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Posts Tagged ‘THE NEW YORK TIMES’

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.

REPUBLICANS: KILLING IS GOOD, FOOD STAMPS ARE BAD

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 3, 2014 at 12:45 pm

In the 1970 film, Patton, General George S. Patton is a man driven by his obsession to be the best field commander in the war–and to be recognized for it.

George C. Scott as George S. Patton

And he sees British General Bernard Montgomery–his equally egotistical rival–as a potential obstacle to that latter ambition.

So, in Algeria, he conjures up a plan that will sideline “Monty” while he, Patton, defeats the Germans–and bags the glory.

The trick lies in throwing a sumptuous dinner-–in the middle of the African desert-–for a visiting British general: Harold Alexander.

As Patton (George C. Scott, in an Oscar-winning performance) tells his aide: “I want to give a dinner for General Alexander. I want to get to him before Montgomery does.  I want the finest food and the best wine available. Everything.”

The aide pulls off the dinner–where, indeed, “the finest food and the best wine” are on full display, along with attentive waiters and a candelabra.

So think about it:

  • In the middle of the desert
  • while American and British forces are forced to subsist on C-rations
  • and are under repeated air attack by the Luftwaffe
  • and tank attack by the Afrika Korps

a handful of ultra-pampered American and British military officers find the time–and luxuries–to throw themselves a fine party.

Now, fast-forward from Algeria in 1943 to Washington, D.C., in 2013.

Returning to Congress after their traditional summer recess, House Republicans planned to cut $40 billion in food stamps for the poor.  That’s double the amount previously sought by Right-wingers.

The cuts would include drug tests of applicants and tougher work rules.  As Republicans see it: There’s no point in “helping” the poor if you can’t humiliate them.

Food stamps, the largest U.S. anti-hunger program, are the pivotal issue for a new U.S. farm law costing $80 billion a year.

One in seven Americans–15% of U.S. households–received food stamps at latest count.  Enrollment in the program soared after the 2008-09 recession–a direct consequence of the Bush administration’s refusal to regulate powerful, greed-fueled corporations.

Republicans claim the program is unbearably expensive at $78 billion a year.

Meanwhile, as 49 million Americans have trouble putting meals on the table, Republicans are eager to spend billions of dollars for another project.

An unnecessary war with Syria.

One of these right-wingers is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard–and one of the leading instigators of the 2003 war with Iraq.

He–like senior officials on the George W. Bush administration–claimed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them against the United States.

That proved to be a lie.

He also pushed the lie that Hussein planned 9/11 with Osama bin Laden.

He has never apologized for either lie–or the resulting war that killed 4,487 American soldiers and wounded another 32,226.

In a recent column, Kristol called for a return to slaughter–not only in Syria but Iran as well:

“…Soon after voting to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime, Republicans might consider moving an authorization for the use of force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

“They can explain that Obama’s dithering in the case of Syria shows the utility of unequivocally giving him the authority to act early with respect to Iran.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice–who also helped lie the nation into the needless 2003 Iraq war–is another big promoter of “give war a chance”:

“My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead–and one cannot lead from behind.”

Among Republican U.S. Senators calling for war are John McCain (Arizona) and Lindsey Graman (South Carolina), who issued a joint statement:

“Using stand-off weapons, without boots on the ground, and at minimal risk to our men and women in uniform, we can significantly degrade Assad’s air power and ballistic missile capabilities and help to establish and defend safe areas on  the ground.

“In addition, we must begin a large-scale effort to train and equip moderate, vetted elements of the Syrian opposition with the game-changing weapons they need to shift the military balance against [Syrian dictator Bashir] Assad’s forces.”

Except that there are no “moderate, vetted elements of the Syrian opposition.  The opposition is just as murderous as the Assad regime–and eager to replace one dictator with another.

In addition: A major weapon for “degrading Assad’s air power” would be Tomahawk Cruise missiles.  A single one of these costs $1,410,000.

