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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

GREED-TESTING FOR CEOs

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 15, 2015 at 12:01 am

Robert Benmosche, the CEO of American International Group (AIG) had some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work in a tight job market.

Robert Benmosche

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

Typical advice from a one-percenter whose company, AIG, suffered a liquidity crisis when its credit ratings were downgraded below “AA” levels in September, 2008.

And how did AIG “deal with” its own crisis?  It went crying to its Uncle Sugar, the United States Government, for a bailout.

Which it promptly got.

The United States Federal Reserve Bank, on September 16, 2008, made an $85 billion loan to the company to meet increased collateral obligations resulting from its credit rating downgrade–and thus saving it from certain bankruptcy.

In return, the Government took an 80% stake in the firm.

(The bailout eventually ballooned to $182 billion in exchange for a 92%  stake.)

College graduates, said Benmosche, needed to seize the opportunities that become available to them, even if their options are limited.

“They want me to talk to the students and give them a sense of encouragement, especially with the high unemployment,” said Benmosche.

“My advice will be, ‘Whatever opportunity comes your way, take it. Take it and treat it as if it’s the only one that’s coming your way, because that actually may be the truth.’”

Of course, willing-to-work college graduates who can’t find willing-to-hire employers won’t be able to count on a generous bailout from the Federal Government.

To which most of them will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.

It’s long past time to apply to “untouchable” CEOs like Robert Benmosche the same criteria that right-wing Republicans demand be applied to welfare recipients.

Throughout the past year Republican lawmakers have pursued welfare drug-testing in Congress and more than 30 states.

Some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

For example:

  • The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has invested $118.5 billion in restoring liquidity to the financial markets.
  • Federal Reserve rescue efforts: $1.5 trillion invested.
  • Federal stimulus programs designed to save or create jobs and jumpstart the economy from recession. $577.8 billion invested.
  • American International Group: Multifaceted bailout to help insurers through restructuring, minimize the need to post collateral and get rid of toxic assets. $127.4 billion invested.
  • FDIC bank takeovers: Cost to FDIC fund that insures losses depositors suffer when a bank fails. $45.4 billion invested.
  • Other financial initiatives designed to rescue the financial sector. $366.4 billion invested.
  • Other housing initiatives designed to rescue the housing market and prevent foreclosures. $130.6 billion invested.

Total of federal monies invested: $3 trillion.

It’s important to note that these figures–supplied by the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Congressional Budget Ooffice and the White House–date from November 16, 2009.

And it’s equally important to remember that welfare recipients did not

  • hold CEO positions at any of the banks so far bailed out;
  • run such insurance companies as American International Group (AIG);
  • administer the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac;
  • command the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae.

The 2010 documentary Inside Job chronicles the events leading to the 2008 global financial crisis. One of its most insightful moments occurs at a party held by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“We can’t control our greed,” the CEO of a large bank admits to his fellow guests.  “You should regulate us more.”

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or goods. At its worst, greed trumps rationality, judgment and concern about the damage it may cause.

Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain. A neurotransmitter called dopamine fuels our greed. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the greater the pleasure we experience.

Cocaine, for example, directly increases dopamine levels. So does money.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

Dopamine is most reliably activated by an experience we haven’t had before. We crave recreating that experience.

But snorting the same amount of cocaine, or earning the same sum of money, does not cause dopamine levels to increase. So the pleasure-seeker must increase the amount of stimuli to keep enjoying the euphoria.

In time, this incessant craving for pleasure becomes an addiction. And feeding that addiction–-with ever more money–becomes the overriding goal.

Thus, the infamous line–”Greed is good”–in the 1987 film, Wall Street, turns out to be both false and deadly for all concerned.

REPUBLICANS AS VOYEURS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on May 8, 2015 at 12:01 am

Adolf Hitler had greater respect for the privacy of women than Republican members of the Arizona legislature.

At the height of World War II, Dr. Hans Lammers, legal advisor to Adolf Hitler, issued this legal directive at the enraged order of his Fuhrer:

“In many [criminal] cases it will undoubtedly be necessary to determine whether there were sexual relations between two people or not.

“But if this much is known, it is wholly superfluous to probe for closer particulars as to how and where such sexual intercourse took place.  The cross-examination of women in particular should cease!

“Every time that cross-examining police officials or judges keep probing for details as to the how and where of the sexual intercourse, the Fuhrer has gained the very clear impression that this is done for the same reason that the same intimate questions are asked in the Confessional box

“The Fuhrer wants clear instructions issued for the abolition of unnecessary cross-examination.”1

Adolf Hitler 

By contrast, the Arizona legislature has introduced a bill that:

  • Requires women who want their contraception covered by their health insurance to prove to their employers that they are taking it to treat medical conditions—not to prevent pregnancy; and
  • Makes it legal for employers to fire a woman for using birth control to prevent pregnancy.

“The bill goes beyond guaranteeing a person’s rights to express and practice their faith,” Anjali Abraham, a lobbyist for the ACLU, told the Senate panel.

