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Posts Tagged ‘9/11’

REPUBLICANS AND “CHI-COMS” HATE THE SAME MAN: OBAMA

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 11, 2015 at 12:02 am

Psssst!  The Republicans and Chinese Communists (“Chi-Coms”) have something in common.

They both much preferred the foreign policy of George W. Bush to that of Barack Obama.

It’s one of the many fascinating revelations offered in Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Uses of American Power.

Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power

The author is David E. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.

Early in 2011, Sanger had lunch at the Central Party School outside Beijing.  This is where the party’s leadership debates questions that are thought too controversial to air in public.

A retired general in the People’s Liberation Army sat down next to Sanger and, in a relaxed moment of candor, said:

“I sat through many meetings of the People’s Liberation Army in the 80s and 90s where we tried to imagine what your military forces would look like in 10 to 20 years.

“But frankly, we never thought that you would spend trillions of dollars and so much time tied down in Afghanistan and the Middle East. We never imagined that as a choice you would make.”

Chinese military parade 

And, writes Sanger: “Not so secretly, the Chinese were delighted by the Bush-era wars.  The longer the United States was bogged down trying to build democracies in foreign lands, the less capable it was of competing in China’s backyard.

“But now that America was emerging from a lost decade in the Middle East, the Chinese began to ask: How should China respond?  With cooperation, confrontation, or something in-between?”

And the Chinese were equally thrilled that the United States had squandered so much of its treasury during the eight-year Bush Presidency.

In the decade following 9/11, the Pentagon went on an unprecedented spending binge.  The defense budget grew by 67%, to levels 50% higher than it had been per average year during the Cold War.

According to Sanger: “An estimate [the New York Times] put together for the tenth anniversary of the [9/11] attacks suggested that the United States had spent at least $3.3 trillion.”

These monies had gone on

  • securing the country;
  • invading and trying to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq; and
  • caring for wounded American soldiers.

“Put another way,” writes Sanger, “for every dollar al-Qaeda spent destroying the World Trade Center and attacking the Pentagon, America had spent $6.6 million in response.

“The annual Pentagon budget of $700 billion was equivalent to the combined spending of the next twenty largest military powers….

“The world had come to expect that America would underwrite global security, regardless of the cost.  Obama was determined to change that mind-set.”

In short, America became financially and militarily vulnerable during the Presidency of George W. Bush.

And this flatly contradicts the standard Republican line: Obama is a weak President–and is betraying us to the (pick one or both) Muslims/Communists.

It also speaks volumes that the two most important members of the George W. Bush administration declined to attend the 2012 Republican National Convention.

That, of course, meant former President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney

And why was that?  Perhaps it’s because polls show that a majority of Americans continue

  • To blame Bush for lying the country into a needless, bloody and expensive war with Iraq.
  • To blame him for presiding over the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.
  • To see Dick Cheney as the Dr. Strangelovian manipulator of George W. Bush.

Even former President George H.W. Bush said he wouldn’t attend the convention.

It’s possible that Bush, Sr., didn’t want to serve as a reminder that his son left the White House with the lowest popularity rating of any modern President.

And that was just fine with those planning to attend the convention–especially its nominee-to-be, Mitt Romney.

They wanted to do with George W. Bush what Nikita Khrushchev and his fellow Communists did with the embarrassing Joseph Stalin: Bury him far from public view.

He didn’t want the viewing audience to be reminded that the United States sharply declined in wealth and prestige during the eight-year reign of George W. Bush and a Republican Congress.

Romney and his fellow conventioneers also didn’t want to remind the country of something else: That Obama has spent most of his own Presidency trying to undo the harm his predecessor did, in both foreign and domestic policy.

Thus, now approaching the 2016 election, the Republican party finds itself torn.

On one hand, its leaders want to claim that Barack Obama is the worst President in the history of the Republic.

On the other hand, they know that most Americans continue to view the last Republican President in just that way.

THE REAL CULPRIT IN THE “DARK NIGHT” TRIAL: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 5, 2015 at 12:20 am

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one–no matter where he lives or what he does–can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Senator Robert F. Kennedy announcing the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What should the surviving victims of the Aurora massacre do to seek redress?

And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?

Two things:

First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.

Politicians–with rare exceptions–have only two goals:

  1. Get elected to office, and
  2. Stay in office.

And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the NRA to risk its wrath.

Consider Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Both rushed to offer condolences to the surviving victims of the Aurora massacre.  And both steadfastly refused to even discuss gun control–let alone support a ban on the type of assault weapons used by James Holmes.

On July 22–only two days after the Century 16 Theater slaughter–U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said: “The fact of the matter is there are 30-round magazines that are just common all over the place.

“You simply can’t keep these weapons out of the hands of sick, demented individuals who want to do harm.  And when you try and do it, you restrict our freedom.”

