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Posts Tagged ‘OBAMACARE’

DEMOCRACY BECOMES A THUGOCRACY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on April 7, 2014 at 12:07 am

And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.

–Plutarch, Life of Alexander

In 1994, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, shut down the Federal Government.

Officially, the reason was a budget impasse with President Bill Clinton.  Unofficially–and in reality–the reason was altogether different.

Clinton had forced him to sit in the back of Air Force One on a trip to Israel for the funeral of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabinl.

“This is petty,” Gingrich confessed to startled reporters. “I’m going to say up front it’s petty, But I think it’s human.

“When you land at Andrews [Air Force Base, in Washington, D.C.] and you’ve been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off by the back ramp….

“You just wonder, where is their sense of manners, where is their sense of courtesy?”

Gingrich’s childish verbal tirade was a public relations disaster for the Republicans. “Cry Baby,” screamed the New York Daily News, next to a picture of Gingrich in a diaper.

When House Democrats brought a poster-sized image of the cartoon onto the floor, the Republican majority forced them to remove it.

But the damage was done, and Republicans paid a fearful price for the shutdown and Gingrich’s candor about the reason for it.

Fast forward 19 years later, and, once again, the public–and, most especially, federal employees–faced the hardships of another Republican-led government shutdown.

The official reason given by Republicans was: They wanted to save the country from the dangers of providing healthcare insurance to all Americans, not simply the wealthiest 1%.

To hear Republicans tell it, Obamacare–actually, the Affordable Care Act–would “destroy the medical system as we know it.”

The Act aims to:

  • Increase the quality and affordability of health insurance;
  • Lower the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage;
  • Reduce the costs of healthcare for individuals and the government;
  • Forbid insurance companies the right to deny coverage for “pre-existing conditions”; and
  • Require employers with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance to their fulltime workers–or pay a large penalty.

Republicans also claimed that it would bankrupt the country–although the Congressional Budget Office stated that the ACA would lower future deficits and Medicare spending.

After passing the House and Senate, the ACA was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010.

On June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court–whose Chief Justice, John Roberts, is a Republican–upheld the constitutionality of the ACA,

Yet House Republicans continued searching for a way to stop the law from taking effect.  By September, 2013, they had voted 42 times to repeal “Obamacare.”

But their efforts achieved nothing, since the Democratic-led Senate refused to go along with such legislation.

Finally, unable to legally overturn the Act or to legislatively repeal it, House Republicans fell back on something much simpler.

Threats and fear.

Threats–of voting to shut down salaries paid to most Federal employees.

Most employees, because they themselves would continue to draw hefty salaries while they were denying them to FBI agents, air traffic controllers and members of the military, among others.

And fear–that would be generated throughout the Federal government, the United States and America’s international allies.

It was the my-way-or-else “negotiating” style of Adolf Hitler:  Do-as-I-say-or-I-will-destroy-you.

When Obama and Senate Democrats refused to knuckle under to yet another Republican extortion effort, House Republicans made good on their threat.

They shut down the government.

Republicans claimed that Obama and Senate Democrats were the ones who refused to see reason and negotiate.

By “negotiate,” they meant: Agree to Republican demands to de-fund “Obamacare.”

But then the unthinkable happened: A Republican gave away the real reason for the shutdown.

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told the Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this.  And I don’t know what that even is.”

Marlin Stutzman

With Newt Gingrich, the real reason for the government shutdown was his petty ego.

A subsidiary reason was to bully President Clinton into gutting Republican-despised Federal programs to help the poor and middle-class.

Nineteen years later, Republicans–as admitted by Martlin Stutzman–were out to get “respect.”

And they were out to get it the same way a thuggish gang leader gets it: By demanding: “Do what I say or I’ll kill you.”

At the end of World War II, Americans tried to cleanse West Germany of its former Nazi leaders and their supporters.

Such thuggishness will continue unless, somehow, Americans cleanse their own government of those who “negotiate” Nazi-Republican style.

CRIMINALS WILL ALWAYS BE CRIMINALS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 21, 2014 at 4:08 pm

State and local governments are trying to deny their part-time employees healthcare benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

These workers include prison guards, police dispatchers and substitute teachers.

