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FOR REPUBLICANS: A WARNING ABOUT CLASS WARFARE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 26, 2018 at 12:07 am

A 2012 book offers timely advice for Republicans who believe that serving the interests of the wealthiest 1% will maintain their party in power.

It’s Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising use of American Power, by David E. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.

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Divided into five sections, it dramatically covers the following subjects:

Afghanistan and Pakistan – How Obama sought to disengage from the former while readying plans to occupy the latter should its growing nuclear arsenal pose a threat to America.

Iran – To prevent the Iranians from building nuclear weapons, Obama authorized a malevolent virus to be inserted into that nation’s computer system.

Drones and Cyber – American drone attacks have wiped out much of Al Qaeda’s leadership—but increasingly strained U.S. relations with Pakistan.  And while America has launched cyber attacks on Iran, it remains vulnerable to similar attacks—especially by China.

Arab Spring – America was totally surprised by the popular revolts sweeping the Arab world.  And Obama had to balance  showing support for the revolutionaries against jeopardizing America’s longtime Arab—and dictatorial—allies.

China and North Korea – The United States found itself financially strained to meet its worldwide military commitments.  This forced Obama to use a both persuasion and containment against both these potential adversaries.

And in its section on the Arab Spring, there is an unintended warning to Republicans and their Right-wing followers.

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David Sanger (Copyright, Creative Commons)

Sanger analyzes why the vast majority of Egyptians felt no solidarity with Hosni Mubarak, the general/dictator who ruled Egypt from 1981 ti 2911. 

Mubarak came to power after Islamic fundamentalists assassinated President Anwar Sadat during a military review. They believed that Sadat had committed the unpardonable crime of signing a peace treaty with Israel.

Mubarack often warned Washington that only he could prevent Egypt from being dominated by fundamentalist, anti-American groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

But, writes Sanger, he achieved the very opposite:

“By leaving his citizens without a social safety net, by failing to invest in the country’s crumbling infastructure…he paved the way for the Brotherhood’s success….

“In a land where the state delivers so little, even the smallest [medical] clinic” as provided by the Brotherhood “will win respect and loyalty.

“So when it came time to vote, most Egyptians decided to cast their ballots for candidates they knew could provide something—Islamist or not, it almost didn’t matter….”

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Hosni Mubarak (Copyright, Presidenza della Repubblica)

One such Brotherhood supporter, who grew up in the poor, agricultural region of Beni Suef, was quoted as saying:

“The Muslim Brotherhood came into my village, and brought lorries of fruits and vegetables,” selling them at discounted prices.  “They supported medical clinics”–and thus won the hearts of the people they served.

Fast forward to Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee, and his vision for America.

As Romney saw it, questions about Wall Street scandals and income inequality were driven only by “envy.”

On January 11, 2012, after winning the New Hampshire primary, Romney appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show.”  Host Matt Lauer noted that many Americans were concerned “about the distribution of wealth and power in this country.”

“I think it’s about envy,” replied Romney, whose own fortune has been conservatively estimated at $250 million. “I think it’s about class warfare.

“I think when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent… you’ve opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of ‘one nation under God.’”

Romney added that it wasn’t necessary to have a public debate about the inequality of wealth distribution in this country.

“I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like,” Romney said. “But the President has made this part of his campaign rally.

“Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it’ll fail.”

Romney did not mention that, in 2007, the richest 1% of the American populace—of which he is a member—owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%.

Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.

Romney claimed that Obama’s focus on this issue was just “part of his campaign rally.”

Clearly, now-ousted rulers like Mubarak and Muammar Quaddaffi believed “it’s fine to talk about these things” like vast differences in wealth “in quiet rooms.”  That is, so long as they and their 1% rich supporters were doing the talking.

But over time their remoteness from the vast majority of their impoverished fellow citizens sealed their doom.  When enough people broke into open revolt, even the military decided to change sides.

Mubarack was forced to resign, and Quaddaffi—after waging war against his own people—was captured and murdered.

If Romney’s—and now Donald Trump’s—vision of “everything for the 1%” is allowed to prevail, they and their ultra-privileged supporters may truly learn the lessons of class warfare.  

DUMBOCRATS AND THEIR COMPUTERS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on April 13, 2018 at 12:06 am

On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The emails were exchanged from January 2015 through May 2016.

These clearly reveal a bias for Hillary Clinton and against her lone challenger, Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders.

One email revealed that Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the DNC, suggested that Sanders, who is Jewish, could be portrayed as an atheist. 

Sanders’ supporters had long charged that the DNC and its chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, were plotting to undercut his campaign. Now thousands of them were outraged to discover that their fears had been confirmed.  

The leak came at a disastrous time for Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, United States Senator from New York and Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

About to receive the Democratic nomination for President, she found herself charged with undermining the electoral process. 

