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THE NEXT 9/11: HOW IT WILL HAPPEN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 16, 2014 at 12:09 am

All security systems–including those considered the best–are manned by humans.  And humans are and will always be imperfect creatures.

So there will inevitably be times when security agents will miss the assassin or terrorist intent on mayhem.  For example:

  • In September, 1975, two women–Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore–tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford.
  • Fromme was tackled by a Secret Service agent.  Moore’s aim was deflected by Oliver Sipple, a Marine and Vietnam veteran, thus saving Ford’s life.

Gerald Ford being hustled from danger by Secret Service agents

Until these incidents, the Secret Service profile of a potential assassin didn’t include a woman.

  • On March 30, 1981, John W. Hinckley, a psychotic obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, gained access to a line of reporters waiting to throw questions at President Ronald Reagan.
  • As Reagan got into the Presidential limousine, Hinckley opened fire.  Wounded, Reagan escaped death by inches.

 

The Reagan assassination attempt

The Secret Service had failed to prevent the attack because no one–until that moment–had attacked a President from the section reserved for newsmen.

  • On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists armed with boxcutters highjacked four American jetliners and turned them into fuel-bombs.
  • Two of the airliners struck the North and South towers of the World Trade Center, destroying both structures.
  • A third hit the Pentagon.
  • The fourth–United Airlines Flight 93–crashed when it was diverted from its intended target (the White House or Congress) by passengers who resolved to fight back.
  • Three thousand Americans died that day–in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Until this day of catastrophes, no highjacker had turned a jumbo-jet into a fuel-bomb. Passengers had been advised to cooperate with highjackers, not resist them. 

As terrorists say, referring to anti-terrorism security services: “You have to be lucky all the time. We have to be lucky only once.”

So how will the next 9/11 happen?

In all likelihood, like this:

A terrorist–or, more likely, several terrorists–will sign up for one or more of these “VIP screening” programs.

They will be completely clean–no arrests, no convictions.  They may well be respectable citizens in their communities.

They will probably have amassed enough “frequent flier miles” to ingratiate themselves with the airlines and convince the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of their integrity.

They will breeze through their selected airports

  • Without removing shoes and belts;
  • Without undergoing pat-downs;
  • Without being required to remove laptops and other electronic devices from their carry-ons;
  • Without exposing their electronic devices to x-ray technology.

Then they will board planes–either as part of an individual terrorist effort or a coordinated one, a la 9/11.

And then it will be too late.

Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93

The TSA/airlines’ VIP programs are based on the assumption that someone who has completed a security check in the past need not be checked in the future.

This assumption has proven false for American Intelligence agencies such as the FBI and CIA.

  • Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent, spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services for 22 years (1979 – 2001).  He’s now serving a life prison term in Florence, Colorado.
  • Aldrich Ames, a former CIA agent, betrayed American secrets to Soviet and Russian espionage agencies from 1985 to 1994.  He is likewise serving a life sentence.

Even requiring an agent to undergo repeated security checks is no guarantee of trustworthiness.

When asked about how he repeatedly passed CIA polygraph tests, Ames said, “There’s no special magic. Confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner. Rapport, where you smile and you make him think that you like him.”

Now think about that–and then consider this:

The TSA introduced its Pre-Check program during the fall of 2011.  By May, 2012, more than 820,000 travelers had received expedited security since the start of the program.

In early September, 2013, TSA announced that it would more than double its expedited screening program, PreCheck, from 40 to 100 airports by the end of the year.

Nor is TSA the only organization giving big-spending fliers special treatment at potential risk to their country.   For example:

  • Delta Air Lines offers  Sky Priority, described as providing “privileged access through security checkpoints” at select airports.
  • Another private security program, Clear, collects several pieces of biometric data on well-heeled passengers as a screening measure at the airport.  Once verified by a kiosk local to the security checkpoint, the passengers are allowed to skirt the security barriers  that poor and middle-class folks must pass through.
  • Then there is Priority Access, set up by TSA and the airlines.  This provides expedited service to first-class and business passengers.   To qualify, you need only possess certain credit cards–such as the United Mileage Plus Club Card.

Some critics blast this two-tier passenger check-in system as an affront to democratic principles.

“It’s stratifying consumers by class and wealth, because the people who travel a lot usually have higher incomes,” says Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and frequent business traveler.

But there is an even more important reason to disband these programs and require everyone–rich and middle-class alike–to undergo the same level of security screening:

The three thousand men and women who died horifically on September 11, 2001, at the hands of airline passengers whom authorities thought could be trusted to board a plane.

 

 

THE NEXT 9/11: HOW IT WILL HAPPEN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 15, 2014 at 2:18 am

Thirteen years after 9/11, America is now selling its Islamic enemies access to the very weapons–jet-fueled airplanes–they need to wage jihad against us.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

This is happening thanks to the greed of American airline corporations and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Essentially, it comes down to this:  Wealthy Americans hate waiting in long airport security lines.

