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Posts Tagged ‘THE NEW YORK TIMES’

LET THE SUNSHINE IN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this totally missed the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein working on Watergate

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

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

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

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

W. Mark Felt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“WE DON’T CARE, WE DON’T HAVE TO”

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

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In as Ernestine, the rude, sarcastic switchboard operator for Ma Bell.

She would tap into customers’ calls, interrupt them, make snide remarks about their personal lives.  And her victims included celebrities as much as run-of-the-mill customers.

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

She introduced herself as working for “the phone company, serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth.”

But perhaps the line for which her character is best remembered was: “We don’t care.  We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”

Watching Ernestine on Laugh-In was a blast for millions of TV viewers during the mid-1960s and early 70s.  But confronting such corporate arrogance in real-life is no laughing matter.

Clearly, too many companies take the same attitude as Ernestine: “We don’t care.  We don’t have to.”

This is especially true for companies that are supposed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information–such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

An October 22 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raises the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is apparently: No.

Its author is John Hering, co-founder and executive director of Lookout, which bills itself as “the world leader in mobile security for consumers and enterprises alike.”

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

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

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

“One thing is clear,” writes Hering.  “CEOs need to put security on their strategic agendas alongside revenue growth and other issues given priority in boardrooms.”

Hering warns that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.”  And he offers several reasons for this:

  • The sheer number of data compromises;
  • Relatively little consumer outcry;
  • Almost no impact on the companies’ standing on Wall Street;
  • Executives may consider such breaches part of the cost of doing business.

“There’s a short-term mindset and denial of convenience in board rooms,” writes Hering.

“Top executives don’t realize their systems are vulnerable and don’t understand the risks. Sales figures and new products are top of mind; shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

No diamonds.

No jewels.

No expensive cameras.

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

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

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

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

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

And does the airline care?

Don’t be stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, there must be Federal legislation to ensure that multi-million-dollar fines are levied against such companies–and especially their CEOs–when such data breaches occur.

Only then will the CEO mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because our heads will roll if we don’t.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POLYGRAPH BY COPIER

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on October 22, 2014 at 12:01 am

Ever heard of “polygraph by copier”?

If you haven’t, here’s how it works:

A detective loads three sheets of paper into a Xerox machine.

“Truth” has been typed onto the first sheet.

“Truth” has been typed onto the seond sheet.

“Lie” has been typed onto the third sheet.

Then a criminal suspect is led into the room and told to put his hand against the side of the machine.

“What is your name?” asks the detective.

The suspect gives it.

The detective hits the copy button, and a page comes out: “Truth.”

“Where do you live?” asks the detective.

The suspect gives an address, the detective again hits the copy button, and a second page appears: “Truth.”

Then comes the bonus question: “Did you or did you not kill Big Jim Tate on the evening of….?”

The suspect answers.  The detective presses the copy button one last time, and the sheet appears: “Lie.”

“Well, well, well, you lying little bastard,” says the detective.

Convinced that the police have found some mysterious way to peer into the darkest recesses of his criminality, the suspect “gives it up” and makes a full confession.

Yes, contrary to what many believe, police can legally use deceit to obtain a confession.

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled, in United States v. Russell: “Nor will the mere fact of deceit defeat a prosecution, for there are circumstances when the use of deceit is the only practicable law enforcement technique available.”

In that case, the Court narrowly upheld a conviction for methamphetamine production even though the defendant had argued entrapment.

So what types of interrogative deceit might a police officer use to develop admissible evidence of a suspect’s guilt?

The general rule is that deception can be used so long as it’s not likely to cause an innocent person to commit a crime or confess to a crime that s/he didn’t commit.

Click here: The Lawful Use of Deception – Article – POLICE Magazine

Consider the following examples:

  • A detective is interviewing a suspect in a rape case.  “Oh, that girl,” he says, thus implying that the victim was a slut and had it coming.  The suspect, thinking he’s dealing with a sympathetic listener, starts bragging about his latest conquest–only to learn, too late, that his listener isn’t so simpatico after all.
  • “We found your prints on the gun”–or on any number of other surfaces.  Actually, there are few good places on a pistol to leave prints.  And those that are left can be smeared.  The same goes for other surfaces.  But if a suspect can be led to believe the cops have his prints, a confession is often forthcoming.
  • A police officer is interrogating a suspect in a murder case.  “He came at you, didn’t he?” asks the cop.  The suspect, who murdered the victim in cold blood, thinks he has an escape route.  “Yeah, he came at me”–this confirming that, yes, he did kill the deceased.
  • “Your partner just gave you up” is a favorite police strategen when there is more than one suspect involved.  If one suspect can be made to “flip”–turn–against the other, the case is essentially wrapped up.
  • Interrogating a bank robbery suspect, a cop might say: “We know you didn’t do the shooting, that you were only the wheelman.”  This implies that the penalty for driving the getaway car is far less than that for killing someone during a robbery.  In fact, criminal law allows every member of the conspiracy to be charged as a principal.
  • “I don’t give a damn what you did,” says the detective.  “Just tell me why you did it.”  For some suspects, this offers a cathartic release, a chance to justify their guilt.
  • The “good cop/bad cop” routine is known to everyone who has ever seen a police drama.  Yet it continues to yield results so often it continues to be routinely used.  “Look, I believe you,” says the “good” cop, “but my partner’s a real asshole.  Just tell me what happened so we can clear this up and you can go.”
  • “So,” says the detective, “why do you think the police believe you did it?”  “I have no idea,” says the suspect, confident that he isn’t giving up anything that might come back to haunt him.  “Well,” says the cop, “I guess you’ll just have to make something up.”  Make something up sounds easy, but is actually a trap.  The suspect may end up giving away details that could incriminate him–or lying so brazenly that his lies can be used against him.

So is there a best way for a suspect to deal with an invitation to waive his Miranda right to remain silent?

Yes, there is.  It’s to refuse to say anything and to ask for permission to call a lawyer.

That’s the preferred method for Mafia hitmen–and accused police officers.

Any cop who finds himself under investigation by his department’s Internal Affairs unit automatically shuts up–and calls his lawyer.

Any other response–no matter how well-intentioned–may well result in a lengthy prison sentence.

 

 

 

WHEN PATRIOTS BECOME PREDATORS

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

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

Bill O’Reilly

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

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

The Profession

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

Both warnings are well worth heeding.

 

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT POLICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett

Real-life police departments, on the other hand:

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

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

After that, there are at least three possible outcomes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAGUE AS PROPHECY

In Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary on October 16, 2014 at 12:32 am

“It was virulent beyond anything in anyone’s memory, and the most terrifying effect of this mysterious virulence was not only that it killed so many people but that it turned them against one another.”

So opens “The Black Death,” the third chapter of Otto Friedrich’s brilliant 1986 book, The End of the World: A History.

The narrative examines “the monumental, often inexplicable catastrophes that have at various times swept over humankind–moments when, for numerous people, the world did come to an end.”

Among the catastrophes vividly depicted by Friedrich:

  • The Sack of Rome
  • The Birth of the [Spanish] Inquisition
  • The Black Death
  • The Coming of [the Russian] Revolution
  • The Kingdom of Auschwitz

As America comes face-to-face with the terrors of Ebola, the pages Friedrich devotes to the original plague may turn out to be as much prophecy as history.

Bubonic plague originated in Central Asia, killing 25 million people.  Upon reaching Constantinople in 1347, it spread to Naples and Venice.  Trade ships from these ports spread the plague to southern France and Italy.

It reached Paris in June, 1348, and London several months later.  By 1350, all Europe was ravaged by the plague.

Within four years it destroyed a quarter to half of the population of Europe.

The plague was caused by the bacillus Pasteurella pestis, which lives in rats and other rodents.  The fleas living in these animals transmitted the plague to people by biting them.  Within five days, the victims had died.

By the time the plague had run its course, it had killed 75 to 200 million people.

The signs of infection became unmistakable: Growths in the thighs, about the size of apples, then dark blotches and bruises on the thighs, arms and other parts of the body.

As a result of these dark blotches, the plague quickly became known as the Black Death.

“O happy posterity,” wrote the Italian poet Petrarch, “who will look upon our testimony as a fable.  Will posterity believe that there was a time when, with no deluge from heaven, no worldwide conflagration, no wars or other visible devastation…but almost the whole earth was depopulated?”

The plague destroyed not only the lives of its victims but the fragile bonds that hold society together.

“As the number of deaths increased in Messina,” wrote the Franciscan monk Michael, “many desired to confess their sins to the priests and to draw up their last will and testament.  But priests and lawyers refused to enter the houses of the deceased….

“Soon men hated each other so much that, if a son was attacked by the disease, his father would not tend him.  If, in spite of all, he dared to approach him, he was immediately infected….