President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law 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 plan to limit worker hours to 29 per week instead.  Among those states affected:

  • “Our choice was to cut the hours or give them 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 helped craft the Affordable Care Act may be surprised at what has happened.  But they shouldn’t be.

It was, in fact, entirely predictable.  Consider the following:

When William J. Casey wa a young attorney during the Great Depression, he learned an important lesson.

Jobs were hard to come by, so Casey thought himself lucky to land one at the Tax Research Institute of America in New York.

His task was to closely read New Deal legislation and write reports explaining it to corporate chieftains.

He quickly learned that businessmen neither understood nor welcomed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to reform American capitalism.

Businessmen didn’t want legal commentary.  Instead, they wanted to know: “What must we do to achieve minimum compliance with the law?”

In short: How do we get by FDR’s new programs?

Fifty years later, Casey would bring a similar mindset to his duties as director of the Central Intelligence Agency for President Ronald Reagan.

He was presiding over the CIA when it deliberately violated Congress’ ban on funding the “Contras,” the right-wing death squads of Nicaragua.

But the “Casey Doctrine” of minimum compliance didn’t die with Casey (who expired of a brain tumor in 1987).

It’s very much alive among the American business and political communities as President Obama seeks to give medical coverage to all Americans, and not simply the ultra-wealthy.

For part-time employees, who work fewer than 30 hours, a company isn’t penalized for failing to provide health insurance coverage.

Obama prides himself on being a tough-minded practitioner of “Chicago politics.”  So it’s easy to assume that he took the “Casey Doctrine” into account when he shepherded the ACA through Congress.

But he didn’t.

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

Employers feel motivated to move fulltime workers into part-time positions–and thus avoid

  • providing their employees with medical insurance and 
  • a fine for non-compliance with the law.

Some employers have openly shown their contempt for President Obama–and the idea that employers actually 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:

  1. The prices of his pizzas will go up–by eleven to fourteen cents price increase per pizza, or fifteen to twenty cents per order; and
  2. He will pass along these costs to his customers.

“If Obamacare is in fact not repealed,” Schnatter 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.”

After all, why should a multi-million-dollar company show any concern for those who make its profits a reality?

Consider:

  • Papa John’s is the third-largest pizza takeout and delivery chain in the United States.
  • Its 2012 revenues were $318.6 million, an 8.5 percent increase from 2011 revenues of $293.5 million.
  • Its 2012 net income was $14.8 million, compared to its 2012 net income of $12.1 million.

Had Obama been the serious student of Realpolitick that he claims to be, he would have predicted that most businesses would seek to avoid compliance with his law.

To counter that, he need only have required all employers to provide insurance coverage for all of their employees—regardless of their fulltime or part-time status.

This, in turn, would have provided 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, since they would feel: “Since I’m paying for fulltime insurance coverage, I should be getting fulltime work in return.”

The “Casey Doctrine” needs to be kept constantly in mind when reformers try to protect Americans from predatory employers.

MACHIAVELLI SAW IT COMING

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on November 25, 2013 at 12:30 am

All the warning signs were there in The Prince for anyone to read.

Especially President Barack Obama.

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

The chapter he should have started with was 6: “Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One’s Own Arms and Ability.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Early in his first term as President, Obama decided to reform the American healthcare system.  Before taking any such action, he should have carefully considered the following:

…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.

Another chapter he should have consulted was 19: “That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated.”

For openers, Niccolo Machiavelli writes:

…The prince must…avoid those things which will make him hated or despised.  And whenever he succeeds in this, he will have done his part, and will find no danger in other vices….

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.

The prince who creates such an opinion of himself gets a great reputation, and it is very difficult to conspire against one who has a great reputation.  [He] will not be easily attacked, so long as it is known that he is capable and reverenced by his subjects.

Obama started off well.  Americans had high expectations of him.

This was partly due to his being the first black elected President.  And it was partly due to the 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 loss 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 two years as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which soon became 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 conservate groups like the Tea Party.
  • In 2010, a massive right-wing turnout cost the Democrats the House of Representatives, and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.

Yet even worse was to come for the President.

Throughout his campaign to win support for the ACA, Obama had repeatedly promised that, under it:  “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period.  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 turned out that a great 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 now finds his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–shattered.

According to a CBS poll released on November 20, only 37% of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, down from 46% in late October.  CBS called that rating “the lowest of his presidency.”

