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SCRAPPING–OR REVISING–OBAMACARE: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 9, 2016 at 12:04 am

Barack Obama is one of one of the most highly educated Presidents to occupy the White House.

When he took office, he intended to make healthcare available to all Americans–and not just the wealthiest 1%.

President Barack Obama

But he made a series of deadly mistakes:

  • In crafting the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare);
  • In building public support for it; In underestimating the venom and opposition of his Right-wing enemies;
  • In underestimating the opposition of the business community in complying with the law; and
  • In allowing himself to be cowed by his political enemies.

Obama is by nature a supreme rationalist and conciliator–not a rough-and-tumble street fighter.  

And his career before becoming President in 2008–or even the United States Senator from Illinois in 2004–greatly strengthened this predisposition.  

From 1985 to 1988, Obama worked as a community organizer, setting up a job-training program, a college preparatory tutoring program and a tenants’ rights organization.  

Such activities demand skills in building consensus, not confrontation.

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

File:Medium chicagoreflection.jpg

University of Chicago Law School

Law professors spend their time in clean, civil classrooms–far removed from the rough-and tumble of criminal defense/prosecution.

If Obama had accused President George W. Bush of conspiring with Al Qaeda–as Republicans have repeatedly accused Obama–retribution would have been swift and brutal.  

(On March 10, 2003, nine days before Bush ordered the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the country music band, the Dixie Chicks, told a London concert audience: “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”  

(A Republican-approved boycott of Dixie Chicks music followed, as well as death threats  DJs refused to play their music, and President Bush refused to criticize the KGB-like tactics of his Right-wing supporters.) 

 Natalie Maines, left, of the Dixie Chicks 

But Obama could not–or would not–bring himself to attack his sworn enemies by attacking their own patriotism or invoking Federal criminal statutes against their extortionate and terrorist threats.  

In short: Obama–who believes in reason and conciliation–paid the price for allowing his sworn enemies to insult and obstruct him.

Obama Mistake No. 6: Failing to closely study his proposed legislation.

Throughout his campaign to win support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Obama had repeatedly promised: “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  Period.”  

But, hidden in the 906 pages of the law, was a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.

The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans–so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law.

If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain coverage that did.

It soon soon turned out that many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.

Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare–charged and ridiculed as a liar. Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show,” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise. 

Jon Stewart

The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor; since we can’t, you must be a liar.  

As a result, the President found his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–shattered.  

All of which points to a final warning offered by Niccolo Machiavelli:

Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil….  

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that, if she’s elected President, she will push for incremental changes in the ACA.  

Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has called for the implementation of a single-payer plan. This, in effect, would accomplish what Republicans have spent the last seven years trying to do: Repeal “Obamacare.”  

A single-payer plan would prove simpler and more comprehensive than the ACA. But the chances of its passing a Republican-dominated Congress are absolutely zero.  

The passage of the ACA was–as the Duke of Wellington said of Waterloo–“a damned, close-run thing.”

Right-wingers like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin flat-out lied that the ACA would create “death panels.” And millions of reactionaries, furious that a black man now occupied the Oval Office, eagerly believed it.

When Democratic politicians organized town meetings for public discussion of the Act, Rightist hooligans often used violence to break them up.

Republicans remained silent while President George W. Bush lied the nation into a bloody, budget-busting war in Iraq. But they have repeatedly damned the ACA as a lethal drain on the American taxpayer.  

Thus, any changes to come in the ACA will have to come as Hillary Clinton proposes, on an incremental basis.

The only thing that can be said with certainty about the ACA is this:

If any Republican wins the Presidency in 2016, the Republican-dominated House and Senate will send him legislation decreeing the death of affordable healthcare for all Americans.  And he will of course sign it.

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

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics on February 8, 2016 at 12:15 am

On July 2, 2013, the Treasury Department announced a major change in the application of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more popularly known as “Obamacare”:  

“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively…We have listened to your feedback.  And we are taking action.  

“The Administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin.” 

[Boldface in the original document.]  

In short: The administration allowed employers an additional year to refuse providing healthcare to their employees–or to face fines for not doing so.  

And how did Obama’s self-declared enemies react to this effort at compromise?

On July 30, 2013, House Republicans voted to proceed with a lawsuit against the President–for failing to enforce the Affordable Care Act.