But wealthy Americans–unlike poor and middle-class Americans–have lots of money to spend.

So they’re willing to shell out a good portion of it to the airlines and TSA so they won’t have to stand in line with the unworthy peasants.

And the airlines and TSA are happy to scoop up that money in return for giving these self-important Richie-Riches preferred treatment.

Even if this comes at the security of the nation they claim to love.

Consider the following:

TSA offers Pre-Check, a program from the Department of Homeland Security.  It’s for frequent fliers of many airlines.

According to the TSA’s website, here’s how it works:

  • An applicant must be a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and cannot have been convicted of certain crimes. If an applicant has a record of any of the crimes identified in the eligibility requirements, they may choose not to apply, as the application fee is nonrefundable.
  • Interested applicants must visit an application center to provide biographic information that includes name, date of birth and address. An applicant will be fingerprinted and will be required to provide valid required identity and citizenship/immigration documentation. An applicant also has the option to pre-enroll online to provide basic information and make an appointment before visiting an application center. There is a nonrefundable application processing fee of $85.
  • After completing enrollment, successful applicants will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) via U.S. mail approximately 2-3 weeks following the visit to the application center. An applicant also may check status online by visiting https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/ and clicking on “Service Status.” The Known Traveler Number is valid for five years.
  • Once approved as eligible for TSA Pre✓™, the enrollee must enter the provided KTN in the ‘Known Traveler Number’ field when booking travel reservations on any of the ten participating airlines.  The KTN also can be added when booking reservations online via a participating airline website, via phone call to the airline reservation center, or with the travel management company making reservations.  Additionally, the KTN can be entered in participating airline frequent flyer profiles, where it will be stored for future reservations.

Click here: TSA Pre?™ Application Program | Transportation Security Administration

The website further notes: “TSA is accepting applications at more than 300 locations nationwide, including 26 airports.”

And what does a Pre-Check passenger get in return for his $85 registration fee?

  • S/he is allowed to go through a special line at security with reduced screening.
  • Shoes, jackets and belts need not be removed.
  • Many electronics (including laptops) can be left in their carry-on.
  • Magnetometers (metal detecting scanners) are used instead of advanced imaging technology.

Here’s the difference between a scan by a magnetometer and one using advanced imaging technology:

If you’re trying to carry a metallic firearm aboard a plane, the magnetometer will likely pick it up.  But if you’ve filled your computer with plastic explosive, the magnetometer won’t pick it up.

Or maybe you want to prove a more successful shoe-bomber than Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001.

Being allowed to skip the requirement to remove your shoes will certainly take you a long way toward reaching your goal.

Of course, TSA isn’t alone in wanting to make money from deep-pockets passengers.  The airlines have also been quick to get in on the act.

Most airlines make it possible for frequent-flier passengers to acquire elite status–for a price.

Passengers having any one of the following elite status are eligible for this benefit:

Delta: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members
United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K members
American: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members
USAirways: Silver Preferred, Gold Preferred, Platinum Preferred, and Chairman’s Preferred members
Southwest: A-List and A-List Preferred members
Alaska: MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75 members
Jetblue: TrueBlue Mosaic members and those seated in Even More Space seats
Virigin America: Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold members

Click here: Travel Tuesday Top 10: Ways To Get Through Airport Security Faster in the US | The Points Guy

Yes, the greed of corporations and government agencies is partly responsible for this disgraceful–and highly dangerous–situation.

And so is the belief among the wealthy that they are the elect, and thus deserve special consideration.

But there is another factor at work here: The Calvinistic belief–shared by most Americans–that wealth is a sign of God’s favor, and thus proof that its holder is worthy of deference, if not awe.

In combination, they are steadily moving this nation closer to the day of the next 9/11 disaster.

OUTLAW THE JOB-KILLERS: PART THREE (END)

In Politics, History, Social commentary, Law, Business on September 12, 2014 at 12:03 am

The last seven provisions of a nationwide Employers Responsibility Act would read as follows:

(9) Employers refusing to hire would be required to pay an additional “crime tax.”

Sociologists and criminologists agree that “the best cure for crime is a job.” Thus, employers who refuse to hire contribute to a growing crime rate in this Nation. Such non-hiring employers would be required to pay an additional tax, which would be earmarked for agencies of the criminal justice system at State and Federal levels.

(10)  The seeking of  “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to or remaining in cities/states would be strictly forbidden.

Such “economic incentives” usually:

  1. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
  2. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
  3. allow employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
  4. allow employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

2-28-96

(11)   Employers who continue to make such overtures would be prosecuted for attempted bribery or extortion:

  1. Bribery, if they offered to move to a city/state in return for “economic incentives,” or
  2. Extortion, if they threatened to move their companies from a city/state if they did not receive such “economic incentives.”