All of which takes us to the final warning offered by Machiavelli:

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

NEGOTIATING WITH NAZIS AND REPUBLICANS

In History, Military, Politics on October 21, 2013 at 10:21 pm

On October 1, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said President Barack Obama told Congressional leaders at a White House meeting that “he will not negotiate.”

Boehner accused Democrats of being unwilling to negotiate key elements of the Affordable Care Act–in return for Republican agreement on a spending bill.

The Republicans were seeking–for now–a one-year delay in the rolling out of “Obamacare.”

Obama, in turn, said that he would not submit to Republican “extortion” and “blackmail.”

He said that the House should pass a “clean” spending bill–one without conditions–that met America’s obligations to its citizens and creditors.  Only then would be be willing to discuss possible changes in “Obamacare.”

Republicans countered with slogans such as: “If Obama will negotiate with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, why won’t he negotiate with Congress?”

Seventy-three years ago, another democratic leader found himself accused of being unreasonable and unwilling to negotiate.

That leader was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  And those accusing him were among the most powerful men in the Third Reich.

Winston Churchill

This was not a favorable time for Britain.

On September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler had ordered his Whermacht (army) to invade Poland.  In six weeks, Polish resistance vanished and Poland became the first of a series of Nazi vassal-states.

Then, on May 10, 1940, after waiting out the winter, Hitler’s army quickly overran Norway and Denmark.

And then it was the turn of France.

In six weeks, the German army accomplished what it couldn’t during the four years of World War 1.  It  bypassed the heavily defended Maginot Line and destroyed one French army after another.

The defeated French were forced to sign the armistice in the same railway car they had used in 1918 when they forced Germany to surrender after World War 1.

Although the British had committed their air force and army to defending France, both had been easily swept aside by the Wehrmact and Luftwaffe (air force).

Driven almost literally into the sea, the British evacuated about 338,226 men from the port of Dunkirk.  It was a miracle made possible by Hitler’s unexplained halt of the German advance and the arrival of a fleet of civilian and naval vessels from England.

“The battle of France is over,” Churchill warned his countrymen.  “The battle of Britain is about to begin.”

But not before Hitler offered his own version of “peace with honor.”

On July 19, the Fuehrer addressed the Reichstag, Germany’s rubber-stamp parliament:

“From Britain I now hear only a single cry–not of the people but of the politicians–that the war must go on….

Hitler addressing the Reichstag

“Mr. Churchill ought, for once, to believe me when I prophesy that a great Empire will be destroyed–an Empire which it was never my intention to destroy or even to harm.

“In this hour I feel it to be my duty before my own conscience to appeal once more to reason and common sense in Great Britain as well as elsewhere.

“I consider myself in a position to make this appeal since I am not the vanquished begging favors but the victor speaking in the name of reason.

“I see no reason why this war must go on.”

The assembled parliamentary deputies and bemedaled generals were convinced the British would accept Hitler’s “generous” offer of peace.

They took it for granted that the British would be grateful for the opportunity  Hitler was giving them to get out of the war.

The Fuehrer, they believed, had been truly magnanimous.  How could the British be insane enough to turn him down?

Soon enough, they–and the Fuehrer–got their answer.

Correspondent William L. Shirer, waiting to make a broadcast at the CBS studio in Berlin, listened as the BBC introduced one of its own correspondents.

Sefton Delmner, fluent in German, had covered Nazi Germany for years.  Although not authorized to speak for the British Government, his response could have come directly from Churchill himself.

Sefton Delmer

“Herr Hitler,” said Delmer in his most deferential German, “you have on occasion in the past consulted me as to the mood of the British public.

“So permit me to render Your Excellency this little service once again tonight.

“Let me tell you what we here in Britain think of this appeal of yours to what you are pleased to call our reason and common sense.  Herr Fuehrer and Reichskanzler [Reich Chancellor] we hurl it right back to you, right in your evil-smelling teeth.”

German officials listening to the broadcast in Shirer’s office were stunned.

“Can you make it out?” one demanded of Shirer.  “Can you understand those British fools?  To turn down peace now?  They’re crazy!”

Although devastated by the forthcoming bombing raids of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, England held out.

