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HALLOWEEN–PC STYLE

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 29, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Halloween isn’t just for kids anymore.

In 2014, about 70% of Americans will participate in Halloween, and will spend $7.4 billion.  Yes, that’s with a “b”.

This huge avalanche of funds will go on such items as candy, costumes and decorations.

Halloween candy alone has run up a $2 billion tab every Halloween for the past three years.

And $350 million will go for pet Halloween costumes.

Spending on Halloween has risen by more than 55% since 2005.

Here’s how those expenses break down:

Costumes – 38%

Cards – 5%

Decorations – 27%

Candy – 27%

Click here: Wait, Americans Spend How Much on Halloween? – The Atlantic

Those putting out this avalanche of money will, of course, be adults.  And a lot of those costumes will be worn by adults at parties across the nation.

This will be especially true in San Francisco.

In 1979, Halloween in its Castro District shifted from being a children’s event to a celebration among homosexuals.

The massive crowds quickly overwhelmed the streets, mass transit and due to the Castro’s location along two major transport corridors, disrupting traffic flow well outside the neighborhood.

In 2002, 500,000 people celebrated Halloween in the Castro and four people were stabbed.

It continued to grow into a massive annual street party until 2006, when a shooting wounded nine people and prompted the city to call off the event.

In 2007, 600 police were deployed in the Castro on Halloween By 2010, San Francisco had banned the event in the Castro, directing celebrants to various balls and parties elsewhere.

But there’s another force working to suppress Halloween joy among its participants: Political Correctness.

A recent article in Anaswers.com offers Politically Correct advice on how to enjoy Halloween–without hurting the Politically Correct sensitivities of almost every group imaginable.

Click here: Top 15 Major Halloween No-No’s – Answers.com

For example:

Adolf Hitler:  “There should be no need to explain why a Hitler costume is wrong. It’s offensive and upsetting to many people, especially those who survived the Holocaust and those who lost family members to it.”

Homeless Persons:  “Dressing kids up as hobos used to be cute, but now it is a no-no. It is rude to the growing homeless population in America, which includes people of all walks of life and all economic profiles.”

Illegal Alien: “Making light of the issues America faces with the constant deluge of illegal immigrants crossing the borders is not politically correct, and it’s disrespectful to the people attempting to cross the borders, or even those who immigrated legally.”

Terrorist: “With terrorism hitting the news 24/7, it is never okay to dress as a terrorist. Even worse, some parents allow their kids to dress this way.”

Others on the list of groups that Answers.com believes it’s Politically Incorrect to dress up as include:

  • Blacks (if you’re white)
  • Plane crash victims
  • Michael Brown (the thug whose shooting by a Ferguson, Missouri cop has touched off race riots)
  • “Dirty Mexicans” (features a picture of a woman wearing a mariachi outfit and a man sporting a sombrero, serape and drooping moustache)
  • Dead Steve Irwin (the publicity-hungry “Crocodile Hunter” who died when he got too close to a manta ray and it put a stinger through his chest)
  • Christopher Reeve (the “Superman” actor who was paralyzed from a horse fall, wearing a large white neck brace)
  • Pimp (“Glamorizing this type of person is offensive to all the women who get stuck in that vicious world”)
  • Naughty Priest/Nun (“It is offensive to anyone stuck in the middle of all the church scandals that became big news in the ’90s and 2000s”)

If you follow the guidelines of this article, you might as well skip Halloween altogether.

So, if you subtract all the costumes that Politically Correct mavens say you shouldn’t wear, here’s what you end up with:

DON’T DRESS UP AS:

  • Hobos, because it will hurt the feelings of bums who won’t be attending Halloween parties anyway.
  • Adolf Hitler, because you’ll offend anyone who survived the Holocaust.  (The same could be said for any actor who portrays Hitler in a movie, such as Downfall or The Bunker.)
  • Terrorists, because you might upset Islamics, who make up the vast majority of the world’s terrorists.
  • Illegal aliens, because it’s not nice to spotlight people who constantly violate the immigration laws of the United States.
  • Naughty priests, because it’s offensive to mock religious hypocrites who violate the bodies of children.

This list is potentially endless.

Yet no one objects to children–or adults–dressing up as pirates like Blackbeard, who once terrorized the oceans as modern-day terrorists menace the world.

