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CREATING FELONS WITH A WORD

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 25, 2015 at 2:54 am

New York State prisons are about to get a lot fuller.

New York State Senator Tony Avella is sponsoring a bill to create a felony charge– “aggravated resisting arrest”–for people who have been convicted of resisting arrest twice in a 10-year period.

Under current law, resisting arrest is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of one year in prison.

If the charge became a felony, those convicted could be sentenced from four years of probation to life in prison.

The bill has its origins in a letter the Lieutenants Benevolent Association–a police union–sent to New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Bill Bratton in January requesting a change in the current law.

State Senator Avella’s proposed legislation reads as follows:

“A person is guilty of aggravated resisting arrest when he or she commits the crime of resisting arrest pursuant to Section 205.30 and has previously been convicted of such crimetwo prior times within a ten-year period.

“Aggravated resisting arrest is a class E felony.”

Click here: Bills

And Bratton, in testimony before the New York State Senate in February, supported harsher penalties for those who resist arrest.

“We need to get around this idea that you can resist arrest,” Bratton said to reporters after his appearance. “One of the ways to do that is to give penalties for that.”

This legislation–if enacted–will have both local and national implications.

Police pepper-spraying non-violent protesters

Local–because the NYPD is the largest police department in the country.  Its website states that it now has “approximately 34,500″ uniformed officers.

(To put that number into historical perspective: When Alexander the Great set out in 334 B.C. to conquer the Persian empire, his army numbered 30,000.)

National–because the NYPD is one of the most respected police departments in the country.  And other police departments will almost certainly follow suit in urging their state legislatures to pass similar legislation.

So what’s wrong with that?

“Resisting arrest” is one of those terms that can mean whatever a police officer wants it to mean.

If a prosecutor accuses someone of bank robbery, he must present valid evidence–such as witnesses, camera footage and (probably) portions of stolen money in the arrested person’s possession.

But if a cop says someone “resisted arrest,” the “evidence” often consists of only his claim.

“Resisting arrest” can mean anything–including that the person merely asked, “Why am I being arrested?”

WNYC–New York’s highly respected public radio station–reported in 2014 that 40% of resisting arrest cases are brought by five percent of police officers.

If an officer routinely claims that people are resisting arrest, this might signal his being overly aggressive toward civilians.

He might even use the criminal charge to cover up his use of excessive force.

This is especially relevant in light of a series of recent cases–some caught on camera–of police savagely beating arrestees, or using forbidden chokeholds on them.

Consider how such increased penalties could have affected the life of Tyeesha Mobley.

Mobley, 29, caught her nine-year-old son stealing $10 from her purse. She called the called the NYPD.

Can you please send over an officer to explain to my kids that stealing is wrong? she asked.

The police department obliged, sending over four officers to meet Mobley and her two boys at a nearby gas station.

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Tyeesha Mobley

The meeting started off well. “Three officers was joking around with [the nine-year-old who had stolen the $10], telling him, ‘You can’t be stealing; you’ll wind up going in the police car,’” Mobley testified at a court hearing in October, 2014.

But the fourth officer apparently resented the assignment. According to a lawsuit subsequently filed by Mobley, the following happened:

“You black bitches don’t know how to take care of your kids,” said the fourth officer.  “Why are you wasting our time?  Why don’t you take your fucking kid and leave?”

Mobley decided that was a good time to do just that

But before she could do so, the cop told her she was under arrest.

“What for?” she asked. “If you’re going to say another fucking word,” the lawsuit alleges the cop warned her, “I’m going to knock your teeth down your throat.”

He then shoved her up against a car, kicked her legs, and handcuffed her.

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Mobley spent a night in jail.  Her two boys were taken away and placed in foster care for four months–with a family that spoke no English.

Finally, a judge threw out the case against her.

Mobley has since filed a lawsuit against New York City, the NYPD and the Administration for Children’s Services.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how Mobley’s life could have been turned into an even greater hell under the proposed change in “resisting arrest” laws.