“Soon the corpses were lying forsaken in the houses.  No priest, no son, no father and no relation dared to enter, but they paid hired servants with high wages to bury the dead.  Soon there was a shortage of servants and finally none at all.”

Bones of plague victims stacked by a monk at the Sedlec Ossuary.

No one knew what caused it.  Many–especially members of the Catholic clergy–believed the plague was God’s judgment on a sinful world.

Philip VI, the king of France, fearing this might be true, issued a proclamation against blasphemy. For a first offense, a blasphemer’s lip would be cut off; for a second, the other lip.  And for a third offense, the tongue.

Medical professors at the University of Paris believed that a disturbance in the skies had caused the sun to overheat the oceans near India.  As a result, the waters were giving off toxic vapors.

Guy de Chauliac, the physician to Pope Clement VI, believed that the plague had been caused by a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, in the sign of Aquarius.  This, he believed, had corrupted the earth’s atmosphere.

Just as no one knew what had caused the plague, no one knew how to protect oneself against it.

Among the remedies prescribed: Bleeding, purging, bathing in vinegar to purify the body and the burning of odiferous wood to purify the air.

Others trusted to faith, praying for deliverance.  Some went on pilgrimages or subjected themselves to self-flagellation to expiate their sins.  The Brotherhood of the Flagellants appeared in Dresden, Hamburg and Magdeburg, then spread throughout Europe.

For others, debauchery seemed to be the road to salvation–or at least temporary happiness while they waited for the plague to claim them.

“People behaved as if their days were numbered,” wrote Giovanni Boccaccio, “and treated their belongings and their own persons with equal abandon.  Hence most houses had become common property and any passing stranger could make himself at home.”

Yet none of the prescribed medical cures brought relief.  And no amount of religious devotion brought salvation.

As Friedrich notes: “One of the most baffling and terrifying aspects of the plague [was] its indiscriminate slaughter of the devout as well as the sinful.  If this was God’s anger, how could it be understood, much less appeased?”

The plague ravaged France, Germany, England, Spain, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Russia.  After devastating London in 1665 and Marseille in 1720, the disease mysteriously disappeared.

Some believe the common black rat was destroyed by the larger brown rat, which lived outdoors, away from people.  Others believe a milder, mutant form of the disease caused its victims to build up immunities.

No one knows for certain.

TRUST YOUR BOSS LIKE HE’S GOD–AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 10, 2014 at 12:25 am

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says women don’t need to ask for a raise. They should just trust “the system.”

Speaking on October 9 at an event in Phoenix to celebrate women in computing, Nadella was asked: What advice do you have for women who feel uncomfortable asking for a raise?

His reply:  “It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.

“Because that’s good karma.  It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust.”

Satya Nadella

This from a CEO at whose company women comprise only 29% of its more than 100,000 employees.  And where its CEO has a net worth of $45 million.

Click here: Satya Nadella – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

If it’s true that corporations are people, then they are exceptionally greedy and selfish people.

A December, 2011 report by Public Campaign, highlighting corporate abuses of the tax laws, makes this all too clear.

Public Campaign is a national nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming campaign finance laws and holding elected officials accountable.

Summarizing its conclusions, the report’s author writes:

“Amidst a growing federal deficit and widespread economic insecurity for most Americans, some of the largest corporations in the country have avoided paying their fair share in taxes while spending millions to lobby Congress and influence elections.”

Its key findings:

  • The 30 big corporations analyzed in this report paid more to lobby Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, despite being profitable.
  • Despite making combined profits totaling $164 billion in that three-year period, the 30 companies combined received tax rebates totaling nearly $11 billion.
  • Altogether, these companies spent nearly half a billion dollars ($476 million) over three years to lobby Congress. That’s about $400,000 each day, including weekends.
  • In the three-year period beginning in 2009 through most of 2011, these large firms spent over $22 million altogether on federal campaigns.
  • These corporations have also spent lavishly on compensatng their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

Among those corporations whose tax-dodging and influence-buying were analyzed:

  • General Electric
  • Verizon
  • PG&E
  • Wells Fargo
  • Duke Energy
  • Boeing
  • Consolidated Edison
  • DuPont
  • Honeywell International
  • Mattel
  • Corning
  • FedEx
  • Tenet Healthcare
  • Wisconsin Energy
  • Con-way

The report bluntly cites the growing disparity between the relatively few rich and the vast majority of poor and middle-class citizens:

“Over the past few months, a growing protest movement has shifted the debate about economic inequality in this country.

“The American people wonder why members of Congress suggest cuts to Medicare and Social Security but won’t require millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes.