No one objects to those who dress up like skeletons–when almost everyone has lost a friend or family member to death.

No one objects to those who dress up as witches, who have been associated with evil for hundreds of years.

No one objects to those who dress up as Satan–the literal personification of evil for millions of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The whole idea of Halloween is to momentarily step into a character that’s utterly different from you.

So if you are a terrorist, try dressing up at Halloween as Dr. Albert Schweitzer or Florence Nightingale.

TWO LIVES, TWO LEGACIES

In History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 28, 2014 at 1:04 am

Benjamin C. Bradlee and Richard M. Nixon.

Both men were driven to succeed.  And both achieved fame and power in doing so.

Bradlee made his name in journalism.

Benjamin C. Bradlee

Nixon made his in politics.

Richard M. Nixon

Both served in the United States Navy in the Pacific during World War II.

Both had strong connections to John F. Kennedy.

  • Bradlee knew him as a friend and reporter during JFK’s years as a Senator and President.
  • Nixon–as a Senator and later Vice President–knew Kennedy as a Senatorial colleague and as a political adversary, unsuccessfully contesting him for the Presidency in 1960.

For both, 1948 was a pivotal year.

  • Bradlee joined The Washington Post as a reporter.
  • Nixon, as a U.S. Representative, accused Algier Hiss, a former State Department official, of having been a Communist spy.  Hiss was eventually convicted of perjury and sent to prison.

Both attained their positions of maximum power in 1968.

  • Bradlee became executive editor of The Washington Post.
  • Nixon became the 37th President of the United States.

Bradlee made it his business to dig up the truth.  Nixon made it his business to distort the truth–or to conceal it when distortion wasn’t enough.

Nixon and Bradlee had their first major clash in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers, a secret government study of how the United States became enmeshed in the Vietnam war.

  • Although the Papers concerned events that had occurred during the Presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Nixon was outraged at their release by a former Defense Department analyst named Daniel Ellsburg.
  • Nixon ordered his Attorney General, John Mitchell, to enjoin The New York Times–which had begun publishing the study–from continuing to publish its revelations.
  • Bradlee, as executive editor of The Washington Post, urged his publisher, Katherine Graham, to take over where the Times had left off.
  • The controversey ended when the Supreme Court ruled, 6–3, that the government failed to meet the burden of proof required for prior restraint of the press.

In 1972, Bradlee and Nixon squared off for their most important battle–a “third-rate burglary” of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Benjamin C. Bradlee

  • Bradlee backed two young, aggressive reporters named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, as they probed the burglary.
  • This led to their discovering a series of illegal dirty tricks the Nixon re-election campaign had aimed at various Democratic opponents.
  • The Post’s revelations led to the formation of the Senate Watergate Committee, the discovery of Nixon’s tape-recordings of his private–and criminal–conversations, and, finally, to Nixon’s own resignation in disgrace on August 9, 1974.
  • Bradlee was one of only four men who knew the identity of “Deep Throat,” Woodward and Bernstein’s famous undercover source, then-FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt.  Felt outed himself in 2005.
  • Nixon, who died in 1994, never learned the identity of the most famous whistleblower in history.

Bradlee became an advocate for education and the study of history.

Nixon entered history as the only American President forced to resign from office.

 Richard Nixon saying farewell at the White House

Bradlee became a media celebrity.  Nixon became a media target.

  • Bradlee was portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor Jason Robarbs in the hit 1976 film, All the President’s Men.
  • Nixon was portrayed–in Oliver Stone’s 1995 drama, Nixon–by Anthony Hopkins.

Bradlee and Nixon each published a series of books.

  • Bradlee’s: That Special Grace and Conversations With Kennedy focused on his longtime friendship with John F. Kennedy.  A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures was Bradlee’s memoirs.
  • Nixon’s:  Among his 11 titles: Six Crises; RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon; The Real War; Leaders; Real Peace; No More Vietnams; Beyond Peace.

After leaving the White House, Nixon worked hard behind-the-scenes to refashion himself into an elder statesman of the Republican Party.

