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REVISING–OR SCRAPPING–OBAMACARE: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 5, 2016 at 12:08 am

President Barack Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans.  

But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction. At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and re-read what Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved or feared, or feared more than love. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved.

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

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

And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.  

Moreover, Machiavelli warns that even a well-intentioned leader can unintentionally bring on catastrophe.

This usually happens when, hoping to avoid conflict, he allows a threat to go unchecked.  Thus:

A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.  And therefore it is necessary, for a prince who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.

For Obama, such a moment came in 2011, when House Republicans threatened to to destroy the credit rating of the United States unless the President agreed to scrap Obamacare.  

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

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

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

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

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

And if President Obama believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11. 

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

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

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place.  President Obama could have directed the Justice Department to apply them.

If violations had been discovered, indictments could have quickly followed–and then prosecutions. The results of such action could be easily predicted:

  • Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would have first had to lawyer-up.
  • This would have imposed huge monetary costs on them, since good criminal attorneys don’t come cheap.  
  • Obsessed with their personal survival, they would have had little time to engage in more of the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted. In fact, doing so would have only made their convictions more likely.
  • Those Republicans who hadn’t (yet) been indicted would have feared; “I could be next.” This would have produced a chilling effect on their willingness to engage in further acts of subversion and extortion.  
  • The effect on Right-wing Republicans would have been the same as that of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers: “You cross me and threaten the security of this nation at your own peril.”

It would no doubt have been a long time before Republicans dared to engage in such behavior–at least, while Obama held office.  

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

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

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

So how has Obama fared by this standard?

REVISING–OR SCRAPPING–OBAMACARE: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 4, 2016 at 12:10 am

One of the major differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton lies in their views about what should be the future of “Obamacare.”  

Sanders, the longtime independent Senator from Vermont, wants to scrap The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with a single-payer plan.  

Clinton, the former Secretary of State, wants to make “incremental” changes in the Act.  

The Sanders plan promises greater simplicity and comprehensiveness in providing benefits to those millions of Americans who previously could not obtain medical insurance.  

The Clinton approach promises to keep the best features of “Obamacare” and improve those that need changing.  

But neither Sanders nor Clinton has directly addressed certain unpalatable truths about the ACA.  

These stem not from any intended evil on the part of its chief sponsor, President Barack Obama. Instead, they spring from his idealistic belief that reasonable men could always reach a compromise.  

As a result, much of the Act remains seriously flawed. Here are the six reasons why.  

Barack Obama is easily one of the most highly educated Presidents in United States history. He is a graduate of Columbia University (B.A. in political science in 1983).  

In 1988, he entered Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude–“with great honor”–in 1991.  

He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, and president of the journal in his second year.

President Barack Obama

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

So where did he go wrong? Several ways:

Obama Mistake No. 1: Putting off what people wanted while concentrating on what they didn’t.

Obama started off well when he took office. Americans had high expectations of him. This was partly due to his being the first black to be elected President.

And it was partly due to the disastrous legacies of needless war and financial catastrophe left by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama entered office intending to reform the American healthcare system, to make medical care available to all citizens, and not just the richest.  But that was not what the vast majority of Americans wanted him to concentrate his energies on.  

With the lost of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, Americans wanted Obama to find new ways to create jobs. This was especially true for the 11.1 million unemployed, or those employed only part-time.  

Jonathan Alter, who writes sympathetically about the President in The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, candidly states this.  

But Obama chose to spend most of his first year as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which would soon become known as Obamacare–through Congress.  

The results were:

  • Those desperately seeking employment felt the President didn’t care about them.  
  • The reform effort became a lightning rod for Right-wing groups like the Koch-brothers-financed Tea Party.  
  • In 2010, a massive Rightist turnout cost the Democrats the House of Representatives, and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.  

Obama Mistake No. 2: He underestimated the amount of opposition he would face to the ACA.

For all of Obama’s academic brilliance and supposed ruthlessness as a “Chicago politician,” he displayed an incredible naivety in dealing with his political opposition.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Florentine statesman and father of modern politics, could have warned him of the consequences of this–through the pages of The Prince, his infamous treatise on the realities of politics.

Niccolo Machiavelli

And either Obama skipped those chapters or ignored their timeless advice for political leaders.

He should have started with Chapter Six: “Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One’s Own Arms and Ability”:

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

For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.  

This proved exactly the case with the proposed Affordable Care Act.

Its supporters–even when they comprised a majority of the Congress–have always shown far less fervor than its opponents.  

This was true before the Act became effective on March 23, 2010. And it has remained true since, with House Republicans voting more than 60 times to repeal, delay or revise the law.  

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

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

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

Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s winning of the White House in his 2009 book, Renegade: The Making of a President. He noted that Obama was always more comfortable when responding to Republican attacks on his character than he was in making attacks on his enemies.