This would protect employees against artificially-depressed wages and unsafe working conditions; protect the environment in which these employees live; and protect cities/states from being pitted against one another at the expense of their economic prosperity.

(12)   The U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor would regularly monitor the extent of employer compliance with the provisions of this Act.  

Among these measures: Sending  undercover  agents, posing as highly-qualified job-seekers, to apply at companies—and then vigorously prosecuting those employers who  blatantly refused to hire despite their proven economic ability to do so.

This would be comparable to the long-time and legally-validated practice of using undercover agents to determine compliance with fair-housing laws.

(13)   The Justice Department and/or the Labor Department would be required to maintain a publicly-accessible database on those companies that had been cited, sued and/or convicted for such offenses as

  • discrimination,
  • harassment,
  • health and/or safety violations or
  • violating immigration laws. 

Employers would be legally required to regularly provide such information to these agencies, so that it would remain accurate and up-to-date. 

Such information would arm job applicants with vital information about the employers they were approaching.  They could thus decide in advance if an employer is deserving of their skills and dedication.

As matters now stand, employers can legally demand to learn even the most private details of an applicant’s life without having to disclose even the most basic information about themselves and their history of treating employees.

(14)   CEOs whose companies employ illegal aliens would be held directly accountable for the actions of their subordinates.  Upon conviction, the CEO would be sentenced to a mandatory prison term of at least ten years.

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

Without employers eager to hire illegal aliens at a fraction of the money paid to American workers, the invasions of illegal job-seekers would quickly come to an end.

(15)   A portion of employers’ existing Federal taxes would be set aside to create a national clearinghouse for placing unemployed but qualified job-seekers.

* * * * *

For thousands of years, otherwise highly intelligent men and women believed that kings ruled by divine right.  That kings held absolute power, levied extortionate taxes and sent countless millions of men off to war–all because God wanted it that way.

That lunacy was dealt a deadly blow in 1776 when American Revolutionaries threw off the despotic rule of King George III of England.

But today, millions of Americans remain imprisoned by an equally outrageous and dangerous theory: The Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

Summing up this employer-as-God attitude, Calvin Coolidge still speaks for the overwhelming majority of employers and their paid shills in government: “The man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.”

America can no longer afford such a dangerous fallacy as the Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

Americans did not win their freedom from Great Britain–-and its enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of kings”-–by begging for their rights.

And Americans will not win their freedom from their corporate masters–-and the equally enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of employers”-–by begging for the right to work and support themselves and their families.

Corporations can–and do–spend millions of dollars on TV ads, selling lies–lies such as the “skills gap,” and how if the wealthy are forced to pay their fair share of taxes, jobs will inevitably disappear.

But Americans can choose to reject those lies–and demand that employers behave like patriots instead of predators.

OUTLAW THE JOB-KILLERS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on September 11, 2014 at 12:11 am

Kenneth Fisher, the billionaire CEO-owner of Fisher investments, isn’t worried that America doesn’t have enough jobs for its millions of willing-to-work unemployed.

On the contrary: He–and no doubt many other wealthy CEOs–believe there are too many jobs as it is.

Too many CEOs are piggish on America

But for those who are unable to find willing-to-hire employers–or to find employers willing to hire at a living wage–the situation looks different.

This situation, however, does not have to remain this way.

A solution lies at hand–provided Americans are willing to see corporate treason for what it is and to punish it accordingly.

That solution can be summed up as follows: A nationwide Employers Responsibility Act.

Among its provisions:

(1) American companies that close plants in the United States and open others abroad would be forbidden to sell products made in those foreign plants within the United States.

This would protect both American and foreign workers from employers seeking to profit at their expense. American workers would be ensured of continued employment. And foreign laborers would be protected against substandard wages and working conditions.

Companies found violating this provision would be subject to Federal criminal prosecution. Guilty verdicts would result in heavy fines and lengthy imprisonment for their owners and top managers.

(2) Large companies (those employing more than 100 persons) would be required to create entry-level training programs for new, future employees.

These would be modeled on programs now existing for public employees, such as firefighters, police officers and members of the armed services.

Such programs would remove the employer excuse, “I’m sorry, but we can’t hire you because you’ve never had any experience in this line of work.” After all, the Air Force has never rejected an applicant because, “I’m sorry, but you’ve never flown a plane before.”

This Nation has greatly benefited from the humane and professional efforts of the men and women who have graduated from public-sector training programs. There is no reason for the private sector to shun programs that have succeeded so brilliantly for the public sector.

(3) Employers would receive tax credits for creating professional, well-paying, full-time jobs.

This would encourage the creation of better than the menial, dead-end, low-paying and often part-time jobs which exist in the service industry. Employers found using such tax credits for any other purpose would be prosecuted for tax fraud.