“In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement.

“That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

John Boehner

Thus, Boehner intended to sue the President to enforce the law that the House had voted 54 times to repeal, delay or change.

Obama Mistake No. 5: Believing that public and private employers would voluntarily comply with the law.  

The ACA requires employers to provide insurance for part-time employees who work more than 30 hours per week. Yet many government employers claim they can’t afford it–and have thus limited part-time workers’ hours to 29 per week instead.  

Among those states affected:

  • “Our choice was to cut the hours or give [employees] health care, and we could not afford the latter,” Dennis Hanwell, the Republican mayor of Medina, Ohio, said in an interview with The New York Times.  
  • Lawrence County, in western Pennsylvania, reduced the limit for part-time employees to 28 hours a week, from 32.  
  • In Virginia, part-time state employees are generally not allowed to work more than 29 hours a week on average over a 12-month period.  

President Obama and those who crafted the Act may have been surprised at what happened.  But they shouldn’t have been.

Greed-addicted officials will always seek ways to avoid complying with the law–or achieve minimum compliance with it. And what goes for public employers goes for private ones, too.

The Act doesn’t penalize a company for failing to provide health insurance coverage for part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours.  

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

  • Increasing numbers of employers are moving fulltime workers into part-time positions; 
  • Refusing to provide their employees with medical insurance; and
  • Avoiding fines for non-compliance with the law.

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

One of these is John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, who has been quoted as saying:

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

 John Schnatter

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

If President Obama were truly a student of Realpolitick, he would have predicted that most businesses would try to avoid compliance with the ACA.  

And the remedy would have been simple: Require all employers to provide insurance coverage for all of their employees, regardless of their fulltime or part-time status.  

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

  1. All employees would have been able to obtain medical coverage; and
  2. Employers would have been encouraged to provide fulltime positions rather than part-time ones.  

The reason: Employers would feel: “Since I’m paying for fulltime insurance coverage, I should be getting fulltime work in return.”  

If the President ever considered the merits of this, he decided against pressing for such a requirement.

Obama is one of the most rational and educated men to occupy the White House. So why did he fail to expect the worst in people–especially his self-declared enemies–and arrange to counter it?

Niccolo Machiavelli provides a shrewd insight into the repeated failures of the Obama Presidency.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Writing in The Prince, his classic work on the realities of politics, Machiavelli states:

…He is happy whose mode of procedure accords with the needs of the times, and similarly, he is unfortunate whose mode of procedure is opposed to the times….

If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful  But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of this procedure. 

Put another way: A conciliator will prosper so long as he works with others willing to compromise. But facing uncompromising fanatics, he will be defeated–unless he can exchange conciliation for confrontation. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

So how has Obama fared by this standard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Barack Obama

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

So where did he go wrong? Several ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results were:

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

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

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

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW THE NEXT 9/11 WILL HAPPEN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Social commentary on January 26, 2016 at 12:06 am

All security systems–including those considered the best–are manned by humans. And humans are and will always be imperfect creatures.

So there will inevitably be times when security agents miss the assassin or terrorist intent on mayhem.  For example:

  • In September, 1975, two women–Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore–tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford on two separate occasions.
  • Fromme was tackled by a Secret Service agent. Moore’s aim was deflected by Oliver Sipple, a Marine and Vietnam veteran, thus saving Ford’s life.

Gerald Ford being hustled from danger by Secret Service agents

Until these incidents, the Secret Service profile of a potential assassin didn’t include a woman.

  • On March 30, 1981, John W. Hinckley, a psychotic obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, gained access to a line of reporters waiting to throw questions at President Ronald Reagan.
  • As Reagan got into his bulletproof Presidential limousine, Hinckley drew a pistol and opened fire. Wounded, Reagan escaped death by inches. 

 

The Reagan assassination attempt

The Secret Service Service had failed to prevent the attack because no one–until that moment–had attacked a President from the section reserved for reporters.

  • On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists armed with boxcutters highjacked four American jetliners and turned them into fuel-bombs.
  • Two of the airliners struck the North and South towers of the World Trade Center, destroying both structures.
  • A third hit the Pentagon.
  • The fourth–United Airlines Flight 93–crashed when it was diverted from its intended target (the White House or Congress) by passengers who resolved to fight back.
  • Three thousand Americans died that day–in New York City, Washington, D., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  

Until this day of catastrophe, no highjacker had turned a jumbo-jet into a fuel-bomb. Passengers had been advised to cooperate with highjackers, not resist them.