Wasserman-Schultz proved the first casualty of the leak, resigning from her position as chair of the DNC and saying she would not open the Democratic convention as previously scheduled.

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Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

As for Clinton: Her campaign manager, Bobby Mook, blamed the Russians for the leak. Their alleged motive: To help Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Cyber-security experts believed the hackers originated from Russia—-and that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have authorized it.

His alleged motive: Trump had repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Trump believed the United States was paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance—and he wanted other members to contribute far more. He made it clear that if they didn’t—and if he was elected President—they would be on their own if attacked by Russia.

Trump took to twitter to offer his take on the release: “How much BAD JUDGEMENT was on display by the people in DNC in writing those really dumb e-mails, using even religion, against Bernie!”  

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Bernie Sanders

Which brings up the obvious question: Why was such sensitive information entrusted to computers that could be hacked? 

This is not the first time a major corporation or government agency has fallen prey to hackers.

Name-brand companies, trusted by millions, have been hit with massive data breaches that compromised their customers’ and/or employees’ most sensitive financial and personal information.

Among those companies and agencies:

  • Target
  • Kmart
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Anthem, Inc.
  • Sony Pictures
  • The U.S. State Department
  • The Pentagon
  • The Office of Personnel Management

Perhaps the most notorious target hacked was Ashley Madison, the website for cheating wives and husbands. Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan was: “Life is short. Have an affair.”  

On July 15, 2015, its more than 37 million members learned that highly embarrassing secrets they had entrusted to Ashley Madison had been compromised.

This included their sexual fantasies, matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.

A website offering cheating services to those wealthy enough to afford high-priced fees is an obvious target for hackers. After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true.  

And the same is true for computers of one of the two major political parties of the United States. 

Among the secrets unearthed in the WikiLeaks document-dump: Plans by Democratic party officials to reward large donors and prominent fundraisers with lucrative appointments to federal boards and commissions.

Most of the donors listed gave to Clinton’s campaign. None gave to Sanders.

According to Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group: 

“The disclosed DNC emails sure look like the potential Clinton Administration has intertwined the appointments to federal government boards and commissions with the political and fund raising operations of the Democratic Party. That is unethical, if not illegal.”  

Centuries before the invention of computers–and the machinery needed to hack into them–Niccolo Machiavelli offered cautionary advice to those thinking of entering into a conspiracy.  He did so in his masterwork on politics, The Discourses.  

Niccolo Machiavelli

Unlike his better-known work, The Prince, which deals with how to secure power, The Discourses lays out rules for preserving liberty within a republic.

In Book Three, Chapter Six (“Of Conspiracies”) he writes:

“I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the ‘Yes’ of one man is worth as much as the ‘No’ of another. 

“And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting.”

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, ordered the execution of the popular Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, claiming that he had aided Britain and plotted against France.

The aristocracy of Europe, still recalling the slaughters of the French Revolution, was shocked. 

Asked for his opinion on the execution, Napoleon’s chief of police, Joseph Fouche, said: “It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.”  

This may prove to be history’s verdict on the storing of so many incriminating computer files by the DNC.

LOAN-TEST CEOS LIKE WELFARE APPLICANTS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 4, 2018 at 1:26 am

Robert Benmosche, the CEO of American International Group (AIG) had some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work.

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in a 2013 interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

As is typical of one-percenters, Benmosche blamed willing-to-work college graduates for the refusal of rich employers to offer jobs instead of excuses.

AIG’s way of “accepting the hand that’s been dealt you in life” was to go crying to the Federal Government for a bailout loan—which eventually ballooned to $182 billion.

If college graduates should “deal with” the hardships of finding a responsible, hiring-inclined employer with a stiff upper lip, as Benmosche advised, the same advice should work wonders on greed-fueled CEOs.

Greed-test CEOs for future government loans.

After all, drug-testing welfare recipients has become the new mantra for Republicans.

Some bills have even targeted people who seek unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence that the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to CEOs of the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

In 2008, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before Congress about the origins of the Wall Street “meltdown.”

He admitted that he was “shocked” at the breakdown in U.S. credit markets and said he was “partially” wrong to resist regulation of some securities.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity—myself especially—are in a state of shocked disbelief,” said Greenspan, who had ruled the Fed from 1987 to 2006. 

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Alan Greenspan

As a disciple of the right-wing philosopher, Ayan Rand, Greenspan had fiercely held to her belief that “The Market” was a divine institution. As such, “it” alone knew what was best for the nation’s economic prosperity.

“Enlightened self-interest,” he believed, would guarantee that those who dedicated their lives to making money would not allow mere greed to steer them—and the country—into disaster.

As he saw it, any attempt to regulate greed-based appetites could only harm that divine institution.

