House, the leaders. The leaders did what the followers told them to do: meet the demands, hold up the country to get their way.

“Those followers didn’t win the Senate, or the Presidency, just the House.

“But by using the House they were able to hold up the entire United States government. They threatened to blow things up economically and it worked.

“They said they were willing to do that–just to get their way–not by persuasion, not by politics, not by democratic government, but by threatening the destruction of the country’s finances.

“Right. So what’s next? The power grid? Will they next time threaten to close down the country’s electricity and communications systems?”

With the United States teetering on the brink of national bankruptcy, President Obama faced three choices:

  1. Counter Republican extortion attempts via RICO–the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Oganizations Act.
  2. Make a “Cuban Missile Crisis”-style address to the American people, seeking to rally them against a criminal threat to the financial security of the Nation.
  3. Cave in to Republican demands.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Three.

The results were easily predictable: Emboldened by success, the extortionists continue to make even greater demands.

But this is a nightmare that doesn’t have to be.

There are, in fact, two ways to avoid it:

  1. The President can order the Justice Department to prosecute Republican extortion attempts via RICO–the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.
  2. The President can make a “Cuban Missile Crisis” style address to the American people, seeking to rally them against a criminal threat to the security of the Nation.

OBAMA LOSES, MACHIAVELLI RULES

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on September 19, 2013 at 12:00 am

I was thoroughly glad to see the era of George W. Bush come to an end.  He had, I believed, become a terrible liability for America–in both foreign and domestic policy.

In foreign affairs, America had become entrapped in a totally needless war in Iraq.  And by authorizing the use of torture, he had turned the United States into a pariah nation in the eyes of much of the civilized world.

Domestically, he had allowed the sheer greed and arrogance of America’s most powerful corporations to push the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

So during the early weeks of President Barack Obama’s first term, I sent him a gift: My favorite selections from the two major works of Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince and The Discourses.

Niccolo Machiavelli

I hoped that, on at least some occasions, the new President would find useful advice in the wisdom of the father of political science.

Unfortunately, such has not been the case.

For example:

United Nations officials estimate that more than 6,000 people have died in Syria since fighting erupted in 2011 against the regime of dictator Bashir al-Assad.

During that time, the world made no move to intervene–for a series of excellent reasons.  Among these:

  • Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.
  • There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support.  There is a civil war between rival terrorist groups.
  • Among these: Hezbollah and Hamas (pro-Assad); and Al Qaeda (anti-Assad).

This was the position of the United States as well.

Meanwhile, President Obama said on several occasions that if Assad used chemical weapons against his enemies, that would be “a red line in the sand.”

Then, on August 21, the Assad regime was accused of using chemical weapons in Damascus suburbs to kill more than 1,400 civilians.

On August 30, the Obama administration said it had “high confidence” that Syria’s government carried out the chemical weapons attack.

Having boxed himself in, Obama felt he had to make good on his threat–even if it risked the lives of those flying combat missions over Syria’s formidable air defenses.

He sent Secretary of State John Kerry before TV cameras to express America’s moral outrage at Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

And he positioned six American warships close to the Syrian coast.

On August 31, Obama announced that he would seek Congressional authorization before attacking Syria.  Obama said he was “prepared to give that order” to strike Syria because:

  • Syria’s use of chemical weapons “risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemicals weapons,” and
  • It put U.S. regional allies that share a border with Syria in danger.

It looked as though the United States was about to plunge into its third Middle East war in 12 years.

Then Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his own suggestion for averting war: Syria would agree to put its stocks of chemical weapons under United Nations control.

On September 14, the United States and Russia announced in Geneva that they reached a deal that provided a path for Obama to avoid the air strikes he had promised to launch against Syria.

Suddenly, Obama asked congressional leaders to delay votes on authorizing military action in Syria while the diplomatic process worked itself out.

As “Tonight” show host Jay Leno put it: Obama gave a speech calling for war–and then the rebuttal.

So what does Niccolo Machiavelli have to do with any of this?

In Chapter 19 of The Prince, his guide to successful rulership, he outlines “That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated.”

“The prince must…avoid those things which will make him hated or despised.  And whenever he succeeds in this, he will have done his part, and will find no danger in other vices….