So how will the next 9/11 happen?  In all likelihood, like this:

A terrorist–or, more likely, several terrorists–will sign up for one or more airline “VIP screening” programs.

They will be completely clean–no arrests, no convictions.  They may well be respectable citizens in their communities.

They will probably have amassed enough “frequent flier miles” to ingratiate themselves with the airlines and convince the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) of their integrity.

Then, one day, they will breeze through their selected airports

  • Without removing their belts and shoes;
  • Without undergoing pat-down searches;
  • Without being required to remove laptops and other electronic devices from their carry-ons;
  • Without exposing their electronic devices to X-ray technology.

Then they will board planes–either as part of an individual terrorist effort or a coordinated one, a la 9/11.

And then it will be too late.

Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93

The TSA/airlines’ VIP programs are based on the assumption that someone who has completed a security check in the past need not be re-checked in the future.

This assumption has proven false for American Intelligence agencies such as the FBI and CIA.

  • FBI agent Robert Hanssen spied for Soviet and Russian Intelligence services for 22 years (1979-2001). He’s now serving a life sentence in Florence, Colorado.
  • CIA agent Aldrich Ames betrayed American secrets–including those Russians who had shared them–to Soviet and Russian espionage agencies from 1985 to 1994. He is likewise serving a life sentence.

Even requiring an agent to undergo repeated security checks is no guarantee of trustworthiness.

When asked about how he repeatedly passed CIA polygraph tests, Ames said:

“There’s no special magic. Confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner. Rapport, where you smile and make him think that you like him.”

Thus, as William Shakespeare warned in Hamlet, “one may smile and smile and be a villain”–or a highjacker.

The TSA introduced its Pre-Check program during the fall of 2011. By May, 2012, more than 820,000 travlers had received “expedited security” since the start of the program.

In early September, 2013, TSA announced that it would more than double its “expedited screening” program, Pre-Check, from 40 to 100 airports by the end of the year.

Nor is TSA the only organization giving big-spending fliers special treatment at potential risk to their country.  For example:

  • Delta Air Lines offers Sky Priority, described as providing “privileged access through security checkpoints” at select airports.
  • Another private security program, Clear, collects several pieces of biometric data on well-heeled passengers.  Once verified by a kiosk local to the security checkpoint, the passengers are allowed to skirt the security barriers that poor and middle-class folks must pass through.
  • Priority Access, set up by TSA and the airlines, provides “expedited service” to first-class and business passengers. To qualify, you need only possess certain credit cards–such as the United Mileage Plus Club Card.

Some critics last this two-tier passenger check-in system as an affront to democratic principles.

“It’s stratifying consumers by class and wealth, because the people who travel a lot usually have higher incomes,” said Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and frequent business traveler.

But there is an even more important reason to immediately disband these programs and require everyone–rich and middle-class alike–to undergo the same level of security screening:

The 3,000 men and women who died horrifically on September 11, 2001, at the hands of airline passengers whom authorities thought could be trusted to board a plane.

Tribute to the vanished World Trade Center

HOW THE NEXT 9/11 WILL HAPPEN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Social commentary on January 25, 2016 at 12:07 am

Fourteen years after 9/11, America is now selling its Islamic enemies access to the very weapons–jet-fueled airplanes–they need to wage jihad against its citizens.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

This is happening thanks to the greed of American airline corporations and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Essentially, it comes down to this: Wealthy, self-entitled Americans hate waiting in long airport security lines.

But wealthy Americans–unlike poor and middle-class ones–have plenty of money to spend.

So they’re willing to shell out a good portion of it to the airlines and TSA so they won’t have to stand in line with the unworthy peasants.

And the airlines and TSA are happy to scoop up all that money in return for giving these self-important Richie-Riches preferential treatment.

Even if this comes at the risk of the nation they claim to love.

Consider the following:

TSA. offers Pre-Check, a program from the Department of Homeland Security. It’s available to frequent fliers on many airlines.