(4)  A company that acquired another—through a merger or buyout—would be forbidden to fire en masse the career employees of that acquired company.

This would be comparable to the protection existing for career civil service employees. Such a ban would prevent a return to the predatory “corporate raiding” practices of the 1980s, which left so much human and economic wreckage in their wake.

The wholesale firing of employees would trigger the prosecution of the company’s new owners. Employees could still be fired, but only for provable just cause, and only on a case-by-case basis.

(5)  Employers would be required to provide full medical and pension benefits for all employees, regardless of their full-time or part-time status.

Increasingly, employers are replacing full-time workers with part-time ones—solely to avoid paying medical and pension benefits. Requiring employers to act humanely and responsibly toward all their employees would encourage them to provide full-time positions—and hasten the death of this greed-based practice.

(6) Employers of part-time workers would be required to comply with all federal labor laws.

Under current law, part-time employees are not protected against such abuses as discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions. Closing this loophole would immediately create two positive results:

  • Untold numbers of currently-exploited workers would be protected from the abuses of predatory employers; and
  • Even predatorily-inclined employers would be encouraged to offer permanent, fulltime jobs rather than only part-time ones—since a major incentive for offering part-time jobs would now be eliminated.

(7) Employers would be encouraged to hire to their widest possible limits, through a combination of financial incentives and legal sanctions. Among those incentives:

Employers demonstrating a willingness to hire would receive substantial Federal tax credits, based on the number of new, permanent employees hired per year.

Employers claiming eligibility for such credits would be required to make their financial records available to Federal investigators. Employers found making false claims would be prosecuted for perjury and tax fraud, and face heavy fines and imprisonment if convicted.

(8) Among those sanctions: Employers refusing to hire could be required to prove, in court:

  • Their economic inability to hire further employees, and/or
  • The unfitness of the specific, rejected applicant.

Companies found guilty of unjustifiably refusing to hire would face the same penalties as now applying in cases of discrimination on the basis of age, race, sex and disability.

Two benefits would result from this:

  1. Employers would thus fund it easier to hire than to refuse to do so; and
  2. Job-seekers would no longer be prevented from even being considered for employment because of arbitrary and interminable “hiring freezes.”

OUTLAW THE JOB-KILLERS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on September 10, 2014 at 12:22 am

Kenneth Fisher, chief executive officer of Fisher Investments, has a uniquely CEO view of jobs:  “Believe it or not, I’m for fewer jobs, not more.”

In the Christmas Eve, 2012 issue of Forbes, he asserted: “Job Growth is Overrated.”

“Believe it or not, I’m for fewer jobs, not more.

“Throughout 2012 we heard politicians and pundits of all stripes yammering endlessly on the need for job growth—that we don’t have enough jobs. It’s pure rubbish.”

Ken Fisher

Kenneth Fisher

According to Fisher, jobs are actually signs of weakness in the economy. Fewer employees can produce more products–and that’s good for us all.

For Fisher, the template for future economic success is Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer:  “With Wal-Mart you get an awe-inspiring company at 13 times my January 2014 earnings estimate, with a 2. 2 % dividend yield.”

Of course, it’s easy for Fisher–a billionaire–to take a “What?  Me Worry?” attitude about the unemployment problems facing millions of willing-to-work Americans.

And it’s certainly easier for him to identify with his fellow billionaire boys club members, the Waltons, than with the low-paid employees of Wal-Mart.

In December, 2013, Wal-Mart announced that it would deny health insurance to newly-hired employees who work less than 30 hours a week.

Walmart eliminates healthcare coverage for certain workers if their average work-week falls below 30 hours–which regularly happens at the direction of company managers.

You can be certain that Fisher doesn’t have to worry about getting top-notch nedical care anytime he thinks he needs it.

Another thing that Fisher clearly admires about Wal-Mart: Its gross profit in July, 2014, stood at $128.08 billion.

C. Douglas McMillon, who became the president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores on Feb. 1 2014, saw his total compensation skyrocket 168% to $25.6 million

On the other hand:  Most Walmart workers earn less than $20,000 a year.  According to Bloomberg News, the average Walmart Associate makes just $8.81 per hour.

But there is probably one thing about Wal-Mart that Fisher doesn’t want to talk about.

Since 2008, Walmart has fired or lost 120,000 American workers, while opening more than 500 new U.S. stores.  Many workers quit to find better-paying jobs.

As a result, turnover at Walmart has been correspondingly high.

Recently, Wal-Mart has been forced to launch a massive PR campaign to counteract its notoriety for low pay, employment of illegal aliens, lack of health benefits and union-busting tactics.

In 2011-12, Walmart spent $1.89 billion on self-glorifying ads.

And Fisher conveniently ignores the huge emotional role that being employed plays in the United States.

The majority of Americans–especially men–derive their sense of identity from what they do for a living.