CALL A COP, GO TO JAIL

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on March 24, 2015 at 3:21 pm

As the stage line goes: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

A mother finds that her nine-year-old son has stolen money from her purse.  So she decides to have someone who commands respect teach him that stealing is wrong.

So she calls the police–and things go horribly wrong.

Here’s what happened.

Tyeesha Mobley, 29, caught her nine-year-old son stealing $10 from her purse.

So she called the called the New York Police Department (NYPD)

Can you please send over an officer to explain to my kids that stealing is wrong? she asked.

The police department agreed, and sent over not one but four officers to meet Mobley and her two boys at a nearby gas station.

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.bet.com/content/dam/betcom/images/2015/03/National/031915-national-Tyeesha-Mobley.jpg.custom1200x675x20.dimg&imgrefurl=http://www.bet.com/news/national/photos/bring-that-week-back/2015/03/bring-that-week-back-parents-says-daughter-not-allowed-at-black-friend-s-sleepover.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Betcom-LatestPhotos+(BET.com+-+Latest+Photos)#!031915-national-Tyeesha-Mobley&docid=JHk4KstsAEHWfM&tbnid=O-hToga7ZXEKgM:&w=1200&h=675&ei=undefined&ved=undefined&iact=c

Tyeesha Mobley

The meeting started off well.

“Three officers was joking around with [the nine-year-old who had stolen the $10], telling him, ‘You can’t be stealing; you’ll wind up going in the police car,’” Mobley testified at a court hearing in October, 2014.

But the fourth officer apparently resented the assignment.

According to a lawsuit subsequently filed by Mobley, the following happened:

“You black bitches don’t know how to take care of your kids,” said the fourth officer.  “Why are you wasting our time?  Why don’t you take your fucking kid and leave?”

Mobley decided that was a good time to leave. But before she could do so, the cop told her she was under arrest.

“What for?” she asked.

“If you’re going to say another fucking word,” the lawsuit alleges the cop warned her, “I’m going to knock your teeth down your throat.”

He then shoved her up against a car, kicked her legs, and handcuffed her.

Mobley’s two sons–ages four and nine–could only watch in horror as their mother was being manhandled.

“Stop, you’re hurting mommy,” they cried, according to the complaint filed in the lawsuit.

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Yet worse was to come.

Mobley spent a night in jail.  Her two boys were taken away and placed in foster care for four months–with a family that spoke no English.

Finally, a judge threw out the case against her.

Mobley has since filed a lawsuit against New York City, the NYPD and the Administration for Children’s Services.

“She was simply trying to make sure her son stayed on the right path,” said her attorney, Philip Sporn.  “This shouldn’t  happen to anyone, let alone to a good mom with her kids.”

The lawsuit highlights a fundamental weakness of the American justice system.

Americans almost universally believe that any wrong can be rectified if enough money is paid out as punishment.

Thus, car makers who knowingly keep dangerous vehicles on the road instead of issuing a recall settle up in civil lawsuits.

As a rule, they refuse to admit wrongdoing–and the amount of money they’re forced to pay out to victims isn’t disclosed.

Nearly always, this means the victim–or his survivors–is forbidden to publicly say why the company paid out a huge settlement, such as: “They admitted they knew the brakes were faulty but they didn’t want to spend the money fixing them.”

And if the victims disclose this admission–or how much money they got from Car Maker X–that money can legally be taken from them.

Never, however, is a CEO criminally prosecuted for ordering his company to conceal wrongdoing or dangerous products.

Thus, corporate predators are allowed to escape the criminality of their actions–and go on to prey on other victims.

The same holds true with lawsuits against the police.

Even if Mobley wins a huge settlement, the officer who victimized her will almost certainly remain on the NYPD.

And he will be able to victimize others who have the bad luck to encounter him.

Handing out big chunks of money is not enough to establish justice for outrageous violations of people’s civil rights.

It’s as if former Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring, charged with war crimes, were allowed to fork over a big sum of money and then comfortably retire to his estate.

Until Americans realize that some crimes demand more than financial payment, this country’s “criminal justice system” will fail to live up to its name.