This had been the prevailing attitude among businessmen prior to the 1929 Wall Street crash that brought on the Great Depression. It proved wrong then.

And it proved wrong for Greenspan—and the country—in 2008. And the nation will be literally paying for such misguided confidence in profit-addicted men for decades to come.

So if Republicans want to protect the “poor, oppressed taxpayer,” they should demand background investigations for those whose addiction truly threatens the economic future of this country.

That is: The men (and occasionally women) who run the nation’s most important financial institutions, such as banks, insurance and mortgage companies.

Thus, in the future, all CEOs—and their families and topmost executives—of financial institutions seeking Federal bailouts should be required to:

  • Undergo “full field investigations” by the FBI and IRS.
  • Submit full financial disclosure forms concerning not only themselves but all members of their immediate families.
  • Be subject to Federal prosecution for perjury if they provide false information or conceal evidence of criminal violations.
  • Periodically submit themselves for additional background investigation.
  • Be subject to arrest, indictment and prosecution if the background investigation turns up evidence of criminal activity.

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In addition:

  • If a bailout-seeking financial institution refuses to comply with these criteria, it should be refused the loan.
  • If a CEO and/or other top officials are judged ineligible for a loan, the company should be asked to replace those executives with others who might qualify.
  • Those alternative executives should be subject to the same background investigation requirements as just outlined.
  • If the institution refuses to replace those executives found ineligible, the Government should refuse the loan.
  • If the Government is forced to take over a troubled financial institution, its CEO and top executives should be replaced with applicants who have passed the required security screening.

The United States has a long and embarrassing history in worshiping wealth for its own sake. Part of this can be traced to the old Calvinistic doctrine that wealth is a proof of salvation, since it shows evidence of God’s favor.

“The man who builds a factory,” eulogized President Calvin Coolidge, “builds a temple. And the man who works there, worships there.”

Another reason for this worship of mammon is the belief that someone who is wealthy is automatically endowed with wisdom and integrity. If that were true, Mafia bosses would be the moral equivalent of Saint Augustine.

Following these beliefs to their ultimate conclusion will transform the United States into a plutocracy—a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.

Every day—from President Donald Trump on down—we see fresh evidence of the destruction wrought by the unchecked greed of wealthy, powerful men.

When they—and their paid shills in Congress—demand, “De-regulate business,” it’s essential to remember what this really means.

It means: “Let criminals be criminals.”

LOAN-TEST CEOS LIKE WELFARE APPLICANTS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 3, 2018 at 12:13 am

The late Robert Benmosche, then CEO of American International Group (AIG), had some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work in a tight job market.

Robert Benmosche

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in a 2013 interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

Typical advice from a one-percenter whose company, AIG, suffered a liquidity crisis when its credit ratings were downgraded below “AA” levels in September, 2008.

So how did AIG “deal with” its own crisis?  It went crying to its Uncle Sugar, the United States Government, for a bailout.

Which it promptly got.

The United States Federal Reserve Bank, on September 16, 2008, made an $85 billion loan to AIG to meet increased collateral obligations resulting from its credit rating downgrade–and thus saving it from certain bankruptcy.

In return, the Government took an 80% stake in the firm.

(The bailout eventually ballooned to $182 billion in exchange for a 92% stake.)

College graduates, said Benmosche, needed to seize the opportunities that become available to them, even if their options are limited.

“They want me to talk to the students and give them a sense of encouragement, especially with the high unemployment,” said Benmosche.

“My advice will be, ‘Whatever opportunity comes your way, take it. Take it and treat it as if it’s the only one that’s coming your way, because that actually may be the truth.’” 

Yes, if you have the opportunity to cry yourself into a multi-billion dollar loan from the Federal Government, by all means, do so.

Of course, willing-to-work college graduates who can’t find willing-to-hire employers won’t be able to count on a generous bailout from the Federal Government.

To which most of them will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.

It’s long past time to apply to “untouchable” CEOs like Robert Benmosche the same criteria that Right-wing Republicans demand be applied to welfare recipients.

Republican lawmakers have vigorously pursued welfare drug-testing in Congress and more than 30 states.

Some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

For example:

  • The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has invested $118.5 billion in restoring liquidity to the financial markets.
  • Federal Reserve rescue efforts: $1.5 trillion invested.
  • Federal stimulus programs designed to save or create jobs and jumpstart the economy from recession. $577.8 billion invested.
  • American International Group: Multifaceted bailout to help insurers through restructuring, minimize the need to post collateral and get rid of toxic assets. $127.4 billion invested.
  • FDIC bank takeovers: Cost to FDIC fund that insures losses depositors suffer when a bank fails. $45.4 billion invested.
  • Other financial initiatives designed to rescue the financial sector. $366.4 billion invested.
  • Other housing initiatives designed to rescue the housing market and prevent foreclosures. $130.6 billion invested.