Ask a man, “What do you do?” and he’s almost certain to reply: “I’m a fireman.”  Or “I’m a salesman.”

To be unemployed in America is considered by most Americans–including the unemployed–the same as being a bum.

And Republicans are quick to point accusing fingers at those willing-to-work Americans who can’t find willing-to-hire employers.

According to Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Herman Cain: If you can’t find a job, it’s entirely your fault.

And when Republicans are forced–by public pressure or Democratic majorities–to provide benefits to the unemployed, these nearly always come at a price.

Those receiving subsistence monies are, in many states, required to undergo drug-testing, even though there is no evidence of widespread drug-abuse among the unemployed.

But America can put an end to this “I’ve-got-mine-and-the-hell-with-you” job-killing arrogance of people like Kenneth Fisher.

How?

The answer lies in three words: Employers Reponsibility Act (ERA).

If passed by Congress and vigorously enforced by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor, an ERA would ensure full-time, permanent and productive employment for millions of capable, job-seeking Americans.

And it would achieve this without raising taxes or creating controversial government “make work” programs.

Such legislation would legally require employers to demonstrate as much initiative for hiring as job-seekers are now expected to show in searching for work.

An Employers Responsibility Act would simultaneously address the following evils for which employers are directly responsible:

  • The loss of jobs within the United States owing to companies’ moving their operations abroad—solely to pay substandard wages to their new employees.
  • The mass firings of employees which usually accompany corporate mergers or acquisitions.
  • The widespread victimization of part-time employees, who are not legally protected against such threats as racial discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.
  • The refusal of many employers to create better than menial, low-wage jobs.
  • The widespread employer practice of extorting “economic incentives” from cities or states in return for moving to or remaining in those areas. Such “incentives” usually absolve employers from complying with laws protecting the environment and/or workers’ rights.
  • The refusal of many employers to provide medical and pension benefits—nearly always in the case of part-time employees, and, increasingly, for full-time, permanent ones as well.
  • Rising crime rates, due to rising unemployment.

MOVIES: A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE INDUSTRY

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Social commentary on September 4, 2014 at 11:16 pm

On August 31, the Huffington Post ran a story about trouble in Hollywood, under the headline: “Film Industry Has Worst Summer since 1997.”

Little more than one month earlier–on July 22–a headline in the Hollywood Reporter had offered this insight into moviedom’s current woes: “Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter.”

Click here: Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter

Movie Theater

It’s hard to think of an industry that’s created a better recipe for self-destruction than the movie business.

Consider the following:

According to Rentrak, a company that keeps tabs on box office profits:

  • Ticket sales to movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada are expected to sink to $3.9 billion.
  • In July, movie ticket sales were down 30%.
  • That’s a 15% decline in movie revenues when compared to those racked up during the summer of 2013.
  • For the first time in 13 years, no summer film netted $300 million in domestic ticket sales.

Among this summer’s films that disappointed movie studios:

  • “The Expendables 3″
  • “Planes:  Fire and Rescue”
  • “Amazing Spider Man 2″
  • “Sex Tape”
  • “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
  • “Edge of Tomorrow”
  • “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Click here: Film Industry Has Worst Summer Since 1997

Analysts had predicted a drop-off in movie attendance owing to increased use of online streaming.  They also expected major television events like the World’s Cup to keep moviegoers indoors.

But they didn’t expect the summer of 2014 to prove the worst in ticket sales since 1997.

Which is outrageous.  The wonder is that the movie business hasn’t collapsed already.

It’s hard to think of an industry more geared toward its own destruction than the movie business.

First, there’s the before-mentioned average ticket price of $8.33.  You don’t have to be an Einstein at math to multiply $8.33 by, say, a husband, wife, and two to four children.

So a couple with two children can expect to spend at least $33.32 just to get into the theater.  A couple with four children will be gouged $49.98 for a single movie’s entertainment.

And that’s not including the marked-up prices charged for candy, soda and popcorn at the concession stand.

Second, it’s almost guaranteed that even the biggest potential movie “draw” will be released on DVD or streaming within three to six months after it hits theaters.

So if you need to save enough money each month to meet the rent and other basic needs, you’re likely to wait it out for the DVD to  hit stores.  Wait even longer than six months, and you can probably buy a cheaper used DVD.

With that, you can watch your new favorite movie as many times as you want–without being charged bigtime every time you do so.

This is especially tempting to those with big-screen TVs, whose prices have steadily fallen and are now affordable by almost everyone.

Third, there used to be an unspoken agreement between theaters and moviegoers: We’ll pay a fair price to see one movie.  In return, we don’t expect to see TV-like commercials.

Naturally, that didn’t include previews of coming attractions.  These have been a widely enjoyed part of the movie experience since the 1930s.

But starting in 2003, theaters began aiming commercials at their customers before even the previews came on.  Some industry sources believe cinema advertising generates over $200 million a year in sales.