Firing of a Tomahawk Cruise missile

A protracted missile strike would rain literally billions of dollars’ worth of American missiles on Syria.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is spending about $27 million a week to maintain the increased U.S. Navy presence in the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East region to keep watch over Syria and be prepared to strike.

Navy officials say it costs about $25 million a week for the carrier group and $2 million a week for each destroyer.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all this?

Yes.

Powerful people–whether generals, politicians or the wealthy–will always find abundant money and resources available for projects they consider important.

It’s only when it comes to projects that other people actually need that such people will claim there is, unfortunately, a cash shortage.

PATRIOTS-FOR-HIRE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel program The O’Reilly Factor, has offered his own solution to fighting terrorism:  A multi-national 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.

Searching for allies to back his proposal, O’Reilly invited Tom Nichols, a professor at the US Naval War College, onto his show.

Nichols’ response: “This is a terrible idea…not just as a practical matter but a moral matter. It’s a morally corrosive idea to try to outsource our national security. This is something Americans are going to have to deal for themselves.”

Actually, O’Reilly’s idea is in fact being tried out, albeit unofficially.

Sixty to 70% of America’s Intelligence budget doesn’t go to the CIA or the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Instead, it goes to private contractors who supply secrets or “soldiers of fortune.”

The outsourcing of government intelligence work to private contractors took off after 9/11.

This was especially true after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003–and found its Intelligence and armed services stretched to their furtherest limits.

The DIA estimates that, from the mid-1990s to 2005, the number of private contracts awarded by Intelligence agencies rose by 38%.

During that same period, government spending on “spies/guns for hire” doubled, from about $18 billion in 1995 to about $42 billion in 2005.

Many tasks and services once performed only by government employees are being “outsourced” to civilian contractors:

  • Analyzing Intelligence collected by drones and satellites;
  • Writing reports;
  • Creating and maintaining software programs to manipulate data for tracking terrorist suspects;
  • Staffing overseas CIA stations;
  • Serving as bodyguards to government officials stationed overseas;
  • Providing disguises used by agents working undercover.

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.

“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.”

Americans–generally disdainful of history–have blatantly ignored both the examples of history and the counsel of Machiavelli.  To their own peril.

Mark Mazzetti, author of the bestselling The Way of the Knife, chronicles how the CIA has been transformed from a primarily fact-finding agency into a terrorist-killing one.

Along with this transformation has come a dangerous dependency on private contractors to supply information that government agents used to dig up for themselves.

The U.S. Navy SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden has been the subject of books, documentaries and even an Oscar-nominated movie: “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Almost unknown by comparison is a program the CIA developed with Blackwater, a private security company, to locate and assassinate Islamic terrorists.

“We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability,” Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, said in an interview.  “If it went bad, we weren’t expecting the [CIA] chief of station, the ambassador or anyone to bail us out.”

But the program never got past the planning stage.  Senior CIA officials feared the agency would not be able to  permanently hide its own role in the effort.

“The more you outsource an operation,” said a CIA official, “the more deniable it becomes.  But you’re also giving up control of the operation.  And if that guy screws up, it’s still your fault.”

Increased reliance on “outsourcing” has created a “brain-drain” within the Intelligence community. Jobs with private security companies usually pay 50% more than government jobs.

Many employees at the CIA, NSA and other Intelligence agencies leave government service–and then return to it as private contractors earning far higher salaries.

Many within the Intelligence community fear that too much Intelligence work has been outsourced and the government has effectively lost control of its own information channels.

And, as always with the hiring of mercenaries, there is an even more basic fear: How fully can they be trusted?

“There’s an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie,” said Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel for the CIA.  “Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Yet another concern: How much can Intelligence agencies count on private contractors to effectively screen the people they hire?

Edward Snowden was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting/security firm.  It was through this company that Snowden gained access to a treasury of NSA secrets.

From September 11, 2001 to 2013, the government has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence.

A 2010 investigative series by the Washington Post found that “1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the country.”

