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THE TRUTH ABOUT POLICE

In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 17, 2014 at 1:21 am

Lori Tankel had a problem: A lot of angry people thought she was George Zimmerman.

She began getting death threats on her cellphone after a jury acquitted him on July 13, 2013, of the second-degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Unfortunately for Tankel, her number was one digit away from the number Zimmerman used to make his call to police just before he fatally shot Martin.

The phone number had been shown throughout the trial.  And, believing the number was Zimmerman’s, someone posted Tankel’s number online.

Just minutes after the verdict, Tankel began getting death threats.

“We’re going to kill you.  We’re going to get you.  Watch your back,” threatened a typical call.

Tankel worked as a sales representative for several horse companies.  She had grown used to relying on her phone to keep her business going.

But, almost as soon as the Zimmerman verdict came in, “My phone just started to blow up. Phone call after phone call, multiple phone calls,” Tankel said.

So she did what any ordinary citizen, faced with multiple death threats, would do: She called the police.

According to her, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office told her the department itself receives around 400 death threats a minute on social media sites.

In short: Unless you’re wealthy, a politician or–best of all–a cop, don’t expect the police to protect you if your life is threatened.

If you doubt it, consider the lessons to be learned when, in February, 2013, Christopher Dorner declared war on his former fellow officers of the Los Angeles Police Department.

First, above everyone else, police look out for each other.

Robert Daley bluntly revealed this truth in his 1971 bestseller, Target Blue: An Insider’s View of the N.Y.P.D.  A  police reporter for the New York Times, he served for one year as a deputy police commissioner.

“A great many solvable crimes in the city were never solved, because not enough men were assigned to the case, or because those assigned were lazy or hardly cared or got sidetracked.

“But when a cop got killed, no other cop got sidetracked.  Detectives worked on the case night and day….

“In effect, the citizen who murdered his wife’s lover was sought by a team of detectives, two men.  But he who killed a cop was sought by 32,000.”

Second, don’t expect the police to do for you what they’ll do for one another.

The LAPD assigned security and surveillance details to at least 50 threatened officers and their families.  A typical detail consists of two to five or more guards.  And those guards must be changed every eight to 12 hours.

Those details stayed in place long after Dorner was killed in a firefight on February 12.

But if your bullying neighbor threatens to kill you, don’t expect the police to send a guard detail over.  They’ll claim: ”We can’t do anything until the guy does something.  If he does, give us a call.”

Third, the more status and wealth you command, the more likely the police are to address your complaint or solve your case.

If you’re rich, your complaint will likely get top priority and the best service the agency can provide.

But if you’re poor or even middle-class without high-level political or police connections, you’ll be told: “We just don’t have the resources to protect everybody.”

Fourth, don’t expect your police department to operate with the vigor or efficiency of TV police agencies.

“I want this rock [Hawaii] sealed off,” Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) routinely ordered when pursuing criminals on “Hawaii Five-O.”

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Real-life police departments, on the other hand:

  • Often lack state-of-the-art crime labs to analyze evidence.
  • Often lose or accidentally destroy important files.
  • Are–like all bureaucracies–staffed by those who are lazy, indifferent or incompetent.
  • Are notoriously competitive, generally refusing to share information with other police departments-–thus making it easier for criminals to run amok.

Even when police ”solve” a crime, that simply means making an arrest. 

After that, there are at least three possible outcomes:

  • The District Attorney may decide not to file charges. 
  • Or the perpetrator may plead to a lesser offense and serve only a token sentence-–or none at all. 
  • Or he might be found not guilty by a judge or jury.

Fifth, the result of all this can only be increased disrespect for law enforcement from a deservedly–and increasingly–cynical public.

It is the witnessing of blatant inequities and hypocrisies such as those displayed in the Christopher Dorner case that most damages public support for police at all levels.

When citizens believe police care only about themselves, and lack the ability-–or even the will-–to protect citizens or avenge their victimization by arresting the perpetrators, that is a deadly blow to law enforcement.

Police depend on citizens for more than crime tips.  They depend upon them to support hiring more cops and  buying state-of-the-art police equipment.  When public support vanishes, so does much of that public funding.

The result can only be a return to the days of the lawless West, where citizens–as individuals or members of vigilantee committees–looked only to themselves for protection.

PLAGUE AS PROPHECY

In Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary on October 16, 2014 at 12:32 am

“It was virulent beyond anything in anyone’s memory, and the most terrifying effect of this mysterious virulence was not only that it killed so many people but that it turned them against one another.”

So opens “The Black Death,” the third chapter of Otto Friedrich’s brilliant 1986 book, The End of the World: A History.

The narrative examines “the monumental, often inexplicable catastrophes that have at various times swept over humankind–moments when, for numerous people, the world did come to an end.”

Among the catastrophes vividly depicted by Friedrich:

  • The Sack of Rome
  • The Birth of the [Spanish] Inquisition
  • The Black Death
  • The Coming of [the Russian] Revolution
  • The Kingdom of Auschwitz

As America comes face-to-face with the terrors of Ebola, the pages Friedrich devotes to the original plague may turn out to be as much prophecy as history.