Click here: Now showing at a theatre near you – Louisville – Business First

But for those who feel they’ve already suffered enough at the ticket booth, being forced to watch TV-style ads is simply too much.

Fourth, while some theaters provide lush seating and special help for their customers (such as closed-captioning for the deaf) many others do not.

At AMC theaters, an onscreen advisory tells you to seek help if you need it.   But your chances of finding an available usher range from slim to none at most theaters.

To sum it up: What was once thought a special experience has become a jarring assault on the pocketbook and senses.

Just as airlines are now widely considered to be “flying buses,” so, too are movie theaters fast becoming expensive TV sets for moviegoers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, theaters lured customers from small-screen TVs with film spectacles like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus”.”  Or with new “you-are-there” film experiments like Cinnemascope.

“Family-friendly” movies like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” proved box-office champs with millions.

But now theaters have allowed their greed–for high ticket prices, quick-release DVDs and/or streaming and TV-style ads–to drive much of their audiences away.

Unless the owners of movie studios–and movie theaters–quickly smarten up, the motion picture business may ultimately became a pale shadow of its former Technicolor self.

HIPPOCRATIC OATH–OR JUST HYPOCRITES?

In Bureaucracy, Business, Medical, Social commentary on August 12, 2014 at 9:02 pm

A friend of mine–I’ll call him Sam–recently broke his big toe.

But Sam has a bigger problem than his big toe.  He’s on Medi-Cal, the California medical plan for the poor.

And if you think the nation’s veterans have it bad, try getting medical care when doctors refuse to honor your insurance.

After breaking his toe while tripping over a bag, Sam went to his regular doctor, a general internist at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) in San Francisco.

The doctor examined Sam’s toe and said he was worried.  It was a big fracture, and if the bones didn’t knit together properly, Sam could be in for big trouble.

So he advised Sam to see an orthopedic surgeon.

Luckily for Sam, said his doctor, there was one close by in the same office.  The doctor would ask him to check out Sam’s injury then and there.

Unluckily for Sam, he was on Medi-Cal--and the orthopedic surgeon refused to honor his insurance and see him.

Sam’s doctor sent him home, saying, “I’ll try to find someone as soon as I can.”

At home, Sam called Anthem Blue Cross, the private insurance company now providing coverage to the poor under the state Medi-Cal program.

The Anthem representative soon emailed Sam a list of Anthem Blue Cross orthopedic surgeons who would supposedly accept his insurance.

He then printed out the list on his computer.

Sam then made another phone call–to the office of Dr. Vernon L. Giang,  Chief Medical Executive for CPMC.

There he spoke with an assistant to Dr. Giang.  He explained his difficulties in getting medical care at CPMC.

He added that he had obtained a 14-page list of Anthem-Blue Cross-approved orthopedic surgeons who should be willing to accept his insurance.

The assistant said she would gladly check out the list for any doctors affiliated with CPMC.

But there was a problem.

Sam needed to fax her the information–and Sam didn’t have a fax machine.

Nevertheless, Sam hobbled several blocks to a nearby Kinko’s/FedEx office, which had fax machines.

The next morning, Sam called Dr. Giang’s office.  He reached the same assistant, who told him that the faxed material had come in.

The bad news: There wasn’t a single doctor on that list whom she had called who would accept Sam’s insurance.

In addition, some of the doctors were “out of our plan.”   Which meant that even if they had been willing to accept Sam’s insurance, he couldn’t have seen them.

The assistant was polite and sympathetic, but candid: CPMC’s doctors aren’t required to treat any patient whose insurance they dislike.

In fact, CPMC cannot demand that they do so, since the doctors who are practice under its name are considered “independent practitioners.”

So Sam aimed higher.  He phoned the office of Dr. Warren S. Browner, the CEO of California Pacific Medical Center.

But he didn’t reach Browner–or even a secretary.

As a rule, when you call a giant corporation and ask to speak with its CEO, this doesn’t happen.  But what usually does happen is that you’re put through to the executive offices.

You won’t speak with the CEO, but you’ll usually reach a secretary for him.  And if your message is one that poses legal or public relations disaster for the company, the odds are excellent that you’ll soon get a call back.

Not from the CEO (except in rare cases) but from someone deputized to speak in his name–and to probably address your problem.

But, in this case, there was no secretary to answer the phone for Dr. Browner.  Just a message machine.  So Sam left an urgent message, outlining his difficulties in getting medical care from CPMC.

No one from Dr. Browner’s office called him back that day.

Meanwhile, the pain in Sam’s foot was getting worse.  So, later that day, he hobbled into an emergency room of CMPC.

A doctor examined Sam’s foot and ordered several X-rays taken of the broken toe. After examining these, he told Sam what he already knew: The toe was broken.

He also warned that if it wasn’t treated properly, Sam could have great pain–such as from arthritis–in the future.