Instead, the legislation “lets employers prioritize their beliefs over the beliefs, the interests, the needs of their employees, in this case, particularly, female employees.”

Current Arizona law states that health plans covering other prescription medications must include contraception.

To override this requirement, the State House of Representatives passed House Bill 2625 in early March, 2012.  The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed it on March 12.

The full Senate has yet to vote on the legislation.

House Bill 2625 allows any employer to refuse to cover contraception that will be used “for contraceptive, abortifacient, abortion or sterilization purposes.”

If a woman wants the cost of her contraception covered, she must “submit a claim” to her employer providing evidence of a medical condition, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome, that can be treated with birth control.

Even more invasive, the law allows Arizona employers to fire a woman upon finding out that she took birth control to prevent pregnancy.

In short: While Adolf Hitler was outraged at public officials taking what he considered a prurient interest in a woman’s sex life, Arizona’s Republican legislators feel no such restraint.

“I believe we live in America,” said Majority Whip Debbie Lesko (R-Glendale), who sponsored the bill.

“We don’t live in the Soviet Union. So, government should not be telling the organizations or mom-and-pop employers to do something against their moral beliefs.”

In short, employers should be allowed to have Ayatollah-like power over the private sex-lives of their female employees.

The United States is not the Soviet Union. But if this bill is enacted, Arizona will bear a striking resemblance to Iran.

Debbie Lesko

This latest Republican effort should come as no surprise to anyone–least of all women.

Throughout 2011, Republicans attacked women’s reproductive rights–not simply access to legal abortion but even birth control.

The sheer number of laws proposed or enacted by Republicans at state and Federal levels–-to control the sex lives of American women–-is staggering.

At the state level:

  • State legislators introduced more than 1,100 anti-abortion provisions and had enacted 135 of them by year’s end.
  • Seven states either fully defunded or tried to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides basic health care, contraception, breast cancer and STD screenings to millions of low-income women each year.

At the Congressional level:

  • Republicans used abortion and Planned Parenthood funding to extort Democratic concessions during budget negotiations and threatened to shut down the government.
  • Republicans introduced mandatory ultrasound bills.
  • Republicans tried to narrow the definition of rape to include only “forcible rape.”  Under this change, a woman who was coerced, drugged or otherwise incapacitated by a rapist, would not be legally counted as a rape victim.
  • Republicans barred the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised funds to help low-income women pay for abortions.

During the first two months of 2012:

  • Virginia Republicans introduced a bill whose original language required women to undergo an invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound procedure 24 hours before having an abortion.
  • A modified version of the bill–requiring women to receive trans-abdominal ultrasounds, was signed into law instead.
  • With the connivance of House Republicans, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s largest breast cancer charity, tried to pull cancer-screening grants from Planned Parenthood because some of its clinics provide abortions.
  • The House Oversight Committee convened a hearing to deny contraceptive insurance coverage under the guise of “protecting religious liberty.” The Democrats’ one female witness, Sandra Fluke, was forbidden to speak at it.
  • Right-wing broadcaster Rush Limbaugh and Foster Friess–Rick Santorum’s chief financial backer–publicly equated birth control use to sexual promiscuity.
  • During his 2012 campaign for the Presidency, Rick Santorum pledged that, if elected, he would wage an all-out war on birth control: “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

And yet Republicans like Rush Limbaugh insist they are not waging a “war on women.”

The situation calls to mind a famous joke:  A wife unexpectedly returns home and catches her husband in bed with another woman.  Before she can speak, her husband demands: “Now, what are you going to believe–your own eyes, or what I’m telling you?”

__________

  1. David Irving, The War Path, Viking Press, 1978.

THE REAL CULPRIT IN “THE DARK KNIGHT” TRIAL: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on April 30, 2015 at 9:01 am

It had happened it before–all too many times before:

  • Midnight vigils for the victims of yet another spree-killer.

  • Makeshift memorials of flowers, candles and teddy bears.
  • Grief counselors for students at elementary, junior high and high schools.
  • And, of course, the inevitable question: “Why?”

And Americans had seen it all before–-too many times before:

  • After the San Ysidro McDonald’s shootings, 1984: 21 dead, 19 wounded.
  • After the 101 California Street shootings in San Francisco, 1993: 9 dead, 6 injured.
  • After the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, 1999: 15 dead, 21 wounded.
  • After the Virginia Tech shootings, 2007: 32 dead, 23 wounded.
  • After the Tucson shootings, 2011: 6 dead, 13 wounded.

And then, on July 20, 2012, came the massacre at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado: 12 dead, 58 wounded.

People who wanted nothing more than to see a movie they were eagerly anticipating: The latest addition to the hugely popular “Batman” franchise: The Dark Knight Rises.

The scene of the crime: The Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado

Snuggled into their seats, some eating popcorn or candy, others sipping sodas. None of them expecting that the violence on the screen would suddenly consume them in real-life.