  • Throughout the 1980s, he traveled the lecture circuit, wrote books, and met with many foreign leaders, especially those of Third World countries.
  • He supported Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, making television appearances portraying himself as the senior statesman above the fray. 
  • For the rest of his life, he fought ferociously through the courts to prevent the release of most of the infamous “Watergate tapes” that chronicled his crimes as President.
  • Only since his death have many of these been made public.

Nixon died on April 22, 1994.

  • Eulogists at his funeral included President Bill Clinton and former Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, California Governor Pete Wilson and the Reverend Billy Graham.
  • Despite his efforts to portray himself as an elder statesman, Nixon could never erase his infamy as the only President to resign in disgrace.
  • To this day, he remains a nonperson within the Republican Party.  While numerous Republican Presidential candidates quote and identify themselves with Ronald Reagan, none has done the same with Nixon.

Bradlee remained executive editor of The Washington Post until retiring in 1991.  But he continued to serve as vice president-at-large until his death on October 21, 2014.

  • In 2007, he received the French Legion of Honor, the highest award given by the French government, at a ceremony in Paris.
  • In 2013, he was named as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.  He was presented the medal at a White House ceremony on November 20, 2013.

OUTLAWING THE WORD, NOT THE ACTIVITY

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 27, 2014 at 12:00 am

Illegal Pete’s is a Colorado burrito chain with locations in Denver and Boulder–and a problem with Hispanics.

On October 22,  about 30 people gathered in Fort Collins to ask its owner, Pete Turner, to change the name of the chain, which will soon open an outlet there.

The reason: Apologists for illegal immigration believe that “illegal” has become the new “I-word.”

They believe that referring to someone as an “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” is dehumanizing.

But Turner didn’t have anything like that in mind when he named his burrito chain.

Peter Turner

Turner responded to critics by saying “Illegal” is a reference to a novel he read in college, and “Pete’s” refers to his own name and that of his father.

He added that he had helped pay for some employees to become citizens.

But those at a meeting in Fort Collins compared the name to a racial slur used against blacks or hanging a Confederate flag in the restaurant’s window.

“We have been getting emails comparing me to the KKK,” said Turner, who opened Illegal Pete’s in 1995.

The meeting ended on an ominous note, with its moderator, Kim Medina warning: “Let us know whether we should be there to protest or celebrate [the opening of the Fort Collins restaurant] on Nov. 13.”

“Social context is hugely important,” said Medina, a Fort Collins immigration attorney. “We’ll never get to big issues, such as immigration reform, until we can solve these smaller issues of language.”

Which goes directly to the heart of Politically Correct speech.

In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated there were 11.4 million illegal aliens living in the United States.

Their top countries of origin are:

  • Mexico (59%)
  • El Salvador (6%)
  • Guatemala (5%)
  • Honduras (3%)
  • Philippines (3%)

In 2012,  643,474 illegal aliens were arrested. More than 69% were from Mexico.

In 2012, 419,384 illegal aliens were deported from the United States. Approximately 47% of these had prior criminal convictions.

  • Deported to Mexico (73%)
  • Deported to Guatemala (9%)
  • Deported to Honduras (7%)
  • Deported to El Salvador (4%)

That’s according to DHS.  But the truth is that with so many millions of illegal aliens invading the United States on a daily basis–and doing their best to remain uncaught–nobody really knows how many there are.

Current estimates based on national surveys place their numbers from 7 to 20 million.

Then there are the costs such unending waves of illegal immigration imposes on legitimate American citizens.

According to a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation:

  • The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that in 2010, 5.5 million children and illegal alien parents lived in the U.S.
  • About 1 million of these were born abroad and were brought into the U.S. unlawfully; the remaining 4.5 million were born in the U.S. and are treated under law as U.S. citizens.
  • Overall, some 8% of the children born in the U.S. each year have illegal alien parents.
  • The fiscal cost of illegal immigration must include the costs associated with these children, since these inevitably result from the illegal immigration of their parents.
  • The average earnings per worker are dramatically lower in illegal alien households.
  • Illegal aliens are far more likely to be poor.
  • Over one-third of such households have incomes below the federal poverty level, compared to 18.8% of legal immigrants and 13.6% of U.S. citizens.
  • Poorly educated men and women make up a disproportionate share of the illegal alien population. They tend to have low wages and pay comparatively little in taxes.
  • Households headed by an illegal alien received an average of $24,721 per household in direct benefits, means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services in FY 2010.