According to the Special Inspector General for the TARP bailout, the total commitment of government is $16.8 trillion dollars with the $4.6 trillion already paid out. 

And it’s equally important to remember that welfare recipients did not:

  • Hold CEO positions at any of the banks so far bailed out;
  • Run such insurance companies as American International Group (AIG);
  • Administer the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac;
  • Command the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae.

The 2010 documentary Inside Job chronicles the events leading to the 2008 global financial crisis. One of its most insightful moments occurs at a party held by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“We can’t control our greed,” the CEO of a large bank admits to his fellow guests. “You should regulate us more.”

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or goods. At its worst, greed trumps rationality, judgment and concern about the damage it may cause.

Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain. A neurotransmitter called dopamine fuels our greed. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the greater the pleasure we experience.

Cocaine, for example, directly increases dopamine levels. So does money.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

Dopamine is most reliably activated by an experience we haven’t had before. We crave recreating that experience.

But snorting the same amount of cocaine, or earning the same sum of money, does not cause dopamine levels to increase. So the pleasure-seeker must increase the amount of stimuli to keep enjoying the euphoria.

In time, this incessant craving for pleasure becomes an addiction. And feeding that addiction–-with ever more money–becomes the overriding goal.

Thus, the infamous line—”Greed is good”—in the 1987 film, Wall Street, turns out to be both false and deadly for all concerned. 

But the situation need not remain this way.

THE PARKLAND SCHOOL MASSACRE: WHERE BLAME REALLY LIES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 28, 2018 at 12:08 am

On February 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz slaughtered two faculty members and 15 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

His weapon of choice: An AR-15 assault rifle, often favored by gun massacre killers. 

Since then, the National Rifle Association (NRA), President Donald Trump and their shills (paid and unpaid) have sought to distract attention from the reason for the massacre: Easy access to military assault weaponry by virtually anyone. 

Among those they have blamed:

  • “The elites” (who, says Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, “don’t care about America’s schoolchildren”);
  • Unarmed school teachers (who should have been armed);
  • Cruz’ neighbors and classmates (who didn’t report his obsession with violence to police);
  • The media (who “love mass shootings,” according to Dana Loesch, the NRA’s spokeswoman);
  • The FBI (which fumbled tips that Cruz was a live grenade waiting to go off). 
  • Scot Peterson (the armed school resource officer who stayed outside the school as the shooting unfolded).

According to a series of police reports, Cruz suffered from mental illness and was on behavioral medication. The records described fights at home—and his mother’s fear that Cruz was out of control even as an adolescent.

Nikolas Cruz

Even so, it was not mental illness that made it possible for Cruz to slaughter 17 innocent students and faculty.  

It was his access to military-style firepower.

Without that, all he could have done was fantasize about inflicting torment on others. Having access to that firepower allowed him to make his fantasies come true.

And who made it possible for Cruz to obtain that firepower? Those Republicans who are literally on the payroll of the NRA. 

To start at the top: President Donald Trump. In 2016, the NRA spent more than $30 million to support him and defeat his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump

And that investment has already paid off: In February, 2017, Trump signed a bill making it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns. This repealed an Obama-era regulation that restricted the rights of seriously incapacitated people to own death-dealing firepower.

In fact, during the 2016 election, the NRA and its affiliate, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, spent a total of $54 million. The vast majority of these monies went to support Republicans or oppose Democrats.

Even so, the NRA has been willing to open its pocketbook to Democrats willing to toe the organization’s line. Rep. Sanford Bishop, of Georgia, has received about $47,000 during his tenure in Congress. 

From January 1 to mid-February, 2018, the NRA has spent absolutely nothing to support Democrats, and $337,000 to oppose them.

Then there are Florida’s Republican legislators. All of the following received contributions from the NRA during the 2016 election cycle: 

  • Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis: $2,000 
  • Rep. Carlos Curbelo: $2,500 
  • Rep. Ted Yoho: $1,000 
  • Rep. Daniel Webster: $1,000
  • Rep. John Rutherford: $1,000 
  • Sen. Marco Rubio: $9,900 
  • Rep. Dennis Ross: $2,000 
  • Rep. Tom Rooney: $2,000 
  • Rep. Bill Posey: $2,000 
  • Rep. Brian Mast: $4,950 
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz: $1,000 
  • Rep. Neal Dunn: $1,000 
  • Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart: $2,000 Rep.
  • Ron DeSantis: $1,000 

Then there is Florida Governor Rick Scott

In 2014, Scott won the praise of the NRA’s Political Victory Fund: “Rick has signed more pro-gun bills into law in one term than any other governor in Florida history.”  All of this resulted in his getting an “A+” rating from the organization. 

