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WHEN CRIMINALS FALL OUT, AMERICA WINS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 16, 2017 at 12:17 am

In 1972, warfare erupted the between the two most powerful Mafia families of New York.

On one side: The Corleone Family, headed by “Don Vito” Corleone.  On the other: The Barzini Family, whose boss was Emilio Barzini.

Moviegoers flooded theaters across the nation to make The Godfather the highest-grossing film of 1972—and, for a time, the highest-grossing film ever made.

The Godfather written on a black background in stylized white lettering, above it a hand holds puppet strings

Audiences rooted for the Corleones and thrilled whenever a Barzini “soldier” bit the concrete.  And they moaned when Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) was shot and wounded at an outdoor market and Sonny Corleone (James Caan) got riddled by machine guns on a New Jersey causeway.

Why did so many moviegoers feel compelled to side with the Corleones?

One reason was that, early in the film, Don Corleone rejects an offer by the Barzini Family to enter the narcotics-trafficking business.

Many viewers saw this as proof that “Don Vito” was more honest than other Mafia chiefs who did enter the drug trade.  In fact, Corleone made it clear that he wanted to stay out for completely practical reasons.

When speaking with Virgil Sollotzzo, the Turkish drug kingpin backed by the Barzinis, Corleone says: “It makes no difference to me what a man does for a living.  But your business is a little dangerous.

“It’s true I have a lot of friends who are judges and politicians.  And they don’t mind if people want to gamble, or drink, or even pay for a woman.  But they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs.”

In short, it wasn’t morality that led him to steer clear of narcotics trafficking.  He simply didn’t want to go to prison.

The other reason so many viewers identified with the Corleones lay in the brilliant casting of their members.

  • Marlon Brando—considered by many the greatest actor of his time—headed the cast.
  • Al Pacino, then an unknown, aroused sympathy as Michael, the Family outsider forced by the shooting of his father to become the Boss of All Bosses.
  • James Caan (as Sonny) is handsome and the defender of his brutalized sister, Connie, against her abusive husband, Carlo Rizzi.
  • John Cazale (as Fredo) is riddled with insecurities and not very bright, won the audiences’ sympathy by his sheer helplessness when compared to his ruthless siblings.

But the fact remained that the Corleones—for all their homilies about “honor” and “loyalty”—were every bit as greedy and lethal as their Mafia competitors.  They just played the game more ruthlessly—and successfully.

All of which brings us to the current Mafia-like struggle within the Republican party in Alabama. 

On one side: Roy Moore, the twice-ousted former chief justice of the Alabama supreme court, who is running for U.S. Senator.

Judge Roy Moore.jpg

Roy Moore

On the other: “Establishment” Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan. 

The uproar started when four women, in a Washington Post story, accused Moore of seeking romantic relationships with four teenage girls while he was in his 30s, and even trolling malls for such dates.

The worst of these charges came from Leigh Corfman, who said that, when she was 14, Moore took off her “shirt and pants and removed his clothes,” touched her “over her bra and underpants” and “guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.”

One of Moore’s defenders is Steve Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News, an online Right-wing news, opinion and commentary website. 

“This is nothing less than the politics of personal destruction,” he told Bloomberg News. “And they need to destroy him by any means necessary.”

Another is Sean Hannity, a talk show host on Fascistic Fox News. Interviewed on Hannity’s program, Moore said he did “not generally” remember dating teenagers when he was in his 30s.

Many Republicans want President Donald Trump to publicly urge Moore to step aside. But Trump is extremely reluctant to do so—and for good reason.  

On October 12, 2016, The Palm Beach Post, The New York Times and People all published stories of women claiming to have been sexually assaulted by Trump. By October 14, at least 12 women had publicly accused Trump of sexually inappropriate behavior. 

Trump, having become the poster boy of sexual harassment—if not predators—does not want the public once again reminded of his own repellent behavior. 

There are several possible outcomes here—all of them disastrous for the Republican party. 

  • Moore could win—thus becoming a national embarrassment to Republicans.
  • Moore could lose to his Democratic challenger, Doug Jones—thus giving Democrats one more Senator to oppose the Trump agenda.
  • Moore could win—and be expelled from the Senate by his fellow Republicans. This would require a two-thirds majority vote. It would ignite a civil war among “establishment” Republicans like McConnell and “anti-establishment” Right-wingers like Bannon, Hannity and even Trump.
  • No matter what Trump does, it will prove a lose/lose issue for Republicans. If he condemns Moore, he will be accused of hypocrisy. If he doesn’t, he will be accused of silently condoning sexually predatory behavior.

When predatory Mafiosi wipe each other out, honest citizens win. When Fascistic Republicans wage war on each other, democracy wins.