LANDLORDS: AMERICA’S AYATOLLAHS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on March 11, 2015 at 11:40 am

Americans have a history of fearing what foreign dictators might do to them.

During World War II they feared that the Japanese Empire might turn them into a nation of Japanese-speaking slaves.

During the Cold War, TV ads often reminded Americans that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev once said: “We will bury you.”

Today, Americans–especially those on the Right–fear Iranian Ayatollahs will force them to wear turbans and quote the Koran.

Strangely, few Americans seem to fear the ayatollahs much closer to home: Landlords.

The power of landlords calls to mind the scene in 1987′s The Untouchables, where Sean Connery’s veteran cop tells Eliot Ness: “Everybody knows where the liquor is. It’s just a question of: Who wants to cross Capone?”

Many tenants have lived with rotting floors, bedbugs, nonworking toilets, mice/rats, chipping lead-based paint and other outrages for not simply months but years.

Even in San Francisco–the city misnamed as a “renter’s paradise”–landlords are treated like gods by the very agencies that are supposed to protect tenants against their abuses.

Many landlords are eager to kick out long-time residents in favor of new, wealthier high-tech workers moving to San Francisco.  An influx of these workers and a resulting housing shortage has proven a godsend for landlords.

In July, 2014, a 98-year-old San Francisco woman faced eviction from her apartment of 50 years, because the building’s owners wanted to sell the place to take advantage of the city’s booming real estate market.

“I’ve been very happy here,” Mary Phillips told KRON 4, an independent San Francisco TV station. “I’ve always paid my rent.  I’ve never been late.”

The landlord, Urban Green Investments, sought to evict her and several other tenants through the Ellis Act.  This is a 1986 California law that allows landlords evict tenants to get out of the rental business.

Urban Green Investments has bought several buildings in San Francisco, evicted their residents through the Ellis Act, and resold the buildings for profit.  Many of those being evicted are low income families and seniors.

Phillips vowed to fight her eviction: “They’re going to have to take me out of here feet first,” she told KRON. “Just because of your age, don’t let people push you around.”

Phillips said she has nowhere else to live, and she and her attorneys fought the eviction.  They did so not only through the courts but ongoing street protests.

Those efforts paid off in November, 2014. As part of the resolution of her case, Phillips released the following public statement:

Mary Elizabeth Phillips has reached an agreement with Urban Green Investments that will allow her to live in her apartment for as long as she likes, through the end of her life.

“Mrs. Phillips appreciates the support she has received from the community over the past year, and she requests that interested people please respect her privacy so that she may peacefully enjoy her home. Thank you.”

That case, at least, had a happy ending.  But tenants at an apartment complex in Winter Garden, Florida, may not prove so fortunate.

The Windermere Cay has forced new tenants to sign a “social media addendum” that threatens a fine of $10,000 if they give the complex a bad online review.  It also forces tenants to sign away their rights to any photos, reviews or other material about the apartments that are posted online.

The Windermere Cay

The addendum went viral on March 10 after at least one tenant shared it with the online magazine, Ars Technica.  It reads in part:

“In the event that this Social Media Addendum is breached by any or all of the Applicants for any reason, the Applicants shall be jointly and severally liable to pay Owner liquidated damges representing a reasonable and good faith estimate of the actual damages for such breach.

“Owner and Applicants agree that, in the event of a breach, Owner’s damages would be difficult to ascertain.

“Accordingly, Owner and each Applicant agrees that the amount of compensation due to Owner for any breach of this Social Media Addendum will be $10,000 for the first such breach, and an additional $5,000 for each subsequent breach….

“In the event of breach, the Applicants will pay the liquidated damages owed to Owner within ten (10) business days of the breach.”

In addition, there is this: “Applicant will refrain from directly or indirectly publishing or airing negative commentary regarding the Unit, Owner, property or the apartments.

“This means that Applicant shall not post negative commentary or reviews on Yelp!, Apartment Ratings, Facebook, or any other website or Internet-based publication or blog.”

The 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.

One five-star review–obviously written tongue-in-cheek–was signed “Adolf H[itler]” and praised the complex for having “my kind of management.”

