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LOVE THE RICH, IGNORE THE REST: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 25, 2019 at 12:15 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise.    

The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

Walter Scheidel - Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2012.jpg

Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

He gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: “Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

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“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling–mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich.

“Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century.

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73-71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

LOVE THE RICH, IGNORE THE REST: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 24, 2019 at 1:21 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. A pointed example:

On June 18, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joe Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. Money is, after all, the lifeblood of all political campaigns, and Biden wanted to guarantee he got more of it than any of his 23 Democratic rivals.

So the former vice president had a message he felt sure would appeal to his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

Biden 2013.jpg

Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

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“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden has talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he’s taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation.

Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March.

Instead, he proposes expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, had a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.

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Among the epochs it covered were the civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth.  They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

BILLIONS FOR BUILDINGS AND WARS, NONE FOR THE POOR

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 30, 2019 at 9:41 am

On April 15, millions across France gasped in horror at the sight of Notre Dame Cathedral going up in flames.  

The Cathedral, perhaps the most iconic building in Paris, is visited by more than 14 million people every year. Built between 1160 and 1345, it has long been one of the most important sites in Christendom. 

A law passed in 1905 classified the cathedral as a Historical Monument and thus the property of the state. But its use is dedicated exclusively to the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics are estimated to comprise between 41% and 88% of France’s population.

But by April 19, for untold numbers of French citizens, horror and sadness had been replaced by anger.  

So what had happened to arouse this? 

First, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation to speak about the fire. In doing so, he totally ignored the violent protests against inequality that have erupted throughout the country since last November.

Low-paid workers and pensioners have accused Macron’s government of favoring the rich. The activists are named Yellow Vests—after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to keep in their cars.

Second, in just a few hours, billionaires pledged hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) to help restore the damaged cathedral.

“You’re there, looking at all these millions accumulating, after spending five months in the streets fighting social and fiscal injustice. It’s breaking my heart,” Ingrid Levavasseur, a founding leader of the movement, told The Associated Press.

“What happened at Notre Dame is obviously a deplorable tragedy. But nobody died,” Levavasseur said. “I’ve heard someone speaking of national mourning. Are they out of their minds?”

“The yellow vests will show their anger against the billion found in four days for stones, and nothing for the needy,” wrote Pierre Derrien on Facebook.

More than $1 billion has been pledged for the cathedral’s restoration, and many French citizens believe the money could be better spent elsewhere. And the billionaires’ donations entitle them to huge tax deductions.

“If they can give dozens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, they should stop telling us there is no money to respond to the social emergency,” CGT trade union leader Philippe Martinez said.

But this is generally how the rich and powerful react to the needs of the neediest.

In 2016, returning to Congress after their traditional summer recess, House Republicans planned to cut $23 billion in food stamps for the poor. This included ending waivers that allowed some adults to get temporary assistance while they were in school or training for a job.  

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

The food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, served more than 46 million Americans and cost $74 billion in 2015. 

Meanwhile, Republicans were eager to spend billions of dollars for another project: An unnecessary war with Syria.

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

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Bill Kristol

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

Another Kristol lie: Hussein planned 9/11 with Osama bin Laden.

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

In a September, 2013 column, Kristol called for a return to slaughter—not only in Syria but Iran as well:

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

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

Among Republican U.S. Senators calling for war were Arizona’s John McCain and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who issued a joint statement:

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

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

Firing of a Tomahawk Cruise missile

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

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

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

Is there a lesson to be learned from all this?

Yes.

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

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

$50,000 – $100,000 COLLEGE DEBT = BABYSITTING JOBS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 4, 2019 at 12:41 am

June is fast approaching. And with it, an annual rite of passage for tens of thousands of college students: Graduation.

That occasion when young innocents formally leave the academic nest to make their way into the harsh realities of the workplace.

Among those harsh realities: The average college graduate faces a debt loan of more than $29,400.

Click here: Student loan debt tops $30,000 per borrower – Oct. 18, 2016

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But wait! There’s something even more demoralizing awaiting these “heirs of tomorrow.”

