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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:

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://s3.amazonaws.com/dk-production/images/14762/large/a302bc9bea18eca2b87cd656e05105cb.jpg?1357627906&imgrefurl=http://kentuckysportsradio.com/main/mitch-mcconnell-is-about-to-come-on-ksr/&docid=UuX87ufrXGUUhM&tbnid=mIFfN17UeL3g3M:&w=512&h=393&ei=yNBbVLzJJsu5ogSEroDQCg&ved=0CAIQxiAwAA&iact=c

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.

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.

DATA SECURITY BREACHES: “WE DON’T CARE, WE DON’T HAVE TO”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 9, 2015 at 2:06 am

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on the 1960s comedy hit, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, as Ernestine, the rude, sarcastic switchboard operator for Ma Bell.

She would tap into customers’ calls, interrupt them, make snide remarks about their personal lives.  And her victims included celebrities as much as run-of-the-mill customers.

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

She introduced herself as working for “the phone company, serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth.”

But perhaps the line for which her character is best remembered was: “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”

Watching Ernestine on Laugh-In was a blast for millions of TV viewers.  But facing such corporate arrogance in real-life is no laughing matter.

Clearly, too many companies take the same attitude as Ernestine: “We don’t care.  We don’t have to.”

This is especially true for companies that are supposed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information–such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

An October 22, 2014 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raised the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is clearly: No.

Its author is John Hering, co-founder and executive director of Lookout, which bills itself as “the world leader in mobile security for consumers and enterprises alike.”

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

October, 2014 proved a bad month for credit card-using customers of Kmart, Staples and Dairy Queen.

All these companies reported data breaches involving the theft of credit card numbers of countless numbers of customers.

All these corporations reported data breeches involving the theft of credit card numbers of countless numbers of customers.

Earlier breaches had hit Target, Home Depot and JPMorgan/Chase.

And on February 5, 2015, health insurance giant Anthem Inc. announced that hackers had breached its computer system and accessed the medical records of tens of millions of its customers and employees.

Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, said the infiltrated database held records on up to 80 million people.

Among the customers’ information accessed:

  • Names
  • Birthdates
  • Social Security numbers
  • Member ID numbers
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses and
  • Employment information.

Some of the customer data may also include details on their income.

Click here: Anthem hack exposes data on 80 million; experts warn of identity theft – LA Times

Bad as that news was, worse was to come.

A February 5 story by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Anthem stored the Social Security numbers of 80 million customers without encrypting them.

The company believes that hackers used a stolen employee password to access the database

Anthem’s alleged reason for refusing to encrypt such sensitive data: Doing so would have made it harder for the company’s employees to track health care trends or share data with state and health providers.

Anthem spokeswoman Kristin Binns blamed the data breach on employers and government agencies who “require us to maintain a member’s Social Security number in our systems so that their systems can uniquely identify their members.”

She said that Anthem encrypts personal data when it moves in or out of its database–but not where it  is stored.

This is a commonplace practice in the healthcare industry.

The FBI is now investigating the hack.

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

Naturally, China has denied any wrongdoing.  With a completely straight face, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said:

“We maintain a cooperative, open and secure cyberspace, and we hope that countries around the world will make concerted efforts to that end.”

He also said that the charge that the hackers were Chinese was “groundless.”

Click here: Health Insurer Anthem Didn’t Encrypt Stolen Data – WSJ

Meanwhile, John Herring’s complaints remain as valid today as they did last October.

“One thing is clear,” writes Hering. “CEOs need to put security on their strategic agendas alongside revenue growth and other issues given priority in boardrooms.”

Hering warns that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.”  And he offers several reasons for this:

  • The sheer number of data compromises;
  • Relatively little consumer outcry;
  • Almost no impact on the companies’ standing on Wall Street;
  • Executives may consider such breaches part of the cost of doing business.

“There’s a short-term mindset and denial of convenience in board rooms,” writes Hering.

“Top executives don’t realize their systems are vulnerable and don’t understand the risks. Sales figures and new products are top of mind; shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

There are three ways corporations can be forced to start behaving responsibly on this issue.

