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Posts Tagged ‘EXTORTION’

NEGOTIATING NAZI-REPUBLICAN STYLE: PART SIX (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics on July 8, 2014 at 12:22 am
“Those who are willing to risk everything, even death and destruction, to attain their ends will prevail over more responsible and prudent men who have more to lose and are rational, not suicidal.”
–Ernst Casier, Chairman of Philosophy, Hamburg University

 

In 2011, Republicans threatened to destroy the Nation’s credit rating unless their budgetary demands were met.

Yet President Barack Obama could have ended that threat via the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act

Passed by Congress in 1970, as Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961-1968, its goal was to destroy the Mafia.

Originally, RICO was aimed at the Mafia and other organized crime syndicates.  But in United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576 (1981), the Supreme Court held that RICO applied as well to legitimate enterprises being operated in a criminal manner.

After Turkette, RICO could also be used against corporations, political protest groups, labor unions and loosely knit-groups of people.

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

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

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

And if President Obama had believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with Republicans’ extortion attempts, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.

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

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

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were now legally in place.  President Obama needed only to  direct the Justice Department to apply them.

  • President Obama could have directed Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether actions by Republican Congressman—and their Tea Party cohorts—broke Federal anti-racketeering and/or anti-terrorism laws.
  • Holder, in turn, could have ordered the FBI to conduct that investigation.
  • If the FBI found sufficient evidence that these laws had been violated, Holder could have empaneled criminal grand juries to indict those violators.

Criminally investigating and possibly indicting members of Congress would not violate the separation-of-powers principle.  Congressmen have in the past been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.

Such indictments and prosecutions–and especially convictions–would have served notice on current and future members of Congress: The lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage to gain leverage in a political settlement.

In short: Obama could have replaced the law of fear with the rule of law.

But Obama could have stood up to Republican extortionists in another way: By urging his fellow Americans to rally to him in a moment of supreme national danger.

President John F. Kennedy did just that–successfully–during the most dangerous crisis of his administration.

Addressing the Nation on October 22, 1962, Kennedy shocked his fellow citizens by revealing that the Soviet Union had installed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.

John F. Kennedy

Kennedy outlined a series of steps he had taken to end the crisis–most notably, a blockade of Cuba.  Then he sought to reassure and inspire his audience:

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

President Obama could have sent that same message to the extortionists of the Republican Party–by explaining to the American people:

  • Republicans have adopted the same my-way-or-else “negotiating” stance as Adolf Hitler.
  • Like the Nazis, they are determined to gain absolute power–or destroy the Nation they claim to love.
  • They raised the debt ceiling seven times during the eight-year Presidency of George W. Bush.
  • But now that a Democrat holds the White House, raising the debt ceiling is unacceptable.
  • Despite Republican lies, we cannot revitalize the economy by slashing taxes on the wealthy and on cash-hoarding corporations while cutting benefits for millions of average Americans.
  • We will need both tax increases and sensible entitlement cuts to regain our economic strength.

And he could have ended his speech with a direct call for action by the American people:

“We stand on the edge of economic disaster.  Therefore, I am asking each of you to stand up for America tonight–by demanding the recall of the entire membership of the Republican Party.

“This is the moment when each of us must decide–whether we will survive as a Republic, or allow ruthless political fanatics to destroy what has lasted and thrived for more than 200 years.”

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: President Obama had to choose between timidity and confrontation.

He chose timidity.

He would get contempt and obstruction at every turn.

NEGOTIATING NAZI-REPUBLICAN STYLE: PART FIVE (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics on July 7, 2014 at 9:21 am

In November, 1995, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, carried out his threat to shut down the government.

Then he unwisely admitted that he did so because President Bill Clinton had put him in the back of Air Force One during a recent trip to Israel.

Newt Gingrich

The shutdown proved a disaster for Republicans. Clinton was handily re-elected in 1996 and Gingrich suddenly resigned from Congress in 1998.

Still, the Republicans continued their policy of my-way-or-else.

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.

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.

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 House Speaker John Boehner rejected that offer. He could not agree to the tax increases that Democrats wanted to impose on the wealthiest 1% as part of the bargain.

John Boehner

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.”

One senior Republican said talks would go right up to–and maybe beyond–the brink of default.

“I think we’ll be here in August,” said Republican Representative Pete Sessions, of Texas. “We are not going to leave town until a proper deal gets done.”

President Obama had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012. But in mid-July, he simply asked congressional leaders to review three options with their members:

  1. The “Grand Bargain” choice—favored by Obama–would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues.
  2. A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion.
  3. The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

And the Republican response?

Said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee:“Quite frankly, [Republican] members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.”

Noted political analyst Chris Matthews summed up the sheer criminality of what happened within the House of Representatives.

