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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

So how has Obama fared by this standard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Barack Obama

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

So where did he go wrong? Several ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results were:

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

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

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

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A WARNING FOR TRUMP–AND AMERICA

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 3, 2016 at 12:01 am

“We will have so much winning if I get elected [President] that you may get bored with winning.”

It was vintage Donald Trump, speaking at a September, 2015 Capitol Hill rally to protest President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

(That was before February 1, 2016, when Trump learned he had been beaten by Texas U.S. Senator Rafael Cruz in the Iowa caucuses for the Republican Presidential nomination.   

(The man who had boasted, “No one remembers who came in second” found himself in exactly that place. And tens of thousands of Twitter users gleefully retweeted the quote to celebrate a defeat that Trump had said was impossible.)

“Believe me, I agree, you’ll never get bored with winning. We never get bored. We are going to turn this country around. We are going to start winning big on trade.

“Militarily, we’re going to build up our military. We’re going to have such a strong military that nobody, nobody is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it.”

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Donald Trump

Trump’s boast reflected he mindset–if not the words–of an earlier CEO whose ego carried him–and his country–to ruin.  

Ever since Adolf Hitler shot himself in his underground Berlin Bunker on April 30, 1945, historians have fiercely debated: Was der Fuehrer a military genius or a disastrous imbecile?  

Literally thousands of books have been written on Hitler’s six-year stint as a field commander. But for an overall view of Hitler’s generalship, an excellent choice is How Hitler Could have Won World War II by Bevin Alexander.

How Hitler Could Have Won World War II

Among the fatal errors that led to the defeat of the defeat of the Third Reich:

  • Wasting hundreds of  Luftwaffe [air force] pilots, fighters and bombers in a halfhearted attempt to conquer England.
  • Ignoring the please of generals like Erwin Rommel to conquer Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, thus giving Germany control of most of the world’s oil.
  • Attacking his ally, the Soviet Union, while still at war with Great Britain.
  • Turning millions of Russians into enemies rather than allies by his brutal and murderous policies
  • Needlessly declaring war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl harbor.  (Had he not done so, Americans would have focused all their attention on defeating Japan.)
  • Refusing to negotiate a separate peace with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin–thus granting Germany a large portion of captured Russian territory in exchange for letting Stalin remain in power.
  • Insisting on a “not-one-step-back” military “strategy” that led to the needless surrounding, capture and/or deaths of hundreds of thousands of German servicemen.

As the war turned increasingly against him, Hitler became ever more rigid in his thinking. He demanded absolute control over the smallest details of his forces.  

This, in turn, led to astonishing and unnecessary losses among their ranks.  

One such incident was immortalized in the 1962 movie, The Longest Day, about the Allied invasion of France known as D-Day.  

On June 6, 1944, General Erwin Rommel ordered the panzer tanks to drive the Allies from the Normandy beaches. But these could not be released except on direct orders of the Fuehrer.

As Hitler’s chief of staff, General Alfred Jodl, informed Rommel: The Fuehrer was asleep–and was not to be awakened. By the time Hitler awoke and issued the order, it was too late.  

Nor could Hitler accept responsibility for the policies that were leading Germany to certain defeat.  

He blamed his generals, accused them of cowardice, and relieved many of the best ones from command.  

Among those sacked was Heinz Guderian, creator of the German panzer corps–and responsible for the blitzkreig victory against France in 1940.

Another was Erich von Manstein, designer of the strategy that defeated France in six weeks–which Germany had failed to do during four years of World War 1.

Finally, on April 29, 1945–with the Russians only blocks from his underground Berlin bunker–Hitler dictated his “Last Political Testament.”  

Once again, he refused to accept responsibility for unleashing a war that would ultimately consume 50 million lives: 

“It is untrue that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939.  It was desired and instigated exclusively by those international statesmen who either were of Jewish origin or worked for Jewish interests.” 

Hitler had launched the invasion of Poland–and World War II–with a lie: That Poland had attacked Germany. Fittingly, he closed the war–and his life–with a final lie.   