  1. Smart attorneys need to start filing class-action lawsuits against companies that refuse to take steps to protect their customers’ private information.  There is a name for such behavior: Criminal negligence.  And there are laws carrying serious penalties for it.
  2. There must be Federal legislation to ensure that multi-million-dollar fines are levied against such companies–and especially their CEOs–when such data breaches occur.
  3. Congress should enact legislation allowing for the prosecution of CEOs whose companies’ negligence leads to such massive data breaches.  They should be considered as accessories to crime, and, if convicted, sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Only then will the CEO mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because our heads will roll if we don’t.”

THE POLITICS OF SCAPETOATING: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 6, 2015 at 12:15 am

With the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Republican Party went into a tailspin of dismay.

For almost 50 years, Republicans had conjured up The Red Bogeyman to scare voters into sending them to Congress and the White House.

But now that the “workers’ paradise” had disappeared, Americans seemed to lose interest in the Communist Menace.

True, the People’s Republic of China remained, and its increasing economic clout would challenge the United States well into the 21st century.  But Americans didn’t seem to fear the Red Chinese as they had the Red Russians.

What was the Republican Party to do to lure voters?

On September 11, 2001, the answer arrived–in two highjacked jetliners that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and one that struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Exit The Red Bogeyman.  Enter The Maniacal Muslim.

Consider:

  • Mike Huckabee - “If the purpose of a church is to push forward the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then you have a Muslim group that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated, I have a hard time understanding that.”
  • Herman Cain - ”I would not” appoint a Muslim in his administration.
  • Newt Gingrich - “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they [his grandchildren] are my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists. …”
  • Rick Santorum On supporting the racial profiling of Muslims: “Obviously, Muslims would be someone you look at, absolutely.”
  • Mitt Romney - “Based on the numbers of American Muslims in our population, I cannot see that a Cabinet position [for a Muslim] would be justified.”

And on July 13, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) sent letters to the Inspectors General of the Departments of

  • Defense;
  • State;
  • Justice; and
  • Homeland Security.

“The purpose of these letters,” wrote Bachmann, was to “request a multi-department investigation into potential Muslim Brotherhood infiltration into the United States Government.”

Michelle Bachmann

Bachmann further asserted in her letter to the State Department that Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

And the evidence for this?

The Center for Security Policy’s claim that Abedin’s father (who died when she was a teenager), mother and brother are “connected” to the organization.

And what is the Center of Security Policy?  A private organization subsidized by donors to neo-conservative causes.

In a separate letter, Bachmann demanded to know how Abedin received her security clearance.

Among the co-signers of Bachmann’s letter to the Inspectors General were:

  • Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who has said abortion has done more harm to blacks than slavery;
  • Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who called presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, ”uppity”; and
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, who claims that terrorist organizations send pregnant women into the U.S. so that their children will be American citizens–who can enter and leave the country at will as they are trained to be terrorists abroad.

When pressed for their evidence of “a vast Muslim conspiracy,” right-wing accusers usually refuse to provide any.

An example of this occurred during an August 13, 2010 interview between Gohmert and CNN’s Anderson Cooper:

COOPER: What research? Can you tell us about the research?

GOHMERT: You are attacking the messenger, Anderson, you are better than this. You used to be good. You used to find that there was a problem and you would go after it.

COOPER: Sir, I am asking you for evidence of something that you said on the floor of the House.

GOHMERT: I did, and you listen, this is a problem. If you would spend as much time looking into the problem as you would have been trying to come after me and belittle me this week –

COOPER: Sir, do you want to offer any evidence? I’m giving you an opportunity to say what research and evidence you have. You’ve offered none, other than yelling.

Nor did Gohmert offer any evidence that evening.

Of course, the ultimate Republican Muslim slander is that President Barack Obama–a longtime Christian–is himself a Muslim.

No doubt Republicans feel totally safe in making these attacks, since Muslims comprise only 1% of the American population.

This has long been a hallmark of right-wing attacks–to go after a minority that cannot effectively defend itself.

Thus, Adolf Hitler attacked the Jews of Germany.

And Republicans have successively attacked blacks, Hispanics and gays–until each group became politically influential enough to defeat Republican candidates.

Today, most right-wing politicians at least grudgingly court all of these groups.