THE EVIL THAT POLITICIANS DO

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 1, 2016 at 12:01 am

Yes, like a toxic waste plant that spews out poison every four years, it’s Presidential primary time for the Republican party.

And its two most radical and ruthless candidates for President are flinging slime with gusto.  

Rafael “Ted” Cruz, the United States Senator from Texas, has accused his rival, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, of having “New York values.”

And during the January 14th Republican Presidential debate in South Carolina, he defined these as:

“Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and focus on money and the media.”  

Among Right-wingers, “liberal,” “pro-abortion” and “pro-gay” are the ultimate in insults.

But Donald Trump was quick to respond with an explosive charge of his own: Rafael Cruz is not an American citizen–and therefore not eligible to be President.  

What made this accusation so effective was Cruz’ having been born outside the United States–in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to an American mother and a Cuban father.

Ted Cruz, official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg

Rafael “Ted” Cruz

The U.S. Constitution specifically states that “No person except a natural born citizen…shall be eligible to the office of President.”  

Cruz has argued that because his mother was an American, he became an American citizen at birth. But courts have never ruled on the issue of what constitutes a “natural-born” citizen.  

And, at a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire, Trump smacked Cruz with an even more incendiary attack:  

“Ted Cruz may not be a US citizen, right? But he’s an anchor baby. No, Ted Cruz is an anchor baby in Canada. But Canada doesn’t accept anchor babies.”  

“Anchor baby” is a Politically Incorrect term for usually poor, non-white aliens entering the United States to have a child born on American soil, which grants automatic citizenship.  

And if the child is a citizen, its parents stand an excellent chance of being allowed to stay.  

Trump asserts that children born in the United States to illegal aliens are not American citizens, as they are today considered under the law.

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Donald Trump

At first, the issue of Cruz’ eligibility seemed confined to Republican politicians and those likely to vote for them. But then others outside the Right began weighing in.  

Mary McManamon, a Constitutional law professor at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, concluded in an Op-Ed for The Washington Post:

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is not a natural-born citizen and therefore is not eligible to be president or vice president of the United States.”

How did this all start? With the ultimate target of Republican hatred–Barack Obama.

Ever since Obama became a Presidential candidate in 2008, Republicans have accused him of being ineligible to hold office.

Without a political scandal (such as Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) to fasten on, the Republican party opted for slander: Obama was born in Kenya–not Honolulu–and thus was not an American citizen.  

From this there could be only one conclusion: He would be an illegitimate President, and should be removed from office if elected.  

And this smear campaign continued after he won the 2008 election. Right-wingers like Trump insisted that Obama “prove” his citizenship fitness to hold office.  

During his first two years in office, Obama tried to ignore the charge.

But polls repeatedly showed that large segments of the country believed it. Finally, even Obama’s closest advisers warned him: You must address this and put it to rest.  

So, on April 27, 2011, the President released the long-form version of his Hawaii birth certificate.

The long-form version of President Obama’s birth certificate

For the vast majority of Americans, this settled the issue. In 2012, to the fury of Republicans, Obama won a second, four-year term.

Fast forward to the 2016 Presidential race.  

Donald Trump, seeking to destroy his foremost rival, lobs the “anchor baby” charge against Rafael Cruz. 

To most Americans, this conjures up the image of poor Mexicans flooding across the United States border to apply for welfare.

It’s a highly effective way to inflame the elderly, white voters who make up the base of the Republican party.

But it’s also guaranteed to inflame millions of Hispanic Americans–those who are here legally as well as those who are here illegally.  

The Republican party has long earned the hatred and distrust of most Hispanic Americans through its calls to “seal off the border” and deport Hispanic illegal aliens.

And, in 2012, millions of Hispanics gave President Obama a second term.  

So long as Cruz stays in the race, Trump will continue to use the “birther” issue against him. And it will continue to dog him, as it did Obama.  

But it will continue to anger most of the 55 millions Hispanics living within the United States.  

The votes of elderly whites command the attention of Republican primary candidates. But Hispanic voters will play a decisive role in the general election.

Thus, Republicans may come to regret their use of the “birther” issue as they learn the truth of Shakespeare’s line: “The evil that men do lives after them.”

THE CASEY DOCTRINE

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Politics on January 22, 2016 at 12:18 am

When William J. Casey was a young attorney during the Great Depression, he learned an important lesson.

Jobs were hard to come by, so Casey thought himself lucky to land one at the Tax Research Institute of America in New York.

His task was to closely read New Deal legislation and write reports explaining it to corporate chieftains.

At first, he thought they wanted detailed legal commentary on the meaning of the new legislation.

But the he quickly learned a blunt truth: Businessmen neither understood nor welcomed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts at reforming American capitalism. And they didn’t want legal commentary.