Joachim C. Fest, author of Hitler (1973), writes of the surprise that awaited Allied soldiers occupying Nazi Germany in 1945:  

“Almost without exception, virtually from one moment to the next, Nazism vanished after the death of Hitler and the surrender.  

“It was as if National Socialism had been nothing but the motion, the state of intoxication and the catastrophe it had caused….

“Once again it became plain that National Socialism, like Fascism in general, was dependent to the core on superior force, arrogance, triumph, and by its nature had no resources in the moment of defeat.”

The ancient Greeks believed “A man’s character is his destiny.”  For Adolf Hitler–and the nations he ravaged–that proved fatally true.  

It’s to be seen whether the same will prove true for Donald Trump–and the United States.

A FADING GLORY

In Bureaucracy, History, MSNBC, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on February 2, 2016 at 12:01 am

Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted that, if elected President, he will “make America great again.”  

He would do well to re-watch Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s 1998 World War II epic.

This opens with a scene of an American flag snapping in the wind. Except that the brilliant colors of Old Glory have been washed out, leaving only black-and-white stripes and black stars.

And then the movie opens–not during World war II but the present day.  

Did Spielberg know something that his audience could only sense? Such as that the united States, for all its military power, has become a pale shadow of its former glory?

May 30, 1945, marked the first Memorial Day after World War II ended in Europe. On that day, the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, near the town of Nettuno, held about 20,000 graves.  

Most were soldiers who died in Sicily, at Salerno, or at Anzio. One of the speakers at the ceremony was Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., the U.S. Fifth Army Commander. 

Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

Unlike many other generals, Truscott had shared in the dangers of combat, pouring over maps on the hood of his jeep with company commanders as bullets or shells whizzed about him.  

When it came his turn to speak, Truscott moved to the podium.  Then he turned his back on the assembled visitors–which included several Congressmen.

The audience he now faced were the graves of his fellow soldiers.

Among those who heard Truscott’s speech was Bill Mauldin, the famous cartoonist for the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Mauldin had created Willie and Joe, the unshaved, slovenly-looking “dogfaces” who came to symbolize the GI.

Bill Mauldin and “Willie and Joe,” the characters he made famous

It’s from Mauldin that we have the fullest account of Truscott’s speech that day.  

“He apologized to the dead men for their presence there. He said that everybody tells leaders that it is not their fault that men get killed in war, but that every leader knows in his heart that this is not altogether true.

“He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive  him, but he realized that he was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances….  

“Truscott said he would not speak of the ‘glorious’ dead because he didn’t see much glory in getting killed in your teens or early twenties.

“He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out.  He said he thought it was the least he could do.

“It was the most moving gesture I ever saw,” wrote Mauldin.  

Then Truscott walked away, without acknowledging his audience of celebrities.  

Fast forward 61 years later–to March 24, 2004. 

At a White House Correspondents dinner in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush joked publicly about the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq.  

One year earlier, he had ordered the invasion of Iraq on the premise that its dictator, Saddam Hussein, possessed WMDs he intended to use against the United States.  

To Bush, the non-existent WMDs were nothing more than the butt of a joke that night.  While an overhead projector displayed photos of a puzzled-looking Bush searching around the Oval Office, Bush recited a comedy routine.  

“Those Weapons of Mass Destruction have gotta be here somewhere,” Bush laughed, while a photo showed him poking around the corners of the Oval Office.  

“Nope–no weapons over there! Maybe there’s under here,” he said, as a photo showed him looking under a desk.  

In a scene that could have occurred under the Roman emperor Nero, an assembly of wealthy, pampered men and women–the elite of America’s media and political classes–laughed heartily during Bush’s performance.  

Only later did the criticism come, from Democrats and Iraqi war veterans–especially those veterans who had lost comrades or suffered horrific wounds to protect America from a threat that had never existed.  

Then fast forward another 11 years–to February 27, 2015.  

The Republican party’s leading Presidential contenders for 2016 gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.  

Although each candidate tried to stake his own claim to the Oval Office, all of them agreed on two points:

First, President Barack Obama had been dangerously timid in his conduct of foreign policy; and

Second, they would pursue aggressive military action in the Middle East.