Chris Matthews

Speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” on July 28–five days before Congress reached its August 2 deadline to raise the debt-ceiling–Matthews noted:

“The first people to bow to the demands of those threatening to blow up the economy were the Republicans in the House, the leaders. The leaders did what the followers told them to do: meet the demands, hold up the country to get their way.

“Those followers didn’t win the Senate, or the Presidency, just the House.

“But by using the House they were able to hold up the entire United States government. They threatened to blow things up economically and it worked.

“They said they were willing to do that–just to get their way–not by persuasion, not by politics, not by democratic government, but by threatening the destruction of the country’s finances.

“Right. So what’s next? The power grid? Will they next time threaten to close down the country’s electricity and communications systems?”

With the United States teetering on the brink of national bankruptcy, President Obama faced three choices:

  1. Prosecute Republican extortionists under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Oganizations Act;
  2. Seek to rally the American people against a criminal threat to the financial security of the Nation;
  3. Cave in to Republican demands.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Three.

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama is easily one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.

But for all this, he failed–from the onset of his Presidency–to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science.

In his classic work on politics, The Prince, Machiavelli warns:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. 

The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved….

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

Obama has failed to heed this advice.  And, predictably, his sworn enemies–which is what Republicans consider themselves to be–have felt free to demonize and obstruct him at every turn.

NEGOTIATING NAZI-REPUBLICAN STYLE: PART FOUR (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics on July 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

After winning the bloodless conquest of  Czechoslavakia by threatening France and Britain with war, Adolf Hitler turned his attention to Poland.

When his generals balked, warning that an invasion would trigger a war with France and Britain, Hitler quickly brushed aside their fears: “Our enemies are little worms. I saw them at Munich.”

Adolf Hitler and his generals

Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939–unintentionally triggering World War II.

In time, historians and statesmen would regard Munich as an object lesson in the futility—and danger—in appeasing evil and aggression.

But for the postwar Republican party, Hitler’s my-way-or-else “negotiating” methods would become standard operating procedure.

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.

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

To raise taxes on the wealthy, they insisted, would be a “jobs-killer.” It would “discourage” corporate CEOs from creating tens of thousands of jobs they “want” to create.

If Congress failed to raise the borrowing limit of the federal government by August 2, 2011, 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.

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

Republicans knew this argument is a lie.  And so did the editors of Time.  The difference is, the editors of Time were willing to reveal the truth.

In its June 20, 2011  cover-story on “What U.S. Economic Recovery? Five Destructive Myths,” Rana Foroohar, the magazine’s assistant managing editor in charge of economics and business, delivered this warning:

Profit-seeking corporations can’t be relied on to ”make it all better.”

American companies “are doing quite well,” but most American workers “are earning a lower hourly wage now than they did during the recession.”

Corporations, in short, are doing extremely well.  But they don’t spend their profits on American workers.

“There may be $2 trillion sitting on the balance sheets of American corporations globally, but firms show no signs of wanting to spend it in order to hire workers at home.”

In short:  Giving even greater tax breaks to mega-corporations–the standard Republican mantra–has not persuaded them to stop “outsourcing” jobs. Nor has it convinced them to start hiring Americans.

Many American companies prefer opening factories in Brazil, China or India to doing so in the United States–and thus creating jobs for American workers.

While embarrassingly overpaid CEOs squander corporate wealth on themselves, millions of Americans can’t afford medical care or must depend on charity to feed their families.

Yet there is also a disconnect between the truth of this situation and the willingness of Americans to face up to that truth.

The reason, writes Foroohar:

Republicans have convinced most Americans they can revitalize the economy by slashing “taxes on the wealthy and on cash-hoarding corporations while cutting benefits for millions of Americans.”

And she concludes: To restore prosperity America needs both tax increases and cuts in entitlement programs.

Click here: What U.S. Economic Recovery? Five Destructive Myths – TIME

According to Mein Kampf-–”My Struggle”–-Hitler’s autobiography and political treatise:

  1. Most people are ruled by sentiment, not reason.
  2. This sentiment is simple and consistent. It is rooted in notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.
  3. Propaganda isn’t based on objective truth but must present only that partof the truth that makes its own side look good.
  4. People are not intelligent, and quickly forget.
  5. Confine propaganda to a few bare essentials and express these in easily-remembered in stereotyped images.
  6. Persistently repeat these slogans until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.

Following these principles, Republicans have proved hugely successful at persuading millions that truth is whatever their party claims it to be at any given moment.

“Fascism,” said author Ernest Hemingway, “is a lie told by bullies.”  Thus, when Republicans couldn’t attain their goals by lying, they sought to do so by force–or at least the threat of it.

Republicans have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government unless their constantly escalating demands were met.

In November, 1995, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, carried out his threat. Gingrich unwisely admitted that he did so because President Bill Clinton had put him in the back of Air Force One during a recent trip to Israel.