Instead, they wanted to know: “What is the minimum we have to do to achieve compliance with the law?”

In short: How do we get by FDR’s new programs?

Fifty years later, Casey would bring the same mindset to his duties as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for President Ronald Reagan.

William J. Casey 

He was presiding over the CIA when it deliberately violated Congress’ ban on funding the “Contras,” the Right-wing death squads of Nicaragua.

Casey gave lip service to the demands of Congress.  But privately, with the help of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, he set up an “off-the-shelf” operation to provide arms to overthrow the leftist government of Daniel Ortega.

It was what President Ronald Reagan wanted.  So Casey felt he had a duty to get it done, and Congress be damned.

When news of Casey’s–and Reagan’s–illegal behavior leaked, in November, 1986, it almost destroyed the Reagan administration.

Especially damning: Much of the funding directed to the “Contras” had come from Iran, America’s mortal enemy.

To ransom a handful of American hostages who had been kidnapped in Lebanon, Reagan sold them our most sophisticated missiles in a weak-kneed exchange for American hostages.

Then he went on television and brazenly denied that any such “arms for hostages” trade had ever happened.  

Ronald Reagan

But the “Casey Doctrine” of minimum compliance with the law didn’t die with Casey (who expired of a brain tumor in 1987).

It was very much alive within the American business community as President Barack Obama sought to bring medical coverage to all Americans, and not simply the ultra-wealthy.

The single most important provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–better-known as Obamacare–requires large businesses to provide insurance to fulltime employees who work more than 30 hours a week.

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

Obama’s enemies have long slandered him as a ruthless practitioner of Chicago politics.”  So it’s easy to assume that he took “the Casey Doctrine” into account when he shepherded the ACA through Congress.

But he didn’t.

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

Employers feel motivated to move fulltime workers into part-time positions, and thus avoid

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

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

John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, has been quoted as saying:

  • The price of his pizzas will go up–by 11 to 14 cents per pizza, of 15 to 20 cents per order; and
  • He will pass along these costs to his customers.

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

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

Consider:  

  • Papa John’s is the third-largest pizza takeout and delivery chain in the United States.  
  • Its 2014 revenues were $1.60 billion, an increase of 11.1% over 2013 revenues of $1.44 billion.  
  • Its 2014 net income was $73.3 million, compared to 2013 net income of $69.5 million.  

In May, 2012, Schnatter hosted a fundraising event for Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at his own Louisville, Kentucky, mansion.

“What a home this is,” gushed Romney.  “What grounds these are, the pool, the golf course.

“You know, if a Democrat were here he’d look around and say no one should live like this. Republicans come here and say everyone should live like this.”

Of course, Romney conveniently ignored a brutally ugly fact:

For the vast majority of Papa John’s minimum-wage-earning employees-–many of them working only part-time-–the odds of their owning a comparable estate are non-existent.

Had  Obama been the serious student of Realpolitick that his enemies claim he is, he would have predicted that most businesses would seek to avoid compliance with his law.

To counter that, he need only have required employers to provide insurance coverage for all of their employees–regardless of their fulltime or part-time status.

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

  • All employees would have been able to obtain medical coverage; and
  • Employers would have been encouraged to provide fulltime positions rather than part-time ones, since they would feel, “I’m paying for fulltime insurance coverage, so I should be getting fulltime work in return.”

The “Casey Doctrine” needs to be kept constantly in mind when reformers try to protect Americans from predatory employers. 

 

BLACK IS AN IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on January 18, 2016 at 12:35 am

In 1964, bestselling novelist irving Wallace dared to imagine the then-unthinkable: The elevation of the first black President of the United States.

Wallace’s hero is Douglas Dilman, a moderate who tries to rule as a color-blind President.  But he is repeatedly confronted with the brutal truth about himself–and his critics: He is black, and they cannot forgive him for it.

Southern Senator Watson, upon learning that Dilman has succeeded to the Presidency, says: “The White House isn’t going to be white enough from now on.”

And Kay Eaton, who lusts for her husband, the Secretary of State, to become President, blames him for not pushing hard enough for it: “You’re just a kingmaker to a jigaboo.”

Dilman’s fictional Presidency is marked by white racists, black political activists, and an attempted assassination. Later, he is impeached on false charges for firing the racist Secretary of State.

The novel was turned into a 1972 movie starring James Earl Jones as President Dillman. 

Click here: The Man (1972) – IMDb 

The Man

Wallace’s 1964 novel, The Man, appeared 44 years before Barack Obama’s election.