Click here: Cost of Unlawful Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayers

So much for the fiscal costs of illegal immigration.

Other costs are not so easily measured–but can be dramatic and tragic.

Consider the recent case of Marcelo Marquez, 34, of Salt Lake City, Utah. Arrested on October 24, he is a suspect in a Northern California shooting spree that left two sheriff’s deputies dead.

Marquez and his accomplice, Janelle Marquez Monroy, 38,  are being held without bail and face multiple felony counts, including murder, attempted murder and carjacking.

According to Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Marquez is actually an alias for a man named Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte. He was deported twice from the United States.

The first deportation came in 1997 after an arrest and conviction in Arizona for narcotics possession. He was arrested and sent back to Mexico again in 2001.

Which, finally, gets back to the realities of Politically Correct speech.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli observed the differences between image and reality:

For men in general judge more by the eyes than by the hands, for every one can see, but very few have to feel.   Everyone sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are….

The viewpoint of the Hispanics taking issue with Peter Turner clearly falls into this vein: If we can ban “illegal”–as in “illegal alien”–from the language, people will forget about the hordes of illegal aliens invading the United States every day.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 24, 2014 at 12:06 am

President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised and spent millions of dollars for campaign ads. They logged thousands of miles, crisscrossing the nation, speaking to millions of Americans.

And yet, when the 2012 Presidential race finally ended on November 6, 2012, history recorded the contest was settled with a single video.

It was the infamous “47%” video of Romney speaking–for once, truthfully–at a private fundraiser:

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him.

“Who are dependent upon government. Who believe that–that they are victims. Who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them.

“Who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that’s–it’s an entitlement.

“…These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich.”

A great deal of speculation has centered on: Who filmed it?

And in April, 2013, history repeated itself–with another Republican caught telling the ugly truth behind closed doors.

In this case, it was Kentucky United States Senator Mitch McConnell.  A microphone (probably stationed outside his Senate office) caught him discussing how to attack Ashley Judd’s mental health if the actress decided to challenge him in 2014.

“She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced,” a McConnell aide said. “I mean, it’s been documented….She’s suffered some suicidal tendencies.  She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the 90s.”

“I assume most of you have played the game Whac-A-Mole,” said McConnell.  “This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.”

McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, refused to answer reporters’ questions about whether an opponent’s mental health or religious beliefs are fair game in a political campaign.

Instead, he accused “the political left” of mounting “quite a Nixonian move.”  An ironic charge, considering that Nixon and McConnell rose to power within the same political party.

As in the case of the Mitt Romney videotape, the focus of the press quickly turned to: Who recorded it?

But this totally missed the point.

It doesn’t matter who provides vital information. What does matter is: Is that information accurate?

In Romney’s case, it opened a window into a world seldom-seen by voters: The world of big-league donors and their money-grubbing political solicitors.

In McConnell’s case, it cast light on the how entrenched politicians ruthlessly defend their turf.

It should be clear that money-grubbing politicians have two versions of campaign speaking: One for donors whose money they seek, and another for the public whose votes they seek.

Rich and greed-obsessed donors (unlike poor and ignorant voters) are too smart to be fobbed off with appeals to their fears and prejudices. They expect a tangible return for their support–namely:

  • Lower (preferably no) taxes
  • Freedom to pollute
  • Freedom to pay their employees the lowest possible wages
  • Freedom to treat their employees like serfs
  • Freedom to churn out shoddy or even dangerous goods

So what a candidate says in private, to his wealthy donors–or his campaign strategists–reflects what he really means and intends to do.

A similar frenzy of speculation centered on the identity of “Deep Throat”–the legendary source for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal. For decades, this proved a favorite guessing game for Washington reporters, politicians and government officials.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein working on Watergate

In the end, “Deep Throat” turned out to be W. Mark Felt, assistant director of the FBI.

Commentators have endlessly debated his motives for leaking crucial Watergate evidence that ultimately ended the corrupt Presidency of Richard Nixon.

And, in the end, despite all the theories, it didn’t matter.

Felt provided Washington Woodward with the evidence necessary to keep the Watergate investigations going–by both the Post and the FBI.

W. Mark Felt

Thus, the question making the rounds about the McConnell discussion shouldn’t have been: Who taped it?