It was a scene of which nightmares are made:

  • A sudden eruption of smoke and fire as a tear-gas canister explodes.
  • A lone gunman–brandishing a Smith & Wesson AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a 12-gauge Remington Model 870 shotgun, and a G23 .40 caliber Smith & Wesson Glock pistol.
  • First he blasts the ceiling with a shotgun, and then opens fire on the audience, stopping only to reload his weapon.
  • He begins aiming at the back of the room, and then targets people who are scrambling to escape in the aisles.
  • Some bullets penetrate the wall of the cinema and injure people in an adjoining theater, where the same film is being screened.
  • Adding to the nightmarish quality of the scene: The appearance of the gunman–dressed all in black: a ballistic helment, vestand leggings; a throat protector; a groin protector; a gas mask; and black tactical gloves.

As terrible as the massacre was, it could have been worse.

Police arrived in about 90 seconds and arrested the shooter, James Holmes, in the parking lot of the Century 16 Theater he had just ravaged.

Still, the statistics were terrible enough:

  • Twelve people–several of them heroes who died shielding others with their bodies–would never return to those who loved them.
  • Of the 58 wounded, an unknown number would be physically scarred for life.
  • Some would never fully recover from their injuries.
  • They would not be able to walk. Or see. Or use their arms or hands.
  • Almost all those who were in that theater–-even those who escaped without a scratch-–would be emotionally tormented for months or years to come.
  • Some would never escape those moments of murderous insanity.

It’s possible that Holmes, then 24, an honors graduate of the University of California Riverside, became that most lethal specimen: The genius who slides into madness.

James Holmes

Holmes moved to the University of  Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora in May, 2011, to pursue a PhD in neuroscience.

He had always excelled in his studies, but in early 2012, his grades took a sharp decline. In June, he told the college that he was going to drop out.

Meanwhile, he was amassing an arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

He bought two Glock pistols, a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun over the last two months from local gun stores and 6,000 rounds of ammunition via the Internet–-all purchased legally under state law.

In early July, 2012, Holmes ordered the paramilitary bulletproof clothing and gas mask that he intended to wear on his rampage.

Finally, he dyed his hair a shocking red-orange and rigged his university apartment with trip-wires and homemade booby-traps. When he was arrested, he told police: “I am the Joker.”

Commentators immediately began asking: Why did Holmes choose to snuff out the lives and dreams of so many people?

But a better question is: “How did he do it?”

It may never be finally known why he did it. But the answer to how makes clear a fundamental truth:

He could not have done it without access to the awesome firepower he was legally able to purchase:

  • The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is designed for easy reloading. “Even without the grand-sized mag[azine]s, many people who are practiced can reload in 1½ to 2 seconds,” said Steven Howard, a Michigan attorney and security and firearms expert.

  • The AR-15 is a weapon of war.  Its only purpose is to kill large numbers of people–quickly.  Its 100-round drum magazine  allowed Holmes to five 50 to 60 rounds within one minute.
  • The Glock pistol uses a 15-round clip. When it’s done the shooter simply ejects the empty clip and slams in another one, and he’s ready for more killing.

And who has made all of this mayhem not only possible but politically invincible?

Who ultimately bears responsibility not only for those murdered and maimed at an Aurora theater but for the almost 100,000 people who are killed or wounded every year from gun violence?

Your friends at the National Rifle Association.

FEAR WORKS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 21, 2015 at 12:43 am

Ralph bought a computer security program from SUX.  But then he found he couldn’t download it.

So he contacted the company—whose customer service representative told him: You’ll have to buy another of our products to make the first one you bought work properly.

At that point, Ralph had had enough.

He sent SUX an email via its own website, outlining his problem and asking that the $60 charge on his credit card be removed.

Six days later, Ralph called his credit card company, to see if SUX was still charging him for an item he hadn’t received.

It was.

It was time to play Machiavellian hardball.

Ralph once again dialed SUX to speak to one of its customer service reps.

Calmly–but firmly–Ralph identified himself, then quickly summarized the problem he was having with the company.

Then he said:

“I suggest you contact someone in management and tell them this: I want this charge off my credit card in 24 hours.  If it isn’t, here’s what’s going to happen:

“One: I’m going to file a criminal complaint with the local office of the United States Attorney [Federal prosecutor] for fraud against your company.

“When a company does business in more than one state, that brings it under Federal jurisdiction.  And there are Federal penalties for charging people for products they didn’t receive.

“Two, I’m going to make this situation very well known on social media sites.  That’s going to cost you bigtime on future customers.

“Again, I’ll wait 24 hours.  Pass this on to your management.”

Then he hung up.

Slightly more than 24 hours later, Ralph got this email from SUX:

“Thank you for ordering from SUX.  At your request a return has been initiated.”

In short: The charge would be removed from his credit card.

There are several important lessons to be learned here.

First, before you call to complain, make sure the product isn’t working.

Read the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.

If you can’t understand the instructions, or if you feel you do and the product still isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, call the company.

Second, when you reach the customer service rep, be patient and polite.

At best, getting angry and offensive wastes valuable time which could be better spent outlining the problem you’re having.