Fast-forward to the Presidency of Barack Obama and you find:

  • In September, 2009, Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled “You lie!” during Obama’s health care speech to Congress.
  • In January, 2010, an effigy of President Barack Obama was found hanging from a building in Plains, Georgia.
  • In December, 2011, Brent Bozell, who runs the Right-wing Media Research Center, called Obama “a skinny, ghetto crackhead.”
  • In December, 2011, Rep.  Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), said of Michelle Obama: “She lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.”
  • In January, 2012, Mitt Romney’s son, Matt, said his father might release his tax returns “as soon as President Obama releases his grades and birth certificate and sort of a long list of things.”
  • In February, 2012, Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter offered: “Voters with forty years of politically correct education are ecstatic to have the first Black president. They just love the idea even if we did get Flavor Flav instead of  Thomas Sowell.”
  • In May, 2012, a flatbed truck drove through New York holding a trailer with eight mannequin-like bodies hanging on nooses.  One of the figures resembled President Obama, with a sign on the truck reading: “Obama Is Onboard, Find Out Why.  Visit YouTube.com And Search Keyword PatriotPhipps.”

  • In May, 2012, Patrick Lanzo, a bar owner in Paulding County, Georgia, posted a sign reading: “I do not support the nigger in the White House.”  In 2009 he posted a sign that read, “Obama’s plan for health-care: nigger rig it.”  Lanzo advertises his establishment as a “Klan bar.”
  • Throughout the 2012 Presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich repeatedly called Obama “the greatest food stamp President in American history.”  [According to the Department of Agriculture, 40.2% of food stamp recipients are white, 25.7% are black.]
  • Obama has been portrayed as a shoeshine man, an Islamic terrorist and a chimp. The image of his altered face has been shown on a product called Obama Waffles in the manner of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. He has been repeatedly depicted with a Hitler forelock and mustache.  

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  • Among the protest signs brandished by Tea Party members: “Obama’s Plan: White Slavery,” “The American Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama’s Ovens” and “Obama was Not Bowing [to the Saudi King] he was Sucking Saudi Jewels.”
  • Other Tea Party posters: “Imam Obama Wants to Ban Pork” and “The Zoo Has An African Lion, and the White House Has a Lyin’ African.”
  • Tea Partiers have chanted at Obama: “Bye, bye, Blackbird” and “Kenyan go home!”
  • During the Republican-imposed government shutdown–October 1-17, 2013, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) told Obama:  “I cannot even stand to look at you,”  The incident occurred when Obama met with lawmakers to try to find a resolution to the shutdown.  
  • On October 13, 2013, anti-Obama protesters gathered at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. They weren’t protesting the government shutdown but the President who had refused to cave in to Republican demands to de-fund the Affordable Care Act.  
  • On October 14, 2013, while Republicans were threatening to drive the country into bankruptcy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, Sarah Palin posted on Facebook her “secret plan” to impeach President Obama:
  • “It’s time for the president to be honest with the American people for a change. Defaulting on our national debt is an impeachable offense, and any attempt by President Obama to unilaterally raise the debt limit without Congress is also an impeachable offense.”
  • In short: If the Republicans force the country into default, Obama should be impeached. And if the President finds a way to avoid default, he should be impeached.
  • In October, 2013, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) said that being associated with President Obama would be similar to touching a “tar baby.”  Specifically:
  • “Even if some people say, well, the Republicans should have done this or they should have done that, they will hold the president responsible.  Now I don’t want to even have to be associated with him.  It’s like touching a tar baby….”.

Perhaps Irving Wallace believed that, by the millennium, America would be ready for a black President.  If so, he sadly proved to be a far better author than prophet.

THE RIGHT DEVOURS ITS OWN CHILDREN

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on January 14, 2016 at 12:12 am

“All revolutions,” said Ernst Rohem, leader of Adolf Hitler’s brown-shirted thugs, the S.A., “devour their own children.”

Ernst Rohem

Fittingly, he said this as he sat inside a prison cell awaiting his own execution.

On June 30, 1934, Hitler had ordered a massive purge of his private army, the S.A., or Stormtroopers. The purge was carried out by Hitler’s elite army-within-an-army, the Schutzstaffel, or Protective Squads, better known as the SS.

The S.A. Brownshirts had been instrumental in securing Hitler’s rise to Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.  They had intimidated political opponents and organized mass rallies for the Nazi Party.

But after Hitler reached the pinnacle of power, they became a liability.

Ernst Rohem, their commander, urged Hitler to disband the regular German army, the Reichswehr, and replace it with his own legions as the nation’s defense force.

Frightened by Rohem’s ambitions, the generals of the Reichswehr gave Hitler an ultimatum: Get rid of Rohem–or they would get rid of him.

So Rohem died in a hail of SS bullets–as did several hundred of his longtime S.A. cronies.

SS firing squad

At least one member of the Republican Party is now learning that an apparently useful weapon can become a liability.

Ever since Barack Obama became a Presidential candidate in 2008, Republicans have accused him of being ineligible to hold office.