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Rick Scott

And what has all this highly-paid political influence bought? 

  • An AR-15 rifle—designed to kill the maximum number of people—is legally easier to obtain than a handgun. 
  • Federal law requires gun buyers to be 21 before buying a handgun. But in Florida, an AR-15 can be purchased at age 18.
  • Residents aren’t required to register their gun.
  • But Floridians must be 21 to buy an alcoholic beverage.
  • No permit or license is needed to buy a gun.
  • No permit is needed to conceal carry a rifle or shotgun; one is required to conceal carry a handgun.
  • The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is required to issue a concealed carry permit to anyone who desires one, as long as: S/he is an American citizen; 21 or older; without a felony conviction; and can prove that s/he is competent with a firearm.
  • Floridians can buy as many guns as they want at one time.
  • Florida does not regulate assault weapons, .50-caliber rifles and large capacity ammunition magazines.  
  • Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law allows for the use of deadly force without any obligation to try to avoid violence.  

And when criminals and/or the criminally insane turn the weaponry they have legally purchased onto scores of defenseless men, women and children, the NRA again benefits. 

For example: One week after the mass slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida legislators voted 71-36 against a measure to consider a ban on semi-automatic weapons. 

Yet they declared pornography a public health risk. The bill “recognizes public health risk created by pornography & acknowledges need for education, prevention, research, & policy change to protect citizens of this state.”

Almost all the lawmakers who voted against an assault rifle ban have an “A” rating from the NRA.

Watching in stunned disbelief and outrage were 100 Marjory Stoneman High School students. They had traveled 400 miles from Parkland to the state capital in Tallahassee, hoping to speak with legislators and Governor Scott.  

GIVE ME THAT GUN-TIME RELIGION

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 27, 2018 at 12:12 am

On February 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz slaughtered two faculty members and 15 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

His weapon of choice: An AR-15 assault rifle, often favored by gun massacre killers.

Eight days later, on February 22, Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, attacked those he held responsible for the series of massacres plaguing American schools.

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Wayne LaPierre

And it wasn’t crazed gunmen armed with automatic weapons designed for military use. 

With funerals still being planned for some of the victims, LaPierre blamed “the elites,” “saboteurs” and “new European-style socialists” for this and other gun massacres.

He did so at the Conservative Political Action Conference (C-PAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

“They hate the NRA, they hate the Second Amendment,” said LaPierre, like an Old Testament prophet addressing his fanatical congregation.

“They hate individual freedom. In the rush of calls for more government, they have also revealed…their true selves.

“The elites do not care about America’s schoolchildren. If they truly cared, they would protect them. For them, it is not a safety issue. It is a political issue. 

“Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms, so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

His C-PAC congregation gave him a wild ovation. 

He then outlined his solution for protecting America’s schoolchildren: Turning schools into virtual concentration camps patrolled by heavily-armed security guards. 

And he accused the Democratic party of being “infested with saboteurs who do not believe in capitalism, do not believe in the Constitution, do not believe in our freedom, and do not believe in America as we know it.”

These “saboteurs” were “new European-style socialists.”

Which was ironic: In 2016, the NRA spent $30 million to elect Donald Trump—who fiercely defends Russian Communist dictator Vladimir Putin against the FBI, NSA and CIA.

But perhaps the highlight of LaPierre’s speech came at its close: “And there is no greater personal, individual freedom than the right to keep and bear arms, the right to protect yourself, and the right to survive.

“It is not bestowed by man, but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright.”

Anyone who’s seen the 1970 sci-fi movie, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, remembers the final scene: Where seemingly normal underground dwellers strip off their human face masks and reveal themselves to be radiation-scarred mutants.

They wear white robes, and stand silently during a sermon or shout “Amen!” in what is clearly a dark parody of a religious service. It’s immediately clear what they are worshiping: An atomic bomb standing upright.

Image result for Images of bomb worshipers in Beneath the Planet of the Apes

And they pay tribute to the engine of obliteration that has destroyed human civilization and brought about a world ruled by apes.

Their leader, Mendez, chants:

“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen. 

“His sound has gone out to all lands, and his light unto the end of the world.

“Almighty and everlasting Bomb, who came down among us to make Heaven under Earth. Lighten our darkness. O instrument of God—grant us thy peace!”

Reading Wayne LaPierre’s eulogy to the Gun and his passionate invoking of God, it’s easy to re-imagine his giving a slightly altered version of the sermon offered in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. It’s also easy to imagine this taking place during an NRA convention.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: The heavens declare the glory of the Gun. And the body-count showeth His handiwork.

NRA CONGREGATION: His sound is gone out to all lands; and his Light unto the end of the world.

WAYNE LAPIEREE: He descendeth from the outermost part of Heaven; and there is nothing hid from the lead thereof. There is neither speech nor language after His voice is heard among them.