At worst, the tech might hang up on you, which means you’ll have to go through the whole telephone-tree exercise again.

Third, explain precisely what has gone wrong.  If the tech gives you instructions on how to resolve the problem, follow them to the letter.

Fourth, if you’re sure you want to return the product, say so.

Find out the company’s preferred way to do this.

Fifth, if you’ve paid for it by credit card, state that you want the charge removed from your bill.

You may have to wait until the company receives the product before they take the charge off your bill.  To make sure they get it, send it signed-receipt-requested.

Sixth, wait five to ten days to see if your credit card has been charged. 

Ralph waited six, which is a reasonable number.

Seventh, if the problem hasn’t been resolved, call the company again and ask to speak to someone on its corporate headquarters—the higher up, the better.

You can often find out the names of the top executives of a company by checking its website.  Or by going to a business-rating website, such as that of Standard and Poor’s.

Eighth, be polite but businesslike as you outline your problem.

If you can’t outline it in one or two minutes, ask for an email address where you can send a detailed email.

Ninth, state clearly what you want the company to do for you.

Often, people get so angry at the frustration they’ve endured that they forget to say what action they want the company to take.

Tenth, if the company rep makes it clear they won’t take back the product, give you a substitute, or refund your purchase, it’s time to play hardball.

Eleventh, if you believe the law has been broken, say so. 

And say which agencies you intend to contact—such as the local District Attorney’s Office, Federal Trade Commission, United States Attorney or Federal Communications Commission.

Twelth, have at least one or two consumer complaint websites ready to cite—and contact.

A

Among these:

Businesses fear bad consumer reviews–especially on Yelp! and Facebook.

When I once visited a local animal shelter, a receptionist told me: “If you have a problem with something, please see me.  Don’t go home and post it on Yelp!

Thirteenth, tell the company official what action you intend to take unless your demands are met. 

Offer a deadline by when you expect that action to be taken.

Fourteenth, if that doesn’t prove enough, consider filing a private lawsuit.

FEAR WORKS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 20, 2015 at 12:13 am

So you’ve just bought something online, with a credit card–and the item never arrives–or proves defective.

Even worse, the online company insists on charging your credit card for the item.

What to do?

Here’s what a friend of mine–Ralph–recently did when he faced just that problem.

One night, while surfing the Internet, he saw an ad for a new computer security product.  For him, its biggest selling point was: “Make yourself invisible to the bad guys with just one click.”

An even stronger selling point for him: The product was being offered by SUX, the company whose anti-virus software he had subscribed to for the last three years.

And, so far, he had never had any trouble with the company.

SUX offered several options for subscription:

  • One month
  • One year
  • Two years

Ralph decided that one month was too short, and two years were too long.  He chose a one-year subscription, intending to renew at the end of the year if he liked it.

He typed in his credit card number and clicked on “Download.”

Soon afterward, he received an Order Confirmation email from the company, outlining the product he had just purchased and the amount he had just paid for it.

He then got into the anti-virus security item on his desk.  A few clicks later a new screen popped up–and the message: “Disconnected.”

Even worse, the screen warned: “Your license has expired.  Renew now.”

The product he had just paid $60 to download hadn’t downloaded.

So Ralph called SUX–and explained to a technician what had happened.

And the tech responded: “We don’t offer phone support for that product.”

Nothing Ralph said could elicit the help he needed.  Furious at the man’s arrogance, Ralph hung up.

To avoid accidentally reaching the same worthless technician, Ralph decided to wait several hours before again calling SUX.

When he did, he reached a technician who was willing to provide help.  The tech said that he would like to run a remote scan on Ralph’s computer to try to find out what was causing the problem.

Ralph agreed.

For the next five minutes he could see his cursor moving around his screen, as the tech checked first one file, then another.

Finally, the tech said that Ralph needed to “clean out” his computer before the SUX product he bought would work properly.

“OK, how do I do that?” asked Ralph.

“You need to buy our BS2U product,” said the tech.

Now Ralph was really steamed.

He had just spent $60 on a product he couldn’t download.  And the tech was telling him he had to spend even more money on a second product to make the first product work properly.

Ralph then said he wanted to contact someone in an executive positon at SUX.  But the rep said he would have to call outside the United States to do this.

Ralph hung up, then got back onto his computer and onto the SUX website.  He drafted a short but detailed message on the problems he was facing with one of the company’s products.

And it ended:

“Frankly:

(1) I am UNABLE to make use of the product I paid $60 for; and

(2) I am UNWILLING to pay MORE MONEY FOR ANOTHER PRODUCT in hopes that this will enable me to use the one I just purchased.

“Therefore, I am requesting that the credit card transaction I had with your company on —- be canceled.  If it is not, I will dispute this via my credit card company when I receive my next statement.

“To enable you to quickly locate this transaction in your files, I am enclosing the Order Confirmation Number:  #———-.

“I am making a copy of this email, so I can establish, if necessary, that I have notified your company that I am NOT receiving the product I paid for.