Months later, it gained two powerful allies: The Soviet Union (invaded by Hitler on June 22, 1941) and the United States (attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941).

In the end, by standing up to Fascist aggression, England and its democracy were saved.

Americans can only hope the same proves true for their country.

DEMOCRACY BECOMES A THUGOCRACY

In Bureaucracy, History, Law on October 7, 2013 at 1:24 am

And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.

–Plutarch, Life of Alexander

In 1994, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, shut down the Federal Government.

Officially, the reason was a budget impasse with President Bill Clinton.  Unofficially–and in reality–the reason was altogether different:

Clinton had forced him to sit in the back of Air Force One on a trip to Israel for the funeral of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabinl.

“This is petty,” Gingrich confessed to startled reporters. “I’m going to say up front it’s petty, But I think it’s human.

“When you land at Andrews [Air Force Base, in Washington, D.C.] and you’ve been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off by the back ramp . . . You just wonder, where is their sense of manners, where is their sense of courtesy?”

Gingrich’s childish verbal tirade was a public relations disaster for the Republicans. “Cry Baby,” screamed the New York Daily News, next to a picture of Gingrich in a diaper.

When House Democrats brought a poster-sized image of the cartoon onto the floor, the Republican majority forced them to remove it.

But the damage was done, and Republicans paid a fearful price for the shutdown and Gingrich’s candor about the reason for it.

Now, here we are, 19 years later, and, once again, the public–and, most especially, federal employees–are facing the hardships of another Republican-led government shutdown.

Once again, the official reason given by Republicans is: They want to save the country from the dangers of providing healthcare insurance to all Americans, not simply the wealthiest 1%.

To hear Republicans tell it, Obamacare–actually, the Affordable Care Act–will “destroy the medical system as we know it.”

The Act aims to:

  • Increase the quality and affordability of health insurance;
  • Lower the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage;
  • Reduce the costs of healthcare for individuals and the government;
  • Forbid insurance companies the right to deny coverage for “pre-existing conditions”; and
  • Require employers with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance to their fulltime workers–or pay a large penalty.

Republicans also claim that it will bankrupt the country–although the Congressional Budget Office stated that the ACA will lower future deficits and Medicare spending.

After passing the House and Senate, the ACA was signed into law by President Baraco Obama on March 23, 2010.

On June 28, 202, the United States Supreme Court–whose Chief Justice, John Roberts, is a Republican–upheld the constitutionality of the ACA in the case,

Yet House Republicans continued searching for a way to stop the law from taking effect.  By September, 2013, they had voted 42 times to repeal “Obamacare.”

But their efforts achieved nothing, since the Democratic-led Senate made it clear it would never go along with such legislation.

Finally, unable to legally overturn the Act or to legislatively repeal it, the House Republicans fell back on something much simpler.

Threats and fear.

Threats–of voting to shut down salaries paid to most Federal employees.

Most, because they themselves would continue to draw hefty salaries while they were denying them to FBI agents, air traffic controllers and members of the military, among others.

And fear–that would be generated throughout the Federal government, the United States and America’s international allies.

It was the my-way-or-else “negotiating” style of Adolf Hitler:  Do-as-I-say-or-I-will-destroy-you.

When Obama and Senate Democrats refused to knuckle under to yet another Republican extortion effort, House Republicans made good on their threat.

They “shut down the government.”

Since then, Republicans have repeatedly claimed it is Obama and Senate Democrats who refuse to see reason and negotiate.  By “negotiate,” they mean agree to Republican demands to de-fund “Obamacare.”

But now a Republican has given away the real reason for the shutdown.

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told the Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this.  And I don’t know what that even is.”

Marlin Stutzman

With Newt Gingrich, the real reason for the government shutdown was his petty ego.

Of course, another major reason was his desire to bully President Clinton into gutting Republican-despised Federal programs to help the poor and middle-class.

Now, 19 years later, Republicans–as admitted by Martlin Stutzman–are out to get “respect.”

And they’re trying to get it the same way a thuggish gang leader tries to get it: By demanding: “Do what I say or I’ll kill you.”

At the end of World War II, Americans tried to cleanse West Germany of its former Nazi leaders and their supporters.

The thuggishness we are now witnessing will continue until, somehow, we cleanse our own government of those who “negotiate” Nazi-Republican style.