The discovery that, for all the “we hire only the brightest” rhetoric by employers, having a college degree actually means little to most CEOs.

A new report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity concludes that nearly half of the nation’s recent college graduates hold jobs that don’t require a degree.

In short, many of the jobs they hold aren’t worth the price of that diploma.

From that report:

Increasing numbers of recent college graduates are ending up in relatively low-skilled jobs that, historically, have gone to those with lower levels of educational attainment. This study examines this phenomenon in some detail, concluding:

  • About 48% of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education. Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37% are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma;
  • The proportion of over-educated workers in occupations appears to have grown substantially; in 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15% do in both jobs;
  • About 5,000,000 college graduates are in jobs the BLS says require less than a high-school education;

Click here: Underemployment of College Graduates

But the future isn’t completely bleak—at least not for women willing to transform themselves into glorified babysitters for obscenely-rich families.

Consider a post on Facebook by AC Connections, which describes itself as “a nanny and household placement agency.”

Under the headline, “Growing Nanny Industry Is Enticing More College Graduates,” the ad/article begins:

“As more college graduates leave school and struggle to find work, they’re turning to the nanny industry.

“Many working moms love the idea of a highly-educated, experienced nanny providing individualized care for their children in their own homes. But it can come with a substantial price tag.

“In this challenging economic climate, more college graduates are finding a little spoonful of sugar in the burgeoning nanny industry.

“These ‘modern day Mary Poppinses’ are educated, experienced, and in increasingly high demand.”

The International Nanny Association claims that the average salary is about $16 an hour. 

The ad asserts that “highly qualified and educated nannies in certain locations can make $100,000 or more each year. It’s not uncommon for nannies to start out with salaries comparable to entry-level finance careers.” 

“Modern-day Mary Poppins”: College Graduates Embrace Nannying as Career  https://nbcnews.to/2K82vk7 

Besides the money, says the ad, there are other reasons for becoming a nanny:

“Many love working with children, want a chance to use their college education, or enjoy the role of caretaker.”

“A chance to use their college education”? As in cleaning up spills, changing diapers and feeding baby food to infants. Not to mention all the exciting intellectual exchanges they’ll have with five- and six-year-olds.

So if you’re a college graduate who can’t convince an employer within your chosen profession—such as pharmacy or engineering—to hire you, there’s always the Mary Poppins option.

Or some similar menial “career” that caters to the indulgences of the American plutocracy, for whom $16 an hour amounts to a Snicker’s candy bar for the fast-disappearing middle class.

It should be enough to make you hesitate before signing up for a loan to cover the average $57,000 cost of a public college education.

Or an even larger loan to cover the $132,000 cost of a private college education.

But if you’re still thinking that “employers really respect that degree,” consider this: Job recruiters spend exactly six seconds examining your resume.

According to The Ladders research, recruiters spend an average of “six seconds before they make the initial ‘fit or not fit’ decision” to interview you.

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Not hire you—just meet you. You’ll still have plenty of chances to get shot down during or after the interview.

According to the study, when scanning a resume, recruiters looked at the following items:

  • Your name
  • Current title and company
  • Current position start and end dates
  • Previous title and company
  • Previous position start and end dates
  • Education

That’s it.

Forget about your expertise.

Forget about the time and experience you spent to gain that expertise.

Above all, forget about the fortune you owe in debt to gain an education. 

Fortunately, there is a solution to this despicably unfair situation.

American employers should be legally required to show as much responsibly for hiring as college students are expected to demonstrate in pursuing an education.

Until this happens, those young men and women thinking of committing a big chunk of their time and going into massive debt to pursue a college degree should think twice before doing so.

THE CULPRIT IN DATA-BREACHES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 22, 2019 at 12:18 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.”

Watching Ernestine on Laugh-In was a blast for millions of TV viewers. But facing such corporate arrogance in real-life is no laughing matter.

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—such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

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?

October, 2014 proved a bad month for credit card-using customers of Kmart, Staples and Dairy Queen.

All these corporations reported data breeches involving the theft of credit card numbers of countless numbers of customers.