Sam explained how he had been unable to get an orthopedic surgeon to look at his toe.

The doctor said he would try to find one who would.

Sam waited in the ER for almost four hours.  When he finally saw the doctor again, the latter seemed embarrassed to give him the bad news.

He hadn’t been any more successful than Sam at finding a CPMC orthopedic surgeon willing to treat Sam’s injury.

When Sam asked what he should do, the ER doctor said that “time” would take care of the injury.

The website for CPMC boasts: “At California Pacific Medical Center, our mission is to always give each patient the personal, hands-on attention they deserve.”

Unless, of course, all of its doctors in a particular specialty refuse to honor the patient’s medical insurance.

OBAMA’S SIX “OBAMACARE” MISTAKES: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on August 8, 2014 at 2:45 pm

President Obama claims to be a serious student of Realpolitick.  If this were so, he would have predicted that most businesses would seek to avoid compliance with his Affordable Care Act (ACA).

And the remedy would have been simple: Require all employers to provide insurance coverage for all of their employees, regardless of their fulltime or part-time status.

This, in turn, would have produced two substantial benefits:

  1. All employees would have been able to obtain medical coverage; and
  2. Employers would have been encouraged to provide fulltime positions rather than part-time ones.

The reason: Employers would feel: “Since I’m paying for fulltime insurance coverage, I should be getting fulltime work in return.”

If the President ever considered the merits of this, he apparently decided against pressing for such a requirement.

Obama is one of the most rational and educated men to occupy the White House.   So what accounts for this failure to expect the worst in people–especially his self-declared enemies–and prepare to counter it?

Niccolo Machiavelli’s brilliant assessments have repeatedly proven invaluable to understanding the failures of the Obama Presidency.  Once again, he provides a shrewd insight into what may be the central reason for all of them.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Writing in The Prince, his classic work on the realities of politics, Machiavelli states:

I also believe that he is happy whose mode of procedure accords with the needs of the times, and similarly, he is unfortunate whose mode of procedure is opposed to the times…. 

On this depend also the changes in prosperity, for if it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful.  But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of his procedure. 

No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him, or else because having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it.

And therefore the cautious man, when it is time to act suddenly, does not know how to do so and is consequently ruined.  For if one could change one’s nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change.

Obama is by nature a supreme rationalist and conciliator–not a confronter nor an attacker.  And his career before reaching the White House greatly strengthened this predisposition.

From 1985 to 1988, Obama worked as a community organizer–setting up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants’ rights organization.  Such activity demands skills in building consensus, not confrontation.

He then taught at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years—as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, teaching constitutional law.

File:Medium chicagoreflection.jpg

University of Chicago Law School

Law professors spend their time in clean, civil classrooms–far removed from the rough-and-tumble of criminal defense/prosecution.

If Obama had accused President George W. Bush of conspiring with Al Qaeda–as Republicans have repeatedly accused Obama–retribution would have been swift and brutal.

In short: Obama–who believes in reason and conciliation–is paying the price for allowing his sworn enemies to insult and obstruct him

Obama Mistake No. 6: Failing to closely study his proposed legislation.

Throughout his campaign to win support for the ACA, Obama had repeatedly promised:  “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period.  If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  Period.”

But, hidden in the 906 pages of the law, was a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.

The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans–so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law.

If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain coverage that did.

It soon turned out that a great many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.

Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare: Charged and ridiculed as a liar.

Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise.

Jon Stewart

The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor; since we can’t, you must be a liar.

As a result, the President now finds his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–shattered.

All of which takes us to the final warning offered by Niccolo Machiavelli:

Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil…. 

OBAMA’S SIX “OBAMACARE” MISTAKES: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on August 7, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Barack Obama is one of the most highly educated Presidents to occupy the White House.

When he took office, he intended to make healthcare available to all Americans–and not just the wealthiest 1%.

President Barack Obama

But he made a series of deadly mistakes:

  • In crafting the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare);
  • In building public support for it;
  • In underestimating the venom and opposition of his Republican enemies;
  • In failing to effectively counter that Right-wing venom and opposition; and
  • In underestimating the opposition of the business community to complying with the law.

Three of those mistakes have already been outlined.  Here are the remaining three.

Obama Mistake No. 4:  He allowed himself to be cowed by his enemies.

In The Prince, Machiavelli laid out the qualities that a successful ruler must possess.  There were some to be cultivated, and others to be avoided at all costs.  For example:

Niccolo Machiavelli

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.

So how has Obama fared by this standard?

On July 2, 2013, the Treasury Department issued a press release about a major change in the applicability of the Affordable Care Act:

“Over the past several months, the Administration has been engaging in a dialogue with businesses – many of which already provide health coverage for their workers – about the new employer and insurer reporting requirements under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively….We have listened to your feedback.  And we are taking action.