Without a political scandal (such as Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) to fasten on, the Republican Party opted for slander: Obama had been born in Kenya–and thus was not an American citizen.

From this there could be only one conclusion: That he would be an illegitimate President, and should be removed from office if elected.

And this smear campaign continued after he won the election. Right-wingers like real estate billionaire Donald Trump insisted that Obama had been born in Kenya, not Honolulu.  

During his first two years in office, Obama tried to ignore the charge.

But polls repeatedly showed that large segments of the country believed it. Finally, even Obama’s closest advisers warned him: You must address this and put it to rest.

So, on April 27, 2011, the President released the long-form of his Hawaii birth certificate.

The long-form version of President Obama’s birth certificate

For the vast majority of Americans, this settled the issue. In 2012, they re-elected Obama to a second, four-year term.

Nevertheless, for many Right-wingers, even the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate meant nothing.  

Joseph Arpaio, the Right-wing sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, claimed that his “investigators” were certain that Obama’s birth certificate was fraudulent.

Responding to Arpaio’s claims, Joshua A. Wisch, a special assistant to Hawaii’s attorney general, said: “President Obama was born in Honolulu, and his birth certificate is valid. Regarding the latest allegations from a sheriff in Arizona, they are untrue, misinformed and misconstrue Hawaii law.”

Fast forward to 2015.

Donald Trump, who had threatened to run for President in 2012, announced his candidacy on June 16. Since then, he has been the front-runner for Republican voters.

But then Texas’ United States Senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz entered the race. As radical and ruthless as Trump, he quickly became the billionaire’s most dangerous competitor.

Ted Cruz, official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg

Rafael “Ted” Cruz

What to do?

Then Trump–or someone in his campaign–had an inspiration. Why not use against Cruz the same “he’s-not-an-American” charge that had been used against Obama?

Cruz, born outside the United States, was not really a natural-born American citizen–and was thus ineligible to be President.

Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to an American mother and a Cuban father.

The U.S. Constitution states specifically that “No person except a natural born Citizen …shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

Cruz has argued that because his mother was an American, he became an American citizen at birth.

But courts have never ruled on the issue of what constitutes a “natural-born” citizen.

At first, the issue seemed confined to Republican politicians and those likely to vote for them. But then others outside the Right began investigating it.

Mary McManamon, a constitutional law professor at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, concluded in an Open Editorial for The Washington Post:

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is not a natural-born citizen and therefore is not eligible to be president or vice president of the United States.”

Cruz got an even bigger slap in the face from Laurence Tribe, the celebrated professor of Constitutional law at Harvard University. He has argued before the United States Supreme Court 36 times.

Writing in The Boston Globe, Tribe stated:

“…The kind of judge Cruz says he admires and would appoint to the Supreme Court is an ‘originalist,’ one who claims to be bound by the narrowly historical meaning of the Constitution’s terms at the time of their adoption.

“To his kind of judge, Cruz ironically wouldn’t be eligible, because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and ’90s required that someone actually be born on US soil to be a “natural born” citizen.”  [Italics added.]

So long as Cruz stays in the race, Trump will continue to use the “birther” charge against him. And it will continue to dog him, as it did Obama.

Thus, the evil that politicians do lives after them.

STOP INSURANCE RIP-OFFS

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on January 6, 2016 at 1:58 pm

An insurance company suspends your medical coverage for months–or longer.

You’ve faithfully paid all premiums for your medical insurance–and have the records to prove it. But the company doesn’t care.

Think it can’t happen to you?  It did to a couple I’ll call Diane and Mike.

Mike worked as a paralegal for a Los Angeles law firm. He was getting health insurance for himself and his wife, Diane, under a COBRA arrangement.

COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. It’s a Federal law that was passed by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan.

One of its provisions creates an insurance program giving some employees the ability to continue health insurance coverage after leaving employment.

But a COBRA can sometimes act the same way the deadly poisonous snake does–with unpredictable and lethal results for those depending on it.

In this case, after Mike left his law firm to work at another, he found the COBRA didn’t operate as it was supposed to.

A snafu developed, involving

  • the COBRA management company,
  • the hospital where Mike and Diane had long been patients, and
  • Mike’s former employer.

Each of these institutions blamed the other for failing to provide appropriate information.

So the insurance company suspended Mike and Diane’s health insurance–completely ignoring their medical needs.

Of course, for most people who have dealt with an insurance company, this won’t come as a surprise.  Insurance companies aren’t in business to do good. They’re in business to make money.

Then, one day, Diane called me on an unrelated matter. During the conversation, she let slip the suspension of her medical insurance.

I was stunned at the news–and outraged when she said this had been going on for six months.

At once, I offered my services as a troubleshooter. She accepted.