“They want to know why they are struggling to find jobs and put food on the the table while the country’s largest corporations get tax breaks and sweetheart deals, then use that extra cash to pay bloated bonuses to CEOs or ship jobs overseas.

“….At a time when millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more make tough choices to get by, these companies are enriching their top executives and spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists to stave off higher taxes or regulations.”

Assessing the results of corporate tax-dodging, the report states:

  • Using various tax dodging techniques, including stashing profits in overseas tax havens and tax loopholes, 29 out of 30 companies featured in this study succeeded in paying no federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010.
  • These 29 companies received tax rebates over those three years, ranging from $4 million for Corning to nearly $5 billion for General Electric and totally nearly $11 billion altogether.
  • The only corporation that paid taxes in that three-year period, FedEx, paid a three-year tax rate of 1%, far less than the statutory rate of 35%.

The report bluntly notes the hypocrisy of corporate executives who call themselves “job creators” while enriching themselves by laying off thousands of employees:

“Another area where these corporations have decided to spend lavishly is compensation for their top executives ($706 million altogether in 2010).

“Executives doing particularly well work for General Electric ($76 million in total compensation in 2010), Honeywell International ($54 million), and Wells Fargo ($50 million).

“Executives who have seen the greatest increase work for DuPont (188% increase), Wells Fargo (180% increase) and Verizon (167% increase).

Despite being profitable, some of these corporations have actually laid off workers.

Since 2008, seven of the corporations have reported laying off American workers. The worst offenders–by 2011–are Verizon, which laid off at least 21,308 workers, and Boeing, which fired at least 14,862 employees.

Insisting that “corporations are people” wins applause from the wealthiest 1% and their Right-wing shills. But it does nothing to better the lives of the increasingly squeezed poor and middle-class.

If the nation is to avoid economic and moral bankruptcy, Americans must demand that powerful corporations be held accountable–and punished harshly when they behave irresponsibly.

CHENEY VS. MACHIAVELLI

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on October 9, 2014 at 1:21 am

Dick Cheney left office as co-President of the United States on January 20, 2009.  Since then, he has had time to write his memoirs and reflect on the legacies of the George W. Bush Presidency.

His book, In My Time, was published in 2012.  And, in March, 2013, Cheney appeared in the Showtime-produced documentary, “The World According to Dick Cheney.”

Dick Cheney

Throughout the program, Cheney showed no interest in introspection.

“I don’t go around thinking, ‘Gee, I wish we’d done this, or I wish I’d done that,’” said Cheney.  “The world is as you find it, and you’ve got to deal with that….You don’t get do-overs.

“I did what I did, and it’s all part of the public record and I feel very good about it.  If I had it to do over again, I’d do it in a minute.”

When the interviewer, R.J. Cutler, raised how the Bush administration had altered privacy rights, tortured detainees and pushed for an unnecessary war in Iraq, Cheney replied:

“Tell me what terrorist acts you would let go forward because you didn’t want to be a mean and nasty fella?”

Perhaps the most telling moment came when Cheney outlined his overall views on Realpolitick:

“Are you going to trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your honor?” asked Cheney.  “This was a wartime situation and it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved.”

Perhaps Cheney was thinking of the famous quote about love versus fear in The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli’s primer on how to attain political power:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved.  The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved.

But as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

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….

Niccolo Machiavelli

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.

Cheney appears to belileve that it’s better to be feared than loved.

In that, he has plenty of company among his fellow politicians–in the United States and elsewhere.  But there is more to Machiavelli’s teaching, and this is usually overlooked–as it most certainly was by Cheney:

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred.

For fear and the absence of hatred may well go together, and will always be attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women. 

If Cheney considers himself a student of Machiavelli, then he utterly ignored this last offering of cautionary advice.

By authorizing the use of torture, the Bush administration made itself–in the eyes of its Western European allies as well as its Islamic enemies–an epicenter of evil.  “Guantanamo”–the Marine base in Cuba that had been largely forgotten over the decades–became a synonym for torture.

And after photographs emerged of the tortures and humiliataions of detainees at Abu Garib Prison in Iraq, the United States sank even lower in the world’s estimation.

Among the human rights violations committed upon prisoners held by U.S. Army military police and assorted CIA agents:

  • physical abuse
  • psychological abuse
  • torture
  • rape
  • sodomy
  • homicide.

In his 2010 book, American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush, historian Nigel Hamilton wrote:

“[George Bush and Dick Cheney were] arguably the worst of all the American Caesars, who willfully and recklessly destroyed so much of the moral basis of American leadership in the modern world.”