THE MEDIA–NOT ITS AUDIENCE–CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 9, 2017 at 1:18 am

In the 1992 courtroom drama, “A Few God Men,” Jack Nicholson, as Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup, utters a line that has since become famous.

When his prosecutor, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) demands the truth about the murder of a fellow Marine, Jessup shouts: “You can’t handle the truth!”

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Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audience.

[WARNING: This column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]  

On February 9, businessman Donald Trump scored a new blow at his Rafael “Ted” Cruz, his closest rival for the Republican Presidential nomination.

Speaking at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump attacked Cruz, the United States Senator from Texas, for being unwilling to support the widespread use of torture against America’s Islamic enemies.

“He’s a pussy!” yelled a woman in the crowd.

Apparently a certain portion of the attendees didn’t hear–or misheard–the insult. So Trump–pretending to be shocked–repeated it for them:

“She said–I never expect to hear that from you again!  She said: ‘He’s a pussy.’ That’s terrible.”

“What kind of people do I have here?” joked Trump, clearly playing to the boisterous crowd.

Donald Trump

The incident went viral on social media. But all the major TV news outlets–for ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC–bleeped the word and/or coyly referred to it as “the P-word.”

It was as if they assumed their viewers would of course know what had been said despite the networks’ censorship of it. And if viewers didn’t already know what the woman–and Trump–had said, the networks weren’t going to enlighten them.

Of course, “the P-word” could just as easily have been “prick” or “pervert.” So it’s understandable that many viewers might have thought a very different word had been used.

No doubt the networks hoped to avoid offending large numbers of viewers.

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said. It should then be up to the audience to decide if the language was offensive–and, if so, if its user deserves condemnation.

The evening news is–supposedly–aimed at voting-age adults. And adults need–and deserve–the hard truth about the world they live in. Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Those who wanted to learn–rather than guess–what Trump had repeated had to turn to the Internet or to a handful of news source such as Vox: Policy and Politics.

In their defense, the networks could argue that the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates radio and television, does not usually permit the word “pussy” to be aired between 6 am and 10 pm.

On the other hand, immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks, all the major TV networks endlessly replayed the destruction of the World Trade Center, with the resulting deaths of hundreds of men and women.

Censorship, then, tends to center on two types of subject material:

  1. Sex, or “obscenity,” which is sex-related; and
  2. Race, meaning racial slurs that would offend some minority group.

An example of race-related censorship occurred during the short-lived administration of President Gerald R. Ford.

During a lull in the 1976 Republican convention, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates?

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Image result for Images of Earl Butz

Earl Butz

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby. When his comments became public, Butz was quickly forced to resign.

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism. Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print. Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information.

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain.

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination.

Forty years later, TV news viewers were again prevented from reaching their own conclusions about Trump’s repetition of the slur aimed at his rival.

Nor is there any guarantee that such censorship will not occur again.

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships. It has no place in a democracy–despite the motives of those doing the censoring.

The ancient historian, Plutarch, sounded a warning that remains timely:

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

In a democracy, citizens must be alert for those tell-tale expressions or jests. And this demands that the media, in turn, have the courage to bring those truths to their attention.

 

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY PC HALLOWEEN–OR ELSE

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 26, 2017 at 12:58 am

Halloween isn’t just for kids anymore.

In 2017, about 179 million Americans will participate in Halloween, and will spend an estimated $9.1 billion. Yes, that’s with a “b”. That will be up from 2016, when 171 million Americans spent $8.4 billion.

The average American will spend $25 on candy, $30 on Halloween decor, and costumes (men will spend $96 each, women $77).  

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Those putting out this avalanche of money will, of course, be adults. And a lot of those costumes will be worn by adults at parties across the nation.

This will be especially true in San Francisco.

In 1979, Halloween in its Castro District shifted from being a children’s event to a celebration among homosexuals.

The massive crowds quickly overwhelmed the streets, mass transit and due to the Castro’s location along two major transport corridors, disrupted traffic flow well outside the neighborhood.

In 2002, 500,000 people celebrated Halloween in the Castro and four people were stabbed.

It continued to grow into a massive annual street party until 2006, when a shooting wounded nine people and prompted the city to call off the event.

In 2007, 600 police were deployed in the Castro on HalloweenBy 2010, San Francisco had banned the event in the Castro, directing celebrants to various balls and parties elsewhere.

But there’s another force working to suppress Halloween joy among its participants: Political Correctness.

A number of articles highlight a series of costumes it’s now Politically Incorrect to wear on Halloween.  As a result, it’s now virtually impossible to enjoy this occasion without fearing that you’ll hurt the Politically Correct sensitivities of almost every group imaginable.