I decided to call the office of my State Assemblyman. In California, the 80 members of the Assembly serve two-year terms, and are limited to being elected three times.

The 40 members of the State Senate serve four-year terms, and can be elected twice.

Because they face re-election sooner, members of the Assembly must stay closely attuned to resolving their constituents’ problems. That’s why they employ staffers who are experts at navigating through the maze of State agencies.

California State Capitol Building

And State Senators make certain their offices are equally well-staffed with such experts. 

When I called my Assemblyman’s office, I didn’t ask to speak with him. I knew I was too politically unimportant to rate a direct chat at that level. And I didn’t need to talk with him, anyway.

I simply told the secretary that I wanted to speak with the office’s specialist on insurance.

California has an Insurance Commissioner who directs the state’s Department of Insurance. The mandate of this agency is to license, regulate and examine insurance companies.

Soon I was speaking with Frank, the Assemblyman’s expert on insurance matters. I quickly explained the problem my friends were having. And, to my surprise, I found that he and I hit it off right away.

Frank said he had a friend–Steve–who worked as an investigator for the Department of Insurance. Then he generously offered to put me through to him. I thankfully accepted.

Soon Steve and I quickly found ourselves getting along well. Then he asked me: “What’s your friend’s number?”

Diane hadn’t authorized me to give her number to anyone, but I decided to forward it. If Steve was that interested in examining their problem, I wasn’t going to throw a damper on his enthusiasm.

Soon Steve and Diane were discussing the situation.

The insurance company Mike and Diane were relying on was, like many such companies, registered in Florida.  But, in order to legally do business in California, it had to obey the laws of the State of California.

And California laws forbade exactly the sort of behavior this company was engaging in.

And shortly after that conversation, Diane’s insurance company got an unexpected call from the Insurance Commissioner’s office.

The message was simple–and blunt: Restore that coverage–now.

And, within 48 hours, it had been fully restored.

There are several important lessons to be learned here:

  • Maintain accurate records of all your premium payments. And keep them accessible–as in file folders, a safe deposit box or an online file.
  • Don’t let your insurance company victimize you. Once you’ve paid your premium, you’ve lived up to your part of the arrangement. Now it’s their obligation to provide the medical care you need.
  • Know the names, addresses and phone numbers of your representatives–at local, state and Federal levels. Websites such as http://www.govspot.com/ and http://www.capweb.net/ will instantly provide this information–and a great deal more.
  • Know the name, address and phone number of your state Insurance Commissioner.
  • If your elected representatives can’t or won’t assist you, complain to the news media. Start with the local newspapers and TV stations. If that doesn’t work, try the Internet.
  • If the agencies that are supposed to help consumers won’t aid you, make them part of your complaint to the media.
  • If you’re disabled and/or have children who are affected by the insurance cut-off, play up this angle in your contacts with public agencies and/or the media.
  • If all else fails, consider filing a lawsuit against the insurance company.

HELL IN THE RENTERS’ PARADISE: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 1, 2016 at 12:57 am

Slumlords would have everyone believe that San Francisco is a “renters’ paradise.”  A place where hard-working landlords are routinely taken advantage of by rent-avoiding bums who want to be constantly pampered.

On the contrary: It’s not renters who hold “untouchable” status, but slumlords themselves.

If you doubt it, you need only review the case of slumlords Kip and Nicole Macy.  They waged a two-year war on their rent-paying tenants to force them out of their South of Market building.

The reason: The Macys wanted to get them out of their rent-controlled apartments so they could rent these out to tenants who could afford extortionate rents.

For two years, the police and district attorney’s office stood by while the Macys aimed threats, vandalism, illegal lockouts and violence at their law-abiding tenants.

The Macys have since been convicted and will be sentenced to four years and four months imprisonment.  But this case is a rarity for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Meanwhile, thousands of San Francisco tenants have lived with rotting floors, nonworking toilets, chipping lead-based paint and other outrages for not simply months but years.

But San Francisco tenants need not be put at the mercy of greedy, arrogant slumlords.  And the agencies that are supposed to protect them need not be reduced to impotent farces.

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office should create a special unit to investigate and prosecute  slumlords.  Prosecutors should offer rewards to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.

And the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection–which is charged with guaranteeing the habitability of apartment buildings–should immediately adopt a series of long-overdue refirms.

By doing so, it can:

  • Vastly enhance its own prestige and authority;
  • Improve living conditions  for thousands of San Francisco renters; and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers.