NRA CONGREGATION: Praise Him! Praise Him! My Strength and my Reddemer!

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Glory be to the Gun, and to the Holy Bodycount! As it was in the Beginning, is now and ever shall be, massacres without end. Amen!

NRA CHORUS: Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Almighty and everlasting Gun, who came down among us to make Heaven unto Earth. Lighten our darkness with your muzzle flashes. O instrument of God, grant us They peace.

NRA CHOIR: Almighty Gun, who destroyed all men—to create corpses! Behold His glory!

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Behold that Truth that abides in us. To reveal that Truth unto that Maker.

WAYNE LAPIERRE AND NRA CONGREGATION: I reveal my inmost self unto my God.

NRA CHORUS (singing): Unto my God!

NRA CONGREGATION (singing):

All guns bright and beautiful. All creatures dead with lead.

The good Gun makes us what we are!

He takes out eyes to see with, and lips that might yet speak. How great the Gun Almighty, who has made all things dead. Amen!

WAYNE LAPIERRE: May the Blessing of the Gun Almighty and the fellowship of the Holy Bodycount descend on us all, this night and forevermore! 

* * * * * *  

In 2012, a psychotic gunman slaughtered 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since then, at least 239 school shootings have erupted nationwide, killing 138 people and wounding 438.

YOUR FRIENDS AT THE NRA: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 21, 2018 at 12:03 am

Among the major accomplishments of the National Rifle Association:

  • The NRA has steadfastly defended the right to own Teflon-coated “cop killer” bullets,” whose only purpose is to penetrate bullet-resistant vests worn by law enforcement officers.

  • The NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, is responsible for the “stand-your-ground” ordinances now in effect in more than half the states. These allow for the use of deadly force in self-defense, without any obligation to attempt to retreat first.
  • In 2012, the NRA rushed to the defense of accused murderer George Zimmerman, the self-appointed “community watchman” who  ignored police orders to stop following 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and ended up shooting him.
  • Police did not initially charge Zimmerman because of Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law, which the NRA had rammed through the legislature.

George Zimmerman

  • On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman shot unarmed Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a “hoodie.” In March, the NRA issued its own version of a “hoodie”–the Concealed Carry Hooded Sweatshirt, designed to hide firearms.  Selling on the NRA’s website for $60 to $65, it is advertised thusly:
  • “Inside the sweatshirt you’ll find left and right concealment pockets. The included Velcro®-backed holster and double mag pouch can be repositioned inside the pockets for optimum draw. Ideal for carrying your favorite compact to mid-size pistol, the NRA Concealed Carry Hooded Sweatshirt gives you an extra tactical edge, because its unstructured, casual design appears incapable of concealing a heavy firearm—but it does so with ease!”
  • Anyone—including convicted criminals—can buy these “hide-a-gun” sweatshirts, putting both the public and law enforcers at deadly risk.
  • The NRA often claims that law-abiding citizens defend themselves with guns millions of times every year. But the FBI has determined that, of the approximately 11,000 gun homicides every year, fewer than 300 are justifiable self-defense killings.
  • The NRA supports loopholes that allow criminals to buy guns without background checks, or allow terrorists to buy all the AK-47s they desire.
  • The NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, tried to defeat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Yet the President meekly signed legislation allowing guns to be brought into national parks and onto Amtrak trains. Since becoming Chief Executive, he made no effort to curb gun violence.

  • High-capacity magazines were prohibited under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  It expired in 2004. The NRA—aided by the Bush administration and Republicans generally—easily overcame efforts to renew the ban.
  • Political scientist Robert Spitzer, author of the book The Politics of Gun Control, notes that since the passage of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the assault weapons ban in 1994, state and national laws have been drifting toward more open gun access:
  • “In 1988, there were about 18 states that had state laws that made it pretty easy for civilians to carry concealed hand guns around in society. By 2011, that number is up to 39 or 40 states having liberalized laws, depending on how you count it, and the NRA has worked very diligently at the state level to win political victories there, and they’ve really been quite successful.”
  • On January 8, 2011, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents outside a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store. Also killed was Arizona’s chief U.S. District judge, John Roll, who had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after celebrating Mass. The total number of victims: six dead, 13 wounded. Severely brain-damaged, Giffords was forced to resign her Congressional seat.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after being shot

  • “The NRA’s response to the Tucson shootings has been to say as little as possible and to keep its head down,” said Spitzer.  “And their approach even more has been to say as little as possible and to simply issue a statement of condolence to the families of those who were injured or killed and to wait for the political storm to pass over and then to pick up politics as usual.” 
  • This has been the NRA’s reaction after every mass shooting.
  • In the spring of 2012, the House Oversight Committee prepared to vote on whether to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for allegedly refusing to provide documents related to “Fast and Furious.” This was an undercover operation launched by the Bush administration to track firearms being sold to Mexican drug cartels.
  • The NRA notified Congressional members that how they voted would reflect how the NRA rated them in “candidate evaluations” for the November elections. This amounted to blatant extortion, since the NRA had long accused Holder of having an “anti-gun” agenda.