For example:

Adolf Hitler: PC types damn it as offensive and upsetting to many people—such as Jews generally and Holocaust survivors in particular. (The same could be said for any actor who portrays Hitler in a movie, such as Downfall or The Bunker.)

Homeless Persons: Such costumes will hurt the feelings of bums who won’t be attending Halloween parties anyway.

Illegal Alien:  It’s not nice to spotlight people who constantly violate the immigration laws of the United States.

Terrorist:  You might upset Islamics, who make up the vast majority of the world’s terrorists.

Others on the list of groups that uber-liberals believes it’s Politically Incorrect to dress up as include:

  • Blacks (if you’re white).
  • Naughty priests: It’s offensive to mock religious hypocrites who violate the bodies of children.
  • Caitlyn Jenner:  It’s cruel to make fun of a man who, as a man, won gold medals as an Olympic athlete—and then had sophisticated surgery to make himself look like a woman. 
  • Mexicans (such as a woman wearing a mariachi outfit or a man sporting a sombrero, serape and drooping moustache).
  • Pimp:  It’s offensive to blacks—especially those who make their living through the sale of women’s bodies. 
  • Sexy nurse:  Because nursing is a serious profession—and everybody knows that nurses never enter into romances with doctors. 
  • Fat costumes: It will hurt the feelings of people who can barely fit into an airplane seat—many of them because they simply eat too much. 
  • Crazed Killer:  Because it’s not fair to make fun of psychopathic murderers who prey on innocent men, women and children. 
  • Sexy Convict/Prison Guard: You could be accused of “trivializing” the United States prison system.  
  • The Wall: Wearing an imitation brick wall reminds people that millions of Hispanics have illegally violated America’s immigration laws—and millions more intend to.
  • Arab Sheik: It’s not nice to dress like an OPEC board member in a long flowing robe and headdress.   
  • Sexy Harem Slave: Consider this the flip side of “Arab Sheik.”  It’s uncool to remind people that women throughout the Islamic world are treated like chattel. 
  • “Droopers”: An obvious parody of the “Hooters” outfit, this features a fake pair of drooping breasts, thus winning it dual charges of “ageism” and “sexism.”
  • Geisha: You could be accused of “cultural appropriation.” 
  • Hillary in Prison: Depicting a woman who often skirted the law as paying the price for it is anti-feminist. 
  • Robert E. Lee:  Once a Southern icon of the Civil War, he is now damned as a racist defender of slavery.
  • Escaped Mental Patient: Wearing an imitation straitjacket makes fun of real-life whackjobs who need to be restrained—for their own safety and that of others.
  • Indian Snake Charmer: This costume supposedly appropriates Middle Eastern culture and has “disturbing sexual undertones”—if you equate snakes with penises. 

If you follow the guidelines of these articles, you might as well skip Halloween altogether.

Yet no one objects to children—or adults—dressing up as pirates like Blackbeard, who once terrorized the oceans as modern-day terrorists menace the world.

No one objects to those who dress up like skeletons—when almost everyone has lost a friend or family member to death.

No one objects to those who dress up as witches, who have been associated with evil for hundreds of years.

No one objects to those who dress up as Satan—the literal personification of evil for millions of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The whole idea of Halloween is to momentarily step into a character that’s utterly different from you.

So if you are a terrorist, try dressing up at Halloween as Dr. Albert Schweitzer or Florence Nightingale.

PATRIOTISM IS OUT, GREED IS IN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 25, 2017 at 12:42 am

President Donald Trump was furious.

Nordstrom department store had just dared to drop the clothing and accessories lines of his daughter, Ivanka.

So, true to form, on February 8 he took to Twitter to vent his displeasure: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person—always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

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Donald Trump

He used his personal Twitter account—@realDonaldTrump—to send this message. In fact, he sent it 21 minutes into his daily Intelligence briefing.

Still not satisfied, he retweeted his attack on Nordstrom on his official POTUS (President of the United States) Twitter account. 

In short, he used a taxpayer-funded account to benefit his daughter.

Not content to attack Nordstrom by himself, Trump enlisted other members of his administration as assailants.

One of these was his press secretary, Sean Spicer:

“There’s a targeting of her brand and it’s her name. She’s not directly running the company. It’s still her name on it. There are clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. Her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.”

Sean Spicer.jpg

Sean Spicer

Nordstrom retorted that its decision to drop the Ivanka Trump line was “based on performance.”

“Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team. We’ve had open conversations with them over the past year to share what we’ve seen and Ivanka was personally informed of our decision in early January.”

But for the Trumpinistas, that wasn’t the end of it.

On Februrary 9, Kelleyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, became a TV shill for Ivanka.