It should have been: How can more private fundraisers and political strategy sessions be penetrated and recorded–so voters can learn the truth about those who would become our elected rulers?

Definitely, those who specialize in “opposition research” should be thinking hard about this.

Private investigators–who regularly unearth secrets others want to keep secret–might also take an interest in this line of work.

And news organizations should offer financial rewards to those who provide such secret information.

With the advent of billionaires trying to buy the Presidency, and the unwillingness of Congress and the Supreme Court to stop the flow of unsavory money into politics, this may be our only chance to preserve what is left of the Republic.

Anyone who’s ever turned on a light to find roaches scurrying quickly over a kitchen floor knows the truth of this.

Turn on the lights–and watch the roaches scurry away.

“WE DON’T CARE, WE DON’T HAVE TO”

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on 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.

On one occasion, she called then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, letting him know that “it really takes a Hoover [vacuum cleaner] to dig up the dirt.”

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 during the mid-1960s and early 70s.  But confronting 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 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raises the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is apparently: 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?

This has been a bad month for credit card-using customers of Kmart, Staples and Dairy Queen–all of which have reported data breaches involving the theft of credit card numbers.

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

“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.”

Anyone who’s ever watched the operation of an airport luggage carousel has seen this principle in action.

If you’ve checked your luggage, then you need to head for the baggage carousel as  quickly as you can get out of the airplane.

Because if you don’t get there in time to grab your own bag, there’s a good chance that someone else will.

The reason?  There’s no security officer there to make sure that your luggage goes only to you, and not to someone else.

Experienced baggage thieves know this.  So they wait at the luggage carousel for a piece of luggage to go around two or three times.  If no one collects it, they assume the owner isn’t there yet–and make off with it.

Sure, there might not be anything of value in it–from the thief’s viewpoint, anyway.

No diamonds.

No jewels.

No expensive cameras.

For the thief, it’s a setback–but only a minor one.  He simply dumps the luggage and perhaps goes back to the carousel for another shot at finding a bag stuffed with valuables.

But for the traveler-victim, it’s a disaster.

Most–if not all–of his clothes are gone.

Anything personal–such as gifts he was bringing for friends or relatives–is gone.

So are any vitally-needed medications–if he was foolish enough to store these in his suitcase instead of a carry-on bag.

And does the airline care?

Don’t be stupid.

Why should they?  They got your money when you bought the plane ticket.

That’s all they wanted from you.  And the truth is, that’s all they’ve ever wanted from you–even during the “golden age of air travel” before airplanes became “flying buses.”

The skies of United were never so friendly that airlines felt an obligation to ensure that their passengers’ luggage was actually waiting for its rightful owners.

And the same principle–or lack of principle–applies with such companies as banks, department stores and insurance companies that hold the most private information of their customers.

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

First, some smart attorneys need to start filing class-action lawsuits against companies that don’t take steps to safeguard their customers’ private information.

Second, 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.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN PATRIOTS BECOME PREDATORS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 21, 2014 at 12:03 am

Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel program The O’Reilly Factor, has offered his own solution to fighting terrorism: A multinational mercenary army, based on a NATO coalition and trained by the United States.

Bill O’Reilly

“We would select them, special forces would train them–25,000-man force to be deployed to fight on the ground against worldwide terrorism. Not just ISIS,” O’Reilly said on “CBS This Morning” on September 24.

Actually, O’Reilly’s idea is the subject of The Profession, a 2011 novel by bestselling author Steven Pressfield.

The Profession

Pressfield made his literary reputation with four classic novels about classical Greece.

In Gates of Fire (1998) he explored the rigors and heroism of Spartan society–and the famous last stand of its 300 picked warriors at Thermopylae.

In Tides of War (2000) Pressfield depicted the rise and fall of Alcibiades, Athens’ greatest general, as he shifted his loyalties from that city to its arch-enemy, Sparta, and then to Persia, the enemy of both.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he took on the identity of Alexander the Great, explaining to his readers what it was like to command armies that swept across the known world, destroying all who dared oppose them.