“Our position needs to be to re-engage with a strong military and a strong presence,” said Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida.  And Bush added that he would consider sending ground forces to fight ISIS.

Scott Walker, the current governor of Florida, equated opposing labor unions to fighting terrorists: “If I could take on 100,000 protesters (in Wisconsin) I can do the same across the world.”  

Neither Bush nor Walker had seen fit to enter the ranks of the military he wished to plunge into further combat.  And Bush and Walker are typical of those who make up the United States Congress:

Of those members elected or re-elected to the House and Senate in November, 2014, only 97–less than 18%–have served in the U.S. military.

Small wonder then, that, for many people, Old Glory has taken on a darker, washed-out appearance, in real-life as in film.

 

 

 

 

 

THE EVIL THAT POLITICIANS DO

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 1, 2016 at 12:01 am

Yes, like a toxic waste plant that spews out poison every four years, it’s Presidential primary time for the Republican party.

And its two most radical and ruthless candidates for President are flinging slime with gusto.  

Rafael “Ted” Cruz, the United States Senator from Texas, has accused his rival, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, of having “New York values.”

And during the January 14th Republican Presidential debate in South Carolina, he defined these as:

“Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and focus on money and the media.”  

Among Right-wingers, “liberal,” “pro-abortion” and “pro-gay” are the ultimate in insults.

But Donald Trump was quick to respond with an explosive charge of his own: Rafael Cruz is not an American citizen–and therefore not eligible to be President.  

What made this accusation so effective was Cruz’ having been born outside the United States–in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to an American mother and a Cuban father.

Ted Cruz, official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg

Rafael “Ted” Cruz

The U.S. Constitution specifically states that “No person except a natural born citizen…shall be eligible to the office of President.”  

Cruz has argued that because his mother was an American, he became an American citizen at birth. But courts have never ruled on the issue of what constitutes a “natural-born” citizen.  

And, at a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire, Trump smacked Cruz with an even more incendiary attack:  

“Ted Cruz may not be a US citizen, right? But he’s an anchor baby. No, Ted Cruz is an anchor baby in Canada. But Canada doesn’t accept anchor babies.”  

“Anchor baby” is a Politically Incorrect term for usually poor, non-white aliens entering the United States to have a child born on American soil, which grants automatic citizenship.  

And if the child is a citizen, its parents stand an excellent chance of being allowed to stay.  

Trump asserts that children born in the United States to illegal aliens are not American citizens, as they are today considered under the law.

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Donald Trump

At first, the issue of Cruz’ eligibility seemed confined to Republican politicians and those likely to vote for them. But then others outside the Right began weighing in.  

Mary McManamon, a Constitutional law professor at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, concluded in an Op-Ed for The Washington Post:

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is not a natural-born citizen and therefore is not eligible to be president or vice president of the United States.”

How did this all start? With the ultimate target of Republican hatred–Barack Obama.

Ever since Obama became a Presidential candidate in 2008, Republicans have accused him of being ineligible to hold office.

Without a political scandal (such as Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) to fasten on, the Republican party opted for slander: Obama was born in Kenya–not Honolulu–and thus was not an American citizen.  

From this there could be only one conclusion: He would be an illegitimate President, and should be removed from office if elected.  

And this smear campaign continued after he won the 2008 election. Right-wingers like Trump insisted that Obama “prove” his citizenship fitness to hold office.  

During his first two years in office, Obama tried to ignore the charge.

But polls repeatedly showed that large segments of the country believed it. Finally, even Obama’s closest advisers warned him: You must address this and put it to rest.  

So, on April 27, 2011, the President released the long-form version of his Hawaii birth certificate.

The long-form version of President Obama’s birth certificate

For the vast majority of Americans, this settled the issue. In 2012, to the fury of Republicans, Obama won a second, four-year term.

Fast forward to the 2016 Presidential race.  

Donald Trump, seeking to destroy his foremost rival, lobs the “anchor baby” charge against Rafael Cruz. 

To most Americans, this conjures up the image of poor Mexicans flooding across the United States border to apply for welfare.

It’s a highly effective way to inflame the elderly, white voters who make up the base of the Republican party.