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Kelleyanne Conway

Appearing on the Right-wing Fox News Channel program, “Fox and Friends,” Kelleyanne spoke from no less prestigious a forum than the White House itself:

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff. I hate shopping and I’m going to go get some myself today. It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

For Democrats—and even some Republicans—Conway’s behavior was simply unacceptable.

Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, a member of the the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the committee.

In it, he requested a referral to the Office of Government Ethics for possible disciplinary action against Conway. 

The office does not have investigative or enforcement authority, but officials there can contact and provide guidance to other enforcement agencies.

Chaffetz told the Associated Press that Conway’s behavior was “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable.”

Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization of election law experts, said Trump’s tweet was “totally out of line.”

“He should not be promoting his daughter’s line, he should not be attacking a company that has business dealings with his daughter, and it just shows the massive amount of problems we have with his business holdings and his family’s business holdings,” Noble said.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert, said the Nordstrom tweet could make other retailers hesitate to drop the Ivanka Trump brand. They may fear being similarly attacked by the President.

“The implicit threat was that he will use whatever authority he has to retaliate against Nordstrom, or anyone who crosses his interest,” said Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

* * * * *

In 1969, 25-year-old Joe McGinnis became famous overnight with the publication of his first book, The Selling of the President. 

At the time, Americans were shocked to learn how Presidential candidate Richard Nixon had been sold to voters like any other product. In fact, the original book jacket featured Nixon’s face on a pack of cigarettes. 

Today, Madison Avenue doesn’t simply sell Americans their Presidents. Now—with Donald J. Trump—Americans have a President determined to turn the White House into Trump, Inc. 

A single example will serve to illustrate: 

On January 27, Trump signed an executive order that:

  • Suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days;
  • Barred Syrian refugees indefinitely; and
  • Blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Three countries not covered by Trump’s travel ban are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey.

Approximately 3,000 Americans have been killed by immigrants from these countries—most of them during the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Not-so-coincidentally, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey are all countries where President Trump has close business ties. His properties include two luxury towers in Turkey and golf courses in the United Arab Emirates.

The full dimensions of Trump’s holdings throughout the Middle East aren’t known because he has refused to release his tax returns.

PATRIOTISM IS OUT, GREED IS IN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 24, 2017 at 12:03 am

Fifty-six years after John F. Kennedy gave his first and only Inaugural Address, these words remain its single most-quoted sentence: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

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John F. Kennedy Inaugural

So millions of Americans who were alive that day—January 20, 1961—were probably shocked when they learned that Melania Trump had a very different view of government service.

On August 20, 2016, The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, published a story accusing her of having once worked as a prostitute.

The newspaper cited a Slovenian magazine’s report that a modeling agency that she worked with in New York in the 1990s also served as an escort business, linking wealthy clients with women for sexual services.

On September 1, Melania sued The Daily Mail in a state court in Montgomery County, Maryland. In early 2017, the Maryland court dismissed the case, saying it did not have jurisdiction.

On February 6, 2017, Melania filed another libel suit against The Daily Mail in the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Required to prove that she had been harmed in some way, Melania did not cite undeserved shame or how much her family and friends had been hurt.

Instead, she argued that the article had ruined her “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to cash in on the Presidency.

Melania Trump

Melania Trump

According to the complaint that her attorney filed: 

“Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person…to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world,” the Manhattan suit says.  

“These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance. 

“The [statements] also constitute defamation per se because they impugned on her fitness to perform her duties as First Lady of the United States.”

Melania is alleging $150 million in damages.

Enter the Emoluments Clause.

This is a United States government law that specifically forbids any leader from using government services to “enrich” the President and his family.

Among the greatest dangers facing the newly-created American government, feared the Founding Fathers, was foreign interference. And this could be obtained through the use of bribes—–money or gifts.

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The Founding Fathers of the United States

To prevent this, the Founders inserted the Emoluments Clause into Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution:

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

This illustrates one of the dangers of bringing a libel or slander suit.

(NOTE: Libel is a written defamation; slander is a spoken one)

Whoever brings the suit must open himself to unprecedented privacy-invading questions. And, in answering them, he may unintentionally give away revelations that can prove highly damaging.

Such as the revelation—in Melania Trump’s case—that, from the outset, she intended to use her position as First Lady to enrich herself.

Another Trump seeking to find out “what the country can do for you” is the President’s daughter, Ivanka.

Starting in 2016, Shannon Coulter, a brand and digital strategist, started the Grab Your Wallet boycott aimed at more than 30 retailers who carry Ivanka’s line of fashion apparel.