Earlier breaches had hit Target, Home Depot and JPMorgan/Chase.

And on February 5, 2015, health insurance giant Anthem Inc. announced that hackers had breached its computer system and accessed the medical records of tens of millions of its customers and employees.

Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, said the infiltrated database held records on up to 80 million people.

Among the customers’ information accessed:

  • Names
  • Birthdates
  • Social Security numbers
  • Member ID numbers
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses and
  • Employment information.

Some of the customer data may also include details on their income.

Click here: Anthem hack exposes data on 80 million; experts warn of identity theft – LA Times

Bad as that news was, worse was to come.

A February 5 2015 story by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Anthem stored the Social Security numbers of 80 million customers without encrypting them.

The company believes that hackers used a stolen employee password to access the database

Anthem’s alleged reason for refusing to encrypt such sensitive data: Doing so would have made it harder for the company’s employees to track health care trends or share data with state and Federal health providers.

Anthem spokeswoman Kristin Binns blamed the data breach on employers and government agencies who “require us to maintain a member’s Social Security number in our systems so that their systems can uniquely identify their members.”

She said that Anthem encrypts personal data when it moves in or out of its database—but not where it  is stored.

This is a commonplace practice in the healthcare industry.

The FBI launched an investigation into the hack.

According to an anonymous source, the hackers used malware that has been used almost exclusively by Chinese cyberspies.

Naturally, China has denied any wrongdoing. With a completely straight face, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said:

“We maintain a cooperative, open and secure cyberspace, and we hope that countries around the world will make concerted efforts to that end.”

He also said that the charge that the hackers were Chinese was “groundless.”

Click here: Health Insurer Anthem Didn’t Encrypt Stolen Data – WSJ

Meanwhile, John Hering’s complaints remain as valid today as they did in 2014.

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

DANGER! ONLINE SCAMMERS AHEAD!

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Self-Help, Social commentary on March 21, 2019 at 12:08 am

According to the FBI, Internet scams cost victims more than $1.4 billion in 2017. Among the most popular types of fraud:

  • Email phishing scams
  • Credit card scams
  • Bank loan scams
  • Lottery fee scams
  • Online dating scams
  • “Nigerian Prince” scams

But you can protect yourself. Here’s how to spot the warning signs of fraud.