Bubonic plague originated in Central Asia, killing 25 million people.  Upon reaching Constantinople in 1347, it spread to Naples and Venice.  Trade ships from these ports spread the plague to southern France and Italy.

It reached Paris in June, 1348, and London several months later.  By 1350, all Europe was ravaged by the plague.

Within four years it destroyed a quarter to half of the population of Europe.

The plague was caused by the bacillus Pasteurella pestis, which lives in rats and other rodents.  The fleas living in these animals transmitted the plague to people by biting them.  Within five days, the victims had died.

By the time the plague had run its course, it had killed 75 to 200 million people.

The signs of infection became unmistakable: Growths in the thighs, about the size of apples, then dark blotches and bruises on the thighs, arms and other parts of the body.

As a result of these dark blotches, the plague quickly became known as the Black Death.

“O happy posterity,” wrote the Italian poet Petrarch, “who will look upon our testimony as a fable.  Will posterity believe that there was a time when, with no deluge from heaven, no worldwide conflagration, no wars or other visible devastation…but almost the whole earth was depopulated?”

The plague destroyed not only the lives of its victims but the fragile bonds that hold society together.

“As the number of deaths increased in Messina,” wrote the Franciscan monk Michael, “many desired to confess their sins to the priests and to draw up their last will and testament.  But priests and lawyers refused to enter the houses of the deceased….

“Soon men hated each other so much that, if a son was attacked by the disease, his father would not tend him.  If, in spite of all, he dared to approach him, he was immediately infected….

“Soon the corpses were lying forsaken in the houses.  No priest, no son, no father and no relation dared to enter, but they paid hired servants with high wages to bury the dead.  Soon there was a shortage of servants and finally none at all.”

Bones of plague victims stacked by a monk at the Sedlec Ossuary.

No one knew what caused it.  Many–especially members of the Catholic clergy–believed the plague was God’s judgment on a sinful world.

Philip VI, the king of France, fearing this might be true, issued a proclamation against blasphemy. For a first offense, a blasphemer’s lip would be cut off; for a second, the other lip.  And for a third offense, the tongue.

Medical professors at the University of Paris believed that a disturbance in the skies had caused the sun to overheat the oceans near India.  As a result, the waters were giving off toxic vapors.

Guy de Chauliac, the physician to Pope Clement VI, believed that the plague had been caused by a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, in the sign of Aquarius.  This, he believed, had corrupted the earth’s atmosphere.

Just as no one knew what had caused the plague, no one knew how to protect oneself against it.

Among the remedies prescribed: Bleeding, purging, bathing in vinegar to purify the body and the burning of odiferous wood to purify the air.

Others trusted to faith, praying for deliverance.  Some went on pilgrimages or subjected themselves to self-flagellation to expiate their sins.  The Brotherhood of the Flagellants appeared in Dresden, Hamburg and Magdeburg, then spread throughout Europe.

For others, debauchery seemed to be the road to salvation–or at least temporary happiness while they waited for the plague to claim them.

“People behaved as if their days were numbered,” wrote Giovanni Boccaccio, “and treated their belongings and their own persons with equal abandon.  Hence most houses had become common property and any passing stranger could make himself at home.”

Yet none of the prescribed medical cures brought relief.  And no amount of religious devotion brought salvation.

As Friedrich notes: “One of the most baffling and terrifying aspects of the plague [was] its indiscriminate slaughter of the devout as well as the sinful.  If this was God’s anger, how could it be understood, much less appeased?”

The plague ravaged France, Germany, England, Spain, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Russia.  After devastating London in 1665 and Marseille in 1720, the disease mysteriously disappeared.

Some believe the common black rat was destroyed by the larger brown rat, which lived outdoors, away from people.  Others believe a milder, mutant form of the disease caused its victims to build up immunities.

No one knows for certain.

HITLER, THE GOP AND “SCORCHED EARTH”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 15, 2014 at 12:00 am

During the summer of 2011, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

If Congress failed to raise the borrowing limit of the federal government by August 2, the date when the U.S. reached the limit of its borrowing abilities, America would begin defaulting on its loans.

As Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, explained the looming economic catastrophe:

“If you don’t send out Social Security checks, I would hate to think about the credit meeting at S&P and Moody’s the next morning.

“If you’re not paying millions and millions and millions of people that range in age from 65 on up, money you promised them, you’re not a AAA,” said Buffett.

Warren Buffett

A triple-A credit rating is the highest possible rating that can be achieved.

And while Republicans demanded that the disadvantaged tighten their belts, they rejected any raising of taxes on their foremost constituency–the wealthiest 1%.

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.”

In the end, what counted was what the House Republicans wanted.

To prevent the government from defaulting on its loans, President Barack Obama agreed to sign the Republican-crafted Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011.

The Act provided for a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to produce legislation by late November to decrease the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years.

When the so-called “Super Committee” failed to reach agreement, the second part of the BCA went into effect.

This directed automatic across-the-board cuts (known as “sequestrations”) split evenly between defense and domestic spending, beginning on January 2, 2013.

A major casualty of sequestration has been the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  And this, combined with the Ebola crisis, has threatened the safety of the Nation Republicans claim to love:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • In 2013, the CDC was forced to cut 5%, or more than $285 million, from its budget.
  • The sequester cut $195 million from the National Centers for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, a CDC program that tries to prevent illness and death from infectious disease.
  • For fiscal 2014, CDC’s budget was $5.9 billion, down from the $6.5 billion allotted in 2010.