There will be more about online reaction to thie latest attempt at landlord censorship in Part Two of this series.

REPUBLICANS: SLANDERING THE HEROES OF 9/11

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on February 27, 2015 at 1:53 am

With their newfound majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans are holding the budget of the Department of Homeland Security–and the safety of their fellow Americans–hostage.

Amidst all this turmoil, it’s easy to forget another Republican outrage that happened five years ago: The slander they cast on the patriotism of the tens of thousands of police, firefighters, construction workers and others who risked their lives to save their fellow Americans on 9/11.

The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

This “gift” was sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and eagerly supported by other Republicans in the House and Senate.

Rep. Cliff Stearns

The responders were informed that their names must be run through the FBI’s database of suspected terrorists. Otherwise, they would be denied treatment for their numerous, worsening ailments.

In 2010–nine years after the worst terrorist attack in American history–Congress passed the Democratically-sponsored James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Act.

The law was named for a New York City detective who died of a respiratory disease in 2006 after his contact with toxic chemicals at Ground Zero.

The law authorized $1.8 billion to be spent over five years to treat injuries of police, firefighters, emergency workers, construction and cleanup crews caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.

From the outset, Republicans bitterly opposed the legislation.  They argued that providing healthcare for ailing September 11 heroes would bankrupt the nation.

Of course, they hadn’t voiced such concerns when President George W. Bush needlessly launched the nation into a $1 trillion war against Iraq in 2003.

For Republicans, the heroes of 9/11 had become “welfare-seeking bums.”  If they couldn’t afford their own medical care, so what?

Republicans slandered the proposal as a new “entitlement program,” like Medicare.  They demanded that the responders return to Congress every year to make their case, claiming this would prevent fraud and waste.

“If this issue is so credible based on the results of September 11, we shouldn’t be afraid of going through the (budget) authorization process and fight for the spending bill,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

Republicans forced Democrats to accept an amendment that deliberately cast a slur on the men and women who answered their country’s call in its supreme moment of agony. Only then was the legislation passed.

The amendment read: “No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as a screening-eligible WTC survivor or a certified-eligible WTC survivor.

“Before determining any individual to be a screening-eligible WTC survivor…or certifying any individual as a certified eligible survivor….the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine whether the individual is on such list.”

The amendment provoked outrage among non-politicians, Democrats and even some Republicans.  Among these:

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)  whose district encompassed Ground Zero, said it was “absurd” to consider that any of the 9/11 heroes would be terrorists.  He added that the screenings were a “waste of money.”
  • Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called the exercise “shameful” and “a waste of time,” adding: “It put a cloud over extraordinarily good people for no reason.”
  • “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart noted that the federal government didn’t run background checks on any other group of people receiving financial benefits. These included Social Security recipients, Medicare patients and even Wall Street bankers bailed out during the recession.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, advised doctors and hospital administrators to begin letting patients know before the new program took effect in July, 2011.

Specifically, patients seeking help under 9/11 treatment and monitoring programs were told that their

  • names
  • birthplaces
  • addresses
  • government ID numbers
  • and other personal data

would be provided to the FBI to prove they were not terrorists.

Firefighters rescuing victims at the World Trade Center

Howard’s instructions to medical providers included a sample letter to responders designed to minimize alarm:

“Although neither we nor [the Centers for Disease Control]/NIOSH anticipate the name of any individual in the current Programs will be on the list, CDC/NIOSH is expressly required by law to implement this particular requirement of the Act.

“Thank you for your understanding. We look forward to working with you and ensuring that you continue to receive uninterrupted services under the new WTC Health Program,” it concluded.

By August, 2011, the FBI had screened some 60,000 emergency responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center and had not uncovered any suspected terrorists. To date, no matchups have occurred between known terrorists and those seeking treatment.

Glen Kline, a former NYPD emergency services officer, best summed up the disgrace of these background checks: “This is absurd. It’s silly. It’s stupid. It’s asinine.  I mean, who are we even talking about–the undocumented workers who cleaned the office buildings?