“He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute—which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger….

“[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude.  As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.”

By making a vigorous case for going to war with Syria, and then suddenly reversing himself, Obama has managed to offend everyone:

  • Right-wingers–who hoped to see America plunge into another Middle East war.
  • Liberals–who didn’t want to repeat the 2003 Iraqi war disaster.
  • Syrian rebels–who expected a full-scale American intervention to bring them to power.
  • The Assad regime–which no doubt believes Obama was bluffing.

Unfortunately, history is not a VHS tape that can be rewound.  No one–including Obama–gets a second chance to make a first impression.

By repeatedly showing timidity toward Republicans, Obama had forfeited credibility as a leader to be feared by his domestic Right-wing enemies.

President Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “I have always lived by a South African proverb: Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”

By speaking loudly and then putting his big stick aside, Obama forfeited credibility among his foreign enemies.

BARTHOLOMEW AND THE RADIATION COUNTERS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 18, 2013 at 12:29 am

Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) published over 60 children’s books, which were often filled with imaginative characters and rhyme.

Among his most famous were Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Bish.

Honored in his lifetime (1904-1991) for the joy he brought to countless children, Dr. Seuss may well prove one of the unsung prophets of our environmentally-threatened age.

In 1949, he penned Bartholomew and the Oobleck, the story of a young page who must rescue his kingdom from a terrifying, man-made substance called Oobleck.

The story is quickly told: Derwin, the King of Didd, announces that he’s bored with sunshine, rain, fog and snow.  He calls in his black magicians to create a new type of weather.

The magicians say they can do it.

“What will you call it?” asks the King.

“We’ll call it Oobleck,” says one of the magicians.

“What will it be like?” asks King Derwin.

“We don’t know, sire,” the magician replies.  “We’ve never created Oobleck before.”

The next morning, Oobleck–a greenish, glue-like substance–starts raining.

The king orders Bartholomew to tell the Royal Bell Ringer that today will be a holiday.   But the bell doesn’t ring because it’s filled with Oobleck.

Bartholomew warns the Royal Trumpeter about the Oobleck, but the trumpet gets stopped up with the goo.  The Captain of the Guards thinks the Oobleck is pretty and sees no danger in it–until he eats some, and his mouth gets glued shut.

The Oobleck rain intensifies.  The falling blobs–now as big as buckets full of broccoli–break into the palace, immobilizing the servants and guards.

At the climax of the story, Bartholomew confronts King Derwin for giving such a rash order.  To stop the plague, says Bartholomew, the king must say he’s sorry.

But Derwin’s pride won’t let him do it.

“If you can look at all this horror you’ve created and not say you’re sorry, then you’re no sort of king at all,” shouts Bartholomew.

Overcome with guilt, King Derwin utters the magic words: “You’re right, this is all my fault, and I am sorry.”

Suddenly the Oobleck stops raining and the sun melts away the goop.

With life returning to normal, King Derwin mounts the bell tower and rings the bell.  He proclaims a holiday directed not to Oobleck, but to rain, sun, fog and snow, the four elements of Nature–of which Man is but a part.

* * * * *

Flash forward to March 11, 2011: A 9.0 offshore earthquake hits Japan and triggers a scram that shuts down the three reactors at the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

The quake, in turn, triggers a tsunami which cripples the site, stopping the backup fuel generators and causing a station blackout.

The resulting lack of cooling leads to explosions and meltdowns at the facility.  Three of the six reactors and one of the six spent fuel pools become casualties.

Thirty months later, the plant remains crippled.  The radiation that continues to pour from it is lethal enough to kill an unprotected man within hours.

About 400 tomes of groundwater are streaming into the reactor basement from the hills behind the plant each day.  The water is pumped out and held in about 1,000 storage tanks.  The tanks contain 330,000 tomes of water with varying levels of toxicity.

And the Japanese government is no closer to ending that deadly leakage than it was on the day the plant was crippled.

There is a moral to be learned here–but not by corporate CEOs who exchange lucrative, short-terrm profits for a Devil’s bargain with nuclear contamination.

It’s a moral only for those who are willing to confront the truth head-on:

There are forces in Nature far more powerful than anything Man and his puny strength and cleverness can imagine–or harness.  And we invoke the wrath of those forces at our own peril.