The shutdown proved a disaster for Republicans. Clinton was handily re-elected in 1996 and Gingrich suddenly resigned from Congress in 1998.

NEGOTIATING NAZI-REPUBLICAN STYLE: PART THREE (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics on July 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

On February 12, 1938, two Chancellors—Adolf Hitler of Germany, and Kurt von Schuschnigg of Austria—met at Hitler’s retreat at Obersalzberg, Germany.  At stake lay the future independence of Austria.

That meeting ended with Hitler’s bullying Schnuschigg into submission.  Austria became a vassal-state of Nazi Germany.

Seven months later, in September, 1938, Hitler gave another exhibition of his “negotiating” methods. This time, the target of his rage and aggression was Czechoslovakia.

Once again, he opened “negotiations” with a lie: The Czechoslovak government was trying to exterminate 3.5 million Germans living in the “Sudetenland.”

This consisted of the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

Then he followed this up with the threat of war: Germany would protect its citizens and halt such “oppression.”

For British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the thought of another European war erupting less than 20 years after the end of World War I was simply unthinkable.

The Cenotaph, in London, honoring the unknown British dead of World War 1

Something had to be done to prevent it.  And he believed himself to be just the man to do it.

He quickly sent Hitler a telegram, offering to help resolve the crisis: “I could come to you by air and am ready to leave tomorrow.  Please inform me of earliest time you can receive me, and tell me the place of the meeting.  I should be grateful for a very early reply.”

Once again, another head-of-state was prepared to meet Hitler on his home ground.  Again, Hitler took this concession as a sign of weakness.  And Chamberlain’s use of such words as “please” and “grateful” only further convinced Hitler of another impending triumph.

Chamberlain was determined to grant his every demand–so long as this meant avoiding a second world war.

The two European leaders met in Berchtesgaden, Germany, on September 15, 1938.

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler

During their talks, Chamberlain said he had come to discuss German grievances. But, he added, it was necessary in all circumstances to exclude the use of force.

Hitler appeared to be shocked that he could be accused of such intentions: “Force? Who speaks of force?“

Then, without warning, he switched to an aggressive mode. He accused the Czechs of having mobilized their army in May. They had mobilized—in response to the mobilization of the German army.

“I shall not put up with this any longer,” shouted Hitler. “I shall settle this question in one way or another. I shall take matters in my own hands!”

Suddenly, Chamberlain seemed alarmed—and possibly angry: “If I understood you right, you are determined to proceed against Czechoslovakia in any case. If this is so, why did you let me come to Berchtesgaden?

“In the circumstances, it is best for me to return at once. Anything else now seems pointless.”

Hitler was taken aback by the unexpected show of defiance. He realized he was about to lose his chance to bully the British into accepting his latest demands.

So he softened his tone and said they should consider the Sudetenland according to the principle of self-determination.

Chamberlain said he must immediately return to England to consult with his colleagues. Hitler appeared uneasy. But then the German translator finished the sentence: “…and then meet you again.” Hitler realized he still had a chance to attain victory without going to war.

Chamberlain agreed to the cession of the Sudetenland. Three days later, French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier did the same. No Czechoslovak representative was invited to these discussions.

Chamberlain met Hitler again in Godesberg, Germany, on September 22 to confirm the agreements. But Hitler aimed to use the crisis as a pretext for war.

He now demanded not only the annexation of the Sudetenland but the immediate military occupation of the territories. This would give the Czechoslovak army no time to adapt their defense measures to the new borders.

To achieve a solution, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini suggested a conference of the major powers in Munich.

On September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain met and agreed to Mussolini’s proposal. They signed the Munich Agreement, which accepted the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland.

The Czechoslovak government had not been a party to the talks. Nevertheless, it promised to abide by the agreement on September 30.

It actually had no choice. It faced the threat of an immediate German invasion after being deserted by its pledged allies: Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

Chamberlain returned to England a hero.  Holding aloft a copy of the worthless agreement he had signed with Hitler, he told cheering crowds in London: “I believe it is peace for our time.”

Neville Chamberlain

Winston Churchill knew better, predicting: “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”

Hitler—still planning more conquests—also knew better. In March, 1939, the German army occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Chamberlain would soon be seen as a naive weakling–even before bombs started falling on London.

Hitler next turned his attention–and demands–to Poland.

NEGOTIATING NAZI-REPUBLICAN STYLE: PART TWO (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics on July 2, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Robert Payne, author of the bestselling biography, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (1973), described Hitler’s “negotiating” style thusly:

“Although Hitler prized his own talents as a negotiator, a man always capable of striking a good bargain, he was totally lacking in finesse. 

“He was incapable of bargaining.  He was like a man who goes up to a fruit peddler and threatens to blow his brains out if he does not sell his applies at the lowest possible price.”