Moreover, the United States is now confronting the Ebola crisis without a Surgeon General–thanks to NRA-funded Republican Senators.

President Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy to fill the spot in November, 2013, when the previous surgeon general left the position.

But the Senate still hasn’t approved Murthy. And support for him has declined since he tweeted on October 16, 2002, that “guns are a health care issue.”

At the same time, Republicans have rushed to blame President Obama for the continuing Ebola menace in West Africa–and the danger it poses to Americans.

“I think this Ebola outbreak in Africa is a serious problem,” said House Speaker John Boehner.  “And I’m a bit surprised the administration hasn’t acted more quickly to address what is a serious threat, not only to Africans but to others around the world.”

“The President made a lot of commitments to combat Ebola, actions which I supported,” said North Carolina U.S. Senator Richard Burr. “But it has become clear that the administration’s capacity to fulfill these promises in a timeline that sufficiently addresses this crisis does not exist.”

* * * * *

As the Third Reich came to its fiery end, Adolf Hitler sought to punish the German people for being “unworthy” of his “genius” and losing the war he had started.

His attitude was: “If I can’t rule Germany, then there won’t be a Germany.”

In his infamous “Nero Order,” he decreed the destruction of everything still remaining–industries, ships, harbors, communications, roads, mines, bridges, stores, utility plants, food stuffs.

Fortunately for Germany, one man–Albert Speer–finally broke ranks with his Fuhrer.

Albert Speer

Risking death, he refused to carry out Hitler’s “scorched earth” order.  Even more important, he mounted a successful effort to block such destruction or persuade influential military and civilian leaders to disobey the order as well.

As a result, those targets slated for destruction were spared.

Since the election of America’s first black President, Republicans have waged a similar “scorched earth” campaign. 

Their avowed goal–as stated openly by Kentucky’s U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell–was “to make Barack Obama a one-term President.”  

Literally during his first Inauguration, Republicans, in a secret meeting, agreed to block every effort he made to repair the economy.

Acting as extortionists, they have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they didn’t get their way in legislative matters.

And just as repeatedly, they have blocked legislation that would have helped the poor, unemployed, women, elderly, disabled or middle-class. 

At the center of their fury has been the Affordable Care Act, providing medical care to all citizens. Even after Congress passed it and the Supreme Court affirmed it, House Republicans shut down the government in October, 2013. 

By doing so, they hoped to pressure Obama into killing his signature piece of legislation. The effort failed.

Like Adolf Hitler, their attitude has been: “If I can’t rule America, there won’t be an America.”

It remains to be seen whether a Republican Albert Speer will step forward to save America from the self-destructive excesses of this Nation’s own fanatics.

HITLER, THE GOP AND “SCORCHED EARTH”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary on October 14, 2014 at 12:10 am

Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments for the Third Reich, was appalled.

His Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler–the man he had idolized for 14 years–had just passed a death sentence on Germany, the nation he claimed to love above all others.

Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler pouring over architectural plans

On March 19, 1945, facing certain defeat, Hitler had ordered a massive “scorched-earth” campaign throughout Germany.

All German agriculture, industry, ships, communications, roads, food stuffs, mines, bridges, stores and utility plants were to be destroyed.

If implemented, it would deprive the entire German population of even the barest necessities after the war.

Click here: Hitler’s “Scorched Earth” Decree and Albert Speer’s Response

Now living in a bunker 50 feet below bomb-shattered Berlin, Hitler gave full vent to his most destructive impulses.

Adolf Hitler addressing boy soldiers as the Third Reich crumbles

“If the war is lost,” Hitler told Speer, “the nation will also perish. This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis which the people will need to continue even a most primitive existence.

“On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves, because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation.

“Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have all been killed.”

Speer argued in vain that there must be a future for the German people.  But Hitler refused to back down. He gave Speer 24 hours to reconsider his opposition to the order.

The next day, Speer told Hitler: “My Fuhrer, I stand unconditionally behind you!”

“Then all is well,” said Hitler, suddenly with tears in his eyes.

“If I stand unreservedly behind you,” said Speer, “then you must entrust me rather than the Gauleiters [district Party leaders serving as provincial governors] with the implementation of your decree.”

Filled with gratitude, Hitler signed the decree Speer had thoughtfully prepared before their fateful meeting.

By doing so, Hitler unintentionally gave Speer the power to thwart his “scorched earth” decree.

Speer had been the closest thing to a friend in Hitler’s life.  Trained as an architect, he had joined the Nazi Party in 1931.

He met Hitler in 1933, when he presented the Fuhrer with architectural designs for the Nuremberg Rally scheduled for that year.

From then on, Speer became Hitler’s “genius architect” assigned to create buildings meant to last for a thousand years.

In 1943, Hitler appointed him Minister of Armaments, charged with revitalizing the German war effort.

Nevertheless, Speer now crisscrossed Germany, persuading military leaders and district governors to not destroy the vital facilities that wound be needed after the war.