That presumably includes the freedom of would-be mass murderers to carry out their fantasies.

Second, those who survived the massacre–and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t–should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

  • For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
  • The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.

  • Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
  • Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
  • From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
  • In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry.  But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
  • Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
  • The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
  • In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs.  In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
  • The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices.  They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

  • For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  With guns.

  • The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
  • The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.

  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
  • The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.

  • The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
  • The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program–thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.

  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals–such as those in Aurora–with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.

The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence–and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it.  Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.

As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses.  And the NRA will rejoice with each one.

But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.

And then the NRA–like the tobacco industry–will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.

Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of such needless tragedies as the one in Aurora, Colorado.

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

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 4, 2015 at 12:29 am

Among the major accomplishments of the National Rifle Association:

  • In July, 2005, George Zimmerman was arrested for shoving a police officer during an underage drinking raid. The charges were dropped after he completed an alcohol education program. That same summer, his ex-fiancée filed a restraining order against him, alleging that Zimmerman hit her.
  • Yet he was allowed to carry a loaded, hidden handgun as a Florida resident–thanks to the 2005 “Stand Your Ground” law the NRA had rammed through the legislature.
  • Under that law: A Concealed Carry Permit is revoked only if a gun owner is convicted of a felony.  It is not suspended if he’s being investigated for a felony.  It is suspended only if he is actually charged.

George Zimmerman

  • On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman shot unarmed, 17-year-oldTrvon Martin, who was wearing a “hoodie.”  A jury subsquently acquitted him, believing his claim of “self-defense.”
  • In March, the NRA issued its own version of a “hoodie”–the Concealed Carry Hooded Sweatshirt, designed to hide firearms.  Selling on the NRA’s website for $60 to $65, it is advertised thusly:
  • “Inside the sweatshirt you’ll find left and right concealment pockets.  The included Velcro®-backed holster and double mag pouch can be repositioned inside the pockets for optimum draw.  Ideal for carrying your favorite compact to mid-size pistol, the NRA Concealed Carry Hooded Sweatshirt gives you an extra tactical edge, because its unstructured, casual design appears incapable of concealing a heavy firearm – but it does so with ease!”    http://www.nrastore.com/nrastore/ProductDetail.aspx?c=11&p=CO+635&ct=e

  • Anyone—including convicted criminals—can buy these “hide-a-gun” sweatshirts, putting both the public and law enforcers at deadly risk.
  • The NRA often claims that law-abiding citizens defend themselves with guns millions of times every year. But the FBI has determined that, of the approximately 11,000 gun homicides every year, fewer than 300 are justifiable self-defense killings.
  • The NRA supports loopholes that allow criminals to buy guns without background checks, or allow terrorists to buy all the AK-47s they desire.
  • The NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, declared the NRA was “all in” to defeat Barack Obama in 2012.  Yet the President had meekly signed legislation allowing guns to be brought into national parks and onto trains.
  • High-capacity magazines were prohibited under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban–which expired in 2004. The NRA–aided by the Bush administration and Republicans generally–easily overcame efforts to renew the law.
  • Political scientist Robert Spitzer, author of the book The Politics of Gun Control,notes that since the passage of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the assault weapons ban in 1994, state and national laws have been drifting toward more open gun access:
  • “In 1988, there were about 18 states that had state laws that made it pretty easy for civilians to carry concealed hand guns around in society. By 2011, that number is up to 39 or 40 states having liberalized laws, depending on how you count it, and the NRA has worked very diligently at the state level to win political victories there, and they’ve really been quite successful.”
  • On January 8, 2011, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents outside a,Tucson, Arizona, grocery store.  Also killed was Arizona’s chief U.S. District judge, John Roll, who had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after celebrating Mass.  The total number of victims: 6 dead, 13 wounded.
  • “The NRA’s response to the Tucson shootings has been to say as little as possible and to keep its head down,” said Spitzer. “And their approach even more has been to say as little as possible and to simply issue a statement of condolence to the families of those who were injured or killed and to wait for the political storm to pass over and then to pick up politics as usual.”
  • This is the standard NRA response to each continuing massacre.
  • In the spring of 2012, the House Oversight Committee prepared to vote on whether to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for allegedly refusing to provide documents related to “Fast and Furious.”  This was an undercover operation launched by the Bush administration to track firearms being sold to Mexican drug cartels.
  • The NRA notified Congressional members that how they voted would reflect how the NRA rated them in “candidate evaluations” for the November elections. This amounted to blatant extortion, since the NRA had long accused Holder of having an “anti-gun” agenda.

Summing up the still-current state of gun politics in America, the April 21, 2012 edition of The Economist noted:

“The debate about guns is no longer over whether assault rifles ought to be banned, but over whether guns should be allowed in bars, churches and colleges.”