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.

DAMING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on October 2, 2013 at 2:45 am

To hear many political pundits tell it,  the shutdown of the Federal Government is the result of “political dysfunction,” as if everybody in Congress were tripping on LSD.

This is not only untrue but misleading.

The truth is that the shutdown is the result of yet another ruthless attempt by Right-wing Republicans to obtain absolute power.

When they can obtain it at the ballot box, they rule as though by divine right.  When they can’t obtain it at election time, they try to obtain it through intimidation.

Thus, in 1992 and 1996, their Presidential candidates–President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, respectively–couldn’t defeat Bill Clinton.

So Republicans mounted an inquisition into a failed land deal that occurred before Clinton was first elected President.  This investigation spanned the length of the Clinton Presidency and produced no evidence or indictments of criminal activity.

It did, however, turn up the salacious news that Clinton had actually enjoyed several instances of oral sex courtesy of a libidinous White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

Unable to defeat Clinton at election time, and unable to find any actual criminal wrongdoing on his part, Right-wing Republicans tried to drive him out of office by impeachment.

The effort failed, and Clinton stayed in the White House until his term expired in 2001.

Then, as now, it was members of the House of Representatives who were the driving force.

Now, fast forward to the present: Republicans have made it their mission to deprive millions of Americans of health care.  They have voted 42 times to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

And they have made its elimination the focus of their threats to shut down the government unless they get their way.

Yet, consider this: Whether they like it or not, the Affordable Care Act is now a law that was legally passed by both houses of Congress.  It has been certified as Constitutional by no less than a Republican Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Under our system of government, that’s as legal as it gets.

But Republicans don’t care about legality when they’re pursuing absolute power over the lives of their fellow Americans.

Thus, they have carried out their threat to shut down the Federal Government since they couldn’t coerce Senate Democrats into de-funding “Obamacare.”

As a result:

  • More than 800,000 federal workers have been sent home without pay;
  • National parks and monuments have been closed;
  • Some programs have been temporarily crippled–such as WIC, which provides nutritional food to poor mothers with infants; and
  • Some members of “essential services” are still required to be on duty–such as the military and Federal law enforcement agencies–but without receiving paychecks.

Of course, this disgrace didn’t have to happen.

President Obama didn’t have to cave in to the latest Republican extortion demands to prevent such a shutdown.

He could have ordered his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to launch an FBI invesdtigation into terroristic threats made by Right-wingers to shut down the government.

Both the 1970 Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and the USA Patriot Act provide remedies for punishing the sort of behavior engaged in by House Republicans.

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.”

And if President Obama believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the 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.”

Demanding that the President de-fund Obamacare or face a potentially disastrous government shutdown clearly falls within the legal definition of “activities…intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”

If the FBI had determined that Federal laws against extortion and terrorism had been broken, the Justice Department could have convened criminal grand juries to indict those Republicans found as violators.

President Obama should have authorized this investigation as soon as Republicans started making terroristic threats.  Thus, he would have served notice on his sworn enemies that he was no one to take lightly.

Knowing that they might well face indictment and prosecution for engaging in domestic terrorism would have frightened many Republicans into backing away from such behavior.

Those who persisted would have found themselves fighting desperately to stay out of prison.  They would have had to pay huge fees to top-flight criminal attorneys.

They would have lived with, first, the threat of indictments hanging over their heads, and, once those indictments were returned, with the threat of conviction and imprisonment.

As a result, they would not have had time to make destroying the Presidency of Barack Obama their Number One priority.

But Obama forfeited all those advantages when he accused Republicans of “blackmail” and then refused to legally punish them for it.

TWO WAYS TO AVOID A SHUTDOWN: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 24, 2013 at 12:00 am

The 1938 Munich Conference taught an invaluable lesson in foreign affairs: Caving in to the demands of insatiable thugs leads to only more demands.

That was what British Prime Minister Nveille Chamberlain learned when he sought to appease Adolf Hitler, Germany’s war-intent Fuehrer.

Chamberlain believed that by giving in to Hitler’s demands for “the German part” of Czechoslavakia known as the Sudetenland he could avoid war.

On September 29, Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier met with Hitler and signed the Munich Agreement, resulting in the immediate German occupation of part of Czechoslavakia.