“I have already contacted my credit card company and informed them that I will contest this charge if your company does not make good on this refund.”

Six days later, Ralph called his credit card company, to see if SUX was still charging him for an item he hadn’t received.

It was.

Luckily for Ralph, he had been a longtime student of Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science.

Niccolo Mchiavelli

In The Prince, his treatise on how to gain and hold political power, Machiavelli raises the question: Is it better to be loved or feared?

And he answers as follows:

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….

“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.”

It was time to invoke the spirit of St. Niccolo.

A DARK, UNSEEN ROOM

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 1, 2015 at 12:11 am

Adolf Hitler had a warning for the Indiana legislators who passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A warning they should have heeded–but didn’t.

It all started on June 22, 1941.

On that date, Hitler ordered his powerful Wehrmacht to invade the Soviet Union.

Less than two years earlier, in August, 1939, he had signed a “non-aggression” pact with his longtime arch-enemy, Joseph Stalin.

Since then, his army had conquered Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France.

Adolf Hitler with his generals

Now, he believed, it was time to “settle accounts” with the Soviet Union.

Only there could Germany obtain the “living space” it “needed” for its expanding population.

So at 3 a.m. on June 22, 1941, Hitler once again launched an invasion.

At first, Hitler–no doubt like the Indiana legislators–felt giddy with excitement.

Turning to Alfred Jodl, his chief of operations of the Wehrmacht, he said: “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

German soldiers marching through Russia

But soon afterward–almost as if he had just looked into the future and seen that he had none–he told an aide: “At the beginning of each campaign, one pushes a door into a dark, unseen room.  One can never know what is hiding inside.

That certainly proved true for Hitler.

Within four years, he was dead and his once-powerful army was reduced to a disorganized rabble.

And now the law of unintended consequences–what can happen when you “push a door into a dark, unseen room”–may be coming true for Indiana.

On March 26, its governor, Mike Pence, signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This will allow any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

Officially, its intent is to prevent the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs.

Unofficially, its intent is to appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party.

In short, a bakery that doesn’t want to make a cake to be used at a gay wedding or a restaurant that doesn’t want to serve lesbian patrons will have the legal right to refuse to do so.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature.  And signed into law by a Republican governor.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence 

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Mike Pence said in a statement on the day he signed the bill.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Bill-signing ceremonies are usually highly public events.  Governors–and presidents–normally want their constituents to see them creating new legislation.

Yet for all his praise for the bill, Pence signed it in a ceremony closed to the public and the press.  The media were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.

It’s almost as if Pence sensed–like Hitler–that he was about to push open “a door into a dark, unseen room.” And this may well be the case.

Through that door may soon march the First Church of Cannabis.

The day after Pence signed the Act, church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that he had filed paperwork with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State.

Its registration had been approved–and Levin was ecstatic: “Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.

“Donate $100 or more and become a GREEN ANGEL.

“Donate $500 or more and become a GOLD ANGEL.

“Donate $1000 or more and become a CHURCH POOHBA.”

Click here: Whoops: Indiana’s Anti-Gay ‘Religious Freedom’ Act Opens the Door For the First Church of Cannabis | Alternet

And Levin had a personal comment for the governor who had made it all possible:

“Dear Mikey Pence…

“DUDE!.. keep crapping all over the state.. and I will plant a seed of LOVE, UNDERSTANDING and COMPASSION in each pile you leave.. and it will grow into a big skunky cannabis tree. Crap away Mikey.. Crap Away…”

No doubt many Indiana legislators are furious that their effort to attack gays may have brought legal marijuana to their highly conservative state.

But worse may be to come.

Since 9/11, Right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America.

And now Indiana’s legislators, in elevating religion above the law, may have pushed upon that door “into a dark, unseen room.”

Ironically, this may not be so far removed from the goals of the Republican party as many think. Both the party and adherents of Sharia agree:

  • Women should have fewer rights than men.
  • Abortion should be illegal.
  • There should be no separation between church and state.
  • Religion should be taught in school.
  • Religious doctrine trumps science.
  • Government should be based on religious doctrine.
  • Homosexuality should be outlawed.

What will happen when some Muslims in Indiana claim their right–guaranteed in Islamic religious law–to have as many as four wives?

And when they claim that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects that right?

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy nightmare.

YOU WILL LOVE IT–OR ELSE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on March 31, 2015 at 2:48 am

During the 12-year insanity of the Third Reich, Nazs labeled their acts of savagery as “self-defense.”

But any nation that dared to defend itself against Nazi assault was instantly charged with “naked aggression.”

This remains the mindset and practice of American Right-wingers.

The latest example: The enactment of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence 

Officially, the Act allows any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

But its opponents argue that it will unleash widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians.  And they’re now threatening or organizing boycotts of Indiana.

Among those companies and organizations publicly opposing the law:

  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
  • Apple Inc.
  • Yelp!
  • The National Basketball Association
  • Twitter
  • Angie’s List
  • The Disciples of Christ
  • Eli Lilly and Co.