“No other senior National Socialist could have done the job,” writes Randall Hanson, author of Disobeying Hitler: German Resistance After Valkyrie.

“Speer was one of the very few people in the Reich–perhaps even the only one–with such power to influence actors willingness/unwillingness to destroy.”

Despite his later conviction for war crimes at Nuremberg, Speer never regretted his efforts to save Germany from total destruction at the hands of Adolf Hitler.

Fast-forward to the United States since the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

Republicans have adopted the same my-way-or-else “negotiating” stance as Adolf Hitler.  Like him, they are determined to gain absolute power–or destroy the Nation they claim to love.

Ronald Reagan presided over a tripling of the national debt–and raised the debt limit 17 times–during his eight years in the White House.

President George W. Bush nearly doubled it again.

But that didn’t become an issue for Republicans–so long as one of them held the White House.

Republicans in Congress raised the debt ceiling seven times during the George W. Bush Presidency–when the national debt grew to $10.627 trillion due to tax cuts and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Only when a Democrat–and a black one at that–became President did Congressional Republicans consider this a danger.

Suddenly, “fiscal integrity” became the byword of Republicans.  And in its name, they repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if their legislative demands weren’t met.

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.

John Boehner

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.

By refusing to raise the debt ceiling, they would force the government to default on paying the bills it owed.

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 Boehner rejected that offer. He would not agree to the tax increases that Democrats wanted to impose on the wealthiest 1% as part of the bargain.

START A WAR, GET BAILED OUT BY THE U.S.

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on October 13, 2014 at 12:15 am

Here’s some good news for terrorists: You can start a war, be defeated by those you intended to destroy, and America will still reimburse your losses.

On October 12, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States has committed more than $400 million to help Gaza rebuild after Hamas provoked a devastating war with Israel in July.

U.S. Department of the Treasury

The war opened on July 7,  with the militant group Hamas apparently confident that it could defeat the awesome power of an unleashed Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

In June, three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped and murdered.  Israeli authorities suspected the culprits were members of Hamas, the terrorist organization that’s long called for Israel’s destruction.

In a desperate search for the missing teens, Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians, injured 130 and arrested 500 to 600 others.

Hamas, in turn, began launching rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, which it has controlled since June, 2007.  By July 7, 100 rockets had been fired at Israel.

Israeli planes retaliated by attacking 50 targets in Gaza.

On July 8, during a 24-hour period, Hamas fired more than 140 rockets into Israel from Gaza.  Saboteurs also tried to infiltrate Israel from the sea, but were intercepted.

A Hamas rocket streaks toward Israel

That same day–July 8, 2014–Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, a full-scale military attack on Gaza.

Hamas then announced that it considered “all Israelis”–including women, children, the elderly and disabled–to be legitimate targets.

On July 8, Hamas–acting as though it were laying down peace terms to an already defeated Israel–issued the following demands:

  1. End all attacks on Gaza;
  2. Release Palestinians arrested during the crackdown on the West Bank;
  3. Lift the blockade on Gaza; and
  4. Return to the cease-fire conditions of 2012.

Only then would Hamas be open to a ceasefire agreement.

Egypt offered a cease-fire proposal.  Israel quickly accepted it, temporarily stopping hostilities on July 15.  But Hamas claimed that it had not been consulted and rejected the agreement.

Palestinians continued to blithely launch hundreds of rockets at Israel–but went into ecstasies of grief before television cameras when one of their own was killed by Israeli return fire.

A Hamas funeral

The effectiveness of Israel’s response has brought that nation under repeated verbal attacks by Hamas-sympathetic nations.

The charge: Israel is being too effective at defending itself, killing more Palestinians than Hamas is able to kill Israelis.

Reuven Berko, a former soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) recently addressed this charge in a guest column in the online newsletter, the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).

A major reason for so many civilian deaths among Palestinians, writes Berko, is that Hamas turns them into human shields by hiding its missiles in heavily-populated centers.

Click here: Guest Column: The Double Standard of Proportionality :: The Investigative Project on Terrorism

On July 17, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Far East (UNRWA) discovered approximately 20 rockets hidden in a vacant UN school in the Gaza Strip.

“UNRWA strongly condemns the group or groups responsible for placing the weapons in one of its installations,” said the agency in an announcement.  “This is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.”

UNRWA claimed that “this incident…is the first of its kind in Gaza.”   But Israel counters that this is just one of many proven instances of Hamas hiding its fighters and munitions among a heavily civilian population.

Click here: UNRWA Strongly Condemns Placement of Rockets in School | UNRWA

At the heart of Berko’s editorial is the subject of “proportionality.”

Writes Berko: “Israel is held to an impossible moral double standard.

“Israelis, proportionality advocates seem to believe, should be killed by Hamas rockets instead of following Home Front Command instructions and running to shelters, to say nothing of Israel’s blatant unfairness in protecting its civilians with the Iron Dome aerial defense system….

“Anyone who demands that Israel agree to a life of terror governed by a continuous barrage of rockets and mortar shells on the heads of its women and children in the name of restraint and ‘proportionality’ would never agree to risk the safety of their own families in a similar situation.”

Berko points out that during World War 11, the Allies didn’t hesitate to retaliate for the Nazi blitz of London.  In February, 1945, British and American planes firebombed Dresden, killing about 25,000 people.