“The Administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin.”

[Boldface in the original document.]

In short: The administration is delaying until 2015 the law’s requirement that medium and large companies provide coverage for their workers or face fines.

And how did Obama’s self-declared enemies react to this announcement?

On July 30, House Republicans voted to proceed with a lawsuit against the President, claiming that he had failed to enforce the Affordable Care Act.

“In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement.

“That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

John Boehner

Thus, Boehner intends to sue the President to enforce the law that the House has voted 54 times to repeal, delay or change.

Obama Mistake Nol 5:  Believing that public and private comployers would universally comply with the law.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide insurance for part-time employees who work more than 30 hours per week.

Yet many government employers claim they can’t afford it–and plan to limit worker hours to 29 per week instead.  Among those states affected:

  • “Our choice was to cut the hours or give them health care, and we could not afford the latter,” Dennis Hanwell, the Republican mayor of Medina, Ohio, said in an interview with the New York Times.
  • Lawrence County, in western Pennsylvania, reduced the limit for part-time employees to 28 hours a week, from 32.
  • In Virginia, part-time state employees are generally not allowed to work more than 29 hours a week on average over a 12-month period.

President Obama and those who helped craft the Act may be surprised at what has happened.  But they shouldn’t be.

Greed-addicted officials will always seek ways to avoid complying with the law–or achieve minimum compliance with it.

And what goes for public employers goes for private ones, too.

A company isn’t penalized for failing to provide health insurance coverage for part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours.

The result was predictable.  And its consequences are daily becoming more clear.

Increasing numbers of employers are moving fulltime workers into part-time positions–and thus avoiding

  • providing their employees with medical insurance and 
  • a fine for non-compliance with the law.

Some employers have openly shown their contempt for President Obama–and the idea that employers actually have an obligation to those who make their profits a reality.

One of these is John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, who has been quoted as saying:

  1. The prices of his pizzas will go up–by eleven to fourteen cents price increase per pizza, or fifteen to twenty cents per order; and
  2. He will pass along these costs to his customers.

“If Obamacare is in fact not repealed,” Schnatter told Politico, “we will find tactics to shallow out any Obamacare costs and core strategies to pass that cost onto consumers in order to protect our shareholders’ best interests.”

After all, why should a multi-million-dollar company show any concern for those who make its profits a reality?

OBAMA’S SIX “OBAMACARE” MISTAKES: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on August 6, 2014 at 11:44 am

In The Prince, his classic treatise on Realpolitick, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman, warned:

“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”

This proved exactly the case with the proposed Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Its supporters–even when they comprised a majority of the Congress–have always shown far less fervor than its opponents.

This was true before the Act became effective on March 23, 2010.  And it has remained true since, with House Republicans voting 54 times to repeal, delay or revise the law.

So before President Barack Obama launched his signature effort to reform the American medical system, he should have taken this truism into account.

Obama Mistake No. 3: Failing to consider–and punish–the venom of his political enemies.

The ancient Greeks used to say: “A man’s character is his fate.”  It is Obama’s character–and our fate–that he is by nature a conciliator, not a confronter.

Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s winning of the White House in his book Renegade: The Making of a President.  He noted that Obama was always more comfortable when responding to Republican attacks on his character than he was in making attacks on his enemies.

Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans.  But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction.

At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and re-read what Niccolo Machiavelli famously said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:

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…. 

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.

Moreover, Machiavelli warns that even a well-intentioned leader can unintentionally bring on catastrophe.  This usually happens when, hoping to avoid conflict, he allows a threat to go unchecked.  Thus:

A man who who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.

And therefore it is necessary, for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.

For President Obama, such a moment came in October, 2013, when House Republicans shut down the government to force Obama to scrap Obamacare.

Obama, a former attorney, heatedly denounced House Republicans for “extortion” and “blackmail.”

Unless he was exaggerating, both of these are felony offenses that are punishable under the 2001 Patriot Act and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970.

All that he needed do was to order his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to ask the FBI to investigate whether either or both of these laws have been violated.

If violations had been discovered, indictments could have quickly followed– and then prosecutions.

The results of such action can be easily predicted.

  1. Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would first have to lawyer-up.  That in itself would have been no small thing, since good criminal lawyers cost big bucks.
  2. Obsessed with their own personal survival, they would have found little time for engaging in more of the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted.  In fact, doing so would have only made their conviction more likely.
  3. Those Republicans who hadn’t (yet) been indicted would have realized: “I could be next.”  This would have produced a chilling effect on their willingness to engage in further acts of subversion and extortion.
  4. The effect on Right-wing Republicans would have been the same as that of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers:  “You cross me and threaten the security of this nation at your own peril.”

It would no doubt be a long time before Republicans dared to engage in such behavior–if they ever so dared again.

So: Why didn’t the President act to punish such criminal conduct?

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