By studying Hitler’s mindset and “negotiating” methods, we can learn much about the mindset and “negotiating” style of today’s Republican party.

A classic example of Hitler’s “bargaining style” came in 1938, when he invited Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to his mountaintop retreat in Obersalzberg, Germany.  Hitler, an Austrian by birth, intended to annex his native land to Germany.

 Kurt von Schuschnigg

Schuschnigg was aware of Hitler’s desire, but nevertheless felt secure in accepting the invitation.  He had been assured that the question of Austrian sovereignty would not arise.

The meeting occurred on February 12, 1938.

Shuschnigg opened the discussion with a friendly compliment.  Walking over to a large window, he admired the breathtaking view of the mountains.

HITLER: We haven’t come here to talk about the lovely view or the weather!

Austria has anyway never done anything which was of help to the German Reich….I am resolutely determined to make an end to all this business.  The German Reich is a great power.  Nobody can and nobody will interfere if it restores order on its frontiers.

SCHUSCHNIGG: I am aware of your attitude toward the Austrian question and toward Austrian history….As we Austrians see it, the whole of our history is a very essential and valuable part of German history….And Austria’s contribution is a considerable one.

HITLER: It is absolutely zero—that I can assure you!  Every national impulse has been trampled underfoot by Austria….

I could call myself an Austrian with just the same right—indeed with even more right—than you, Herr Schuschnigg. Why don’t you once try a plebiscite in Austria in which you and I run against each other? Then you would see!

SCHUSCHNIGG: Well, yes, if that were possible. But your know yourself, Herr Reich Chancellor, that it just isn’t possible. We simply have to go on living alongside one another, the little state next to the big one. We have no other choice.

And that is why I ask you to tell me what your concrete complaints are. We will do all in our power to sort things out and establish a friendly relationship, as far as it is possible to do so.

HITLER: That’s what you say, Herr Schuschnigg. And I am telling you that I intend to clear up the whole of the so-called Austrian question–one way or another. Do you think I don’t know that you are fortifying Austria’s border with the Reich?

SCHUSCHNIGG: There can be no suggestion at all of that—

HITLER: Ridiculous explosive chambers are being built under bridges and roads—

This was a lie, and Hitler knew it was a lie. But no matter. It gave him an excuse to threaten to destroy Austria—as he was to destroy so many other nations during the next seven years.

HITLER: I have only to give one command and all this comic stuff on the border will be blown to pieces overnight. You don’t seriously think you could hold me up, even for half an hour, do you?

Who knows—perhaps you will find me one morning in Vienna like a spring storm. Then you will go through something!  I’d like to spare the Austrians that.

The S.A. [Hitler's private army of Stormtroopers] and the [Condor] Legion [which had bombed much of Spain into rubble during the three-year Spanish Civil War] would come in after the troops and nobody–not even I–could stop them from wreaking vengeance.

* * * * *

Schnuschigg made a cardinal mistake in dealing with Hitler: He showed fear.  And this was precisely what the Nazi dictator looked for in an opponent.

Contrary to popular belief, Hitler did not constantly rage at everyone.  On the contrary: he could, when he desired, be charming, especially to women.  He used rage as a weapon, knowing that most people feel intimidated by it.

In the case of Schuschnigg, he opened with insults and threats at the outset of their discussion.  Then there was a period of calm, to convince the Austrian chancellor the worst was over.

Finally, he once again attacked–this time with so much fury that Schuschnigg was terrified into submission.

With one stroke of a pen, Austria became a vassal-state to Nazi Germany.

Republicans used precisely the same “negotiating” style during the summer of 2011 to threaten the United States with financial ruin unless they got their way in budget negotiations.

And they threatened to do the same again that fall.

NEGOTIATING NAZI-REPUBLICAN STYLE: PART ONE (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics on July 1, 2014 at 11:19 am

Adolf Hitler, Germany Fuehrer for 12 years, had a favorite phrase: “So oder so.”

It meant: “One way or the other.”

That might sound harmless.  But, in Hitler’s case, it carried a sinister tone–as did almost everything else about the dictator who ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945.

When Hitler faced what he considered a problem, he said he would solve it “one way or the other.”   Which meant that if he couldn’t get his way, he would apply whatever means it took until he did.

Adolf Hitler

John Boehner, Speaker of the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, seems to be channeling the spirit of the late Nazi dictator.

He has threatened to sue President Barack Obama for issuing executive orders to implement policies whose legislation could not pass the Republican-controlled House.

On June 25, Boehner said he would introduce legislation to authorize the House general counsel to sue the Obama administration.  He claimed that Obama has “not faithfully executed the laws” by issuing executive orders.

“We elected a president, Americans note.  We didn’t elect a monarch or a king,” Boehner wrote in a memo to his colleagues.  But Boehner did not state which specific actions by Obama have been illegal.