When Muslims become a significant political force in their own right, the Right will court them, too.  And then move on to yet another helpless scapegoat to blame for America’s troubles.

THE POLITICS OF SCAPEGOATING: PART TWO (OF THREE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 5, 2015 at 12:08 am

“Judge not, that you not be judged.  For with what judgment you judged, you shall be judged, and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

So warns the Gospel of St. Matthew, 7:1-2.  It’s advice that Right-wingers Joseph McCarthy, Robert Welch and George H.W. Bush would have done well to heed.

Joseph McCarthy, Wisconsin’s gift to the United States Senate, became infamous as the demagogue whose Red-baiting accusations terrified America from 1950 to 1954.

Joseph McCarthy

Elected to the Senate in 1946, he rose to national prominence on February 9, 1950, after giving a fiery speech in Wheeling, West Virginia:

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”

Americans were already growing increasingly fearful of Communism:

  • Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had not withdrawn the Red Army from the countries it had occupied in Eastern Europe during World War II.
  • In 1948, the Soviet Union developed–and demonstrated–its own atomic bomb, an achievement U.S. scientists had claimed would not happen for at least a decade.
  • In 1949, China fell to the triumphant armies of Mao Tse Tung.

But anti-communism as a lever to political advancement sharply accelerated following McCarthy’s speech.  Republicans–resentful at being denied the White House since 1932–seized upon anti-communism as their passport to power.

No American–no matter how prominent–was safe from the accusation of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer–”a Comsymp” or “fellow traveler” in the style of the era.

Among those accused:

  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had overseen America’s strategy for defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan
  • President Harry S. Truman
  • Playwright Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller
  • Actors Charlie Chaplin, Zero Mostel, Lloyd Bridges, Howard Da Silva, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield
  • Composers Arron Copland and Elmer Bernstein
  • Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who presided over the creation of America’s atomic bomb
  • Actressses Lee Grant, Delores del Rio, Ruth Gordon and Lucille Ball
  • Journalists Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer, who had chronicled the rise of Nazi Germany
  • Folksinger Pete Seeger
  • Writers Irwin Shaw, Howard Fast, John Steinbeck and Dashiell Hammett

Even “untouchable” Republicans became targets for such slander.

The most prominent of these was President Dwight D. Eisenhower–labeled ”a conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy” by Robert Welch, who founded the John Birth Society in 1958.

Robert Welch

Welch, an independently wealthy businessman, used his money to publicize the Society and its views.  Welch saw even hardline anti-Communists like Vice President Richard Nixon and actor Ronald Reagan as dangerously liberal.

Meanwhile, McCarthy finally overstepped himself.  In 1953, he attacked the leadership of the United States Army as “a hotbed of traitors” and convened an inquiry through the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

But the hearings backfired, exposing McCarthy as the bullying demagogue he was.  A Senate committee voted to condemn his behavior, charging that he had “acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.”

Although McCarthy remained in the Senate another two and a half years, his political influence had ended.

Journalists who had raced to cover his latest slander now avoided him.  So did his Republican colleagues–many of whom had once sought his help at election time.

Yet even without McCarthy, Republicans rode the issue of anti-Communism to victory from 1948 to 1960.

After holding the White House for eight years under Eisenhower, they lost it in 1960 to John F. Kennedy and again in 1964 to Lyndon Johnson.

By 1968, with the nation mired in Vietnam and convulsed by antiwar demonstrations, Americans turned once more to those who preyed upon their fears and hates.  They elected Richard Nison–and re-elected him in 1972.

After Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976 and lost it in 1980, Republicans held the White House until 1992.  Throughout that time, they continued to accuse their opponents of being devious agents–or at least unwitting pawns–of “the Communist conspiracy.”

Even as late as 1992, President George H.W. Bush and the Republican establishment charged that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton might be a KGB plant.

George H.W. Bush

Their evidence: During his tenure at Oxford University in 1969-70, Clinton had briefly visited Moscow.

Thus, the Republican charged that he might have been “programmed” as a real-life “Manchrian candidate” to become, first, Governor of Arkansas–one of America’s poorest states–and then President.

What made this charge all the more absurd: The Soviet Union had officially dissolved in December, 1991.