According to the TSA’s website, here’s how it works:

  • An applicant must be a U.S. citizen Penn or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and cannot have been convicted of certain crimes.  If an applicant has a record of any of the crimes identified in the eligibility requirements, they may choose not to apply, as the application fee is nonrefundable.
  • Interested applicants must visit an application center to provide biographic information that requires name, date of birth and address. An applicant will be fingerprinted and will be required to provide valid required identity and citizenship/immigration documentation.  An applicant also has the option to pre-enroll online to provide basic information and make an appointment before visiting an application center.   There is a nonrefundable application processing fee of $85.
  • After  completing enrollment, successful applicants will receive a Known Traveler Number (KTN) via U.S. mail approximately 2-3 weeks following the visit to the application center.  An applicant also may check status online by visiting Universal Enrollment Services (UES) and clicking on “Service Status.” The Known Traveler’s Number is valid for five years.
  • Once approved as eligible for TSA Pre✓™, the enrollee must enter the provided KTN in the “Known Traveler Number” field when booking travel reservations on any participating airlines. The KTN can also be added when booking reservations online via a participating airline website, via phone call to the airline reservation center, or with the travel management company making reservations.  Additionally, the KTN can be entered in participating airline frequent flyer profiles, where it will be storedfor future reservations.

Click here: TSA Pre?™ Application Program | Transportation Security Administration

The website further notes: “TSA is accepting applications at more than 300 locations nationwide, including 26 airports.”

And what does a Pre-Check passenger get in return for his $85 registration fee?

  • S/he is allowed to go through a special line at security with reduced screening.
  • Shoes, jackets and belts need not be removed.
  • Many electronics (including laptops) can be left in their carry-on cases.
  • Magnetometers (metal detecting scanners) are used instead of advanced imaging technology.

Here’s the difference between a scan by a magnetometer and one using advanced imaging technology:

If you’re trying to carry a metallic firearm aboard a plane, the magnetometer will likely pick it up.  But if you’ve filled your computer with plastic explosive, the magnetometer won’t pick it up.

Related image

Advanced imaging technology

Or maybe you want to be a more successful shoe-bomber than Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001.

Being allowed to skip the requirement to remove your shoes will certainly take you a long way toward reaching your goal.

Of course, TSA isn’t alone in wanting to make money from deep-pockets airline passengers.  The airlines have also been quick to get in on the act.

Most airlines make it possible for frequent-flier passengers to acquire elite status–for a price.

Passengers having any one of the following status memberships are eligible for this benefit:

Delta: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members

United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K members 

American: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members

USAirways: Silver Preferred, Gold Preferred, Platinum Preferred, and Chairman’s Preferred members 

Southwest: A-List and A-List Preferred members

Alaska:  MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75 members

Jetblue:   TrueBlue Mosaic members and those seated in Even More Space seats

Virgin America:  Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold members 

Click here: Travel Tuesday Top 10: Ways To Get Through Airport Security Faster in the US | The Points Guy

Yes, the greed of corporations and government agencies is partly responsible for this disgraceful–and highly dangerous–situation.

And so is the belief among the wealthy that they are the elect, and thus deserve special consideration.

But there is another factor at work here: The Calvinistic belief–shared by most Americans–that wealth is a sign of God’s favor, and thus proof that its holder is worthy of deference, if not awe.

In combination, they are steadily moving this nation closer to the day of the next 9/11 disaster.

How this will happen will be explained in Part Two of this series.

SCREEN CRIMINALS AND REAL ONES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law Enforcement, Social commentary, Uncategorized on January 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

Sean Penn is not the first celebrity to “get close to” a gangster.

Singer Frank Sinatra set the standard as far back as the 1940s when he was often seen in the company of notorious Mafiosi such as Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Willie Moretti.

(It was Moretti who is rumored to have freed Sinatra from his financially-limiting contract with bandleader Tommy Dorsey in the early 1940s.  

His alleged method of persuasion: Jamming a pistol down Dorsey’s throat and threatening to kill him.  Dorsey eventually sold the contract to Sinatra for one dollar.

But the mobster whom Sinatra was most-often linked with–by gossip and FBI reports–was Sam “Mooney” Giancana.

Giancana started out as a “wheelman” and enforcer for the teenage “42 Gang,” then joined the Chicago mob in the late 1930s. By 1957 he had been appointed its boss.

Sam Giancana.jpg

Sam Giancana

Sinatra often partied with Giancana, both in nightclubs and at his own residence in Palm Springs, California.