That is precisely the aim of the NRA–an America where anyplace, anytime, can be turned into the O.K. Corral.

So what should the surviving victims of the Aurora massacre do to seek redress?  And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?

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

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 1, 2015 at 12:07 am

On July 20, 2012, James Holmes slaughtered 12 Aurora, Colorado, moviegoers and critically wounded another 58.

On May 4, 2015, he finally goes on trial.

Even his attorneys admit he staged the masscare.

Of course, they’re claiming he was insane at the time and thus not responsible for his actions.  And certainly not deserving of the death penalty.

But there is another culprit whose presence at the trial makes it the proverbial elephant in the room.

The National Rifle Association (NRA).

Like Al Qaeda, the NRA promotes violence on an unprecedented scale.  Yet there are profound differences in the way Americans view these organizations.

Consider:

On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists snuffed out the lives of 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

The World Trade Center under attack on 9/11

For more than ten years, the United States–through its global military and espionage networks–has relentlessly hunted down most of those responsible for that September carnage.

On May 1, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS invaded Osama bin Laden’s fortified mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan–and shot Al Qaeda’s leader dead.

Navy SEALS

Turning from foreign death-dealers to domestic ones: According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

Every day–365 days a year:

  • 270 people in America, 47 of them children and teens, are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents and police intervention;
  • 87 people die from gun violence, 33 of them murdered;
  • 8 children and teens die from gun violence;
  • 183 people are shot, but survive their gun injuries;
  • 38 children and teens are shot, but survive their gun injuries.

And what does all of this add up to?

  • In one year, almost 100,000 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, accidents, or by police intervention.
  • Over a million Americans have been killed with guns since 1968, when Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.
  • U.S. homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in 22 other populous high-income countries combined, despite similar non-lethal crime and violence rates.  The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 19.5 times higher.
  • Gun violence impacts society in numerous ways: medical costs; costs of the criminal justice system; security precautions; and reductions in quality of life owing to fear of gun violence.
  • An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present.

(This average annual estimated composite picture of gun violence is based on death certificates and estimates from emergency room admissions.)

And who, more than anyone (including the actual killers themselves) has made all this carnage possible?

The National Rifle Association, of course.

But unlike the leadership of Al Qaeda, that of the NRA is not simply known, but celebrated.  Its director, Wayne LaPierre, is courted as a rock star by Democrats and Republicans seeking NRA endorsements–and campaign contributions.

Wayne LaPierre

He frequently appears as an honored guest at testimonial dinners and political conventions.

The largest of the 13 national pro-gun groups, the NRA has nearly 4 million members, who focus most of their time lobbying Congress for unlimited “gun rights.”

The NRA claims that its mission is to “protect” the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

NRA members conveniently ignore the first half of that sentence: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State….”

For the NRA, the Second Amendment is the Constitution, and the rest of the document is a mere appendage.

At the time Congress ratified the Constitution in 1788, the United States was not a world power.

A mere 26 years later, the British seized and burned Washington, D.C., after repeatedly defeating American armies.  On the frontier, settlers had to defend themselves against hostile Indians and marauding bandits.

Only after World War II did the country maintain a powerful standing army during peacetime.

But World War II ended 70 years ago, and today the United States is a far different country than it was in 1788:

  • It boasts a nuclear arsenal that can turn any country into nuclear ash–anytime an American President decides to do so.
  • It boasts an Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps that can target any enemy, anywhere in the world.
  • Its Special Forces–Green Berets, Delta Force and Navy SEALs–are rightly feared by international terrorists.
  • American Intelligence has come a long way since 9/11.  The FBI’s top priority is to prevent another such terrorist attack, not simply investigate it afterward.
  • And waging war on criminals generally are about 836,787 full-time sworn local/state/Federal law enforcement officers.

If a criminal flees or conducts business across state lines, powerful Federal law enforcement agencies–such as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration–can put him out of business.

But apparently the NRA hasn’t gotten the word.

  • The NRA has steadfastly defended the right to own Teflon-coated “cop killer” bullets,” whose only purpose is to penetrate bullet-resistant vests worn by law enforcement officers.

“Cop-killer” bullets

  • The NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, is responsible for the “stand-your-ground” ordinances now in effect in more than half the states. These allow for the use of deadly force in self-defence, without any obligation to attempt to retreat first.
  • The NRA rushed to the defense of accused murderer George Zimmerman, the self-appointed “community watchman” who  ignored police orders to stop following 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and ended up shooting him.
  • Police did not initially charge Zimmerman because of Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law, which the NRA had rammed through the legislature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a scene of which nightmares are made:

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

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

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

Still, the statistics were terrible enough:

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

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

James Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your friends at the National Rifle Association.