So, in the end, economic pressures may force the Right-wingers who seek to legalize discrimination to back off.

Exactly this happened in 2012.

Karen Handel, vice president of public affairs for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, fashioned what she believed was a politically viable plan for Komen to pull its grant monies from Planned Parenthood (PP).

A fanatical anti-abortionist, she didn’t care that this money went entirely for breast cancer screenings for poor women.  She careed only that about 3% of all PP revenues went toward providing abortion services.

The official version, as put out by Handel and the top brass of Komen, went: “We’ve halted grants to Planned Parenthood because it’s under investigation by Congress for misuse of funds.”

Unfortunately for Komen, the public instantly saw through the lie.

Any crank in Congress can start an “investigation” into anything.

And PP was “under investigation” by just such a crank: Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Stearns, a fanatical anti-abortionist, claimed he wanted to determine whether PP had spent public money on abortions over the last decade.

But Stearns didn’t hesitate to slander the patriotism of thousands of 9/11 “first responders”–the police, firefighters, construction workers and others who risked their lives to save their fellow Americans.

“First responders” at work at World Trade Center

He did so by demanding that they submit their names, birthplaces, addresses, government ID numbers and other personal data to the FBI to prove they were not terrorists. 

Only then could they receive federally-subsidized medical care for injuries caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.

Public outrage at Komen was immediate and overwhelming:

  •  More than 50 members of Congress signed letters asking Komen to reverse course.
  •  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly rebuked Komen and pledged $250,000 to PP.
  • Approximately 37,000 people from all over the country signed a petition demanding Handel’s resignation.
  • PP raised nearly $3 million in contributions.

Reeling before this onslaught of criticism, Komen issued a statement: “We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants.”

Having failed in their latest assault on women’s rights, the Right’s would-be predators now portrayed themselves as victims:

  • “The last time I checked,” Handel told Right-wing Fox News, “private non-profit organizations have a right and a responsibility to be able to set the highest standards and criteria on their own without interference, let alone the level of vicious attacks and coercion that has occurred by Planned Parenthood.  It’s simply outrageous.”
  • “Planned Parenthood campaigns to destroy anyone who questions them,” charged Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.
  • “Their attitude is that of an immature teenager with an enormous sense of entitlement.  This is just more proof that Planned Parenthood will pulverize anyone who dares to question them,” Dannenfelser said.
  • “What Planned Parenthood did to that venerable and honorable organization [Komen Foundation] is nothing less than a Mafia-style shakedown,” said Steven H. Aden, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund.  The Fund bitterly opposes abortion, gay marriage, birth control and the separation of church and state.

Many conservatives correctly defended Komen’s right, as a private charitable organization, to give–or withhold–its money as it saw fit.

But these same conservatives refused to grant PP’s outraged supporters the same right:To withhold their own contributions from Komen. 

National Review’s Daniel Foster called the backlash to Komen “disgusting,” attacking PP and “the Left” for their “gangsterism.”

During the battle for Stalingrad, in 1942, a young German soldier named Wilhelm Hoffman was appalled that the Russians refused to surrender.  In his diary he wrote:

German soldiers at Stalingrad

“September 26. Our regiment is involved in constant heavy fighting. After the elevator was taken the Russians continued to defend themselves just as stubbornly.

“You don’t see them at all, they have established themselves in houses and cellars and are firing on all sides, including from our rear–barbarians, they use gangster methods. Stalingrad is hell . . .

What held true for German Fascists holds equally true for those in America: Oppose their efforts to enslave you–and you become a gangster.

IS THERE A HITLER IN YOUR CEO?

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 27, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Would-be CEOs and Fuehrers, listen up: Character is destiny.

Case in point: The ultimate Fuehrer and CEO, Adolf Hitler.

Ever since he shot himself in his underground Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, historians have fiercely debated: Was der Fuehrer a military genius or an imbecile?

With literally thousands of titles to choose, the average reader may feel overwhelmed.  But if you’re looking for an understandable, overall view of Hitler’s generalship, an excellent choice would be How Hitler Could Have Won World War II by Bevin Alexander.

Among “the fatal errors that led to Nazi defeat” (as proclaimed on the book jacket) were:

  • Wasting hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots, fighters and bombers in a half-hearted attempt to conquer England.
  • Ignoring the pleas of generals like Erwin Rommel to conquer Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia–thus giving Germany control of most of the world’s oil.
  • Attacking his ally, the Soviet Union, while still at war with Great Britain.
  • Needlessly turning millions of Russians into enemies rather than allies by his brutal and murderous policies.
  • Declaring war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  (Had he not done so, Americans would have focused all their attention on conquering Japan.)
  • Refusing to negotiate a separate peace with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin–thus granting Germany a large portion of captured Russian territory in exchange for letting Stalin remain in power.
  • Insisting on a “not one step back” military “strategy” that led to the unnecessary surrounding, capture and/or deaths of hundreds of thousands of German servicemen.