  • Addressed Generally: “Attention!” “Dear Friend,” “Attention the owner of this email,” “Hello, Dear.” Your name is not mentioned, because this email has been mass-mailed to thousands of intended victims. 
  • Unsolicited:  You’re told that you’ve won a lottery you never entered, or have inherited a fortune from someone you never knew existed.
  • Appeals to Religion: “Hello Beloved in the Lord” or “Yours in Christ” seeks to create a bond with those who deeply believe in God.
  • Misuse of English: Mis-spellings and faulty grammar usually denote someone—probably a foreigner—using English as a second language. Examples: Run-on sentences; “you’re” for “your”; “except” instead of “accept”; “Dear Beneficial” instead of “Dear Beneficiary.”
  • Appeals to Sympathy: “My husband just died” or “I am dying of cancer.” This is to make you feel sorry for the sender and lower your guard as an intended victim.
  • Use of Important Titles/Organizations: “Director,” ‘Barrister,” “Secretary General of the United Nations,” “Police Inspector.” This is to impress recipients and convince them that the email comes from a trusted and legitimate organization.
  • Request for Personal Information: This includes some combination of: Name / Address / Telephone Number / Bank Name / Bank Account Number / Fax Number / Driver’s License Number / Occupation / Sex / Beneficiary / Passport Number
  • Claims of Deposit: “We have deposited the check of your fund to your account” is a typical line to instantly grab your attention. Someone you’ve never heard of claims he has just put a huge amount of money into an account you know nothing about. Nor can you access it unless you first pay a “contact fee.”
  • The “Bank” is in Africa: Unless you know you have relatives there, this should be a dead giveaway to a scam. Africa is a continent kept alive by the charity of other nations. It’s not in the business of doling out large sums of money to Westerners.
  • Overseas Phone Numbers: If you call these, you’ll have a huge bill.  So many people skip calling and just send the money “required” to receive their “cash prize.”
  • Highly Personal Requests: Asking you—someone they’ve never met—to assume the burden of acting as the executor of their “Last Will and Testament.”
  • Love Scams: The scammer poses as a man or woman—usually outside the United States—seeking love. A series of emails flows back and forth for days/weeks, until the scammer says s/he will be glad to fly to the United States to be yours. All you have to do is put up the money for the flight cost.
  • “Make Money From Home”: With most employers refusing to hire, “work from home” scams promise a way to support yourself and your family. You’re required to provide bank information or pay an up-front “registration fee.” Then you wait for job orders—that never come.
  • Debt Relief: Scammers promise to relieve most or all of your debt—for a large up-front fee. You pay the fee—and are not only out of that money but still in debt.
  • Home Repair Schemes: Huge down payments are required for home repairs that never happen.
  • “Free” Trial Offers: The service or product is free for awhile, but you must opt out later to avoid monthly billings.
  • The Email Claims to Be From the FBI: Often the “address” includes “Anti-Terrorist and Monetary Crime Division.”  One such email was addressed: “Dear Beneficiary” and offered help in obtaining a “fund.” The FBI is an investigative agency responsible to the U.S. Department of Justice. It does not resolve financial disputes or secure monies for “deserving” recipients. If the FBI wants to contact you, it will do so by letter or by sending agents to your address. The FBI’s own website states: “At this time we do not have a national e-mail address for sending or forwarding investigative information.”
  • “I Need Help”: You get an email claiming to be from someone you know—who’s “in jail here in Mexico” or some other foreign country. S/he begs you to send money for bail or bribes to win his/her freedom. If you get such an email, call the person to make certain. Don’t rush to send money—chances are it will go directly to a scammer.

FBI Headquarters

There are several commonsense rules to follow in protecting yourself from online scammers:

  • Don’t trust people you’ve never met to want to give you money.
  • Shop online only with well-known merchants who have a good reputation.
  • Don’t click on unknown links—especially those in emails from unknown senders.
  • If you’re required to pay an advance fee—“on faith”—to receive a big amount of money, the odds are it’s a scam.
  • If you can’t find any solid information on a company, chances are it doesn’t exist.
  • For additional information on how to protect yourself from cybercrime, check out the FBI’s page at https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/cyber.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, the odds are: It is untrue.

“JUST ANOTHER WEEK IN CALIGULA’S ROME”—AND TRUMP’S WASHINGTON

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 5, 2019 at 12:16 am

“Just another week in Caligula’s Rome.”

That was how conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks summed up President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C. for the week of February 24 to March 1, 2019.

Every Friday Books faces off with liberal syndicated columnist Mark Shields on The PBS Newshour. And on the program for March 1, the two men found common cause in sizing up the appearance of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee two days earlier.

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David Brooks and Mark Shields on “The PBS Newshour”

During that hearing, Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer:

  • Condemned his former boss as “a racist, a conman [and] a cheat.”
  • Confirmed that Trump had instructed him to pay $130,000 in hush money to porn “star” Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
  • Provided the committee with a copy of a check Trump wrote from his personal bank account—after he became President—“to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made.”
  • Produced “copies of letters I wrote at Mr. Trump’s direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.”

But for Brooks, far more was at stake than the individual accusations:

“To me, it was more of a moral occasion, more than anything else. What it illustrates is a President and, frankly, Michael Cohen who long ago decided that celebrity and wealth is more important than being a good person. And they have dragged us all down there with us.

“And the people they have dragged most effectively are the House Republicans, a lot of them on that committee, who decided that they were completely incurious about whether Donald Trump was a good guy or a bad guy or a really awful guy, that—their own leader, they didn’t seem to care about that, but they were going to rip the skin off Michael Cohen.

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Michael Cohen testifying before Congress

“And so they attacked him. And what struck me is how moral corrosion happens, that you decide you’re going to defend or ignore Trump. And then to do that, you have to morally distance yourself from him. And then you have to morally distance yourself from him every day.