Such a lawsuit would be a precursor to a Republican effort to impeach Obama.  This would allow the Right to gain through coercion what it could not win at the polls: His removal as President.

John Boehner

And President Obama’s response: “They don’t do anything except block me and call me names.  If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, why don’t you join me and we’ll do it together.

“You’re going to squawk if I try to fix some parts of it administratively that are within my authority while you’re not doing anything?

“I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something while they’re doing nothing.

“What I’ve told Speaker Boehner directly is, ‘If you’re really concerned about me taking too many executive orders, why don’t you try getting something done through Congress?’”

Barack Obama

Obama has actually issued fewer executve orders than his predecessors–about one every 11 days, according to the Brookings Institute.

Contrast this with the records of such Presidents as:

  • George W. Bush, who issued an executive order on average every 10 days over eight years;
  • Ronald Reagan, who issued such orders about once every seven days during eight years; and
  • Jimmy Carter, who issued more than one order every five days during four years.

Of course, Bush and Reagan were Republicans–and white.  And Carter was turned out of office after only four years by Reagan, whom Republicans still idolize.

But Obama is a Democrat–and black.  Moreover, he has committed the ultimate crime of twice defeating Republican candidates for the Presidency.

On June 30, President Obama addressed a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

During this, he outlined the pattern of Republican obstruction he has faced in winning passage of his immigration reform program.

“One year ago this month, Senators of both parties–with support from the business community, labor, law enforcement, faith communities–came together to pass a commonsense immigration bill.

“Independent experts said the bill would strengthen our borders, grow our economy, shrink our deficits.

“As we speak, there are enough Republicans and Democrats in the House to pass an immigration bill today.  I would sign it into law today, and Washington would solve a problem in a bipartisan way.

“But for more than a year, Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to allow an up-or-down vote on that Senate bill or any legislation to fix our broken immigration system.

“And I held off on pressuring them for a long time to give Speaker [John] Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board….

“I believe Speaker Boehner when he says he wants to pass an immigration bill.  I think he genuinely wants to get something done.

“But last week, he informed the Republicans will continue to block a vote on immigration reform at least for the remainder of this year.

“Some of the House Republican caucus are using the situation with unaccompanied children as their newest excuse to do nothing.  Now I want everybody to think about that.

“Their argument seems to be that because the system’s broken, we shouldn’t make an effort to fix it.  It makes no sense.  It’s not on the level.  It’s just politics, plain and simple.

“Now thare are others in the Republican caucus in the House who are arguing that they can’t act because they’re mad at me about using my executive authority too broadly.  This also makes no sense.

“I don’t prfer taking administrative action.  I’d rather see permanent fixes to the issue we face.”

But since taking office as President on January 20, 2009, Obama has faced a torrent of Republican contempt and obstruction.

COUNTERING CORPORATE THREATS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 2, 2014 at 12:02 am

The events unfolding in Maryland provide yet another reason why America needs a nationwide Employers Responsibility Act (ERA).

Several weeks before the second season of “House of Cards” debued online, its producers sent Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley a threatening letter.

The Netflix series focuses on an unscrupulous politician–played by Kevin Spacey–who manipulates, threatens and even murders to gain revenge and power

True to the character of that fictitious politician, Frank Underwood, the letter warned: Give us millions more dollars in tax credits, or we will “break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state.”

During the legislature’s hearing on March 28, the following exchange occurred:

DELEGATE C. WILLIAM FRICK: It sounds like you are suggesting that they wouldn’t film Season 3 here after we’ve given them $31 million already.

Is it possible that they would just leave after we gave them $31 million?

DOMINICK E. MURRAY, SECRETARY OF THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: We hope that they won’t.

DELEGATE MARK N. FISHER: We’re almost being held for ransom.

Click here: ‘House of Cards’ threatens to leave if Maryland comes up short on tax credits – The Washington Post

A nationwide Employers Responsibility Act would address such behavior–and a series of other evils for which employers are directly responsible:

  • The loss of jobs within the United States owing to companies’ moving their operations abroad—solely to pay substandard wages to their new employees.
  • The mass firings of employees which usually accompany corporate mergers or acquisitions.
  • The widespread victimization of part-time employees, who are not legally protected against such threats as racial discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.
  • The refusal of many employers to create better than menial, low-wage jobs.
  • The widespread employer practice of extorting “economic incentives” from cities or states in return for moving to or remaining in those areas. Such “incentives” usually absolve employers from complying with laws protecting the environment and/or workers’ rights.
  • The refusal of many employers to provide medical and pension benefits—nearly always in the case of part-time employees, and, increasingly, for full-time, permanent ones as well.
  • Rising crime rates, due to rising unemployment.

If passed by Congress and vigorously enforced by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor, an ERA would ensure full-time, permanent and productive employment for millions of capable, job-seeking Americans.