Summing up the current state of gun politics in America, the April 21, 2012 edition of The Economist noted:

“The debate about guns is no longer over whether assault rifles ought to be banned, but over whether guns should be allowed in bars, churches and colleges.”

That is precisely the aim of the NRA—an America where anyplace, anytime, can be turned into the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral – October 26, 1881

And that is precisely what the United States is fast becoming.

Except, so far, the vast majority of victims have not been armed gunfighters but unarmed innocents. And it’s been the “gun rights” types whom the NRA supports who have done the killing.

YOUR FRIENDS AT THE NRA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 20, 2018 at 12:05 am

On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists snuffed out the lives of 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

World Trade Center – September 11, 2001

But within less than a month, American warplanes began carpet-bombing Afghanistan, whose rogue Islamic “government” refused to surrender Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks.

By December, the power of the Taliban was broken—and bin Laden was driven into hiding in Pakistan.

For more than 16 years, the United States—through its global military and espionage networks—has relentlessly hunted down most of those responsible for that September carnage.

On May 1, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS invaded bin Laden’s fortified mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan—and shot him dead.

U.S. Navy SEALs

Now, consider these statistics of death, supplied by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

  • One in three people in the U.S. knows someone who has been shot.
  • On average, 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 151 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room.
  • Every day on average, 55 people kill themselves with a firearm.
  • Another 46 people are shot or killed in an accident with a gun.
  • U.S. firearm homicide rates are 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.
  • A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
  • More than one in five U.S. teenagers (ages 14 to 17) report having witnessed a shooting.
  • An average of seven children and teens under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.
  • American children die by guns 11 times as often as children in other high-income countries.
  • Youth (ages 0 to 19) in the most rural U.S. counties are as likely to die from a gunshot as those living in the most urban counties.
  • Rural children die of more gun suicides and unintentional shooting deaths.
  • Urban children die more often of gun homicides.
  • Firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death (after motor vehicle crashes) for young people ages 1-19 in the U.S.
  • Medical treatment, criminal justice proceedings, new security precautions, and reductions in quality of life are estimated to cost U.S. citizens $100 billion annually.
  • The lifetime medical cost for all gun violence victims in the United States is estimated at $2.3 billion, with almost half the costs borne by taxpayers.

In short, in one year on average:

  • More than 114,994 Americans are shot in murders, assault, suicides, suicide attempts, accidents or by police intervention.31,537 people die from gun violence.
  • 11,564 are murdered.
  • 21,037 people kill themselves.
  • 544 people are killed accidentally.
  • 468 are killed by police intervention.
  • 267 die but intent is not known.
  • 81,114 people survive gun injuries.

(These statistics are based on death certificates and estimates from emergency room admissions.)

And who, more than anyone (including the actual killers themselves) has made all this carnage possible?

Your friends at the National Rifle Association (NRA).

But unlike the leadership of Al Qaeda, that of the NRA is not simply known, but celebrated.

Its director, Wayne LaPierre, is courted as a rock star by both Democrats and Republicans seeking NRA political endorsements—and campaign contributions.

Wayne LaPierre

He frequently appears as an honored guest at testimonial dinners and political conventions.

The largest of the 13 national pro-gun groups, the NRA has nearly 4 million members, who focus most of their time lobbying Congress for unlimited “gun rights.”

The NRA claims that its mission is to “protect” the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

NRA members conveniently ignore the first half of that sentence about “a well regulated Militia….”  They simply want everyone to own a gun—and contribute to the NRA.

For the NRA, the Second Amendment is the Constitution, and the rest of the document is a mere appendage.

When Congress ratified the Constitution in 1788, the United States was not a world power.

A mere 26 years later, the British seized and burned Washington, D.C., after repeatedly defeating American armies. On the frontier, settlers had to defend themselves against hostile Indians and marauding bandits.

Only after World War II did the country maintain a powerful standing army during peacetime.

But World War II ended 72 years ago, and today the United States is a far different country than it was in 1788:

  • Its nuclear arsenal can turn any country into thermonuclear ash—anytime an American President decides to do so.
  • Its Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps can target any enemy, anywhere in the world.
  • Its Special Forces—Green Berets, Delta Force and Navy SEALS—are rightly feared by international terrorists.
  • American Intelligence has greatly improved since 9/11. The FBI’s top priority is to prevent  terrorist attacks, not simply investigate them afterward.
  • And waging war on criminals generally are about 836,787 full-time sworn local/state/Federal law enforcement officers.
  • If a criminal flees or conducts business across state lines, powerful Federal law enforcement agencies—such as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration—can put him out of business.