But it’s also guaranteed to inflame millions of Hispanic Americans–those who are here legally as well as those who are here illegally.  

The Republican party has long earned the hatred and distrust of most Hispanic Americans through its calls to “seal off the border” and deport Hispanic illegal aliens.

And, in 2012, millions of Hispanics gave President Obama a second term.  

So long as Cruz stays in the race, Trump will continue to use the “birther” issue against him. And it will continue to dog him, as it did Obama.  

But it will continue to anger most of the 55 millions Hispanics living within the United States.  

The votes of elderly whites command the attention of Republican primary candidates. But Hispanic voters will play a decisive role in the general election.

Thus, Republicans may come to regret their use of the “birther” issue as they learn the truth of Shakespeare’s line: “The evil that men do lives after them.”

NO SENSE OF DECENCY

In Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary on January 29, 2016 at 12:53 am

“Senator, may we not drop this?…You’ve done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, sir?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

The speaker was Joseph N. Welch, chief counsel for the United States Army–then under investigation by Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for alleged Communist activities.

It was June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the Army-McCarthy hearings.

And it was the pivotal moment that finally destroyed the career of the Wisconsin Senator whose repeated slanders of Communist subversion had bullied and frightened Americans for four years.

Joseph McCarthy

When the Senate gallery erupted in applause, McCarthy–totally surprised at his sudden reversal of fortune–was finished.

Today, however, other Americans should be asking themselves the question asked by Welch: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Americans like Rick Santorum, Republican Presidential candidate in 2016.

Rick Santorum

As a United States Senator from Pennsylvania (1997-2005) and a 2012 Presidential candidate, Santorum fervently sought to ban legalized abortion–even in rape cases. Also on his list of banned items: birth control.

Abortion and birth control, said Santorum, were an affront to “the way things ought to be.”  As decided, of course, by Santorum.

But this did not stop him from marrying, in 1990, a woman–Karen Garver–who had spent six years as the unmarried bedmate of an OBGYN-abortionist named Tom Allen, who was 40 years her senior.

Today, as Mrs. Santorum, she has totally reversed her view on abortion and wants to see it banned.

Then there’s 2016 Presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) 

As a Republican United States Senator from Texas, Cruz voted–three times–against providing federal aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The October, 2012, hurricane killed about 150 people and caused an estimated $75 billion worth of damages across the Northeast.

But when a fertilizer plant exploded in West, McLennan County, Texas, on April 17, 2013, Cruz vowed that he would seek “all available resources” to assist its victims.

The blast killed 13 people, wounded about 200 others, and caused extensive damage to surrounding homes.

It didn’t matter to Cruz that:

  • The facility hadn’t been expected by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since 1985, when the company was find $30; and
  • The plant had been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS.).

Then there’s Donald Trump, the egocentric businessman and “reality star of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” who, likewise, has thrown his hat into the 2016 Presidential race.

Donald Trump

On April 17, 2011, toying with the idea of entering the 2012 Presidential race, Trump said this about Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and front-runner GOP candidate:

“He’d buy companies, he’d close companies.  He’d get rid of jobs.  I’ve built a great company.  I’m a much bigger businessman and have a much, much bigger net worth.  I mean, my net worth is many, many, many times Mitt Romney.

“Mitt Romney is a basically small-business guy, if you really think about it. He was a hedge fund.  He was a funds guy.  He walked away with some money from a very good company that he didn’t create.  he worked there.  He didn’t create it.”

Trump added that Bain Capital, the hedge fund where Romney made millions of dollars before running for governor, didn’t create any jobs. Whereas Trump claimed that he–Trump–had created “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

So at least some observers must have been puzzled when Trump announced, on February 2, 2012: “It’s my honor, real honor and privilege, to endorse Mitt Romney” for President.

“Mitt is tough.  He’s smart.  He’s sharp. He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love.  So, Governor Romney, go out and get ’em.  You can do it,” said Trump.

Mitt Romney

And Romney, in turn, had his own swooning-girl moment: “I’m so honored to have his endorsement.  There are some things that you just can’t imagine in your life. This is one of them.”

Clearly, the word “hypocrisy” means nothing to Santorum, Cruz and Trump. But it should mean something to the rest of us.