Image result for Images of Grab Your Wallet campaign

Among the retailers targeted:

  • Amazon.com
  • Belk
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Bed, Bath and Beyond
  • Burlington Coat Factory
  • Century 21
  • DSW
  • Macy’s
  • Marshalls
  • TJ Maxx
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom
  • Overstock.com
  • Ross
  • Saks Off Fifth
  • Sears
  • Walmart
  • Zappos

During the first week of February, Nordstrom told The Seattle Times that it would no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing and accessories.

Nordstrom said the decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line was based on poor sales performance.

“We’ve got thousands of brands,” said a Nordstrom spokesman. “Each year we cut about 10 percent and refresh our assortment with about the same amount. In this case, based on the brand’s performance we’ve decided not to buy it for this season.”

President Trump had often boasted that he would defend the free enterprise system against an intrusive Federal government.

But for a major department store to drop his daughter’s clothing line was too much.

Turning to Twitter, his favorite weapon of insult, the President tweeted: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person—always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Trump drafted other members of his administration to attack Nordstrom.

One of these was then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Spicer said that the store’s decision to stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories line was nothing less than an attack on the president’s policies and his daughter.

“”I think this is less about his family’s business and an attack on his daughter. He ran for President, he won, he’s leading this country.

“I think for people to take out their concern about his actions or his executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success.”

But even more was to come.

AOL: WORKING HARD TO COMMIT SUICIDE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Social commentary on October 18, 2017 at 12:06 am

When the movie, You’ve Got Mail appeared in 1998, no one needed to be told that America Online (AOL) would be prominently featured.

It was through AOL that the two main characters in this romantic comedy—Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan—found offline happiness through an online romance.

You've Got Mail.jpg

The film was aptly timed to boost AOL’s popularity. By 1997, about half of all American homes with Internet access had it through AOL.

Founded in 1983, AOL began  began as a short-lived venture called Control Video Corporation (or CVC). Its sole product was an online service called GameLine for the Atari 2600 video game console.

Subscribers bought a modem from the company for $50 and paid a one-time $15 setup fee.

On May 24, 1985, Quantum Computer Services, an online services company, was founded by Jim Kimsey from the remnants of Control Video.

Kimsey changed the company’s strategy, and in 1985, launched a dedicated online service.

During the early 1990s, the average subscription lasted for about 25 months and accounted for $350 in total revenue.  AOL greatly expanded its customer rolls by distributing free AOL trial disks through companies like The Good Guys and Circuit City. At one point, 50% of the CDs produced worldwide had an AOL logo.

By 1997, about half of all U.S. homes with Internet access had it through AOL.  

AOL’s Silicon Valley branch office

Over the next several years, AOL launched services with the a wide range of educational organizations, including:

  • The National Education Association
  • NPR
  • The American Federation of Teachers
  • National Geographic
  • The Library of Congress.

A big draw for AOL customers was its “Instant Messenger” service. Launched in 1997, it allowed AOL members to “chat” with each other. No other online service had anything like it, and AOL refused to share the technology that made this possible.

(Eventually, an anti-monopoly lawsuit by the Justice Department forced AOL to share its “Instant Messenger” technology with its online rivals.)  

By 1998, anyone with an Internet-connected computer could access AOL for free.  Its revenues were now driven by ads companies eagerly paid to showcase their services or products.

In January 2000, AOL and Time Warner announced plans to merge, forming AOL Time Warner, Inc.  AOL shareholders would own 55% of the new, combined company. The deal closed on January 11, 2001.

At the time, it seemed a merger made in heaven.  It would supposedly allow Time Warner to digitise its content and reach out to a new online audience.  And AOL would gain access to Time Warner’s cable systems, innovative broadband capability and additional content to provide to its 27 million customers.

Yet by 2002 the merger resulted in a net loss of $99 billion, the largest loss ever reported by a company.  By 2009, the merger-marriage was over. Time Warner Chief Jeff Bawkes called it “the biggest mistake in corporate history.”

In June, 2017, AOL warned its customers that, starting in August, they would have to pay about $5 a month to access its services. The company was switching to a “new, improved” version called AOL Gold.

As usually happens when new software is launched, there were bugs all around in it. A complainant to the Pissed Consumer website wrote:

“If I have to pay I don’t want to see ads all over my mail, reading or when I’m writing. Send to later folder is all messed up. It seems to crash more & runs slower….

“I read an email & clicked on ‘mark unread’ when I tried to pull it back up I only got the heading but NOT the info. Trying to send email to a group of friends & being told there is a problem, but no idea what is wrong.  I always used this group in my 9.8 desktop with no problems.”

And another customer wrote: “Aol gold sucks.90% of the time I get error to load account.”

A third customer: “Spent 4.5 hours waiting for aol gold to import my old pfc [Private Filing Cabinet–where emails are stored] only to find it imported the wrong version of my favorites…. Then spent 3.5 hours on a remote tech call where he repeatedly uninstalled and reinstalled gold with the same results.”