Jesus never served as a spy or soldier.  But he clearly understood a truth too many officials within the American Intelligence community have forgotten:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

MINDING OUR OWN BUSINESS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 1, 2014 at 12:21 pm

On the September 28 edition of 60 Minutes, President Barack Obama spoke about his recent decision to commit American troops to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Steve Kroft: I think everybody applauds the efforts that you’ve made and the size of the coalition that has been assembled.

But most of them are contributing money or training or policing the borders, not getting particularly close to the contact. It looks like once again we are leading the operation. We are carrying…

President Obama: Steve, that’s always the case. That’s always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world.

And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing. They don’t call Moscow. They call us. That’s the deal.

President Obama

Steve Kroft: I mean, it looks like we are doing 90 percent.

President Obama: Steve, there is not an as issue … when there’s a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who’s helping the Philippines deal with that situation. When there’s an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who’s leading the charge making sure Haiti can rebuild. That’s how we roll. And that’s what makes this America.

* * * * *

President Obama is right: “When trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing.  They don’t call Moscow.  They call us.”

And, according to former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, that’s the problem: America can’t learn to mind its own business.

Scheuer is a 20-year CIA veteran–as well as an author, historian, foreign policy critic and political analyst.

Michael Scheuer

From 1996 to 1999 he headed Alec Station, the CIA’s unit assigned to track Osama bin Laden at the agency’s Counterterrorism Center.

He is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies.

He’s also the author of two seminal works on America’s fight against terrorism: Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror  (2003) and Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam after Iraq (2008).

Scheuer says that Islamics don’t hate Americans because of “our way of life”–with its freedoms of speech and worship and its highly secular, commercialized culture.

Instead, Islamic hatred toward the United States stems from America’s six longstanding policies in the Middle East:

  • U.S. support for apostate, corrupt, and tyrannical Muslim governments
  • U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula
  • U.S. support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis’ thrall
  • U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low
  • U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • U.S. support for Russia, India, and China against their Muslim militants

Scheuer contends that no amount of American propaganda will win “the hearts and minds” of Islamics who can “see, hear, experience, and hate” these policies firsthand.

But there is another danger facing America, says Scheuer, one that threatens “the core of our social and civil institutions.”

And in Marching Toward Hell he bluntly indicts that threat: The “profound and willful ignorance” of America’s “bipartisan governing elite.”

Scheuer defines this elite as “the inbred set of individuals who have influenced…drafted and conducted U.S. foreign policy” since 1973.

Within that group are:

  • politicians
  • journalists
  • academics
  • preachers
  • civil servants
  • military officers
  • philanthropists.

“Some are Republicans, others Democrats; some are evangelicals, others atheists; some are militarists, others pacifists; some are purveyors of Western civilization, others are multiculturalists,” writes Scheuer.

But for all their political and/or philosophical differences, the members of this governing elite share one belief in common.

According to Scheuer, that belief is “an unquenchable ardor to have the United States intervene abroad in all places, situations and times.”

And he warns that this “bipartisan governing elite” must radically change its policies–such as unconditional support for Israel and corrupt, tyrannical Muslim governments.

Otherwise, Americans will be locked in an endless “hot war” with the Islamic world.

During his September 28 appearance on 60 Minutes,  President Obama admitted that the mostly Sunni-Muslim Iraqi army had refused to combat the Sunni army of ISIL.

Then followed this exchange:

Steve Kroft: What happens if the Iraqis don’t fight or can’t fight?

President Obama: Well…

Steve Kroft: What’s the end game?

President Obama: I’m not going to speculate on failure at the moment. We’re just getting started. Let’s see how they do.

It was precisely such a mindset that led the United States, step by step, into the Vietnam quagmire.

As in the case of Vietnam, the United States lacks:

  • Real or worthwhile allies in Iraq or Syria;
  • A working knowledge of the peoples it wants to influence in either country;
  • Clearly-defined goals that it seeks to accomplish in that region.

America rushed to disaster in Vietnam because its foreign policy elite felt it had to “do something” to fight Communism anywhere in the world.