And it would achieve this without raising taxes or creating controversial government “make work” programs.

Such legislation would legally require employers to demonstrate as much initiative for hiring as job-seekers are expected to show in seeking work.

One of its provisions would strictly forbid the seeking of “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to moving to or remaining in cities/states.

Such “economic incentives” usually:

  1. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
  2. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
  3. allow employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
  4. allow employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

Employers who made such overtures would be prosecuted for attempted bribery or extortion:

  1. Bribery, if they offered to move to a city/state in return for “economic incentives,” or
  2. Extortion, if they threatened to move their companies from a city/state if they did not receive such “economic incentives.”

This would

  • protect employees against artificially-depressed wages and unsafe working conditions;
  • protect the environment in which these employees live; and
  • protect cities/states from being pitted against one another at the expense of their economic prosperity.

For thousands of years, otherwise highly intelligent men and women believed that kings ruled by divine right.

That kings held absolute power, levied extortionate taxes and sent countless millions of men off to war–all because God wanted it that way.

That lunacy was dealt a deadly blow in 1776 when American Revolutionaries threw off the despotic rule of King George III of England.

But today, millions of Americans remain imprisoned by an equally outrageous and dangerous theory: The Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

Summing up this employer-as-God attitude, Calvin Coolidge still speaks for the overwhelming majority of employers and their paid shills in government:

“The man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.”

America can no longer afford such a dangerous fallacy as the Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

The solution lies in remembering that the powerful never voluntarily surrender their privileges.

Americans did not win their freedom from Great Britain–-and its enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of kings”-–by begging for their rights.

And Americans will not win their freedom from their corporate masters–-and the equally enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of employers”-–by begging for the right to work and support themselves and their families.

And they will most certainly never win such freedom by supporting right-wing political candidates whose first and only allegiance is to the corporate interests who bankroll their campaigns.

Corporations can–and do–spend millions of dollars on TV ads, selling lies.

Lies such as the “skills gap,” and how if the wealthy are forced to pay their fair share of taxes, jobs will inevitably disappear.

But Americans can choose to reject those lies–and demand that employers behave like patriots instead of predators.

COUNTERING CORPORATE THREATS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 1, 2014 at 12:15 am

It’s a technique well-known to Mafia extortionists–and corporate CEOs.

“You do —–,” goes the threat, “or I’ll do —–.”

In the case of the Mafia, the threatened action can range from breaking a victim’s legs to murder.

In the case of a corporate CEO, the threatened action usually translates to: “Give us huge tax breaks or we won’t move to your community.”

Or: “Give us more tax breaks or we’ll move out of your community.”

The seeking of “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to or remaining in cities/states usually means:

  1. allowing employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
  2. allowing employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
  3. allowing employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
  4. allowing employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

At least one state has had enough of such behavior–and is prepared to punish it.

Several weeks before the second season of “House of Cards” debued online, its producers sent Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley a threatening letter.

The Netflix series focuses on an unscrupulous politician–played by Kevin Spacey–who manipulates, threatens and even murders to achieve revenge and power.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood

True to the character of that fictitious politician, Frank Underwood, the letter warned: Give us millions more dollars in tax credits, or we will “break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state.”

Click here: ‘House of Cards’ threatens to leave if Maryland comes up short on tax credits – The Washington Post

For readers who want to see the specific way this threat was worded:

“We know that the General Assembly is in session, and understand legislation must be introduced to increase the program’s funding.

“MRC [Media Rights Capital] and House of Cards had a wonderful experience over the past two seasons and we want to stay in Maryland.  We are ready to assist in any way possible to help with the passage of the bill.

“In the meantime, I wanted you to know that we are required to look at other states in which to film on the off chance that the legislation does not pass, or does not cover the amount of tax credits for which we would qualify.

“I am sure you can understand that we would not be responsible financiers and a successful production company if we did not have viable options available.

“We wanted you to be aware that while we had planned to begin filming in early spring, we have decided to push back the start date for filming until June to ensure there has been a positive outcome of the legislation.

“In the event sufficient incentives do not become available, we will have to break down our stage, sets and our offices and set up in another state.”

The letter was signed by Charlie Goldstein, senior vice president, television production, for Media Rights Capital, the show’s California-based production company.

Copies were sent to:

  • Dominick Murray, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development;
  • Hannah Byron, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development;
  • Jack Gerbes, Maryland Film Office; and
  • Debbie Dorsey, Baltimore Film Office.

A similar threatening letter went to the speaker of the House of Delegates–the state legislature–Michael E. Busch.

In recent years, Maryland has spent more than $40 million to reward movie and television production companies that choose to film in the state.  Most of those monies have gone to “House of Cards.”