In December, 1959, financier Joseph P. Kennedy summoned Sinatra to the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. His son, Senator John F. Kennedy, was planning to run for President in 1960. And the elder Kennedy wanted Sinatra’s help.

Sinatra and the Senator were by now well-acquainted.  They shared a taste for gossip, nightclubs and beautiful women.

According to Sinatra’s daughter, Tina, the Kennedy patriarch said: “I think that you can help [the campaign] in [the] West Virginia [primary] and Illinois [in the general election] with our friends.

“You understand, Frank, I can’t go. They’re my friends, too, but I can’t approach them.  But you can.”

Frank Sinatra '57.jpg

Frank Sinatra

By “our friends,” Kennedy meant the Mafia. Joseph P. Kennedy had done business with the mob as a bootlegger during Prohibition.

Now he wanted the Mafia to pressure local union members into voting for JFK–and making contributions to the Kennedy Presidential campaign.

Sinatra went to his friend, Sam Giancana, and asked for the mob’s support.  And Giancana promised to deliver it.

In return, Giancana–and other mobsters–expected to win an ally in the White House. He was later overheard on an FBI wiretap saying he had been promised by Sinatra that “if I even got a traffic ticket, none of those fuckers [the FBI] would know me.”

Since 1959, Giancana and other “Top Hoodlum” mobsters had been under increasingly heavy FBI surveillance. Giancana wanted it stopped.

And Sinatra had assured him that, under a Kennedy Presidency, it would stop.

On Election Night, 1960, John F. Kennedy carried Illinois–and won the White House by a mere 120,000 votes nationwide.

Then, to the horror of the Mafia, JFK installed his brother, Robert Francis Kennedy, as Attorney General. From 1957 to 1959, RFK had pursued gangsters as chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee. 

Now he declared all-out war on organized crime.  Convictions against organized crime figures rose 800% during his four years in office.

 Robert F. Kennedy

Sinatra tried to deliver for Giancana.  He sent Peter Lawford–his Rat Pack pal and brother-in-law to the President–to talk with Robert Kennedy about laying off on the Mafia don.

Kennedy told Lawford to mind his own business.

Giancana came under even greater pressure.  FBI agents put a 24-hour “lockstep” surveillance on him, following him even into church and restrooms.

“I was on the road with this broad,” Giancana raged to his murderous associate, Johnny Formosa. “There must have been 20 guys [FBI agents].  They were next door, upstairs, downstairs, surrounded all the way around!

“Get in a car, somebody picks you up  I lose that tail–boom!–I get picked up someplace else!  Four or five cars, back and forth, back and forth.”

In another exchange with Formosa, Giancana’s anger at Sinatra boiled over:

“The last time I talked to [Sinatra] was at the hotel in Florida.  And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it.  If I can’t talk to the old man [Joseph P. Kennedy] I’m going to talk to the man [President Kennedy].’

“One minute he says he’s talked to Robert, and the next minute he says he hasn’t talked to him.  So he never did talk to him.”

Formosa suggested a remedy: “Let’s show ’em.  Let’s show those fuckin’ Hollywood fruitcakes that they can’t get away with it as if nothin’s happened.

“Let’s hit Sinatra.  Or I could whack out a couple of those other guys, Lawford and that [Dean] Martin.  And I could take the nigger [Sammy Davis, Jr.] and put his other eye out.”

Giancana refused to issue the contract. But he seriously considered doing so, as he confessed to a Chicago associate named Tommy DiBella:

“One night I’m fucking Phyllis [McGuire, a member of the famous McGuire sisters trio], playing Sinatra songs in the background, and the whole time I’m thinking to myself, ‘Christ, how can I silence that voice?’

“It’s the most beautiful voice in the world. Frank’s lucky he’s got it.  It saved his life.”

Sinatra’s Rat Pack “pally,” Dean Martin, summed it up: “Only Frank could get away with the shit he’s got away with. Only Frank. Anybody else would’ve been dead.”

Sinatra survived the murderous anger of a mob boss.  It remains to be seen if Sean Penn can do the same.

SCREEN CRIMINALS AND REAL ONES: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law Enforcement on January 20, 2016 at 12:02 am

Actor Sean Penn believes the Mexican Government wants to put him at risk by convincing Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman that Penn played a role—deliberately or negligently—in his capture.