In the world of children’s stories, it’s possible for a king to undo the terrible damage he’s unleashed by finding the courage to say: “I’m sorry.”

The top executives of the company that runs the Fukushima nuclear plant–and the government officials who have refused to hold the company accountable–have been saying “I’m sorry” for the last 30 months.

It hasn’t proven enough.

And the citizens of Japan–and countries well beyond it–will be living with the lethal fallout of this environmental holocaust for decades–if not centuries–to come.

REPUBLICAN PRIORITIES: BOMBING IS GOOD, FOOD STAMPS ARE BAD

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 17, 2013 at 12:00 am

In the 1970 film, Patton, General George S. Patton is a man driven by his obsession to be the best field commander in the war–and to be recognized for it.

George C. Scott as George S. Patton

And he sees British General Bernard Montgomery–his equally egotistical rival–as a potential obstacle to that latter ambition.

So, in Algeria, he conjures up a plan that will sideline “Monty” while he, Patton, defeats the Germans–and bags the glory.

The trick lies in throwing a sumptuous dinner-–in the middle of the African desert-–for a visiting British general: Harold Alexander.

As Patton (George C. Scott, in an Oscar-winning performance) tells his aide: “I want to give a dinner for General Alexander. I want to get to him before Montgomery does.  I want the finest food and the best wine available. Everything.”

The aide pulls off the dinner–where, indeed, “the finest food and the best wine” are on full display, along with attentive waiters and a candelabra.

So think about it:

  • In the middle of the desert
  • while American and British forces are forced to subsist on C-Rations
  • and are under repeated air attack by the Luftwaffe
  • and tank attack by the Afrika Korps

a handful of ultra-pampered American and British military officers find the time–and luxuries–to throw themselves a fine party.

Now, fast-forward from Algeria in 1943 to Washington, D.C., in 2013.

Returning to Congress after their traditional summer recess, House Republicans plan to cut $40 billion in food stamps for the poor.  That’s double the amount previously sought by right-wingers.

The cuts would include drug tests of applicants and tougher work rules.  As Republicans see it: There’s no point in “helping” the poor if you can’t humiliate them.

Food stamps, the largest U.S. anti-hunger program, are the pivotal issue for a new U.S. farm law costing $100 billion a year.

One in seven Americans–15% of U.S. households–received food stamps at latest count.  Enrollment in the program soared after the 2008-09 recession–a direct consequence of the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate powerful, greed-fueled corporations.

Republicans claim the program is unbearably expensive at $78 billion a year.

Meanwhile, as 49 million Americans havetrouble putting meals on the table, Republicans are eager to spend billions of dollars for another project.

An unnecessary war with Syria.

One of these right-wingers is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard–and one of the leading instigators of the 2003 war with Iraq.

He–like senior officials on the George W. Bush administration–claimed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them against the United States.

He also pushed the lie that Hussein planned 9/11 with Osama bin Laden.

He has never apologized for either lie–or the resulting war that killed 4,487 American soldiers and wounded another 32,226.

In a recent column, Kristol called for a return to slaughter–not only in Syria but Iran as well:

“…Soon after voting to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime, Republicans might consider moving an authorization for the use of force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

“They can explain that Obama’s dithering in the case of Syria shows the utility of unequivocally giving him the authority to act early with respect to Iran.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice–who also helped lie the nation into the needless 2003 Iraq war–is another big promoter of “give war a chance”:

“My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead–and one cannot lead from behind.”

Among Republican Senators calling for war are John McCain (Arizona) and Lindsey Graman (South Carolina), who issued a joint statement:

“Using stand-off weapons, without boots on the ground, and at minimal risk to our men and women in uniform, we can significantly degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missile capabilities and help to establish and defend safe areas on  the ground.

“In addition, we must begin a large-scale effort to train and equip moderate, vetted elements of the Syrian opposition with the game-changing weapons they need to shift the military balance against [Syrian dictator Bashir] Assad’s forces.”

Except that there are no “moderate, vetted elements of the Syrian opposition.  The opposition is just as murderous as the Assad regime–and eager to replace one dictator with another.