Nor did America feel guilty about dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, killing about 250,000 civilians.

Summing up his argument, Berko writes: “The ridiculous demand for proportionality contradicts every basic principle of warfare.

“According to American strategist Thomas Schelling, you have to strike your enemy hard enough to make it not worthwhile for him to continue….

“In the Western world, killing someone in self-defense is considered justifiable homicide.”

And now the United States is underwriting–to the tune of $400 million–the losses Hamas incurred in its effort to destroy America’s chief ally in the Middle East.

Apparently, the United States is willing to deplete its treasury for any reason–including financing the losses of its sworn enemies.

TRUST YOUR BOSS LIKE HE’S GOD–AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 10, 2014 at 12:25 am

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says women don’t need to ask for a raise. They should just trust “the system.”

Speaking on October 9 at an event in Phoenix to celebrate women in computing, Nadella was asked: What advice do you have for women who feel uncomfortable asking for a raise?

His reply:  “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.

“Because that’s good karma.  It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust.”

Satya Nadella

This from a CEO at whose company women comprise only 29% of its more than 100,000 employees.  And where its CEO has a net worth of $45 million.

Click here: Satya Nadella – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If it’s true that corporations are people, then they are exceptionally greedy and selfish people.

A December, 2011 report by Public Campaign, highlighting corporate abuses of the tax laws, makes this all too clear.

Public Campaign is a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming campaign finance laws and holding elected officials accountable.

Summarizing its conclusions, the report’s author writes:

“Amidst a growing federal deficit and widespread economic insecurity for most Americans, some of the largest corporations in the country have avoided paying their fair share in taxes while spending millions to lobby Congress and influence elections.”

Its key findings:

  • The 30 big corporations analyzed in this report paid more to lobby Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, despite being profitable.
  • Despite making combined profits totaling $164 billion in that three-year period, the 30 companies combined received tax rebates totaling nearly $11 billion.
  • Altogether, these companies spent nearly half a billion dollars ($476 million) over three years to lobby Congress. That’s about $400,000 each day, including weekends.
  • In the three-year period beginning in 2009 through most of 2011, these large firms spent over $22 million altogether on federal campaigns.
  • These corporations have also spent lavishly on compensatng their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

Among those corporations whose tax-dodging and influence-buying were analyzed:

  • General Electric
  • Verizon
  • PG&E
  • Wells Fargo
  • Duke Energy
  • Boeing
  • Consolidated Edison
  • DuPont
  • Honeywell International
  • Mattel
  • Corning
  • FedEx
  • Tenet Healthcare
  • Wisconsin Energy
  • Con-way

The report bluntly cites the growing disparity between the relatively few rich and the vast majority of poor and middle-class citizens:

“Over the past few months, a growing protest movement has shifted the debate about economic inequality in this country.

“The American people wonder why members of Congress suggest cuts to Medicare and Social Security but won’t require millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.

“They want to know why they are struggling to find jobs and put food on the the table while the country’s largest corporations get tax breaks and sweetheart deals, then use that extra cash to pay bloated bonuses to CEOs or ship jobs overseas.

“….At a time when millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more make tough choices to get by, these companies are enriching their top executives and spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists to stave off higher taxes or regulations.”

Assessing the results of corporate tax-dodging, the report states:

  • Using various tax dodging techniques, including stashing profits in overseas tax havens and tax loopholes, 29 out of 30 companies featured in this study succeeded in paying no federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010.
  • These 29 companies received tax rebates over those three years, ranging from $4 million for Corning to nearly $5 billion for General Electric and totally nearly $11 billion altogether.
  • The only corporation that paid taxes in that three-year period, FedEx, paid a three-year tax rate of 1%, far less than the statutory rate of 35%.

The report bluntly notes the hypocrisy of corporate executives who call themselves “job creators” while enriching themselves by laying off thousands of employees:

“Another area where these corporations have decided to spend lavishly is compensation for their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

“Executives doing particularly well work for General Electric ($76 million in total compensation in 2010), Honeywell International ($54 million), and Wells Fargo ($50 million).

“Executives who have seen the greatest increase work for DuPont (188% increase), Wells Fargo (180% increase) and Verizon (167% increase).

Despite being profitable, some of these corporations have actually laid off workers.

Since 2008, seven of the corporations have reported laying off American workers. The worst offenders–by 2011–are Verizon, which laid off at least 21,308 workers, and Boeing, which fired at least 14,862 employees.

Insisting that “corporations are people” wins applause from the wealthiest 1% and their Right-wing shills. But it does nothing to better the lives of the increasingly squeezed poor and middle-class.

If the nation is to avoid economic and moral bankruptcy, Americans must demand that powerful corporations be held accountable–and punished harshly when they behave irresponsibly.

CHENEY VS. MACHIAVELLI

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on October 9, 2014 at 1:21 am

Dick Cheney left office as co-President of the United States on January 20, 2009.  Since then, he has had time to write his memoirs and reflect on the legacies of the George W. Bush Presidency.

His book, In My Time, was published in 2012.  And, in March, 2013, Cheney appeared in the Showtime-produced documentary, “The World According to Dick Cheney.”