“And, eventually, you just get numb to everything. And so [Ohio Republican Representative] Jim Jordan and other people on the committee were saying, oh, we all knew this, like, it’s all unremarkable. And so that’s—that’s how moral corrosion happens.”  

During the hearing, California Representative Jackie Speier asked Cohen: How many times did Trump ask you to intimidate creditors?

Cohen estimated the number at 500. 

For Shields, this counted as especially despicable behavior: “And—but the thing about it is, when he stiffed those small business—the plumbers and the electricians who did the work in the Trump projects, and he came back, and Donald Trump loved to hear about it, I mean, reveled in it.

“Now, I mean, at what point do you say that there’s no honor here? I mean, there’s nothing to admire.” 

Shields was equally appalled by the refusal of Trump’s Republican committee defenders to condemn his moral depravity—as a businessman or President.

“If you can’t deal with the message, you shoot the messenger. And that’s what their whole strategy was.

“The very fact that not a single member of the Republican committee defended Donald Trump or what he was charged or alleged to have done, to me, was revealing. They just decided to go after Michael Cohen.”

So why have Republicans aligned themselves with such a man? 

Republicans don’t fear that Trump will trash the institutions that Americans have cherished for more than 200 years. Institutions like an independent judiciary, a free press, and an incorruptible Justice Department.

He has already attacked all of these—and Republicans have either said nothing or rushed to his defense.

What Republicans truly fear about Donald Trump is that he will finally cross one line too many—like firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And that the national outrage following this will force them to launch impeachment proceedings against him.

But it isn’t even Trump they fear will be destroyed.

What they most fear losing is their own hold on nearly absolute power in Congress and the White House. And the riches that go with it.

If Trump is impeached and possibly indicted, he will become a man no one any longer fears. He will be a figure held up to ridicule and condemnation. 

Like Adolf Hitler.

Like Richard Nixon. 

And his supporters will be branded as losers along with him.

Republicans vividly remember what happened after Nixon was forced to resign on August 9, 1974: Democrats, riding a wave of reform fever, swept Republicans out of the House and Senate—and Jimmy Carter into the White House. 

House and Senate Republicans can imagine a future without Trump—but not one where they disappear.

If they are conflicted—whether to continue supporting Trump or desert him—the reason is the same: How can I hold onto my power and all the privileges that go with it?  

FOR ELITE MEDIA, THE TRUTH IS UNWELCOME NEWS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 8, 2019 at 12:16 am

On April 28, 2018, comedian Michelle Wolf skewered high-ranking Trump administration officials and members of the nation’s elite media.

She did so as the host of the annual White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C.

As a result, she found herself furiously attacked by Right-wing defenders of the Trump administration and some of the nation’s most prominent media.

Most all of their attention was focused on the Trump officials she ridiculed—especially Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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Michelle Wolf

But Wolf threw a series of sharp-edged zingers at some of the Nation’s most prominent media. And these comments have gone largely ignored.

They are, however, well worth examining—for the uncomfortable truths they reveal about much of the news being served up under the guise of fearless objectivity.

On little-watched C-SPAN:  This is on C-SPAN; no one watches that. Trump is president; it’s not ideal.

On liberal media’s obsession with “Russiagate”:  I know there’s a lot of people that want me to talk about Russia and Putin and collusion, but I’m not going to do that because there’s also a lot of liberal media here. And I’ve never really wanted to know what any of you look like when you orgasm.

On CNN—where “news” now consists of a series of “talking heads” pontificating about stories that other journalists have dug up:  We’ve got our friends at CNN here. You guys love breaking news, and you did it. You broke it. Good work. The most useful information on CNN is when Anthony Bourdain tells me where to eat noodles.

On Fox News’ sexual harassment scandals involving such prominent (and former) members as CEO Roger Ailes and commentator Bill O’Reilly:  Fox News is here. So, you know what that means, ladies: Cover your drinks. Seriously.