In addition: A major weapon for “degrading Assad’s air power” would be Tomahawk Cruise missiles.  A single Tomahawk Cruise missile costs $1,410,000.

Firing of a Tomahawk Cruise missile

A protracted missile strike would rain literally billions of dollars’ worth of American missiles on Syria.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is spending about $27 million a week to maintain the increased U.S. Navy presence in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East region to keep watch over Syria and be prepared to strike.

Navy officials say it costs about $25 million a week for the carrier group and $2 million a week for each destroyer.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all this?

Yes.

Powerful people–-whether generals, politicians or the wealthy-–will always find abundant money and resources available for those projects they consider important.

It’s only when it comes to projects that other people actually need that such will officials will claim there is, unfortunately, a cash shortage.

TAKING EXCEPTION WITH “AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM”

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 16, 2013 at 12:00 am

On September 11, the New York Times publshed an Op-Ed (guest editorial) from Russian President Vladimir Putin, entitled: “A Plea for Caution from Russia: What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria.”

No one should be surprised that Putin came out strongly against an American air strike on Syria.

Its “President” (i.e., dictator) Bashir al-Assad, is, after all, a close ally of Russia.  Just as his late father and  dictator, Hafez al-Assad, was a close ally of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991.

Putin, of course, is a former member of the KGB, the infamous secret police which (under various other names) ruled the Soviet Union from its birth in 1917 to its collapse in 1991.

He grew up under a Communist dictatorship and clearly wishes to return to that era, saying publicly: “First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Vladimir Putin

So it would be unrealistic to expect him to view the current “Syria crisis” the same way that President Barack Obama does.

(A “crisis” for politicians and news media is any event they believe can be exploited for their own purposes.

(In the case of media like CNN–which has devoted enormous coverage to the use of poison gas in Syria–the motive is higher ratings.  “If it bleeds, it leads,” goes the saying in the news business.

(In the case of politicians–like Obama and Putin–the motive is to further their own status.  And thus power.

(Few politicians really care about the “human rights” of other nations–unless promoting this issue can empower themselves and/or their own nations.

(President Ronald Reagan, for example, often wailed about the Soviets’ oppression of the Polish union, Solidarity–while firing hundreds of unionized air traffic controllers who went on strike.)

In his September 11 guest editorial in the New York Times, Putin offered the expected Russian take on Syria:

  • Yes, poison gas was used in Syria.
  • No, it wasn’t used by the Syrian Army.
  • It was used by “opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.”
  • “There are few champions of democracy in Syria.  But there are more than enough [al] Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.”

But it’s the concluding paragraph that has enraged American politicians the most–especially right-wing ones.  In it, Putin takes exception with American “exceptionalism.”

Referring to President Obama, Putin wrote:

“And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.

“There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.

“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Putin has never publicly shown any interest in religion.  But by invoking “the Lord,” he was able to turn the Christian beliefs of his Western audience into a useful weapon.

“I was insulted,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters when asked for his blunt reaction to the editorial.

“I have to be honest with you, I was at dinner, and I almost wanted to vomit,” said U.S. Senator Bob  Menendez (D-New Jersey).

Putin had dared to question the self-righteousness of American foreign policy–and those who make it.

Making his case for war with Syria, Obama had said: “America is not the world’s policeman….

“But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.

“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

In short: Because we consider ourselves “exceptional,” we have the divine right to do whatever we want.

It’s not necessary to see Putin as a champion of democracy (he isn’t) to see the truth in this part of his editorial: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

From 1938 to 1969, the House Un-American Activities Committee sought to define what was “American” and what was “Un-American.”  As if “American” stood for all things virtuous.

Whoever heard of an “Un-French Activities Committee”?  Or an “Un-German” or “Un-British” one?

The late S.I. Hayakawa once made an obersation that clearly applies to this situation.

Hayakawa was a professor of semantics (the study of meaning, focusing on the relation between words and what they stand for).

In his bestselling book, Language in Thought and Action, he observed that when a person hears a message, he has four ways of responding to it:

  1. Accept the speaker and his message.
  2. Accept the speaker but reject the message.
  3. Accept the message but reject the speaker.
  4. Reject the message and the speaker.

Americans might want to consider #3 in the recent case of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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