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In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 13, 2013 at 12:05 am

With the United States teetering on the brink of national bankruptcy in 2011, President Obama faced three choices:

  1. Counter Republican extortion attempts via RICO–the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.
  2. Make a “Cuban Missile Crisis”-style address to the American people, seeking to rally them against a criminal threat to the financial security of the Nation.
  3. Cave in to Republican demands.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Three.

As a result, the Nation now faces a rerun of Republican extortion tactics.

Republicans remain committed to defeating President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act–otherwise known as Obamacare–which provides health insurance to all Americans, and not simply the wealthiest 1%.

Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Uta are urging their party to vote against any year-end bill to fund the government–unless funding is stripped from the President’s health care law.

Parts of the federal government would shut down on October 1 if Congress doesn’t approve a short-term funding bill before then.

During an August 9, 2013 press conference, Obama bluntly stated why Republicans are so determined to kill this program:

“The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care and, presumably, repealing all those benefits I just mentioned — kids staying on their parents’ plan; seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs….

“The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million people from getting health care is a bad idea.”

Even though President Obama refused to stand up to Republican extortion demands in 2011, he still has the opportunity to do so now.

Here is how he can do so.

Option 1: Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act

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

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

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 had believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.

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

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

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

  • President Obama could direct Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether actions by Republican Congressman—and their Tea Party cohorts—broke Federal anti-racketeering and/or anti-terrorism laws.
  • Holder, in turn, could order the FBI to conduct that investigation.
  • If the FBI finds sufficient evidence that these laws had been violated, Holder could empanel criminal grand juries to indict those violators.

The fact that members of Congress would be criminally investigated and possibly indicted would not violate the separation-of-powers principle.  Congressmen have in the past been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.

Such indictments and prosecutions–and especially convictions–would serve notice on current and future members of Congress that the lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage as part of a negotiated settlement.

Option 2: Declare a National Crisis and Call for His Country’s Support

President John F. Kennedy did just that during the most dangerous crisis of his administration–and scored victory, nationally and internationally.

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

John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis

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

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

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

President Obama can send that same message to the extortionists of the Republican Party.

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