In Part 2 of this series I outlined 14 such reforms.  In this concluding column, I will outline the remaining eight:

  1. DBI should order landlords to post their Notices of Violation in public areas of their buildings–on pain of serious financial penalties for failing to do so. When DBI orders a slumlord to take corrective action, s/he is the only person who is notified.   Thus, if that slumlord refuses to comply with those directives, s/he is the only one who realizes it.  Given the pressing demands on DBI, weeks or months will pass before the agency learns about this violation of its orders.  Tenants have a right to know if their landlord is complying with the law.
  2. DBI should launch–and maintain–a city-wide advertising campaign to alert residents to its services.  Everyone knows the FBI pursues bank robbers, but too many San Franciscans do not even know that DBI exists, let alone what laws it enforces.  This should be an in-your-face campaign: “Do you have bedbugs in your apartment?  Has your stove stopped working?  Are you afraid to ride in  your building elevator because it keeps malfunctioning?  Have you complained to your landlord and gotten nowhere?  Then call DBI at —–.  Or drop us an email at ——.”
  3. Landlords should be legally required to give each tenant a list of the major city agencies (such as DBI, Department of Public Health and the Rent Board) that exist to help tenants resolve problems with their housing. 
  4. Landlords should be legally required to rehabilitate a unit every time a new tenant moves in, or at least have it examined by a DBI inspector every two years.  A tenant can occupy a unit for ten or more years, then die or move out, and the landlord immediately rents the unit to the first person who comes along, without making any repairs or upgrades whatsoever.
  5. Landlords should be required to bring all the units in a building up to existing building codes, and not just those in need of immediate repair.
  6. Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs.  Many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so, thereby risking the lives of their tenants. 
  7. DBI should not view itself as a “mediation” agency between landlords and tenants.  Most landlords hate DBI and will always do so.  They believe they should be allowed to treat their tenants like serfs, raise extortionate rents anytime they desire, and maintain their buildings in whatever state  they wish.  And no efforts by DBI to persuade them of its good intentions will ever change their minds.
  8. Above all, DBI must stop viewing itself as a mere regulatory agency and start seeing itself as a law enforcement one.  The FBI doesn’t ask criminals to comply with the law; it applies whatever amount of force is needed to gain their compliance. Niccolo Machiavelli said it best: If you can’t be loved by your enemies, then at least make yourself respected by them.

As Robert F. Kennedy wrote: “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves.  What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

HELL IN THE RENTERS’ PARADISE: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 31, 2015 at 12:01 am

The “war on drugs” has some valuable lessons to teach the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) which is charged with protecting tenants against predatory landlords.

Consider:

  • At least 400,000 rape kits containing critical DNA evidence that could convict rapists sit untested in labs around the country.
  • But illegal drug kits are automatically rushed to the had of the line.

Why?

It isn’t simply because local/state/Federal lawmen universally believe that illicit drugs pose a deadly threat to the Nation’s security.

It’s because:

  • Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to “facilitate” violations of Federal anti-drug laws.
  • Local and State law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.
  • Thus, financially-strapped police agencies have found that pursuing drug-law crimes is a great way to fill their own coffers.
  • Prosecutors and lawmen view the seizing of drug-related properties as crucial to eliminating the financial clout of drug-dealing operations.

It’s long past time for DBI to apply the same attitude–and methods–toward slumlords.

DBI should become not merely a law-enforcing agency but a revenue-creating one.  And those revenues should come from predatory slumlords who routinely violate the City’s laws protecting tenants.

By doing so, DBI could vastly:

  • Enhance its own prestige and authority;
  • Improve living conditions for thousands of San Francisco renters; and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers

Among those reforms it should immediately enact:

  1. Hit slumlord violators up-front with a fine–payable immediately–for at least $2,000 to $5,000 for each health/safety-code violation.
  2. The slumlord would be told he could reclaim 75-80% of the money onlyif he fully corrected the violation within 30 days.  The remaining portion of the levied fine would go into the City coffers, to be shared among DBI and other City agencies.
  3. This would put the onus on the slumlord, not DBI. Appealing to his greed would ensure his willingness to comply with the ordered actions.  As matters now stand, it is DBI who must repeatedly check with the slumlord to find out if its orders have been complied with.
  4. If the landlord failed to comply with the actions ordered within 30 days, the entire fine would go into the City’s coffers–to be dividedamong DBI and other agencies charged with protecting San Francisco residents.
  5. In addition, he would be hit again with a fine that’s at least twice the amount of the first one.
  6. Inspectors for DBI should be allowed to cite landlords for violations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health.  They can then pass the information on to DPH for its own investigation.
  7. If the DBI Inspector later discovers that the landlord has not corrected the violation within a designated time-period, DBI should be allowed to levy its own fine for his failure to do so.
  8. If DPH objects to this, DBI should propose that DPH’s own Inspectorsbe armed with similar cross-jurisdictional authority.  Each agency would thus have increased motivation for spotting and correcting health/safety violations that threaten the lives of San Francisco residents.
  9. This would instantly turn DBI and DPH into allies, not competitors.  And it would mean that whether a citizen called DBI or DPH, s/he could be assured of getting necessary assistance.  As matters now stand, many residents are confused by the conflicting jurisdictions of both agencies.
  10. DBI should insist that its Inspectors Division be greatly expanded. DBI can attain this by arguing that reducing the number of Inspectors cuts (1) protection for San Francisco renters–and (2) monies that could go to the general City welfare.
  11. The Inspection Division should operate independently of DBI. Currently,  too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.
  12. DBI should create a Special Research Unit that would compile records on the worst slumlord offenders.  Thus, a slumlord with a repeat history of defying DBI NOVs could be treated more harshly than a landlord who was a first-time offender.
  13. Turning DBI into a revenue-producing one would enable the City to raise desperately-needed revenues—in a highly popular way. Fining delinquent slumlords would be as unpopular as raising taxes on tobacco companies. Only slumlords and their hired lackey allies would object.
  14. Slumlords, unlike drug-dealers, can’t move their operations from one street or city to another.  Landlords aren’t going to demolish their buildings and move them somewhere else.