“This just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Delegate Eric G. Luedtke.  Until recently, Luedtke had strongly supported film tax credits.

“And my question,” asked Luedtke, “is: When does it stop?”

“House of Cards” has created nearly 6,000 jobs and pumped more than $250 million into the state economy.

Angered by the threatening tone in the letters, the Maryland House of Delegates issued a threat of its own:

Go ahead and leave.  But if you do, we might use eminent domain to buy, condemn or seize your sets, equipment and other property.

Click here: Maryland pulls an Underwood on ‘House of Cards’ — with vote to seize property if cast leaves state | Fox News

Delegate C. William Frick made the threat on March 27.  It was quickly approved–with almost no debate or even a roll-call vote.

“I literally thought: What is an appropriate Frank Underwood response to a threat like this?” said Frick.  “Eminent domain really struck me as the most dramatic response.”

The amendment states:

“Under certain circumstances” the Department of Business and Economic Development can “exercise certain powers of eminent domain” to acquire the property of a film production company that has claimed more than $10 million in tax credits and then ceased filming in the state.

“House of Cards” is not specifically mentioned in the amendment.

Each year, Maryland earmarks $7.5 million for production companies that film in the state. The producers of “House of Cards” expected to get $15 million for filming Season 3.

“Cards” has already received or expects to receive $26.6 million in tax credits for filming its first two seasons in Maryland.

DAMNING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on October 4, 2013 at 12:01 am

For a half-century, Republicans have been damning the very government they lust to control.

Consider this choice comment from Mitt Romney supporter Ted Nugent:

“I spoke at the NRA and will stand by my speech. It’s 100 percent positive. It’s about we the people taking back our American dream from the corrupt monsters in the federal government under this administration, the communist czars he [President Barack Obama] has appointed.”

Romney, of course, refused to disavow the slander Nugent cast over every man and woman working on behalf of the American people.

Romney and his fellow Republicans salivate at every vile charge they can hurl at the very government they lust to control.

As in the case of Senator Joseph McCarthy, no slander is too great if it advances their path to power.

But there are others–living or at least working in Washington, D.C.–who simply go about their jobs with quiet dedication.  And they leave slanderous, self-glorifying rhetoric to Right-wing politicians.

One of these unsung heroes was Stephen Tyrone Johns, a security guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

14th Street Entrance of USHMM. Large, rectangular façade with rounded opening.

On June 10, 2009, Johns, 39, was shot and killed by James Wenneker von Brunn, a white supremist and Holocaust denier.  Brunn was himself shot and wounded by two other security guards who returned fire.

While in jail awaiting his trial, von Brunn–who was 88–died on January 6, 2010.

To work in Washington, D.C., is to realize that this city ranks–with New York City–at the top of Al Qaeda’s list of targets.

No one knows this better than the agents of the United States Secret Service, who protect the President, Vice President, their families and the White House itself 24 hours a day.

Prior to 9/11, visiting the White House was assumed to be an American right.  No longer.

Today, if you want to tour the Executive Mansion, you quickly learn there are only two ways to get in:

  1. Through a special pass provided by your Congressman; or
  2. By someone connected with the incumbent administration.

Congressmen, however, have a limited number of passes to give out.  And most of these go to people who have put serious money into the Congressman’s re-election campaigns.

And the odds that you’ll know someone who works in the White House–and who’s willing to offer you an invitation–are even smaller than those of knowing a Congressman.

But even that isn’t enough to get you through the White House door.

You’ll have to undergo a Secret Service background check.  And that requires you to submit the following information in advance of your visit:

  1. Name
  2. Date of birth
  3. Birthplace
  4. Social Security Number

And be prepared to leave a great many items at your hotel room.  Among these:

  • Cameras or video recorders
  • Handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses
  • Food or beverages, tobacco products, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.)
  • Strollers
  • Cell phones
  • Any pointed objects
  • Aerosol containers
  • Guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size

Visitors enter the White House–after showing a government-issued ID card such as a driver’s license–from the south side of East Executive Avenue.

After passing through the security screening room, they walk upstairs to the first door and through the East, Green, Blue, Red and State Dining rooms.

Secret Service agents quietly stand post in every room–unless they’re tasked with explaining the illustrious history of each section of the White House.

Like everyone else who lives/works there, the Secret Service fully appreciates the incredible sense of history that radiates throughout the building.

This is where

  • Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclomation;
  • Franklin Roosevelt directed the United States to victory in World War II;
  • John F. Kennedy stared down the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But even the generally unsmiling Secret Service agents have their human side.

While touring the East Wing of the White House, I asked an agent: “Is the East Room where President Nixon gave his farewell speech?” on August 9, 1974.

“I haven’t been programmed for that information,” the agent joked, inviting me to ask a question he could answer.

Another guest asked the same agent if he enjoyed being a Secret Serviceman.