But apparently the NRA hasn’t gotten the word.

STOPPING THE GUN MASSACRES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 19, 2018 at 12:19 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 Republican Presidential candidate 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 spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.

  • 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 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.

WELCOME TO SOCIAL MEDIA. NOW GET LOST

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on January 25, 2018 at 10:39 am

Years ago, Michael Martin, a Los Angeles-based computer repair expert, offered me some advice I have found absolutely essential.

“When you call Technical Support,” he said, “they’re accessing the same information you can get via the computer.

“Most of the time they’re going to have you put the Restore Disk back into the computer and restore it back to default.  It wipes out everything on your computer.  Technical support costs a lot of money for a company—to hell with your data.

“Be very cautious when you get on the phone with any computer company and they advise you to run the Restore Disk.”

Photo of Michael Martin the Pc Expert - Los Angeles, CA, United States

Michael Martin

What Martin said about the unwillingness of computer companies to provide technical support applies just as much to social media websites.

Consider the case of Facebook, the largest social media and networking service. According to its “Newsroom,” it had more than 1.37 billion daily active users on average for September 2017.

Such a huge audience attracts advertisers. And this, in turn, has armed Facebook with total assets of $64.961 billion (2016).  These revenues have given its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, an estimated net worth of $75.2 billion.

Yet, for all the billions pouring into Facebook’s coffers, the company refuses to provide a way for its users to directly contact Facebook headquarters.

This may not seem important. But the following case will demonstrate why it is.

A short while ago, a friend of mine (whom I’ll call Janet) sent Zuckerberg a letter, which opened:

“Today while chatting with someone on Facebook I found myself bounced from the page.  I was instructed to log in again.  When I did so, I got the following message:

  Secure Your Account

Hi Janet, we think your computer is infected with malware, and it’s spreading spam through your Facebook account. We’ll walk you through a few steps to explain more and scan your computer for malware.

“Naturally, my first reaction was to contact Facebook to find out what, exactly, was meant by Spam.  I quickly found, however, that although Facebook’s customers like me have made you a billionaire, they aren’t considered important enough to be provided with direct support for resolving problems like this.

“All that I could do was put a message on file with your ‘Report a Login Issue’ page.  I received no response, so I sent another.  This, too, has gone unanswered.

“At the bottom of the ‘Report a Login Issue’ page is this: “Thanks for taking the time to submit a report.  While we don’t reply to every report, we’ll let you know if we need more details.”

“In short, even after a customer puts a help-request on file with Facebook, s/he has no guarantee that s/he will even receive the courtesy of a reply, let alone the help needed to resolve the problem.

“Is this really what you are proud to call customer service?

“I think it’s entirely appropriate to ask people I don’t know—and who want to roam freely through my computer—exactly what it is they believe is Spam.  Because if it isn’t Spam, there’s no reason for them to be roaming freely through my computer.” 

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

Janet never received a reply from Zuckerberg—nor from anyone subordinate to him.

Facebook is still the most popular social platform on the Internet.  At one time,  AOL was the big dog on the block, too.  And an April 13, 2015 article on CheatSheet warned that history could repeat itself: “Three Reasons Young People Think Facebook is Lame.”

So did a second article, published in Fortune on April 7, 2016: “Facebook Users Are Sharing Fewer Personal Updates and It’s a Big Problem.”

No doubt a major reason for this is the arrogance of Facebook’s censors.

Another friend of mine—Jim—recently got kicked off Facebook after getting this notice:

We removed content you posted

We removed this content because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards

 

The offending post was a news story about Texas Congressman Joe Barton.  It described how he had sent a series of smarmy emails to numerous women—while, of course, posing as a paragon of “family values.”

Jim sent a letter to Facebook’s headquarters at 1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, California 94025.

“If Facebook is going to hold its users to a set of standards, those standards should be clearly and specifically posted.  Certainly a legitimate news story—no matter on what the subject—should fall within allowable posting guidelines.  But apparently Facebook’s anonymous censors do not agree.

“Facebook functions the way the gods of the ancient Greeks were believed to act: In a totally arbitrary manner, whose decisions, however unwarranted, are beyond appeal.”

Many Facebook users have described—on Facebook—how they have been put in “Facebook jail.” One user offended censors by his too-frequent use of the “Like” option. How this violated Facebook’s terms of service was never explained.

During the 2016 Presidential election, Russian trolls used Facebook, Twitter and Google to post misleading articles and comments. These may well have influenced the outcome of that election.

As a result, these companies are now under widening Congressional investigation.

This is no time for social media companies to needlessly offend those who make their profits a reality.

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