And it is continuing to rush toward disaster in the Middle East because its foreign policy elite once again feel is must “do something.”

MENTALITIES, NOT PARTIES, MAKE HISTORY

In History, Politics, Social commentary on September 30, 2014 at 1:46 am

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is more than a mesmerizing history lesson.

It’s a timely reminder that racism and repression are not confined to any one period or political party.

At the heart of the film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  An amendment that will forever ban slavery.

True, Lincoln, in 1862, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  This–in theory–freed slaves held in the Confederate states that were in rebellion against the United States Government.

But Lincoln regards this as a temporary wartime measure.

He fears that, once the war is over, the Supreme Court may rule the Proclamation unconstitutional.  This might allow Southerners to  continue practicing slavery, even after losing the war.

To prevent this, Congress must pass an anti-slavery amendment.

But winning Congressional passage of such an amendment won’t be easy.

The Senate had ratified its passage in 1864.  But the amendment must secure approval from the House of Representatives to become law.

And the House is filled with men–there are no women menmbers during the 19th century–who seethe with hostility.

Some are hostile to Lincoln personally.  One of them dubs him a Negroid dictator: “Abraham Africanus.”  Another accuses him of shifting his positions for the sake of expediency.

Other members–white men all–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.”

To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women.  Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks–or women–the right to vote.

In fact, the possibility that blacks might win voting rights arises early in the movie.  Lincoln is speaking to a couple of black Union soldiers, and one of them is unafraid to voice his discontent.

He’s upset that black soldiers are paid less than white ones–and that they’re led only by white officers.

He says that, in time, maybe this will change.  Maybe, in 100 years, he guesses, blacks will get the right to vote.

(To the shame of all Americans, that’s how long it will eventually take.  Not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will blacks be guaranteed legal protection against discriminatory voting practices.)

To understand the Congressional debate over the Thirteenth Amendment, it’s necessary to remember this:  In Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party of progressives.

The party was founded on an anti-slavery platform.  Its members were reviled by slavery supporters as “Black Republicans.”

And until the 1960s, the South was solidly DemocraticDemocrats were the ones defending the status quo–slavery–and opposing freed blacks in the South of Reconstruction and long afterward.

In short, in the 18th century, Democrats in the South acted as Republicans do now.

The South went Republican only after a Democratic President–Lyndon B. Johnson–rammed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

Watching this re-enactment of the 1865 debate in Lincoln is like watching a rerun of the 2012 Presidential campaign.  The same mentalities are at work:

  • Those (slave-owners) who already have a great deal want to gain even more at the expense of others.
  • Those (slaves and freed blacks) who have little strive to gain more or at least hang onto what they still have.
  • Those who defend the privileged wealthy refuse to allow their “social inferiors” to enjoy similar privileges (such as the right to vote).

During the 2012 Presidential race, the Republicans tried to bar those likely to vote for President Barack Obama from getting into the voting booth.  But their bogus “voter ID” restrictions were struck down in courts across the nation.

Listening to those opposing the Thirteenth Amendment, one is reminded of Mitt Romney’s infamous comments about the “47%: “

If slavery is outlawed, they argue, then black men will no longer “know their place” and even dare to marry white women.

Romney, in turn, showed the same contempt for those he clearly regarded as his social inferiors:

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what….

“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. And the government should give it to them.”

But by the end of the movie, it is Abraham Lincoln who has the final word.  Through diplomacy and backroom dealings (trading political offices for votes) he wins passage of the anti-slavery amendment.

The movie closes with a historically-correct tribute to Lincoln’s generosity toward those who opposed him–in Congress and on the battlefield.

It occurs during Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all….To bind up the nation’s wounds.  To care for him who shall have bourne the battle and for his widow and his orphan….”

This ending presents a vivid philosophical contrast with the sore-loser comments Romney made after the campaign: “The president’s campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift.”

Watching Lincoln, you realize it is not political parties that make history.  It is the mentalities of men and women who follow their hearts to bringing liberty–or slavery–to others.

 

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