Although Republicans continued to hurl “Communist!” and “treason!” at their opponents, these charges no longer carried the weight they had while the Soviet Union existed.

Right-wingers had to settle for attacking their opponents as “liberals” and “soft on crime.”

Then, on September 11, 2001, Republicans–and their right-wing supporters–at last found a suitable replacement for the Red Menace.

THE POLITICS OF SCAPEGOATING: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 4, 2015 at 12:02 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, theReichswehr, 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

Among the SS commanders supervising those executions was Reinhard Heydrich–a tall, blond-haired formal naval officer who was both a champion fencer and talented violinist.

Ultimately, he would become the personification of the Nazi ideal–”the man with the iron heart,” as Hitler eulogized at Heydrich’s funeral just eight years later.

Reinhard Heydrich

Even so, Heydrich had a problem: He could never escape vicious rumors that his family tree contained a Jewish ancestor.

His paternal grandmother had married Reinhold Heydrich, and then Gustav Robert Suss.  For unknown reasons, she decided to call herself Suss-Heydrich.

Since “Suss” was widely believed in Germany to indicate Jewish origin, the “stigma” of Jewish heritage attached itself to the Heydrich family.

Heydrich joined the SS in 1931 and quickly became head of its counterintelligence service.  But his arrogance and overweening ambition created a great many enemies.

Only a year later, he became the target of an urgent investigation by the SS itself. The charge: That he was part-Jewish, the ultimate sin in Hitler’s “racially pure” Nazi Germany.

The investigation cleared Heydrich, but the rumor of his “tainted” origins persisted, clearly tormenting the second most powerful man in the SS. Even his superior, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsfuhrer-SS, believed it.

When Heydrich was assassinated in 1942 by Czech assassins in Prague, Himmler attended his funeral. He paid tribute to his former subordinate at the service: ”You, Reinhard Heydrich, were a truly good SS-man.”

But he could not resist saying in private: “He was an unhappy man, completely divided against himself, as often happened with those of mixed race.”

Those who dare to harshly judge others usually find themselves assailed just as harshly.

A modern-day example is Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and a 2014 candidate for U.S. Senator from Wyoming.

Liz tried to position herself as far more right-wing than her opponent, Republican U.S. Senator Michael Bradley “Mike” Enzi. She found her work cut out for her: In March, 2007, Enzi was ranked by National Journal as the sixth-most conservative U.S. Senator. Among his legislative priorities:

  • Supporting partial privatization of Social Security
  • Consistently voting against expanding Medicare.
  • Voting against enrolling more children or the poor in public healthcare.

       Mike Enzi

And Liz had a problem Enzi did not: Her sister, Mary, was not only a lesbian but legally married to another woman: Heather Poe.  This led many Wyoming voters to wonder if Liz Cheney was far-Right enough to merit their support.

So Liz went all-out to assure them that even though her sister led a degenerate lifestyle, she, Liz, stood foursquare against legalizing gay marriage: “I do believe it’s an issue that’s got to be left up to states. I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage.”

Liz Cheney

And, in another statement: “I am strongly pro-life and I am not pro-gay marriage.

“I believe the issue of marriage must be decided by the states, and by the people in the states, not by judges and not even by legislators, but by the people themselves.”

This stance led to a heated rift between her and Mary. “For the record, I love my sister, but she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage,” Mary Cheney wrote in a Facebook post in September, 2013.

“Freedom means freedom for everyone,” she continued. “That means that all families–regardless of how they look or how they are made–all families are entitled to the same rights, privileges and protections as every other.”

Adding to the complications: Their father, Dick Cheney—often ridiculed as “Darth Vader” for his own extreme Right-wing views—endorsed same-sex marriage in 2009.

(After a brief run, Cheney, on January 6, 2014, Cheney withdrew from the race.)

But, as was true for officials in Nazi Germany, so is it true for Right-wing Republicans: It’s impossible to be too radical a Right-winger.

In the 1930s and 40s, it was politically—and personally—dangerous to be labeled “pro-Jewish” or “pro-Communist” in Hitler’s Germany.

And today it is equally dangerous—at least politically—to be labeled “pro-liberal” or “pro-gay” in the Republican Party.