Joseph Stalin once famously asked: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”  Stalin died in 1953.  Had he lived on into the 1980s, he would have found out.

It was then that Pope John Paul II showed the power of an aroused spirituality.

John Paul II

In 1981, the Soviet Union seemed about to invade his native Poland–as it had Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslavakia in 1968.  That was when the Pope reportedly sent the Kremlin a message:

If the Soviets invaded, he would fly to Warsaw and place himself directly in the line of fire.

The Soviets never dared launch their planned invasion.

It is a lesson utterly lost on the likes of men like Dick Cheney.

LIKE AIDS, LIKE EBOLA: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 7, 2014 at 12:25 am

On October 3, a series of high-ranking officials briefed reporters at the White House on the emerging Ebola threat.

Presiding over the briefing was Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security.

The assembled dignitaries repeatedly assured their audience–reporters from the national media and those tuning in around the country–that there was nothing to worry about.

Lisa Monaco speaking at White House press conference on Ebola

As explained by Monaco:

“I want to emphasize that the United States is prepared to deal with this crisis both at home and in the region. Every Ebola outbreak over the past 40 years has been stopped.

“We know how to do this and we will do it again. With America’s leadership, I am confident, and President Obama is confident, that this epidemic will also be stopped.”

A little more than 30 years ago, America was facing another deadly epidemic–that of AIDS.

Officials at all levels of government–local, state and Federal–also repeatedly assured their fellow citizens they had nothing to worry about.

Everyone knew, after all, that only homosexuals having “unprotected sex” got AIDS.

So the warning went out: If you aren’t gay, you have nothing to worry about.

But then another group of AIDS-infected patients appeared: intravenous drug users.

So the message was revised: If you’re not gay, and you don’t use IV drugs, you’re OK.

Then a third group of at-risk people began showing up in doctors’ offices: Haitians.

So, once again, the warning was revised: If you aren’t gay, don’t use IV drugs, and you’re not from Haiti, you’ll be safe.

But then a fourth group of endangered citizens emerged: hemophiliacs.

So the warning was reissued as: If you’re not gay, don’t use IV drugs, aren’t Haitian and aren’t a hemophiliac needing blood transfusions, AIDS can’t touch you.

And then a fifth category of victims emerged: heterosexual women.

And, yet again, the warning was changed: If you’re not gay, don’t use IV drugs, aren’t Haitian, aren’t a hemophilic and aren’t a heterosexual woman….

The numbers of potential AIDS victims kept expanding–and giving the lie to all the comforting boilerplate churned out by PR machines.

Apparently, someone at the White House press conference on Ebola remembered that earlier scenario.

Because, to the obvious surprise of the assembled dignitaries, an anonymous reporter stated what was clearly on the minds of his viewing/listening audience:

“So help me understand–the stuff that you’ve talked about in terms of preparedness here in this country, the conversations with hospitals, the coordination with the local authorities and all seems very dissonant.

“I think to people in the country who look at basically the first case, or one of the first cases, and see that the whole thing broke down.

“At every step of the way there were breakdowns. It broke down, as the person back there was saying, when he [Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who flew to Dallas from Liberia] lied on the form.

“It broke down when the hospital turned him away. It broke down when the materials that were in his apartment haven’t been thrown away.

“I mean, it feels like, to Americans, like you guys are up here talking about we have this great and perfect system that’s going to be able to contain this virus because we’ve done all this preparation, and yet it doesn’t look like it’s working.

“And so how should the regular or the average person have confidence that whether it’s the case in Howard or whether it’s some case somewhere else in the country at the moment, that somebody isn’t being turned away there?

“That somebody didn’t get–their temperature got taken in Africa but didn’t get caught, and so they’re on a plane as we speak?  Square the dissonance between your confidence and the fact that things don’t seem to be working.”

It was the journalistic version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: The little boy’s pointing out that the emperor–for all the subservient flattery of his aides–didn’t have any clothes on.

Lisa Monaco fell back on boilerplate: “I think the American people should be confident for all the reasons that we have stated and the President has spoken to….”

She admitted that, yes, all the screw-ups the reporter had outlined had in fact happened: “And we have now seen one [Ebola] case, and as Dr. Fauci mentioned, it is entirely possible we will see another case.”

But she refused to admit that preventing other Ebola-infected Liberians from entering the United States was a commonsense approach.