“We know who all the cops, firefighters and construction workers were. They’re all documented.  Is the idea that a terrorist stayed to help clean up? And then stayed all these years to try and get benefits?”

Thus, self-righteous Right-wing legislators–who never lifted a beam from a trapped 9/11 survivor or inhaled toxic fumes that spewed from the crater that was once the World Trade Center–now stood in judgment over those who did.

ILLEGAL ALIENS = UNRELIABLE ALLIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 26, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Some Republicans–like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah–want their new majorities in the House and Senate to make “producing legislation” a top priority.

But others will soon make the impeachment of President Barack Obama their top priority.

Here’s how it will happen.

“We now have the votes and we have the ability to call the agenda, so stop name-calling and let’s actually produce some legislation that helps jobs and the economy and moves our country forward,” Chaffetz said in an interview after Republicans captured the U.S. Senate on November 4, 2014.

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Rep. Jason Chaffetz

“I think the country has figured that out, and they’ve given us the mandate to do it, and we better produce, or they’ll kick us out too.”

Obama has vowed to act unilaterally before year’s end to reduce the number of deportations and grant work permits to millions of illegal aliens living in the United States.

After promising to take executive action on immigration by the end of the summer of 2014, Obama delayed his plans until after the elections.  Democrats–especially Senators from conservative states–had warned him that such administrative moves could threaten their reelection.

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Illegal aliens crossing American borders by the millions

But on November 4, most of those Democrats lost anyway, leaving immigration advocates–and their millions of illegal alien constituents–feeling that the delay was needless.

“What I’m not going to do is just wait,” the president said as immigration legislation that the Senate passed in June 2013 remained stalled in the House.

Kentucky’s U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell–who became Senate Majority Leader in January–warned that this would be an in-your-face affront to the new majority GOP:

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Mitch McConnell

“I think the president choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration would be a big mistake,” McConnell said. “It’s an issue that most of my members want to address legislatively and it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own.’ …

“I hope he won’t do that because I do think it poisons the well for the opportunity to address a very important domestic issue.”

To which Obama responded: “I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take.

“Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill.”

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Barack Obama

Republicans could use spending bills to restrict or stop such executive action, by cutting appropriations to those agencies that would be tasked with carrying out Obama’s directives on immigration.

Several Republicans hold the deep-seated view that Obama already has been abusing his constitutional authority.

“Abuse of power” is an impeachable offense under the United States Constitution.  So making this assertion would provide Republicans with the weapon they’ve long sought to drive Obama from the White House.

Republicans, in fact, have a tainted history of using impeachment to remove a President who dared to thwart their agenda.

After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, Republican President Andrew Johnson tried to carry out Lincoln’s humane policies to reunify the nation after the Civil War.

He issued a series of proclamations directing the former Confederate states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. In response, Southern states returned many of their old leaders, and passed Black Codes to deprive freed slaves of many civil liberties.

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Andrew Johnson

Congress refused to seat legislators from those states and advanced legislation to overrule the Southern actions.  Johnson vetoed their bills, and Congress overrode him, setting a pattern until he left the White House in 1869.

As the conflict grew between the executive and legislative branches of government, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson in firing Cabinet officials.  Johnson then tried to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton–with whom he had an antagonistic relationship.

An enraged Congress impeached Johnson in the House of Representatives.  He avoided conviction and removal from office in the Senate–by one vote.

If President Obama tries to end-run Congress on immigration policy, history will likely repeat itself with another round of impeachment hearings.

It was Mitch McConnell who infamously vowed–immediately after Obama’s election in 2008–to make him “a one-term President.”

Moreover, there is actually no reason for Obama to risk his Presidency by granting the privileges of American citizenship to millions of illegal aliens.

Democrats–and especially Obama–had counted on millions of illegal aliens to retain Democratic control of the Senate.  But those masses of Hispanic voters never showed up at the polls, thus giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress.

If Obama practiced ruthless “Chicago politics” as charged by his enemies, his response would be: “You [illegal aliens] didn’t live up to your end.  Therefore, I have no further responsibility to you.”