HELL IN THE RENTERS’ PARADISE: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 30, 2015 at 2:32 pm

To hear slumlords tell it, San Francisco is a “renters’ paradise,” where obnoxious, lazy, rent-evading tenants constantly take advantage of hard-working, put-upon landlords.

Don’t believe it.

And in case you’re inclined to anyway, consider the story of Kip and Nicole Macy, two San Francisco slumlords who recently pled guilty to felony charges of residential burglary, stalking and attempted grand theft.

Kip Macy

Nicole Macy

Determined to evict rent control-protected tenants from their apartment building in the South of Market district, they unleashed a reign of terror in 2006:

  • Cut holes in the floor of one tenant’s living room with a power saw–while he was inside his unit.
  • Cut out sections of the floor joists to make the building collapse.
  • Threatened to shoot Ricardo Cartagena, their property manager, after he refused to make the cuts himself.
  • Changed the locks to Cartagena’s apartment, removed all of his belongings and destroyed them.
  • Created fictitious email accounts to appear as a tenant who had filed a civil suit against the Macys–and used these to fire the tenant’s attorney.
  • Cut the tenants’ telephone lines and shut off their electricity, gas and water.
  • Changed the locks on all the apartments without warning.
  • Mailed death threats.
  • Kicked one of their tenants in the ribs.
  • Hired workers to board up a tenant’s windows from the outside while he still lived there.
  • Falsely reported trespassers in a tenant’s apartment, leading police to hold him and a friend at gunpoint.
  • Broke into the units of three tenants and removed all their belongings.
  • Again broke into the units of the same three victims and soaked their beds, clothes and electronics with amonia.

The Macys were arrested in April, 2008, posted a combined total of $500,000 bail and then fled the country after being indicted in early 2009.

In May, 2012, Italian police arrested them and deported them back to America a year later.

Having pled guilty, they were sentenced in September, 2013, to a prison term of four years and four months.

How could such a campaign of terror go on for two years against law-abiding San Francisco tenants?

Simple.

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

The power of slumlords 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.

Consider the situation at the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, which is supposed to ensure that apartment buildings are in habitable condition:

  • A landlord is automatically given 30 days to correct a health/safety violation. If he drags his feet on the matter, the tenant must live with that problem until it’s resolved.
  • If the landlord claims for any reason that he can’t fix the problem within one month, DBI doesn’t demand that he prove this.  Instead, it automatically gives him another month.
  • A slumlord has to work at being hit with a fine—by letting a problem go uncorrected for three to six months.
  • And even then, repeat slumlord offenders often avoid the fine by pleading for leniency.
  • That’s because many DBI officials are themselves landlords.

But the situation doesn’t have to remain this way.

DBI could:

  • Vastly enhance its own prestige and authority
  • Improve living conditions  for thousands of San Francisco renters, and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers.

How?

By learning some valuable lessons from the “war on drugs” and applying them to regulating slumlords.

Consider:

  • At least 400,000 rape kits containing critical DNA evidence that could convict rapists sit untested in labs around the country.
  • But illegal drug kits are automatically rushed to the had of the line.

Why?

It isn’t simply because local/state/Federal lawmen universally believe that illicit drugs pose a deadly threat to the Nation’s security.

It’s because:

  • Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to “facilitate” violations of Federal anti-drug laws.
  • Local and State law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.
  • Thus, financially-strapped police agencies have found that pursuing drug-law crimes is a great way to fill their own coffers.
  • Prosecutors and lawmen view the seizing of drug-related properties as crucial to eliminating the financial clout of drug-dealing operations.

It’s long past time for San Francisco agencies to apply the same attitude–and methods–toward slumlords.

In my next column I will lay out how this can be done.

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