Other problems include:

  • AOL shutting off immediately after sending an email
  • The lack of a “Clear Toolbar History” function (as was available on the “old” AOL)
  • The inability to transfer an image from the Internet (such as a beautiful seascape) to the desktop (another feature that was also available previously)

Customers who call AOL’ at (888) 265-3733 and press “1” for “support on your existing AOL account” automatically get transferred to the billing department.  So anyone seeking technical help needs to press “2”.

But AOL apparently doesn’t have enough techs trained in its new Gold technology.  So there is usually a long wait before one of them comes on the phone.  This means that if you’re calling on a cell phone, you can easily run out of battery time before your problem is resolved.

Then, in early October, AOL announced that, on December 15, it would shut down its Instant Messenger service.

The reason: Competing “chat” systems—such as texting, Gchat and Facebook—have replaced Instant Messenger as go-to forms of communication.

Nor does AOL plan to replace its Instant Messenger service.

Perhaps only the movie business can rival AOL for sheer self-destructiveness. Once “the big dog on the block,” AOL now risks the fate of dogs sent to the pound.

HOW TO END GUN MASSACRES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 3, 2017 at 12:02 am

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one—no matter where he lives or what he does—can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Senator Robert F. Kennedy announcing the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What should the surviving victims of gun massacres do to seek redress?

And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?

Two things:

First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.

Politicians—with rare exceptions—have only two goals:

  1. Get elected to office, and
  2. Stay in office.

And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the NRA to risk its wrath.

Consider Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Both rushed to offer condolences to the surviving victims of the massacre at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012.

And both steadfastly refused to even discuss gun control—let alone support a ban on the type of assault weapons used by James Holmes, leaving 12 dead and 58 wounded.

Second, those who survived the massacre—and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t—should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

  • For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
  • The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.

  • Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
  • Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
  • From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
  • In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
  • Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
  • The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
  • In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs. In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
  • The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices. They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

  • For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”  With guns.

  • The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
  • The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.

  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
  • The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.

  • The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
  • The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program—thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.

  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.

The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence—and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it. Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.

As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses.  And the NRA will rejoice with each one.

But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.

And then the NRA—like the tobacco industry—will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.

Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of these needless tragedies.

MORE DATA SECURITY BREACHES: “WE DON’T CARE–WE DON’T HAVE TO”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on September 12, 2017 at 12:01 am

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on the 1960s comedy hit, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, as Ernestine, the rude, sarcastic switchboard operator for Ma Bell.

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

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

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

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

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

This is especially true for companies that are supposed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information.  

Companies like:

  • Kmart
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Target Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Anthem Insurance 

All these corporations suffered data breeches that exposed tens of millions of individuals’ private information–such as:

  • Names
  • Birthdates
  • Credit card numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Member ID numbers
  • Addresses
  • Email addresses
  • Employment Information
  • Phone numbers

And now hackers have compromised Equifax, the consumer credit reporting agency. 

Image result for Equifax

One out of every two Americans stands to be a victim. Some 143 million consumers’ sensitive data is potentially compromised.

From mid-May to July, 2017, there was a flaw in Equifax’s website software. This allowed hackers to access 143 million Americans’ supposedly private information. Only after this massive robbery had occurred did the company discover the breach and close the loophole.

On September 8, PBS Newshour correspondent William Brangham outlined the dimensions of this catastrophe:

“It’s everything that would be in your credit report. So, it’s Social Security number. It’s your name, it’s your address, it’s your driver’s license information, it’s your employers, it’s your payment history, it’s what bank accounts you have….

“The thing that a thief could do with this information is, one, they could hack into your existing accounts once they have all that information. They could also set up new ones pretending to be John Yang or William Brangham and set up new accounts and then rack up big charges on those.

“So, the great irony here is that Equifax is a company that actually sells identity theft protection, and here it is they have theoretically allowed a huge breach that could trigger a ton of identity theft.

According to Brangham, the two most outrageous aspects of this catastrophe are: 

“[Equifax] found out about this on July 29, and we only found out about this breach on—this week. So, you’re supposed to, in these kinds of cases, immediately jump to do something about it. And it seems like they didn’t give consumers much time.

“And, secondly, several executives at the company, after they found out about the breach, sold about $18.8 million worth of stock in their company before this news got out, the implication being they didn’t want their stock to tank and their stock to lose value.”

Asked, “What are we supposed to do?” Brangham replied:

  • Freeze your credit account—thus blocking anyone from setting up a new bank account, loan or mortgage in your name without you being alerted to it.
  • Alert credit reporting companies Equifax, Transunion and Experian.
  • Monitor your bank and credit cards for suspicious activity.