Unfortunately for the President, he seems unable to break with his past of backing unpopular causes for little in return.

REPUBLICANS: “DO AS WE SAY OR WE’LL DESTROY AMERICA”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics on February 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

On December 13, 2014, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund almost the entire government through the September 30 end of the fiscal year.

But one Federal agency was pointedly exempted from full funding: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its funding will expire on February 27.

With their newfound majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans intend to hold the security of the United States as a hostage.

Their goal: To force Obama to rescind the changes he has made in American immigration policy.

With more than 240,000 employees, the DHS is the third largest Cabinet department, after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The Defense Department is charged with military actions abroad.  DHS is responsible for protecting the United States inside and outside its borders. Its goal is to prepare for, prevent and–if prevention fails–respond to man-made accidents, natural disasters and terrorism.

Among the agencies now operating under its mandate:

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA)
  • U.S. Secret Service
  • Science and Technology Directorate
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office
  • Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  • Office of Operations Coordination and Planning

Click here: Department Components | Homeland Security

Yet each of these agencies has a vital role to play in protecting the nation.  A nation whose security Republicans are willing to threaten to get their way on a matter of domestic policy.

Right-wing Republicans argue that even if DHS’s funding were stopped, most of its employees would stay on the job. That’s because they perform work considered necessary to protect human life and property.

But while those employees were safeguarding the country, they wouldn’t be paid until the shutdown ended. It’s hard to give your full attention to protecting the lives of others when you have to worry about paying a mortgage or feeding your family.

Of course, the Republicans responsible for this shutdown would continue to receivetheir hefty paychecks.

And there is something else to consider. DHS is best-known for its mission to prevent terrorist attacks on America.  And America may well be in the crosshairs of North Korean terrorism at this very moment.

On November 14, 2014, Sony Pictures came under relentless attack by cyberterrorists, who the FBI has linked to North Korea.

The reasoon?  Sony’s production of “The Interview,” a comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Calling themselves “Guardians of Peace,” or GOP, they shut down the company’s computer system and revealed employees’ personal information such as salaries, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

(Ironically, “Guardians of Peace” appropriated the same abbreviation–GOP–used by the Republicans for “Grand Old Party.”)

Warning issued by “Guardians of Peace” (GOP)

On December 17, 2014, Sony Pictures cancelled the Christmas Day premier of “The Interview” after the nation’s five largest movie chains refused to show the movie, following a terror threat posted online.

And then on February 5, 2015, Anthem Insurance announced that its database had been hacked–and sensitive medical information on up to 80 million customers and employees accessed.

According to an anonymous source, the hackers used malware that’s been used almost exclusively by Chinese cyberspies.

* * * * *

As the Third Reich came to its fiery end, Adolf Hitler sought to punish the German people for being “unworthy” of his “genius” and losing the war he had started. His attitude was: “If I can’t rule Germany, then there won’t be a Germany.”

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

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

Albert Speer

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

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

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

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

Literally during his first Inauguration, Republicans, in a secret meeting, agreed to block every effort he made to repair the economy. Acting as extortionists, they have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they didn’t get their way in legislative matters.

And just as repeatedly, they have blocked legislation that would have helped the poor, unemployed, women, elderly, disabled or middle-class.  At the center of their fury has been the Affordable Care Act, providing medical care to all citizens.

Even after Congress passed it and the Supreme Court affirmed it, House Republicans shut down the government in October, 2013. 

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

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

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

MACHIAVELLI WAS RIGHT: DISTRUST THE RICH

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 16, 2015 at 2:04 am

As Americans vacation their way through yet another observance of Presidents’ Day, it’s well to remember the man whose name defines modern politics.

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman who has been called the father of modern political science, published his best-known work: The Prince.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Among the issues he confronted was how to preserve liberty within a republic.  And key to this was mediating the eternal struggle between the wealthy and the poor and middle class.

Machiavelli deeply distrusted the nobility because they stood above the law.  He saw them as a major source of corruption because they could buy influence through patronage, favors or nepotism.