The Czechoslovakian government had not been a party to the talks.  Their “allies” had sold them out.

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.”

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

And so they did.

It is not too late for President Barack Obama to apply this lesson from history.

With the United States facing a disastrous government shutdown unless the President surrenders to the latest Republican extortion threats, Obama can:

  1. Invoke the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and/or the Patriot Act;
  2. Rally the American people against this criminal threat to the security of the Nation.

Second Option: Calling upon the American people for their support

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

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

After outlining a series of steps he had taken to end the crisis, Kennedy sought to reassure and inspire his audience. His words are worth remembering today:

“The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are, but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.

“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.”

Just as President Kennedy called on his fellow Americans for support against a foreign enemy, President  Obama can rally his countrymen against an equally ruthless domestic enemy.

During such a national address, President Obama can reveal such blunt truths as:

  • 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  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.
  • The Affordable Health Care Act frees Americans from the greed-fueled tyranny of the insurance industry.
  • Americans who could never hope to obtain medical coverage–for themselves and their families–can now do so.

Finally, President Obama can end his speech by directly calling for the active support of his fellow Americans. Something like this:

“My fellow Americans, I have taken an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’

“But I cannot do this on my own. As citizens of a Republic, each of us carries that burden. We must each do our part to protect the land and the liberties we love.

“Tonight, I’m asking for your help.

“We stand on the edge of economic and social 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.

“As President John F. Kennedy said:

‘In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty.’

“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.”

President Obama has taken forceful action against America’s most ruthless foreign enemies—most notably, Osama bin Laden.

If the Nation is to survive, he must now act just as forcefully against America’s most ruthless domestic enemies.

Fortunately, there is still time for him to do so. The fact that he has not done so in the past does not rule out his doing so now.

He needs to only remember–and act on–the words of another American President–Andrew Jackson–who counseled: “One man with courage makes a majority.”

TWO WAYS TO AVOID A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 23, 2013 at 12:10 am

Republicans are once again playing extortion politics–threatening to shut down the government unless they get their way.

And their way means abolishing The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

But this is a nightmare that doesn’t have to be.

There are, in fact, two ways to avoid it.

Assuming that President Obama doesn’t once again surrender to Republican extortion demands, he has two formidable weapons he can deploy:

First Option: RICO to the rescue

The Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a provision of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.  It authorizes prosecution for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.

It has been applied to not only the Mafia but to individuals, businesses, political protest groups, and terrorist organizations.  In short, a RICO claim can arise in almost any context.

Such as the one President Barack Obama faced in 2011 when Republicans threatened to destroy the credit rating of the United States unless their budgetary demands were met.

And such as the present case when Republicans are again threatening the security of the Nation with extortionate demands.

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 believes that RICO is not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he can rely 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.”

Demanding that the President de-fund Obamacare or face a potentially disastrous government shutdown clearly falls within the legal definition of “activities…intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”

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

President Obama can direct Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether Republican Congressman—and their Tea Party cohorts—have violated Federal anti-racketeering and/or anti-terrorism laws.

  • Holder, in turn, can order the FBI to conduct such an investigation.
  • If the FBI finds sufficient evidence that these laws had been violated, Holder can empanel criminal grand juries to indict those violators.

The fact that members of Congress would be criminally investigated and possibly indicted 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 serve notice on current and future members of Congress that the lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage as part of a negotiated settlement.

On August 1, 2011, Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” wrapped up his program with a search for “options” to avoid another round of Republican extortion tactics.

Chris Matthews

“I want to know what steps the president ‘could’ have taken to avoid this hostage-taking.

“…Is there another way than either buckling to the Republicans or letting the government and the country crash?

“How does he use the power of the presidency, the logic, emotion and basic patriotism of the people to thwart those willing to threaten, disrupt, even possibly destroy to get their way?”

The answer to his questions–then and now–is: Replace the law of fear with the rule of law.

Or, as Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, instructed future leaders in The Prince:

I conclude, therefore, with regard to being loved and feared, that men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince, and that a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on what is in the power of others….”

Instead, in 2011, Obama surrendered to Republican extortion demands.  As a result, the United States suffered a massive loss to its international credit rating.

But there was another way Obama could have stood up to Republican extortionists.  And it remains available to him now–if only he has the courage to act.

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