An October 22, 2014 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raised the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is clearly: No.

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

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care? 

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

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

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

“There’s a short-term mindset and denial of convenience in board rooms,” writes Hering. “Top executives don’t realize their systems are vulnerable and don’t understand the risks. Sales figures and new products are top of mind; shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

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

  • Smart attorneys need to start filing class-action lawsuits against companies that refuse to take steps to protect their customers’ private information. There is a name for such behavior: Criminal negligence. And there are laws carrying serious penalties for it.
  • There must be Federal legislation to ensure that multi-million-dollar fines are levied against such companies—and especially their CEOs—when such data breaches occur.
  • Congress should enact legislation allowing for the prosecution of CEOs whose companies’ negligence leads to such massive data breaches. They should be considered as accessories to crime, and, if convicted, sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Only then will the CEO mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because we’ll lose our money and/or freedom if we don’t.”

TURNING PREDATORS INTO PATRIOTS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on September 6, 2017 at 12:10 am

America can quickly find employment for willing-to-work job-seekers—by installing a nationwide Employers Responsibility Act. Its last seven provisions would read as follows:

(9) Employers refusing to hire would be required to pay an additional “crime tax.”

Sociologists and criminologists agree that “the best cure for crime is a job.” Thus, employers who refuse to hire contribute to a growing crime rate in this Nation. Such non-hiring employers would be required to pay an additional tax, which would be earmarked for agencies of the criminal justice system at State and Federal levels.

(10)  The seeking of “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to or remaining in cities/states would be strictly forbidden. 

Such “economic incentives” usually:

  1. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
  2. allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
  3. allow employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
  4. allow employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

(11)   Employers who continue to make such overtures would be criminally prosecuted for attempted bribery or extortion:  

  1. Bribery, if they offered to move to a city/state in return for “economic incentives,” or
  2. Extortion, if they threatened to move their companies from a city/state if they did not receive such “economic incentives.”

This would protect employees against artificially-depressed wages and unsafe working conditions; protect the environment in which these employees live; and protect cities/states from being pitted against one another at the expense of their economic prosperity. 

(12) The U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor would regularly monitor the extent of employer compliance with the provisions of this act.

Among these measures: Sending  undercover  agents, posing as highly-qualified job-seekers, to apply at companies—and then vigorously prosecuting those employers who  blatantly refused to hire despite their proven economic ability to do so.

This would be comparable to the long-time and legally-validated practice of using undercover agents to determine compliance with fair-housing laws.  

(13)   The Justice Department and/or the Labor Department would be required to maintain a publicly-accessible database on those companies that have been cited, sued and/or convicted for such offenses as:

  • discrimination,
  • harassment,
  • health and/or safety violations or
  • violating immigration laws. 

Employers would be legally required to regularly provide such information to these agencies, so that it would remain accurate and up-to-date.

Such information would arm job applicants with vital information about the employers they were approaching. They could thus decide in advance if an employer is deserving of their skills and dedication.

As matters now stand, employers can legally demand to learn even the most private details of an applicant’s life without having to disclose even the most basic information about themselves and their history of treating employees.

(14)  CEOs whose companies employ illegal aliens would be held directly accountable for the actions of their subordinates.  Upon conviction, the CEO would be sentenced to a mandatory prison term of at least 10 years.

This would prove a more effective remedy for controlling illegal immigration than stationing tens of thousands of soldiers on the U.S./Mexican border. With CEOs forced to account for their subordinates’ actions, they would take drastic steps to ensure their companies complied with Federal immigration laws.

Without employers eager to hire illegal aliens at a fraction of the money paid to American workers, the invasions of illegal job-seekers would quickly come to an end.

(15)  A portion of employers’ existing Federal taxes would be set aside to create a national clearinghouse for placing unemployed but qualified job-seekers.

* * * * *

For thousands of years, otherwise highly intelligent men and women believed that kings ruled by divine right. That kings held absolute power, levied extortionate taxes and sent countless millions of men off to war—all because God wanted it that way.

That lunacy was dealt a deadly blow in 1776 when American Revolutionaries threw off the despotic rule of King George III of England.

But today, millions of Americans remain imprisoned by an equally outrageous and dangerous theory: The Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

Summing up this employer-as-God attitude, Calvin Coolidge still speaks for the overwhelming majority of employers and their paid shills in government: “The man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.”

America can no longer afford such a dangerous fallacy as the Theory of the Divine Right of Employers.

Americans did not win their freedom from Great Britain—and its enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of kings”—-by begging for their rights.

And Americans will not win their freedom from their corporate masters–-and the equally enslaving doctrine of “the divine right of employers”—-by begging for the right to work and support themselves and their families.