As the war turned increasingly against him, Hitler became ever more rigid in his thinking.

He demanded absolute control over the smallest details of his forces.  This, in turn, led to astounding and needless losses in German soldiers.

One such incident was immortalized in the 1962 movie, The Longest Day, about the Allied invasion of France known as D-Day.

On June 6, 1944, Rommel ordered the panzer tanks to drive the Allies from the Normandy beaches.  But these could not be released except on direct order of theFuehrer.  As Hitler’s chief of staff, General Alfred Jodl, informed Rommel: The Fuehrer was asleep–and, no, he, Jodl, would not wake him. By the time Hitler awoke and issued the order, it was too late.

Nor could he accept responsibility for the policies that were clearly leading Germany to certain defeat.  Hitler blamed his generals, accused them of cowardice, and relieved many of the best ones from command.

Among those sacked was Heinz Guderian, creator of the German panzer corps–and thus responsible for its highly effective “blitzkrieg” campaign against France in 1940.

Heinz Guderian

Another was Erich von Manstein, designer of the strategy that defeated France in six weeks–something Germany couldn’t do during the four years of World War 1.

Erich von Manstein

Finally, on April 29, 1945–with the Russians only blocks from his underground bunker in Berlin–Hitler dictated his “Last Political Testament.”

Once again, he refused to accept responsibility for unleashing a war that would ultimately consume 50 million lives:

“It is untrue that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939.  It was desired and instigated exclusively by those international statesmen who either were of Jewish origin or worked for Jewish interests.”

Hitler had launched the war with a lie–that Poland had attacked Germany, rather than vice versa.  And he closed the war–and his life–with a final lie.

All of which brings us to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science.

In his classic book, The Discourses, he wrote at length on the best ways to maintain liberty within a republic.

In Book Three, Chapter 31, Machiavelli declares: “Great Men and Powerful Republics Preserve an Equal Dignity and Courage in Prosperity and Adversity.”

It is a chapter that Adolf Hitler would have done well to read.

“…A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances.  And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.

“The conduct of weak men is very different.  Made vain and intoxicated by good fortune, they attribute their success to merits which they do not possess, and this makes them odious and insupportable to all around them. 

And when they have afterwards to meet a reverse of fortune, they quickly fall into the other extreme, and become abject and vile.  

“Thence it comes that princes of this character think more of flying in adversity than of defending themselves, like men who, having made a bad use of prosperity, are wholly unprepared for any defense against reverses.”

Stay alert to signs of such character flaws among your own business colleagues–and especially your superiors.  They are the warning signs of a future catastrophe.

HOW TO BE A SMARTER EXECUTIVE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Self-Help on March 13, 2015 at 12:08 am

“The man who builds a factory,” said President Calvin Coolidge, “builds a temple.  And the man who works there worships there.”

Many American corporate executives still feel about themselves–nd their employees.  But those heady days of knee-jerk worship of CEOs and their oversize salaries and egos are over–at least, temporarily.

Americans have reluctantly learned that the robber barons who rule Wall Street arenot God’s own elect.

Even Ayn Rand disciple Allen Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman and a longtime champion of de-regulation, has admitted he totally underestimated the role greed plays in the making of financial decisions.

It’s thus time for Americans to demand wholesale reforms in the ways corporate executives are allowed to operate. And a good place to start is with the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Florentine statesman (1469-1527) wrote extensively about how bureaucracies truly work–as opposed to how people believe they do.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Consider the following from his book, The Prince, which offers instruction on how to attain and retain power:

  • IMITATE THOSE WHO HAVE ATTAINED GREATNESS: Not always being able to follow others exactly, nor attain to the excellence of those he imitates, a prudent man should always follow in the paths trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent….  If he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.
  • DON’T RELY ON LOVE:  …I conclude, therefore, with regard to being loved and feared, that men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince, and that a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on what is in the power of others, and he must only contrive to avoid incurring hatred….
  • NEED TO BE PRACTICAL:  A man 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.
  • CAUTION AND BOLDNESS: A [leader]…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.  One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.  Those who wish to be only lions do not realize this.
  • SANCTIONS VS. FAVORS:  [Leaders] should let the carrying out of unfavorable duties devolve to others, and bestow favors themselves.
  • RISK AS A GIVEN: Let no [leader] believe that [he] can always follow a safe policy, rather let [he] think that all are doubtful.  This is found in the nature of things, that one never tries to avoid one difficulty without running into another, but prudence consists in being able to know the nature of the difficulties, and taking the least harmful as good.
  • A RULER’S SUBORDINATES: The first impression that one gets of a ruler and his brains is from seeing the men that he has about him.  When they are competent and loyal one can always consider him wise, as he has been able to recognize their ability and keep them faithful.
  • But when they are the reverse, one can always form an unfavorable opinion of him, because the first mistake that he makes is in making this choice.
  • EVALUATING COMPETENCE:  There are three different kinds of brains: the one understands things unassisted, the other understands things when shown by others, the third understands neither alone nor with the explanations of others.  The first kind is most excellent; the second is also excellent; but the third is useless.
  • OVERCOMING ONE’S OWN NATURE:  No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to [time and circumstances], 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.
  • ENSURING LOYALTY:  A wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him.
  • CRUELTIES:  Well-committed may be called those…cruelties which are perpetrated once for the need of securing one’s self, and which afterward are not persisted in, but are exchanged for measures as useful to the subjects as possible.  Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time.
  • FORTUNE: I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the other half or thereabouts to be governed by us.
  • I would compare her to an impetuous river that, when turbulent, inundates the plains, casts down trees and buildings, removes earth from this side and places it on the other; every one flees before it, and everything yields to its fury without being able to oppose it.  Still, when it is quiet, men can make provisions against it by dykes and banks, so that when it follows it will either go into a canal or its rush will not be so wild and dangerous.