Finally, in The Afghan Campaign (2006) Pressfield–this time from the viewpoint of a lowly Greek soldier–refought Alexander’s brutal, three-year anti-guerrilla campaign in Afghanistan.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

But in The Profession, Pressfield created a seemingly plausible world set into the future of 2032.  The book’s own dust jacket offers the best summary of its plot-line:

“The year is 2032. The third Iran-Iraq war is over.  The 11/11 dirty bomb attack on the port of Long Beach, California is receding into memory.  Saudi Arabia has recently quelled a coup. Russians and Turks are clashing in the Caspian Basin.

“Iranian armored units, supported by the satellite and drone power of their Chinese allies, have emerged from their enclaves in Tehran and are sweeping south attempting to recapture the resource rich territory that had been stolen from them, in their view, by Lukoil, BP, and ExxonMobil and their privately-funded armies.

“Everywhere military force is for hire.  Oil companies, multi-national corporations and banks employ powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.

“Even nation states enlist mercenary forces to suppress internal insurrections, hunt terrorists, and do the black bag jobs necessary to maintain the new New World Order.

“Force Insertion is the world’s merc monopoly. Its leader is the disgraced former United States Marine General James Salter, stripped of his command by the president for nuclear saber-rattling with the Chinese and banished to the Far East.’

Salter appears as a hybrid of World War II General Douglas MacArthur and Iraqi War General Stanley McCrystal.

Like MacArthur, Salter has butted heads with his President–and paid dearly for it.  Now his ambition is no less than to become President himself–by popular acclaim.  And like McCrystal, he is a pure warrior who leads from the front and is revered by his men.

Salter seizes Saudi oil fields, then offers them as a gift to America.  By doing so, he makes himself the most popular man in the country–and a guaranteed occupant of the White House.

And in 2032 the United States is a far different nation from the one its Founding Fathers created  in 1776.

“Any time that you have the rise of mercenaries…society has entered a twilight era, a time past the zenith of its arc,” says Salter.

“The United States is an empire…but the American people lack the imperial temperament.  We’re not legionaries, we’re mechanics.  In the end the American Dream boils down to what? ‘I’m getting mine and the hell with you.'”

Americans, asserts Salter, have come to like mercenaries: “They’ve had enough of sacrificing their sons and daughters in the name of some illusory world order.  They want someone else’s sons and daughters to bear the burden….

“They want their problems to go away.  They want me to to make them go away.”

And so Salter will “accept whatever crown, of paper or gold, that my country wants to press upon me.”

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.

 Niccolo Machiavelli

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli issued a warning against relying on men whose first love is their own enrichment.  Steven Pressfield, in a work of fiction, has given us a nightmarish vision of a not-so-distant America where “Name your price” has become the byward for an age.

Both warnings are well worth heeding.

 

 

JFK’S LEGACIES: FIFTY YEARS LATER

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 20, 2014 at 10:19 am

Fifty years ago this November, John Fitzgerald Kennedy would have almost certainly won re-election as President of the United States.

But one year earlier, Lee Harvey Oswald–an embittered ex-Marine and fervent Communist who idolized Fidel Castro–picked up a sniper’s rifle and changed the course of history.

It has been said that Kennedy left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmosphereic testing–and poisoning–by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon–in 1969–Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war.
  • From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was an additional legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War.

And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011,  the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy speed-read several newspapers every morning. He nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for entirely altruistic reasons.

These journalistic relationships gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

In 2012, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.”  Thus he excused his ignorance of the reasons for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Ccourt judges. And, uh, ah–

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, on the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences.

Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake-–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Contrast that with today’s woeful historical ignorance among Republican Presidential candidates-–and those who aspire to be.

Consider Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”:

“He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything.  Instead, he was warning his fellow Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

Republicans have attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resent his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.  It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

THE TRUTH ABOUT POLICE

In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 17, 2014 at 1:21 am

Lori Tankel had a problem: A lot of angry people thought she was George Zimmerman.

She began getting death threats on her cellphone after a jury acquitted him on July 13, 2013, of the second-degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Unfortunately for Tankel, her number was one digit away from the number Zimmerman used to make his call to police just before he fatally shot Martin.

The phone number had been shown throughout the trial.  And, believing the number was Zimmerman’s, someone posted Tankel’s number online.

Just minutes after the verdict, Tankel began getting death threats.

“We’re going to kill you.  We’re going to get you.  Watch your back,” threatened a typical call.