THE POLITICS OF DISCRIMINATION

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 3, 2015 at 12:05 am

Christmas was fast approaching in 2014.  So Republicans in the Michgan House of Representatives decided to honor the spirit of “peace on earth, good will toward men” in their own special way.

They passed a bill legalizing religious discrimination.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” passed on partisan lines–59 Republicans to 50 Democrats–on December 4, 2014.

It next goes to the Senate, and, if passed there, to Republican Governor Rick Snyder. It isn’t known if he would sign it.

The bill would allow anyone to refuse service to anyone under the claim that their “religious beliefs” had been affronted.

And the State government would be legally prevented from intervening if a person claimed that his/her “deeply-held religious beliefs” was the reason for acting–or not acting–in a certain way.

Thus:

  • An emergency room doctor could refuse service to a gay or lesbian needing medical care.
  • A pharmacist could refuse to fill a doctor’s prescription for birth control, or HIV medication.
  • A DMV clerk could refuse to give a driver’s license to someone who’s divorced.
  • A school teacher could refuse to mentor the children of a same-sex couple.
  • An employer could deny equal pay to women.

The bill seems modeled on a proposed law that the Republican House and Senate in Arizona sent to Governor Jan Brewer in 2014.

Under threat of a nationwide boycott of Arizona if the bill became law, Brewer vetoed it.

Supporters of the bill claim they aren’t seeking a license to discriminate, only to live by the tenets of their religious beliefs withouot government interference.

But opponents see it differently.  Among these is Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.

“The idea that we need to ‘restore’ religious freedom–rights that are already enshrined in the U.S. Constitution–is a farce created by conservative lawmakers for the sole purpose of appeasing their far-right donors and the religious-right.

“This extreme bill attempts to solve a problem that does not exist, promotes discrimination and does nothing to make Michigan a better place to live,” Scott said in a statement.

This is certainly not the first time Right-wing zealots have sought to enshrine religious discrimination in law.

On September 15, 1935, the Nazis–who had taken power in Germany in 1933–introduced a series of anti-Semetic laws at their annual Nuremberg rally.

Adolf Hitler addressing a Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party

Under the Nuremberg laws:

  • Marriages between Jews and German citizens were forbidden.
  • Extramarital relations between Jews and German citizens were forbidden.
  • Jews were forbidden to employ female German citizens under the age of 45 as domestic workers.
  • Jews were banned from employment as attorneys, doctors or journalists.
  • Jews were forbidden to use state hospitals.
  • Jews could not be educated by the state past the age of 14.
  • Jews were forbidden to enter public libraries, parks and beaches.
  • The names of Jewish soldiers were to be expunged from war memorials.

With anti-Semitism now codified in German law, the foundations for the coming Holocaust were firmly laid. The “Religious Freedom Act” introduced in 2014 to Arizona would have:

  • Expanded the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religion.
  • Allowed someone to assert a legal claim of free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceedings.
  • Expanded those protected under the state’s free-exercise-of-religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.”
  • Allowed any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.
  • Allowed the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of religion.

Advocates often cited the case of a New Mexico wedding photographer who was sued after refusing to take photos of a same-sex couople’s commitment ceremony due to the photographer’s religious beliefs.

“We are trying to protect people’s religious liberties,” said Representative Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park.

“We don’t want the government coming in and forcing someone to act against their religious sacred faith beliefs or having to sell out if you are a small-business owner.”

Arizona Representative Steve Montenegro

Republicans have introduced similar “right-to-discriminate” legislation in other states as well:

  • In Kansas, lawmakers voted to exempt individuals from providing any service that was “contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • That bill passed the state’s House chamber on February 11, 2014, triggering national backlash.  It stalled in the Senate didn’t advance beyond that body.
  • In January, 2014, South Dakota Republicans introduced a bill to allow businesses refuse to serve same-sex couples on the grounds that “businesses are private and that their views on sexual orientation are protected to the same extent as the views of private citizens.”
  • The bill–which was killed in February, 2014–would have made it illegal for a gay person to file a lawsuit charging discrimination.

Ironically, many Right-wingers who support the right of Christians to discriminate fear that they will become victims of religious persecution if Islamic Sharia law comes to the United States.

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