Corporations can—and do—spend millions of dollars on TV ads, selling lies—lies such as the “skills gap,” and how if the wealthy are forced to pay their fair share of taxes, jobs will inevitably disappear.

But Americans can choose to reject those lies—and demand that employers behave like patriots instead of predators.

TURNING PREDATORS INTO PATRIOTS: PARTT TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on September 5, 2017 at 12:01 am

An Employers Responsibility Act (ERA) would simultaneously address the following evils for which employers are directly responsible:

  • The loss of jobs within the United States owing to companies’ moving their operations abroad—solely to pay substandard wages to their new employees.
  • The mass firings of employees which usually accompany corporate mergers or acquisitions.
  • The widespread victimization of part-time employees, who are not legally protected against such threats as racial discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.

  • The refusal of many employers to create better than menial, low-wage jobs.
  • The widespread employer practice of extorting “economic incentives” from cities or states in return for moving to or remaining in those areas. Such “incentives” usually absolve employers from complying with laws protecting the environment and/or workers’ rights.
  • The refusal of many employers to provide medical and pension benefits—nearly always in the case of part-time employees, and, increasingly, for full-time, permanent ones as well.
  • Rising crime rates, due to rising unemployment.

Among its provisions:

(1) American companies that close plants in the United States and open others abroad would be forbidden to sell products made in those foreign plants within the United States.

This would protect both American and foreign workers from employers seeking to profit at their expense. American workers would be ensured of continued employment. And foreign laborers would be protected against substandard wages and working conditions.

Companies found violating this provision would be subject to Federal criminal prosecution. Guilty verdicts would result in heavy fines and lengthy imprisonment for their owners and top managers.

(2) Large companies (those employing more than 100 persons) would be required to create entry-level training programs for new, future employees.

These would be modeled on programs now existing for public employees, such as firefighters, police officers and members of the armed services.

Such programs would remove the employer excuse, “I’m sorry, but we can’t hire you because you’ve never had any experience in this line of work.” After all, the Air Force has never rejected an applicant because, “I’m sorry, but you’ve never flown a plane before.”

This Nation has greatly benefited from the humane and professional efforts of the men and women who have graduated from public-sector training programs. There is no reason for the private sector to shun programs that have succeeded so brilliantly for the public sector.

(3) Employers would receive tax credits for creating professional, well-paying, full-time jobs.

This would encourage the creation of better than the menial, dead-end, low-paying and often part-time jobs which exist in the service industry. Employers found using such tax credits for any other purpose would be prosecuted for tax fraud.

(4) A company that acquired another—through a merger or buyout—would be forbidden to fire en masse the career employees of that acquired company.

This would be comparable to the protection existing for career civil service employees. Such a ban would prevent a return to the predatory “corporate raiding” practices of the 1980s, which left so much human and economic wreckage in their wake.

The wholesale firing of employees would trigger the prosecution of the company’s new owners. Employees could still be fired, but only for provable just cause, and only on a case-by-case basis.

(5) Employers would be required to provide full medical and pension benefits for all employees, regardless of their full-time or part-time status.

Increasingly, employers are replacing full-time workers with part-time ones—solely to avoid paying medical and pension benefits.

Requiring employers to act humanely and responsibly toward all their employees would encourage them to provide full-time positions—and hasten the death of this greed-based practice.

(6) Employers of part-time workers would be required to comply with all federal labor laws.

Under current law, part-time employees are not protected against such abuses as discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions. Closing this loophole would immediately create two positive results:

  • Untold numbers of currently-exploited workers would be protected from the abuses of predatory employers; and
  • Even predatorily-inclined employers would be encouraged to offer permanent, fulltime jobs rather than only part-time ones—since a major incentive for offering part-time jobs would now be eliminated.

(7) Employers would be encouraged to hire to their widest possible limits,through a combination of financial incentives and legal sanctions. Among those incentives:

Employers demonstrating a willingness to hire would receive substantial Federal tax credits, based on the number of new, permanent employees hired per year.

Employers claiming eligibility for such credits would be required to make their financial records available to Federal investigators. Employers found making false claims would be prosecuted for perjury and tax fraud, and face heavy fines and imprisonment if convicted.

(8) Among those sanctions: Employers refusing to hire could be required to prove, in court:

  • Their economic inability to hire further employees, and/or
  • The unfitness of the specific, rejected applicant.

Companies found guilty of unjustifiably refusing to hire would face the same penalties as now applying in cases of discrimination on the basis of age, race, sex and disability.

Two benefits would result from this:

  1. Employers would thus fund it easier to hire than to refuse to do so; and
  2. Job-seekers would no longer be prevented from even being considered for employment because of arbitrary and interminable “hiring freeze.”
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