She repeated what she had said earlier: “We have a public health infrastructure and medical professionals throughout this country who are capable of dealing with cases if they present themselves….”

In short, the United States can afford to be a dumping-ground for other countries’ deadly cast-offs.

And, somehow, everything would of course turn out all right.

LIKE AIDS, LIKE EBOLA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 6, 2014 at 12:11 am

Ebola.  Another way of saying: “African nightmare.”

Its signs and symptoms typically begin abruptly within five to 10 days of infection. These include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Severe headache
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Weakness

Over time, symptoms become increasingly severe and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Hiccups
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Red eyes
  • Raised rash
  • Chest pain and cough
  • Stomach pain
  • Severe weight loss
  • Bleeding, usually from the eyes, and bruising (people near death may bleed from other orifices, such as ears, nose and rectum)
  • Internal bleeding

Ebola virus

The average time between contracting Ebola and the onset of symptoms is eight to 10 days, but this can vary between two and 21 days.

Its early symptoms may be similar to–and mistaken for–those of malaria, dengue fever or other tropical fevers.  When the disease reaches the bleeding phase, there can be no doubt.

Ebola-infected hand

Infection can occur through contact with

  • blood
  • sweat
  • saliva
  • mucus
  • vomit
  • feces
  • tears
  • breast milk
  • semen
  • urine

of an infected person or animal.

Fruit bats are believed to be carriers and may spread the virus without being affected.

Even surviving Ebola infection doesn’t guarantee future safety: Male survivors may be able to transmit it through semen for almost two months.

Doctors believe it can’t–as yet–be transmitted through the air, like measles or chickenpox.

Government officials–such as Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–are quick to point out that “direct contact” must occur to cause infection.

“Direct contact” means fluids that spray or splash into your eyes, nose or mouth–as when someone sneezes or coughs on you–or enter the bloodstream through breaks or cuts in skin.

You can also become infected by touching someone’s infected fluids and then touching your eyes or mouth.

Until September, Ebola was a nightmare that plagued only Africa–especially Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

As of October 3, Ebola has killed 3,400 people in West Africa.

Then on September 21, Thomas Eric Duncan flew from Liberia to Dallas, Texas.  On September 25 he sought medical care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

He was diagnosed as having a “low grade fever and abdominal pain.”  He underwent basic blood tests but wasn’t screened for Ebola. Duncan left the medical facility after being given antibiotics and a pain reliever.

Duncan lived in a Dallas apartment with his family when he got sick.  On October 3, that apartment was finally decontaminated by a hazardous-materials crew.

Duncan’s relatives were moved out to a private residence in a gated community that was offered by a volunteer.

Health officials are monitoring about 50 people who may have had contact with Duncan, including nine who are believed to be at a higher risk. Thus far none have shown symptoms. 

Meanwhile, an American freelance cameraman working for NBC in Liberia has tested positive for Ebola and will be flown back to the United States, along with the rest of the news crew.

So how is the Federal Government coping with this unprecedented crisis?

With a massive PR offensive, orchestrated at the highest level–the White House.

On October 3, reporters for national news media were briefed at the White House by no less a series of high-ranking officials than:

  • Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security;
  • Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services;
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases;
  • Raj Shah, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development; and
  • General David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Forces Africa Command.

“We are not facing just a health crisis, we are facing a national security priority,” said Monaco.  And she added:

“The strategy the United States is executing has four key goals:

  • To control the epidemic at its source in West Africa;
  • To mitigate the second-order impacts of this epidemic;
  • To lead a coordinated international response;
  • And to build a robust global health security infrastructure so we are prepared over the long run to confront epidemics such as the one we’re facing today.”

But controlling “the epidemic at its source in West Africa” doesn’t mean the government will ban all flights from Ebola-ravaged Liberia.

Said Monaco: “Right now we believe those types of steps actually impede the response. They…. slow down the ability of the United States and other international partners to actually get expertise and capabilities and equipment into the affected areas.”

Monaco did not explain why preventing travelers from an infected region from entering the United States would impede the United States from shipping “capabilities and equipment into the affected areas.

But it’s easy to see how such a ban of black Africans would be seen–and attacked–as Politically Incorrect.  Especially if it were ordered by the first black President of the United States.

The assembled dignitaries repeatedly emphasized that , as Monaco put it:

“It’s very important to remind the American people that the United States has the most capable health care infrastructure and the best doctors in the world, bar none. And it’s why people travel from all over the world to receive medical care here in the United States.”

That, at least, is the official side of the story.  In the next column, we’ll explore the real side of it.

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