LANDLORDS: AMERICA’S AYATOLLAHS: PART TWO (END)

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 12, 2015 at 1:11 am

Become a tenant at the Windermere Cay complex in Winter Garden, Florida, and you can check your First Amendment rights at the door.

Its management wants to force new tenants to sign a “social media addendum” as part of their lease.  And if they dare to post a negative online review of the building, they’ll face a fine of $10,000.

But reaction to this attempted muzzling of freedom of speech has been one the landlord probably didn’t expect.

Yelp! has been flooded with negative reviews of the complex.

Among these:

If you are that worried about negative reviews, that just makes me ask one question: What are you hiding?

* * * * *

This complex made national news by threatening a $10k fine to residents if they share a bad review or photo. This legal bullying demonstrates either an oppressive management or a complete ignorance of social media or personal freedom.

In both cases you should exercise caution if considering them and read your contracts carefully.

* * * * *

I’ve got a great business idea. When our customers complain, instead of us fixing the problem we will threaten them with blackmail by asking them for ten grand.

* * * * *

Sieg Heil Windermere!! Gestapo much???

What century do you people exist in?? I wouldn’t live here if you paid me to. You couldn’t give these units away considering your BS threats to FINE RESIDENTS TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!

WTF is wrong with you people!! Anyone who gets a paycheck from this corporate monstrosity should be fired (or quit if they have half a brain…). Whoever came up with this super clever idea of A 10K FINE should be kneecapped.

* * * * *

Well apparently anyone who lives here will get fined $10,000 for any bad reviews, and any photos posted on reviews are copyrighted to the company by terms of the lease???

This complex is about as dishonest as it gets guys. If an apartment needs a policy like this then what else do you need to know about the quality of the management here.

* * * * *

The owners of the Apartment Complex are literally anti-free speech Nazis.  Don’t move here unless you have $10k in your bank account and don’t believe in the First Amendment.

* * * * *

This apartment complex deserves 0 stars, shame on the management company for deceiving people into signing their addendum.

* * * * *

Be cautious of anywhere that fears the residents’ honest feedback so much that they forbid them from speaking out on social media.  The energy spent on creating this stupid 10K clause could have been spent on actually creating an enjoyable living experience.

Click here: Windermere Cay – Apartments – Yelp

The sudden onslaught of bad publicity obviously caught the complex by surprise.

When contacted by Ars Technica, the online magazine that had exposed this outrage, a manager disclaimed the contract:

“This addendum was put in place by a previous general partner for the community following a series of false reviews. The current general partner and property management do not support the continued use of this addendum and have voided it for all residents.”

This despite the fact that the addendum had been given to a tenant to sign just a few days before.

Not only have these strong-arm tactics yielded a tidal wave of bad publicity, such an addendum would be legally unenforceable.

For starters, it’s a blatant violation of the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech and the press.

States have taken struck down efforts by businesses to censor the written opinions of their customers.

In his 2003 decision in New York vs. Network Associates, a judge ruled that telling customers they couldn’t publish reviews of software “without prior consent” violated New York’s unfair competition law.

Americans all-too-often take their Constitutionally-protected freedoms for granted–until they travel abroad to nations ruled by dictators.  Or until they encounter would-be dictators at home.

Harrison E. Salisbury, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, faced the difficulties of censorship during his years as Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times (1949-1954).

Harrison E. Salisbury, with the Kremlin in back

Salisbury found he couldn’t rely on the Soviet government for reliable information on almost everything.  Crime statistics weren’t published–because, officially, there was no crime in the “Workers’ Paradise.”

Unable to obtain reliable economic statistics, he plotted the rise and fall of the economy by shortages and surpluses in local stores.

Above all, Salisbury faced the danger of reporting accurately on the increasing paranoia and purges of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

“The truth, I was ultimately to learn,” wrote Salisbury in his bestselling 1983 memoir, A Journey for Our Times, “is the most dangerous thing.  There are no ends to which men of power will not go to put out its eyes.”

Censorship victimizes both those who are censored and those who could profit from the truths they have to share.

Americans may be unable to bring freedom of expression to nations ruled by dictators. But they can–and should–fight to ensure that freedom of expression remains a hallmark of their own society.

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