“We know the Mexican government, they clearly were humiliated by the notion that someone found him before they did,” Penn told interviewer Charlie Rose.

“Nobody found him before they did.  We are not smarter than the DEA, or Mexican Intelligence.  We had a contact upon which we were able to facilitate an invitation.”

By “we” Penn meant himself and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who had actually arranged the meeting.

Kate del Castillo at the 2012 Imagen Awards.jpg

 Actress Kate del Castillo

“They wanted to encourage the cartel to put you in their crosshairs?” Rose asked.

“Yes,” Penn answered.

This is entirely possible.  Guzman’s escape from a “maximum security” prison in July, 2015, had proved internationally embarrassing for the Mexican Government

Even more embarrassing: He escaped through a mile-long tunnel that literally led to his cell.  Almost certainly this happened with the collusion of some prison guards.

Penn–and del Castillo–could face dangers from at least three groups.

Danger #1: El Chapo

Already there is evidence that “El Chapo” regrets having given an interview to Penn and del Castillo in the Mexican jungle on October 2, 2015.

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Sean Penn

Published in Rolling Stone on January 9, the article contained such Guzman boasts as:

“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anyone else in the world.  I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”

Juan Pablo Badillo, one of Guzman’s attorneys, has since claimed that the article contains falsehoods:

“It’s a lie, absurd speculation from Mr. Penn. Mr. Penn should be called to testify to respond about the stupidities he has said.

“He [Guzman] could not have made these claims. Mr. Guzman is a very serious man, very intelligent.”

This could spell danger for Penn and del Castillo. Guzman is responsible for the deaths of thousands of rivals, journalists and police.

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Among the witnesses to the drug cartels’ savagery is Michael Levine, a 25-year veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the author of Deep Cover: Mexican Government Drug Corruption From the Inside.

“Depending on what the cartels and/or the many corrupt Mexican cops and Mexican government officials believe El Chapo divulged during the interview, Penn, and whomever else was present, may be in more physical danger than he could ever imagine,” said Levine.

An anonymous law enforcement official said that not only could Penn be in danger, but so could his entire family.

“It won’t happen now.  They [the cartels] wait.  Him or people close to him are in danger.  They don’t single out the one person.  They go for the person’s family.

“He poked his head into a nest of vipers with an amazing global reach. He was a fool.  As public as Penn is, he will be a sitting duck.”

Danger #2: Guzman’s Competitors in the Drug Trade

“The problem with dealing with someone like Guzman on this personal basis, where one is perceived as a ‘friend’ or an aide or a business partner of sorts to Chapo, is that you have to be prepared to inherit all his enemies, and there are many,” warned Michael Levine.

“These are some very kill-crazy people. The notoriety gained by killing someone like Penn or even del Castillo will actually turn these bastards on.

“It’s a step into the dark world of the kill crazies.  Believe me it is there, and unwittingly these two may have stepped into a world where there is an actual competition to kill them,” said Levine, who has dealt face-to-face with Latin American drug lords.

Danger #3: Wannabe Cartel Members

Countless men–in Mexico and the United States–would love to “do El Chapo a favor” by gunning down Penn and/or del Castillo.

This could happen even if Guzman harbors no ill will toward either.  It would be enough for someone to simply believe that he did.

An additional motive: The fame–or infamy–that the assassin of a “big celebrity” like Penn would receive.  John Lennon died at the hands of such a fame-obsessed, psychotic gunman.

This means that literally anyone could be a potential assassin–making it that much harder to defend against.

When clients enter the Justice Department’s Witness Security Program, they are quickly asked: “Who do you think poses the biggest threat to you?”

Deputy U.S. marshals, who operate the program, assume that a witness is the best judge of who poses the greatest danger to him.

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Witness Security Program protection detail

This works well when a witness is unknown and testifying against someone who is equally unknown to the public.

But when a witness is notorious–such as Sammy “The Bull” Gravano–and the defendant is equally infamous–such as John Gotti–all bets are off.

Of course, Federally-protected witnesses have two advantages going for them that Penn and del Castillo do not:

First, they are protected by the U.S. Marshals Service, which has an excellent track record in protecting its charges; and

Second, they are expected to assume a low profile, which serves as their best protection.

Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo aren’t Federally-protected witnesses. And they’re unlikely to assume a low profile by going into hiding.

SCREEN CRIMINALS AND REAL ONES: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law Enforcement on January 19, 2016 at 1:25 am

Actor Sean Penn is used to being a tough guy–onscreen.  

In 2006, he played real-life mobster Mickey Cohen (1913 – 1976) in Gangster Squad.  And in 2013, he played Willie Stark, a corrupt, Huey Long-type Southern governor in a remake of All the King’s Men.

As Cohen, Penn put out contracts on his enemies and even went mano-o-mano in a long-running (and fictional) fistfight with an LAPD detective.

And as Stark, he clawed his way to power and bullied both his enemies and his supporters.

Perhaps Penn should have paid more attention to the way those movies ended.

Sean Penn by Sachyn Mital (cropped).jpg

Sean Penn

Mickey Cohen goes to prison, where he is brutally waylaid by other inmates.

And Willie Stark, at the height of his power, is shot by a longtime enemy.

Had he thought about it, he might have decided it could be a mistake to meet with Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman, the notorious Mexican drug lord.

On October 2, 2015, Penn met with Guzman in an undisclosed location in the Mexican jungle.  He was there to interview him on behalf of Rolling Stone magazine. 

Guzman wanted a movie made about him.  So he had reached out to Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, asking her to meet with him to discuss such a project.  She, in turn, referred him to Penn, whom Guzman said could come along for the meeting.

Penn had his own agenda: To write an article for Rolling Stone whose “purpose [would] contribute to this conversation on the war on drugs.”

Three months later, on January 8, 2016, Mexican Marines and Federal Police launched an early-morning raid on a house in Los Mochis, in northern Sinaloa, where Guzman’s drug cartel operated.

The Marines expected to find Guzman there, and they did–ending his almost six-month flight after escaping from prison in July.  

One day after Guzman’s capture, Rolling Stone published Penn’s 10,000-word article.  

Penn had not been allowed to bring a tape recorder or even take notes with pen and paper.  So he had been forced to memorize as much of Guzman’s tale as he could.

Penn seemed to be enraptured by Guzman:

“There is no doubt this is the real deal. He’s wearing a casual patterned silk shirt, pressed black pants, and he appears remarkably well-groomed and healthy for a man on the run.  

“He opens [actress Kate del Castillo’s] [car} doorand greets her like a daughter returning from college.  

“It seems important to him to express the warm affection in person that, until now, he’d only had occasion to communicate from afar.”  

Even so, Penn quoted Guzman as bragging: “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.  I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”

Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo Guzmán.jpg

 Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman

After the interview’s publication, Penn came under fire for having allowed Guzman to approve the article.  He claimed that, despite this, Guzman had not asked for any changes.  

He also drew sharp criticism for having used his status as a movie star to play the part of a reporter.  

But worse was to come.  

Shortly after the capture of “El Chapo,” Mexico’s Attorney General Arely Gomez “credited” Penn with having played a vital role in the capture of the drug kingpin.  

The meeting between Penn, Castillo and Guzman “was an essential element, because we were following [Guzman’s] lawyer, and the lawyer took us to these people and to this meeting.”  

Suddenly, American experts on Mexican organized crime cartels began seeing Sean Penn in a new light–that of a movie star with a big target on his chest and back.

Suppose Guzman began suspecting that Penn had deliberately led Mexican authorities to him?  Or that he had done so even accidentally, through negligence in how he had traveled?

“These cartels are very violent, they do not forgive any transgression and they will respond in a most violent manner,” said Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“These are people who have been dismembered, who have decapitated individuals.  So killing Sean Penn and del Castillo means absolutely nothing to them.”

Vigil believed it was careless for the Mexican Government to publicize any ties between the Penn meeting and Guzman’s arrest:

“If Chapo Guzman perceives that they cooperated with authorities in his capture, [the cartel] will go after them.”

He argued that the risk is likely likely for del Castillo because she was the one in contact with Guzman.

She was the one whom Guzman’s associates supplied with a Blackberry–the phone they believed most secure.  And it was her and Guzman’s flirtatious exchanges that led to the meeting in the jungle with Sean Pean.

“Apart from that, [del Castillo] is originally from Mexico, she has all of her family in Mexico.  One of the traditional violent methods [the cartels] use is if they can’t get to the target, they’ll go after their family members.