In samurai Japan, officials who publicly disgraced themselves knew what to do. The samurai code of seppeku told them when they had crossed the line into eternal damnation.

And it gave them a way to redeem their lost honor: With a small “belly-cutting” knife and the help of a trusted assistant who sliced off their head to spare them the agonizing pain of disembowelment.

In the armies of America and Europe, the method was slightly different: A pistol in a private room.

Considering the ready availability of firearms among Right-wing Republicans, redeeming lost honor shouldn’t be a problem for any of these men.

But of course it will be.  It takes more than a trigger pull to “do the right thing.  It takes insight to recognize that you’ve “done the wrong thing.”  And it takes courage to act on that insight.

In men who live only for their own egos and wallets, such insight and courage will be forever missing.  They are beyond redemption.

Their lives give proof to the warning offered in Matthew 7:17-20:

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

CHARLES GORDON DIED FOR YOUR SINS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military on January 28, 2016 at 10:05 pm

January 26, 2016, marked the 131st anniversary of the fall of Khartoum, the Sudanese city that sits on the banks of the White and Blue Nile Rivers.

The siege and fall of Khartoum is one of the truly epic stories of military history.

From March 18, 1884, to January 26, 1885, the charisma and military genius of one man–British General Charles George Gordon–held at bay an army of thousands of fanatical Islamics intent on slaughtering everyone in the city. 

Khartoum in the 1800s

At stake were the lives of Khartoum’s 30,000 residents.

By comparison: The defenders of the Alamo–a far better-known battle, in 1836–numbered no more than 250.  And the siege of the San Antonio mission lasted only 13 days against an army of about 2,000 Mexicans.

The Alamo

Gordon’s story may seem antiquated.  But it bears close inspection as Republicans press the Obama administration to commit ground forces to “freeing” Syria of its longtime dictator, “President” Bashir al-Assad.

The neocons of the George W. Bush Administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003. After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves waging a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

And now, with Syria, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

On one side is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbollah and elements in the Iraqi government.  Hizbollah is comprised of Chiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.

A sworn enemy of Israel, it has kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hizbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.

It is intolerant of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

In short, it’s a Muslim-vs.Muslim “holy war.

It’s all very reminiscent of events in the 1966 epic film, Khartoum, starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles George Gordon. 

Charlton Heston (left); Charles George Gordon (right)

In 1884, the British government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.

Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi” (“The Expected One”) and raised the cry of jihad.

Laurence Oliver (left); Mohammed Achmed (“The Madhi”)

The Madhi (played by Lawrence Olivier) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan and exterminate all those Muslims who do not practice his “pure” version of Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also finds he has underestimated the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear. He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  it has sent Gordon there as a cop to British public opinion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.  

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relief expedition to save him.

Prime Minister Willilam Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

George W. Joy’s famous–and romanticized–painting of “The Death of Gordon”

(Actually, the best historical evidence  indicates that Gordon fought to the last with pistol and sword before being overwhelmed by his dervish enemies.)  

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.  

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, military unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of Khartoum intones at the close of the film: “For 15 years the British paid the price with shame and war.”  

There is a blunt lesson for Americans to learn from this episode–and from the 1966 movie Khartoum itself.  

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.

It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

 

TURNING CRIMINALS INTO HEROES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on January 27, 2016 at 8:56 am

Dictionary.com defines “hero” as: “A man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”

So how did Mario Woods, a known gang member, armed robber and car thief, become an official San Francisco hero?

He did it by

  • Slashing one last victim;
  • Getting shot by the police; and, above all
  • Being black.

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Mario Woods

At 26, Woods–born on July 22, 1989–had a well-documented history of criminality:

  • He was an active member of the notorious Oakdale Mob infesting the predominantly black Bayview-Hunters Point area of San Francisco.
  • His gang-related activities included armed robbery; attempted armed robbery; shooting incidents; being a felon in illegal possession of a firearm; car theft; driving a stolen car; and being involved in an automobile injury accident while fleeing from police.
  • In 2008, he pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon.
  • In 2009, he was one of six gang members added to the provisions of a 2007 gang injunction against the Oakdale Mob.
  • Under the terms of this injunction, Oakdale Mob members are forbidden to engage in gang-related conduct within a four-block safety zone.
  • Among those prohibited activities: Possessing guns or dangerous weapons; possessing illegal drugs; loitering with intent to sell drugs; intimidating witnesses or victims; using threats to recruit or retain gang members; defacing property with graffiti.
  • In 2012, he was sentenced to seven years in state prison for armed robbery. (He had already spent almost three years in County Jail.)  He was released in 2014.