Tankel worked as a sales representative for several horse companies.  She had grown used to relying on her phone to keep her business going.

But, almost as soon as the Zimmerman verdict came in, “My phone just started to blow up. Phone call after phone call, multiple phone calls,” Tankel said.

So she did what any ordinary citizen, faced with multiple death threats, would do: She called the police.

According to her, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office told her the department itself receives around 400 death threats a minute on social media sites.

In short: Unless you’re wealthy, a politician or–best of all–a cop, don’t expect the police to protect you if your life is threatened.

If you doubt it, consider the lessons to be learned when, in February, 2013, Christopher Dorner declared war on his former fellow officers of the Los Angeles Police Department.

First, above everyone else, police look out for each other.

Robert Daley bluntly revealed this truth in his 1971 bestseller, Target Blue: An Insider’s View of the N.Y.P.D.  A  police reporter for the New York Times, he served for one year as a deputy police commissioner.

“A great many solvable crimes in the city were never solved, because not enough men were assigned to the case, or because those assigned were lazy or hardly cared or got sidetracked.

“But when a cop got killed, no other cop got sidetracked.  Detectives worked on the case night and day….

“In effect, the citizen who murdered his wife’s lover was sought by a team of detectives, two men.  But he who killed a cop was sought by 32,000.”

Second, don’t expect the police to do for you what they’ll do for one another.

The LAPD assigned security and surveillance details to at least 50 threatened officers and their families.  A typical detail consists of two to five or more guards.  And those guards must be changed every eight to 12 hours.

Those details stayed in place long after Dorner was killed in a firefight on February 12.

But if your bullying neighbor threatens to kill you, don’t expect the police to send a guard detail over.  They’ll claim: ”We can’t do anything until the guy does something.  If he does, give us a call.”

Third, the more status and wealth you command, the more likely the police are to address your complaint or solve your case.

If you’re rich, your complaint will likely get top priority and the best service the agency can provide.

But if you’re poor or even middle-class without high-level political or police connections, you’ll be told: “We just don’t have the resources to protect everybody.”

Fourth, don’t expect your police department to operate with the vigor or efficiency of TV police agencies.

“I want this rock [Hawaii] sealed off,” Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) routinely ordered when pursuing criminals on “Hawaii Five-O.”

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Real-life police departments, on the other hand:

  • Often lack state-of-the-art crime labs to analyze evidence.
  • Often lose or accidentally destroy important files.
  • Are–like all bureaucracies–staffed by those who are lazy, indifferent or incompetent.
  • Are notoriously competitive, generally refusing to share information with other police departments-–thus making it easier for criminals to run amok.

Even when police ”solve” a crime, that simply means making an arrest. 

After that, there are at least three possible outcomes:

  • The District Attorney may decide not to file charges. 
  • Or the perpetrator may plead to a lesser offense and serve only a token sentence-–or none at all. 
  • Or he might be found not guilty by a judge or jury.

Fifth, the result of all this can only be increased disrespect for law enforcement from a deservedly–and increasingly–cynical public.

It is the witnessing of blatant inequities and hypocrisies such as those displayed in the Christopher Dorner case that most damages public support for police at all levels.

When citizens believe police care only about themselves, and lack the ability-–or even the will-–to protect citizens or avenge their victimization by arresting the perpetrators, that is a deadly blow to law enforcement.

Police depend on citizens for more than crime tips.  They depend upon them to support hiring more cops and  buying state-of-the-art police equipment.  When public support vanishes, so does much of that public funding.

The result can only be a return to the days of the lawless West, where citizens–as individuals or members of vigilantee committees–looked only to themselves for protection.

HITLER, THE GOP AND “SCORCHED EARTH”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 15, 2014 at 12:00 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.”

In the end, what counted was what the House Republicans wanted.

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, combined with the Ebola crisis, has threatened the safety of the Nation Republicans claim to love:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • 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.

Moreover, the United States is now confronting the Ebola crisis without a Surgeon General–thanks to NRA-funded Republican Senators.

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

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

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

* * * * *

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 ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 14, 2014 at 12:10 am

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

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

Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler pouring over architectural plans

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

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

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

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

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

Adolf Hitler addressing boy soldiers as the Third Reich crumbles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President George W. Bush nearly doubled it again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Boehner

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

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

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

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

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

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