“If I were Kate del Castillo, I would run like the win.”

THE MOSQUE OF THINGS TO COME: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 13, 2016 at 12:28 am

On April 16, 2015, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that more than 310,000 people had been killed in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war.

The Syrian conflict began on March 15, 2011, triggered by protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

And who does the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights–safely based in England–blame for this Islamic self-slaughter? Why, the West, of course.

According to its website:

“The silence of the International community for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria encourages the criminals to kill more and more Syrian people because they have not found anyone that deter them from continuing their crimes that cause to wound more than 1500000 people; some of them with permanent disabilities, make hundreds of thousands children without parents, displace more than half of Syrian people and destroy infrastructure, private and public properties.” 

Click here: 310,000 people killed since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution | Syrian Observatory For Human Rights 

Got that?  “They have not found anyone that deter them from continuing their crimes”–as if it’s the duty of non-Muslims to bring civilized behavior to Islamics.

And why are all these murderers “continuing their crimes”?  Because of an inner-religious dispute within Islam that traces back to the fourth century.

Yes, it’s Sunni Muslims, who make up a majority of Islamics, versus Shiite Muslims, who comprise a minority.

Each group considers the other takfirs–that is, “apostates.”  And, in Islam, being labeled an apostate can easily get you murdered.

But, according to the Syrian Observatory, it’s the duty of the West to convince these murderers to stop slaughtering one another.

There is, however, another perspective to consider–that of the late political scientist Samuel Huntington.  In his bestselling 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, he warned:

The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

This is starkly outlined in the 2009 book, Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat, by Dr. Peter Hammond.

Hammond explores the impact of an increasing Muslim population on non-Muslim society–and the changes that can be expected to occur within that society.

Image of Dr. Peter Hammond

Dr. Peter Hammond

According to Hammond:

Islam is not a religion nor a cult.  It’s a complete system of religious, legal, political, economic and military components.  The religious component encompasses all the others.

“Islamization” occurs when there are enough Muslims in a country to agitate for their “religious rights.”

The Pew Research Center estimates there are 2.5 million Islamics in the United States. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) puts the figure at seven million.

In December, 2015, almost 150 Muslims in Fort Morgan, Colorado, gave a demonstration of what happens when the number of Islamics rises within a non-Islamic society.

Cargill Meat Solutions, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, is a division of Cargill Inc., which employees 155,000 people in 68 countries.

On December 18, 11 workers at Cargill’s beef processing plant in Fort Morgan wanted to go pray at the same time in a room in the plant that is set aside for prayer and reflection. A supervisor told the employees they could go pray, but only three at a time, so production would not be affected.

The workers complied with the supervisor’s request and went in smaller groups to pray. But after their shift ended, 10 of the 11 workers resigned, turning in their badges and hard hats.

The following Monday, about 150 employees from the Somali Muslim community didn’t show up to work for three consecutive days. The company fired them all.  

Cargill is now hiring to replace those who walked out.

Areas have been set up at Cargill since 2009 to accommodate anyone who requested time to pray.

“There are times when accommodation is not possible,” Michael Martin, a Cargill spokesman, told CBS News. “But in an overwhelming majority of instances, we do everything we can to ensure that we do accommodate employees.”  

Tony Aden, one of the fired employees, explained the situation thus: “It don’t matter if I don’t have a job, my religion is more important.”

Negotiating on behalf of the striking–and then fired–employees was the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

In 2007, CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Hamas-support trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLFRD). The defendants were charged with giving more than $12 million to support Hamas. 

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union, Egypt, Japan, Canada, Israel and the United States.

On November 24, 2008, the government obtained guilty verdicts on all counts against HLFRD and the five individual defendants in the retrial.

As the Islamic population rises within the United States, non-Islamics can expect increasing demands for “Islamic rights.” According to Dr. Hammond:  

At five percent of the population, Islamics try to get the ruling government to let them rule themselves under Sharia (Islamic) law.  

At 10%, they use lawlessness to complain about their conditions.  

At 20%, Islamics riot, form jihad militias and burn Christian churches and Jewish synagogues.  

At 40%, nations experience widespread massacres, chronic terror attacks and ongoing militia warfare.

Their ultimate goal: To extend Sharia throughout the world–enforcing it on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

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