As for the actions that led to his death–and his near-deification by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors:

On December 2, 2015, San Francisco police officers took a report from a 26-year-old Bayview man who had been slashed in the left shoulder.

He and a female friend had been eating in a car parked in front of an apartment building. They saw a man “walking back and forth on the sidewalk talking,” according to the police report.

The man–wielding a knife–reached into the passenger’s side of the car. The passenger opened the door to push the assailant away.  

When he got out of the car, the man slashed him across the left shoulder. Bleeding heavily, the passenger fled to San Francisco General Hospital.  

Two officers responded to the crime scene. Aided by a witness to the attack, they spotted the attacker and then lost him. Police radioed in a description, and more officers joined in the search.

Minutes later, two officers spotted Mario Woods, who matched the suspect’s description.  He was waiting to board a bus–until he saw the officers get out of their car.

Woods seized a knife from his jeans pocket and said: “You’re not taking me today.”

The two officers drew their pistols and ordered Woods to drop the knife. 

“You better squeeze that motherfucker and kill me,” said Woods.

More officers arrived. Some of them carried weapons that fire nonlethal beanbags filled with lead shot.  

Still refusing to drop the knife, Woods was hit with a beanbag fired from a 12-gauge weapon.

It had no effect.  

Image result for Images of 12-gauge bean bag rounds

12-gauge Beanbag shotgun rounds

Two more rounds struck Woods–but he still refused to drop the knife.

On a video of the incident, a woman can be repeatedly heard yelling to Woods: “Oh, my God, drop it!  Drop it!”

A fourth beanbag from a 40mm gun hit Woods.  Although he crouched on one knee, he still held the knife. Then he quickly regained his balance and stood up.  

Then came a dose of pepper spray–with no apparent effect on him.

A crowd began to gather–and an officer moved toward them to warn: “Back up!”

Suddenly, Woods moved toward the crowd.

The officer stepped into Woods’ path, to keep him from reaching the bystanders.  

As Woods kept advancing, the officer fired his pistol. So did four other officers, riddling Woods with bullets.

Two of the officers were black–as was Woods. But in Uber-liberal San Francisco, police are widely regarded with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

And this is especially true when a black suspect is involved.

Predictably, Black Lives Matter called for a protest and vigil on December 3.  

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And on January 25, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee requested a federal investigation into Woods’ death.

Lee had previously sought to meet with Woods’ mother, on January 15. But when word of the planned meeting leaked out, Gwen Woods canceled it.

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos introduced a resolution to name July 22–Woods’ birthday–as “Mario Woods Day.”

And on January 26, the Board of Supervisors–whom many San Franciscans sarcastically refer to as “Stupidvisors”–unanimously passed Campos’ resolution.

The effort sparked outrage from the San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) which represents rank-and-file officers.  

In a letter addressed to the Board of Supervisors, POA President Martin Halloran wrote:

“It will be a hurtful day to [the families of SFPD officers killed in the line of duty] if this city’s elected officials decide to recognize and honor an individual that preyed upon our most vulnerable citizens.”

Woods’ mother, Gwen, was elated by the vote: “Sometimes you have to stand up and look life in the eye. Everyone can’t be bullied.”

She could–and should–have been speaking for the victims of her gangbanger son. 

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

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

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

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

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

Gerald Ford being hustled from danger by Secret Service agents

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

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

 

The Reagan assassination attempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it will be too late.

Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tribute to the vanished World Trade Center

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

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

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

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Advanced imaging technology

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

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

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

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

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

Delta: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members

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

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

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

Southwest: A-List and A-List Preferred members

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

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

Virgin America:  Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold members 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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