YOU WILL LOVE IT–OR ELSE

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

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

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

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

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

Indiana Governor Mike Pence 

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

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

Among those companies and organizations publicly opposing the law:

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

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

Exactly this happened in 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“First responders” at work at World Trade Center

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

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

Public outrage at Komen was immediate and overwhelming:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German soldiers at Stalingrad

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

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

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

BE YOUR OWN AIR MARSHAL

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 30, 2015 at 9:22 am

On June 5, 2013, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) finally came face-to-face with reality.

It announced that it was abandoning its plan to let passengers carry small knives, baseball bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes, as it had originally intended.

Of course, TSA didn’t drop this plan because it wanted to.  It did so because of fierce opposition from passengers, Congressional leaders and airline industry officials.

TSA Administrator John Pistole had unveiled the proposal in March, saying that in these days of hardened cockpit doors, armed off-duty pilots traveling on planes and other preventive measures, small folding knives could not be used by terrorists to take over a plane.

He said that intercepting them takes time that would be better used searching for explosives and other more serious threats.

TSA screeners confiscate over 2,000 small folding knives a day from passengers.

The proposal would have permitted folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) or less in length and are less than 1/2 inch (1 centimeter) wide. The aim was to allow passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades and other knives.

Passengers also would also have been allowed to bring onboard novelty-sized baseball bats less than 24 inches long, toy plastic bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs.

The United States has gradually eased airline security measures that took effect after 9/11.

In 2005, TSA said it would let passengers carry on small scissors, knitting needles, tweezers, nail clippers and up to four books of matches.  The agency began focusing on keeping explosives off planes, because intelligence officials believed that was the greatest threat to commercial aviation.

With regard to the use of edged weapons as terrorist tools:

  • The terrorists who highjacked four jetliners and turned them into flying bombs on September 11, 2001, used only boxcutters to cut the throats of stewards and stewardesses; and
  • They then either forced their way into the cockpits and overpowered and murdered the pilots, or lured the pilots to leave the cabins and murdered them.

It’s also worth remembering that for all the publicity given the TSA’s “Air Marshal” program, it’s been airline passengers who have repeatedly been the ones to subdue unruly fliers.

Consider the following incidents:

  • On August 11, 2000, Jonathan Burton, a passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight tried to break into the cockpit was killed by other passengers who restrained him.
  • On May 9, 2011, crew members and passengers wrestled a 28-year-old man to the cabin floor after he began pounding on the cockpit door of a plane approaching San Francisco.
  • On February 21, 2012, passengers aboard a Continental Airlines flight from Portland to Houston rushed to aid a flight attendant subdue a Middle Eastern man who began shouting, “Allah is great!”
  • On March 27, 2012, a JetBlue flight from new York to Las Vegas was forced to land in Texas after the pilot started shouting about bombs and al-Qaeda and had to be subdued by passengers.
  • On January 9, 2013, passengers on board an international flight from Reykjavik to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport subdued an unruly passenger by tying him to his seat with duct tape and zip ties after he began screaming and hitting other passengers.
  • On May 27, 2013, a passenger aboard an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Portland, Oregon, tried to open an airplane door in-flight and was subdued by passengers and crew members until the plane landed in Portland.

In every one of these incidents, it’s been passengers–not the vaunted Air Marshals–who have been the first and major line of defense against mentally unstable or terroristically inclined passengers.

In opposing TSA’s proposal to loosen security restrictions, skeptical lawmakers, airlines, labor unions and law enforcement groups argued that knives and other items could be used to injure or kill passengers and crew.

Such weapons would have increased the dangers posed by the above-cited passengers (and a pilot) who erupted in frightening behavior.

Prior to 9/11, commercial airline pilots and passengers were warned: If someone tries to highjack the plane, just stay calm and do what he says.

So many airplanes were directed by highjackers to land in Fidel Castro’s Cuba that these incidents became joke fodder for stand-up comedians.

And, up to 9/11, the advice to cooperate fully with highjackers and land the planes where they wanted worked.  No planes and no lives were lost.

But during 9/11, passengers and crew–with one exception–cooperated fully with the highjackers’ demands.

And all of them died horrifically when three of those jetliners were deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

World Trade Center under airplane attack

Only on United Flight 93 did the passengers and crew fight back.

In doing so, they accomplished what soldiers, military pilots, the CIA and the FBI could not: They thwarted the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives and preventing the fourth plane from destroying the White House of the Capitol Building.

Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93

Since every airline passenger must now become his or her own Air Marshal, it seems only appropriate that the criminals they face be rendered as harmless as possible.

REPUBLICANS: SLANDERING THE HEROES OF 9/11

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

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

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

The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

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

Rep. Cliff Stearns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firefighters rescuing victims at the World Trade Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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