Successful political leaders must attain the support of the nobility or general populace.  But since these groups have conflicting interests, the safest course is to choose the latter.

….He who becomes prince by help of the [wealthy] has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace.  He is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is thus unable to direct or command as he pleases. 

But one who is raised to leadership by popular favor finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him.   [And] it is impossible to satisfy the [wealthy] by fair dealing and without inflicting injury upon others, whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way. 

For the aim of the people is more honest than that of the [wealthy], the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid oppression.  [And] the prince can never insure himself against a hostile population on account of their numbers, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few.

The worst that a prince has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles he has to fear not only desertion but their active opposition.  And as they are more far seeing and more cunning, they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer. 

The prince is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without the same nobility, being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or deprive them of it as he pleases.

Unfortunately, political leaders throughout the world–including the United States–have ignored this sage advice.

The results of this wholesale favoring of the wealth and powerful have been brilliantly documented in a recent investigation of tax evasion by the world’s rich.

In 2012, Tax Justice Network, which campaigns to abolish tax havens, commissioned a study of their effect on the world’s economy.

The study was entitled, “The Price of Offshore Revisited: New Estimates for ‘Missing’ Global Private Wealth, Income, Inequality and Lost Taxes.”

http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_120722.pdf

The research was carried out by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.  Among its findings:

  • By 2010, at least $21 to $32 trillion of the world’s private financial wealth had been invested virtually tax-­free through more than 80 offshore secrecy jurisdictions.
  • Since the 1970s, with eager (and often aggressive and illegal) assistance from the international private banking industry, private elites in 139 countries had accumulated $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of unrecorded offshore wealth by 2010.
  • This happened while many of those countries’ public sectors were borrowing themselves into bankruptcy, suffering painful adjustment and low growth, and holding fire sales of public assets.
  • The assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments.
  • The offshore industry is protected by pivate bankers, lawyers and accountants, who get paid handsomely to hide their clients’ assets and identities.
  • Bank regulators and central banks of most countries allow the world’s top tax havens and banks to hide the origins and ownership of assets under their supervision.
  • Although multilateral institutions like the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and the World Bank are supposedly insulated from politics, they have been highly compromised by the collective interests of Wall Street.
  • These regulatory bodies have never required financial institutions to fully report their cross-­border customer liabilities, deposits, customer assets under management or under custody.
  • Less than 100,000 people, .001% of the world’s population, now control over 30% of the world’s financial wealth.
  • Assuming that global offshore financial wealth of $21 trillion earns a total return of just 3% a year, and would have been taxed an average of 30% in the home country, this unrecorded wealth might have generated tax revenues of $189 billion per year.

Summing up this situation, the report notes: “We are up against one of society’s most well-­entrenched interest groups. After all, there’s no interest group more rich and powerful than the rich and powerful.”

Fortunately, Machiavelli has supplied a timeless remedy to this increasingly dangerous situation:

  • Assume evil among men–and most especially among those who possess the greatest concentration of wealth and power.
  • Carefully monitor their activities–the way the FBI now regularly monitors those of the Mafia and major terrorist groups.
  • Ruthlessly prosecute the treasonous crimes of the rich and powerful–and, upon their conviction, impose severe punishment.

HITLER, THE GOP AND “SCORCHED EARTH” – PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 12, 2015 at 12:00 am

With more than 240,000 employees, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the third largest Cabinet department, after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The Defense Department is charged with military actions abroad.  DHS is responsible for protecting the United States inside and outside its borders.

Its goal is to prepare for, prevent and–if prevention fails–respond to man-made accidents, natural disasters and terrorism.

Among the agencies now operating under its mandate:

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA)
  • U.S. Secret Service
  • Science and Technology Directorate
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office
  • Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  • Office of Operations Coordination and Planning

Some of DHS’s agencies–like FEMA and the Secret Service–are well-known. Others–such as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office–are not.

Click here: Department Components | Homeland Security

Yet each has a vital role to play in protecting the nation.  A nation whose security Republicans are willing to threaten to get their way on a matter of domestic policy.