Dick Cheney

Throughout the program, Cheney showed no interest in introspection.

“I don’t go around thinking, ‘Gee, I wish we’d done this, or I wish I’d done that,’” said Cheney.  “The world is as you find it, and you’ve got to deal with that….You don’t get do-overs.

“I did what I did, and it’s all part of the public record and I feel very good about it.  If I had it to do over again, I’d do it in a minute.”

When the interviewer, R.J. Cutler, raised how the Bush administration had altered privacy rights, tortured detainees and pushed for an unnecessary war in Iraq, Cheney replied:

“Tell me what terrorist acts you would let go forward because you didn’t want to be a mean and nasty fella?”

Perhaps the most telling moment came when Cheney outlined his overall views on Realpolitick:

“Are you going to trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your honor?” asked Cheney.  “This was a wartime situation and it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved.”

Perhaps Cheney was thinking of the famous quote about love versus fear in The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli’s primer on how to attain political power:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved.  The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved.

But as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain.

As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote, but when it approaches, they revolt….

Niccolo Machiavelli

And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared.  

For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Cheney appears to belileve that it’s better to be feared than loved.

In that, he has plenty of company among his fellow politicians–in the United States and elsewhere.  But there is more to Machiavelli’s teaching, and this is usually overlooked–as it most certainly was by Cheney:

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred.

For fear and the absence of hatred may well go together, and will always be attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women. 

If Cheney considers himself a student of Machiavelli, then he utterly ignored this last offering of cautionary advice.

By authorizing the use of torture, the Bush administration made itself–in the eyes of its Western European allies as well as its Islamic enemies–an epicenter of evil.  “Guantanamo”–the Marine base in Cuba that had been largely forgotten over the decades–became a synonym for torture.

And after photographs emerged of the tortures and humiliataions of detainees at Abu Garib Prison in Iraq, the United States sank even lower in the world’s estimation.

Among the human rights violations committed upon prisoners held by U.S. Army military police and assorted CIA agents:

  • physical abuse
  • psychological abuse
  • torture
  • rape
  • sodomy
  • homicide.

In his 2010 book, American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush, historian Nigel Hamilton wrote:

“[George Bush and Dick Cheney were] arguably the worst of all the American Caesars, who willfully and recklessly destroyed so much of the moral basis of American leadership in the modern world.”

Joseph Stalin once famously asked: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”  Stalin died in 1953.  Had he lived on into the 1980s, he would have found out.

It was then that Pope John Paul II showed the power of an aroused spirituality.

John Paul II

In 1981, the Soviet Union seemed about to invade his native Poland–as it had Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslavakia in 1968.  That was when the Pope reportedly sent the Kremlin a message:

If the Soviets invaded, he would fly to Warsaw and place himself directly in the line of fire.

The Soviets never dared launch their planned invasion.

It is a lesson utterly lost on the likes of men like Dick Cheney.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE–AND AN EVIL CEO

In Business, Entertainment, Politics, Social commentary on October 8, 2014 at 12:12 am

Every Christmas, TV audiences find comfort and triumph in the rerunning of a black-and-white 1946 movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a decent husband and father who hovers on the brink of suicide–until his guardian angel, Clarence, suddenly intervenes.

Its A Wonderful Life Movie Poster.jpg

Clarence reveals to George what his home town, Bedford Falls, New York, would be like if he had never been born.  George finds himself shocked to learn:

  • With no counterweight to the schemes of rapacious slumlord Henry F. Potter, Bedford Falls becomes Potterville, filled with pawn shops and sleazy nightclubs.
  • With no George Bailey to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in a frozen pond, Harry drowns.
  • With no Harry to live to become a Naval fighter pilot in World War II, he’s not on hand to shoot down two Japanese planes targeting an American troopship.
  • As a result, the troopship and its crew are destroyed.

George is forced to face the significant role he has played in the lives of so many others.

Armed with this knowledge, he once again embraces life, running through the snow-covered streets of Bedford Falls and shouting “Merry Christmas!” to everyone he meets.

Audiences have hailed George Bailey as an Everyman hero–and the film as a life-affirming testatment to the unique importance of each individual.

But there is another aspect of the movie that has not been so closely studied: The legacy of its villain, Henry F. Potter, who, as  played by Lionel Barrymore, bears a striking resemblance to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter.jpg

Henry F. Potter

It is Potter–the richest man in Bedford Falls–whose insatiable greed threatens to destroy it.  And it is Potter whose criminality drives George Bailey to the brink of suicide.

The antagonism between Bailey and Potter starts early in the movie.  George dreams of leaving Bedford Falls and building skyscrapers.  Meanwhile, he works at the Bailey Building and Loan Association, which plays a vital role in the life of the community.

Potter, a member of the Building and Loan Association board, tries to persuade the board of directors to dissolve the firm. He objects to their providing home loans for the working poor.

George persuades them to reject Potter’s proposal, but they agree only on condition that George run the Building and Loan.  Reluctantly, George agrees.

Later, Potter tries to lure George away from the Building and Loan, offering him a $20,000 salary and the chance to visit Europe.  George is briefly tempted.