To my surprise, he said that this was simply what he did for a living.  His real passion, he said, was counseling youths.

“If you love something,” he advised, “get a job where you can do it.  And if you can’t get a job you’re passionate about, get a job so you can pursue your passion.”

Of the more than 2.65 million civilian employees of the executive branch, more than 800,000 have been sent home without pay.

These men and women aren’t faceless “bureaucrats,” as Right-wingers would have people believe.  They  are hustands and wives, fathers and mothers.  They have bills to pay, just like everyone else.

Many of them, such as agents of the FBI and Secret Service, have taken an oath to defend the United States Constitution–with their lives if necessary.

And they now face the dread of going for weeks or even months without a paycheck–as pawns in another Right-wing case of: “My way or no way.”

They deserve a better break–and so do all those who cherish liberty.

DAMNING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on October 3, 2013 at 12:06 am

Listen to almost any Republican and you’re almost certain to hear how much he hates and despises “Washington.”

To hear Right-wingers tell it, you might believe that “Washington” is:

  • The capitol of an enemy nation;
  • A cesspool of corrupt, power-hungry men and women slavering to gain dictatorial control over the life of every American;
  • A center of lethal contagion which, like ancient Carthage, should be burned to the ground and its inhabitants destroyed or scattered.

All that prevents “Washington” from gaining absolute power–so claim Republicans–is the Republican Party.

But others who live or work in Washington, D.C. take a far different view of their city and the duties they perform.

These men and women will never call a press conference or rake in millions in “political contributions” (i.e., legalized bribes) for promising special privileges to special interests.

Many of them work for the National Park Service.  Every national monument–and Washington is speckled with monuments–has several of these employees assigned to it.

Their duties are to protect the monuments and offer historical commentary to the public.

One such employee regularly addresses visitors to Ford’s Theater–known worldwide as the scene of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

George (a pseudonym) opens his lecture by raising the question every member of the audience wants answered: How much of Ford’s Theater remains intact from the night of Lincoln’s murder–April 14, 1865?

And the answer is: Only the exterior of the building.

After Lincoln’s assassination, enraged Union soldiers converted the interior of the building into a military command center.  That meant ripping out all the seats for spectators and the stage for actors.

The stage and seats–even the “Presidential Box” where Lincoln sat–have all been reproduced for a modern audience.

As George talks, you can tell that, for him, this is no typical day job.  He realizes that, renovated or not, Ford’s Theater remains saturated with history.  And he clearly feels privileged to share that history with others.

George explains that Presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth did not sneak into the theater.  He didn’t have to–as a celebrity actor, he received the sort of favored treatment now accorded Lindsay Lohan.

Another monument where you will find Park Ranger guides is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Completed in 1982, it receives about 3 million visitors a year.  Adorning the Wall, in columns that seem to reach endlessly to the sky, are the names of the 58,195 soldiers who gave their lives during the Vietnam War.

That struggle–from 1961 to 1975–proved the most divisive American conflict since the Civil War.

On the day I visited the memorial, groups of elementary schoolchildren passed by.  They were jabbering loudly, seemingly oblivious to the terrible sacrifice the Wall was meant to commemorate.

But their adult chaperones realized its significance, and ordered the children to quiet down.

I asked a nearby Park Ranger: “Do you feel people now respond differently to the Wall, as we get further away from the Vietnam war?”

“No,” he answered.  He felt that today’s visitors showed the same reverence for the monument and for the losses it had been created to honor as those who had first come in the early 1980s.

And it may well be true: I saw many tiny American flags and wreaths of flowers left at various points along the Wall, which stretches  across 250 feet of land on the Mall.

When thinking about “Washington,” it’s essential to remember that this city–along with New York City–remains at the top of Al Qaeda’s target list.

Those who choose to live and/or work here do so in the potential shadow of violent death.

Anytime you enter a Federal building, be prepared to undergo a security check.

In most agencies–such as the Department of Agriculture–you simply place your bags or purses into an X-ray machine similar to those found at airports, and walk through a magnetometer.  If no alarms sound, you collect your valuables and pass on through.

Such machines are, of course, nammed by armed security guards.  And they stand sentinel at every conceivable Federal building–such as the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the Smithsonian Museum, the Pentagon and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

These men and women must daily inspect the bodies and handbags of the 15 million people who visit Washington, D.C. annually, generating $5.24 billion dollar in revenues.

This means repeating the same screening gestures countless times–looking through X-ray machines at bags or coats, and running an electronic “wand” up and down those people whose clothing gives off signs of metallic objects.

It also means projecting a smiling, friendly demeanor towards those same people–many of whom are in a rush and/or resent being electronically sniffed over.

And every security guard knows this: It’s only a matter of time before the next terrorist shows up.

On June 10, 2009, just that happened at the United States Holocaust Memorial.

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