Consider the implications if there is no

  • Secret Service to protect the President;
  • TSA to ensure the safety of airline passengers;
  • FEMA to respond to national emergencies (such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy);
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to prevent nuclear terrorism;
  • Coast Guard to save those in ocean peril and defend our maritime borders.

Right-wing Republicans argue that even if DHS’s funding were stopped, most of its employees would stay on the job.

That’s because they perform work considered necessary to protect human life and property.  But while those employees were safeguarding the country, they wouldn’t be paid until the shutdown ended.  

It’s hard to give your full attention to protecting the lives of others when you have to worry about paying a mortgage or feeding your family.

Of course, the Republicans responsible for this shutdown would continue to receive their hefty paychecks.

And there is something else to consider.

DHS is best-known for its mission to prevent terrorist attacks on America.  And America may well be in the crosshairs of North Korean terrorism at this very moment.

On November 14, 2014, Sony Pictures came under relentless attack by cyberterrorists, who the FBI has linked to North Korea.

The reasoon?  Sony’s production of “The Interview,” a comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Calling themselves “Guardians of Peace,” or GOP, they shut down the company’s computer system and revealed employees’ personal information such as salaries, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

(Ironically, “Guardians of Peace” appropriated the same abbreviation–GOP–used by the Republicans for “Grand Old Party.”)

Warning issued by “Guardians of Peace” (GOP)

On December 17, 2014, Sony Pictures cancelled the Christmas Day premier of “The Interview” after the nation’s five largest movie chains refused to show the movie, following a terror threat posted online.

And then on February 5, 2015, Anthem Insurance announced that its database had been hacked–and sensitive medical information on up to 80 million customers and employees accessed.

According to an anonymous source, the hackers used malware that’s been used almost exclusively by Chinese cyberspies.

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Albert Speer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HITLER, THE GOP AND “SCORCHED EARTH” – PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 11, 2015 at 2:08 am

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Buffett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In October, 2014, for the first time in United States history, the CDC faced an unexpected outbreak of the dreaded Ebola virus.  To Americans’ horror, the agency initially seemed unable to deal effectively with the threat.

Moreover, the Nation was confronting the Ebola crisis without a Surgeon General–thanks to NRA-funded Republican Senators.

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

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

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

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

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

But now a new Republican-inspired crisis threatens America.

On December 13, 2014, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund almost the entire government through the September 30 end of the fiscal year.

But one Federal agency was pointedly exempted from full funding: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

President George W. Bush had created this agency to safeguard the nation against terrorism.  But he didn’t imagine that his fellow Republicans might willingly jeopardize the security of the Nation.

President Obama had requested $38.2 billion to fund DHS through fiscal year 2015.   But Republicans ensured that its funding would end on February 27.

Why?

Republicans had gained control of the House of Representatives after the 2010 elections.  And then they gained control of the Senate with the 2014 elections.

With their newfound majorities in both houses of Congress, they intend to hold the security of the United States as a hostage.  Their goal: To force Obama to rescind the changes he has made in American immigration policy.

It is Homeland Security that’s charged with implementing those changes. And Republicans intend to strip it of funding to do so.

And if that means allowing DHS to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (to use a phrase made infamous by the Nixon administration) while Republicans play out their latest power-game, so be it.

This is no small matter.

With more than 240,000 employees, DHS is the third largest Cabinet department, after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The Defense Department is charged with protecting the United States through military action abroad.  DHS is responsible for safeguarding the Nation inside and outside its borders.

Its goal is to prepare for, prevent and–if prevention fails–respond to man-made accidents, natural disasters and terrorism.

HITLER, THE GOP AND “SCORCHED EARTH” – PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 10, 2015 at 12:25 am

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

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

Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler pouring over architectural plans

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

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

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

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

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

Adolf Hitler addressing boy soldiers as the Third Reich crumbles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President George W. Bush nearly doubled it again.

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

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

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

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

In April, 2011, the United States government almost shut down over Republican demands about subsidized pap smears.

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

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

John Boehner

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

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

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

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

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

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