But then he realizes that Potter intends to close down the Building and Loan and deny financial help to those who most need it.  Angrily, he turns down Potter’s offer:

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter!

“In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider.”

It is a setback for Potter, but he’s willing to bide his time for revenge.

On Christmas Eve morning, the town prepares a hero’s welcome for George’s brother, Harry.  George’s scatter-brained Uncle Billy visits Potter’s bank to deposit $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash funds.

He taunts Potter by reading the newspaper headlines announcing the coming tribute.  Potter  snatches the paper, and Billy unthinkingly allows the money to be snatched with it.

When Billy leaves, Potter opens the paper and sees the money.  He keeps it, knowing that misplacement of bank money will bankrupt the Building and Loan and bring criminal charges against George.

But at the last minute, word of George’s plight reaches his wide range of grateful friends.  A flood of townspeople arrive with more than enough donations to save George and the Building and Loan.

The movie ends on a triumphant note, with George basking in the glow of love from his family and friends.

But no critic seems to have noticed that Henry Potter’s theft has gone unnoticed.  (Uncle Billy can’t recall how he lost the money.)  Potter is richer by $8,000.  And ready to go on taking advantage of others.

Perhaps it’s time to see Potter’s actions in a new light–that of America’s richest 1%, ever ready to prey upon the weaknesses of others.

Justice never catches up with Potter in the movie.  But the joke-writers at Saturday Night Live have conjured up a satisfactory punishment for his avarice.

In this version, Uncle Billy suddenly remembers that he left the money with Potter.  Enraged, George Bailey (Dana Carvey) leads his crowd of avenging friends to Potter’s office.

Potter realizes the jig is up and offers to return the money.  But George wants more than that–and he and his friends proceed to stomp and beat Potter to death.

The skit ends with with George and his friends singing “Auld Ang Syne”–as they do in the movie–as they finish off Potter with clubs.

Click here: SNL and Dana Carvey perform the “Alternate Ending of Its a Wonderful Life!

America is rapidly a divided nation–one where the richest 1% lord it over an increasingly impoverished 99%.

The time may be coming when many Americans are ready to embrace the SNL approach to economic justice.

LIKE AIDS, LIKE EBOLA: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 7, 2014 at 12:25 am

On October 3, a series of high-ranking officials briefed reporters at the White House on the emerging Ebola threat.

Presiding over the briefing was Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security.

The assembled dignitaries repeatedly assured their audience–reporters from the national media and those tuning in around the country–that there was nothing to worry about.

Lisa Monaco speaking at White House press conference on Ebola

As explained by Monaco:

“I want to emphasize that the United States is prepared to deal with this crisis both at home and in the region. Every Ebola outbreak over the past 40 years has been stopped.

“We know how to do this and we will do it again. With America’s leadership, I am confident, and President Obama is confident, that this epidemic will also be stopped.”

A little more than 30 years ago, America was facing another deadly epidemic–that of AIDS.

Officials at all levels of government–local, state and Federal–also repeatedly assured their fellow citizens they had nothing to worry about.

Everyone knew, after all, that only homosexuals having “unprotected sex” got AIDS.

So the warning went out: If you aren’t gay, you have nothing to worry about.

But then another group of AIDS-infected patients appeared: intravenous drug users.

So the message was revised: If you’re not gay, and you don’t use IV drugs, you’re OK.

Then a third group of at-risk people began showing up in doctors’ offices: Haitians.

So, once again, the warning was revised: If you aren’t gay, don’t use IV drugs, and you’re not from Haiti, you’ll be safe.

But then a fourth group of endangered citizens emerged: hemophiliacs.

So the warning was reissued as: If you’re not gay, don’t use IV drugs, aren’t Haitian and aren’t a hemophiliac needing blood transfusions, AIDS can’t touch you.

And then a fifth category of victims emerged: heterosexual women.

And, yet again, the warning was changed: If you’re not gay, don’t use IV drugs, aren’t Haitian, aren’t a hemophilic and aren’t a heterosexual woman….

The numbers of potential AIDS victims kept expanding–and giving the lie to all the comforting boilerplate churned out by PR machines.

Apparently, someone at the White House press conference on Ebola remembered that earlier scenario.

Because, to the obvious surprise of the assembled dignitaries, an anonymous reporter stated what was clearly on the minds of his viewing/listening audience:

“So help me understand–the stuff that you’ve talked about in terms of preparedness here in this country, the conversations with hospitals, the coordination with the local authorities and all seems very dissonant.

“I think to people in the country who look at basically the first case, or one of the first cases, and see that the whole thing broke down.

“At every step of the way there were breakdowns. It broke down, as the person back there was saying, when he [Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who flew to Dallas from Liberia] lied on the form.

“It broke down when the hospital turned him away. It broke down when the materials that were in his apartment haven’t been thrown away.

“I mean, it feels like, to Americans, like you guys are up here talking about we have this great and perfect system that’s going to be able to contain this virus because we’ve done all this preparation, and yet it doesn’t look like it’s working.

“And so how should the regular or the average person have confidence that whether it’s the case in Howard or whether it’s some case somewhere else in the country at the moment, that somebody isn’t being turned away there?

“That somebody didn’t get–their temperature got taken in Africa but didn’t get caught, and so they’re on a plane as we speak?  Square the dissonance between your confidence and the fact that things don’t seem to be working.”

It was the journalistic version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: The little boy’s pointing out that the emperor–for all the subservient flattery of his aides–didn’t have any clothes on.

Lisa Monaco fell back on boilerplate: “I think the American people should be confident for all the reasons that we have stated and the President has spoken to….”

She admitted that, yes, all the screw-ups the reporter had outlined had in fact happened: “And we have now seen one [Ebola] case, and as Dr. Fauci mentioned, it is entirely possible we will see another case.”

But she refused to admit that preventing other Ebola-infected Liberians from entering the United States was a commonsense approach.

She repeated what she had said earlier: “We have a public health infrastructure and medical professionals throughout this country who are capable of dealing with cases if they present themselves….”

In short, the United States can afford to be a dumping-ground for other countries’ deadly cast-offs.

And, somehow, everything would of course turn out all right.

LIKE AIDS, LIKE EBOLA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 6, 2014 at 12:11 am

Ebola.  Another way of saying: “African nightmare.”

Its signs and symptoms typically begin abruptly within five to 10 days of infection. These include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Severe headache
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Weakness

Over time, symptoms become increasingly severe and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Hiccups
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Red eyes
  • Raised rash
  • Chest pain and cough
  • Stomach pain
  • Severe weight loss
  • Bleeding, usually from the eyes, and bruising (people near death may bleed from other orifices, such as ears, nose and rectum)
  • Internal bleeding

Ebola virus

The average time between contracting Ebola and the onset of symptoms is eight to 10 days, but this can vary between two and 21 days.

Its early symptoms may be similar to–and mistaken for–those of malaria, dengue fever or other tropical fevers.  When the disease reaches the bleeding phase, there can be no doubt.

Ebola-infected hand

Infection can occur through contact with

  • blood
  • sweat
  • saliva
  • mucus
  • vomit
  • feces
  • tears
  • breast milk
  • semen
  • urine

of an infected person or animal.

Fruit bats are believed to be carriers and may spread the virus without being affected.

Even surviving Ebola infection doesn’t guarantee future safety: Male survivors may be able to transmit it through semen for almost two months.

Doctors believe it can’t–as yet–be transmitted through the air, like measles or chickenpox.

Government officials–such as Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–are quick to point out that “direct contact” must occur to cause infection.

“Direct contact” means fluids that spray or splash into your eyes, nose or mouth–as when someone sneezes or coughs on you–or enter the bloodstream through breaks or cuts in skin.

You can also become infected by touching someone’s infected fluids and then touching your eyes or mouth.

Until September, Ebola was a nightmare that plagued only Africa–especially Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

As of October 3, Ebola has killed 3,400 people in West Africa.

Then on September 21, Thomas Eric Duncan flew from Liberia to Dallas, Texas.  On September 25 he sought medical care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

He was diagnosed as having a “low grade fever and abdominal pain.”  He underwent basic blood tests but wasn’t screened for Ebola. Duncan left the medical facility after being given antibiotics and a pain reliever.

Duncan lived in a Dallas apartment with his family when he got sick.  On October 3, that apartment was finally decontaminated by a hazardous-materials crew.

Duncan’s relatives were moved out to a private residence in a gated community that was offered by a volunteer.

Health officials are monitoring about 50 people who may have had contact with Duncan, including nine who are believed to be at a higher risk. Thus far none have shown symptoms. 

Meanwhile, an American freelance cameraman working for NBC in Liberia has tested positive for Ebola and will be flown back to the United States, along with the rest of the news crew.

So how is the Federal Government coping with this unprecedented crisis?

With a massive PR offensive, orchestrated at the highest level–the White House.

On October 3, reporters for national news media were briefed at the White House by no less a series of high-ranking officials than:

  • Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security;
  • Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services;
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases;
  • Raj Shah, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development; and
  • General David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Forces Africa Command.

“We are not facing just a health crisis, we are facing a national security priority,” said Monaco.  And she added:

“The strategy the United States is executing has four key goals:

  • To control the epidemic at its source in West Africa;
  • To mitigate the second-order impacts of this epidemic;
  • To lead a coordinated international response;
  • And to build a robust global health security infrastructure so we are prepared over the long run to confront epidemics such as the one we’re facing today.”

But controlling “the epidemic at its source in West Africa” doesn’t mean the government will ban all flights from Ebola-ravaged Liberia.

Said Monaco: “Right now we believe those types of steps actually impede the response. They…. slow down the ability of the United States and other international partners to actually get expertise and capabilities and equipment into the affected areas.”

Monaco did not explain why preventing travelers from an infected region from entering the United States would impede the United States from shipping “capabilities and equipment into the affected areas.

But it’s easy to see how such a ban of black Africans would be seen–and attacked–as Politically Incorrect.  Especially if it were ordered by the first black President of the United States.

The assembled dignitaries repeatedly emphasized that , as Monaco put it:

“It’s very important to remind the American people that the United States has the most capable health care infrastructure and the best doctors in the world, bar none. And it’s why people travel from all over the world to receive medical care here in the United States.”

That, at least, is the official side of the story.  In the next column, we’ll explore the real side of it.

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