On Fox News’ actual role as the propaganda organ of the Republican party:  People want me to make fun of [Fox News commentator] Sean Hannity tonight, but I cannot do that; this dinner is for journalists.

News Media

On weak-rated MSNBC, which is the liberal version of Fox News:  We’ve got MSNBC here. MSNBC’s news slogan is, “This is who we are.” Guys, it’s not a good slogan. “This is who we are” is what your mom thinks the sad show on NBC is called. “Did you watch ‘This Is Who We Are’ this week? Someone left on a Crockpot, and everyone died.”

On Megyn Kelly, who rose to fame and fortune as a Right-wing propaganda shill on Fox News:  And, of course, Megyn Kelly. What would I do without Megyn Kelly? You know, probably be more proud of women. 

And, by the way, Megyn, Santa’s black. The weird old guy going through your chimney was Bill O’Reilly. You might want to put a flue on it or something.  

[This last jibe centered on Kelly’s infamous December 11, 2013 Fox broadcast where she claimed: “I kind of laughed and said this is so ridiculous.  Yet another person claiming it’s racist to have a white Santa. For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white….Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man too.”]

On the continuing demise of newspapers—on which TV “news reporters” depend for their information:  There’s a lot of print media here. There’s a ton of you guys, but I’m not going to go after print media tonight because it’s illegal to attack an endangered species. Buy newspapers.

On the media’s—especially the television media’s—morbid obsession with Donald Trump:  There’s a ton of news right now; a lot is going on, and we have all these 24-hour news networks, and we could be covering everything. But, instead, we’re covering like three topics. Every hour, it’s Trump, Russia, Hillary and a panel of four people who remind you why you don’t go home for Thanksgiving.

On the media’s responsibility for the rise of a President they now detest: You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend like you hate him, but I think you love him. I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks or vodka or water or college or ties or Eric, but he has helped you.

He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster, and now you’re profiting off of him. And if you’re gonna profit off of Trump, you should at least give him some money because he doesn’t have any.

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Donald Trump

[This last joke was probably the most painful the assembled media bigwigs had to endure. Because it’s undeniably true.

Trump’s campaign was saved from spending millions on TV advertising because the major TV news networks covered his every word. This was especially true when he was attacking women, blacks, Mexicans, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama—and even beauty pageant contestants.

For the media, Trump was “good for ratings”—in the same way that Mike Tyson was “good for boxing.” Both were seen as freaks—and thus guaranteed to lure viewers eager to find out: “What outrageous thing has he done now?”] 

THE RIGHT’S ANNUAL HOLIDAY LIE: “WAR ON CHRISTMAS”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 20, 2018 at 12:17 am

It’s that time of year again—a time of

  • Christmas trees
  • Nativity scenes
  • Singing carols
  • Exchanging gifts with family and friends.

Christmas is special, so, each year, the executives at Fox News find a new way to stir up emotions by resurrecting the “war on Christmas” slander.

Stirring up false controversies is a daily assignment for the alleged reporters of this company owned by Right-wing oligarch Rupert Murdoch.

On December 11, 2013, it fell to Fox hostess Megyn Kelly to carry the ball—on “The Kelly File,” her then-popular Fox News program.

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Megyn Kelly

Referring to an article by Slate writer Aisha Harris on “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore,” she said:

“When I saw this headline, I kinda laughed and I said, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it’s racist to have a white Santa.’

“And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is, and just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.”

Of course, Santa Claus is a completely fictional character. Arguing about his skin color is as pointless as arguing about his weight.

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But Kelly wasn’t content to talk only about Santa. So she turned next to Jesus, a historical figure about whom we have not a single reference to his appearance, let alone a picture.

“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too.

“He was a historical figure; that’s a verifiable fact—as is Santa, I want you kids watching to know that—but my point is: How do you revise it, in the middle of the legacy of the story, and change Santa from white to black?”

Santa Claus a verifiable historical figure? Not even Charlie Brown, in the annually telecast “Peanuts” Christmas special, would make that claim.

In 2015, Donald Trump claimed center-stage in “defending” Christmas. And the target of his ire? Starbucks.

In years past, its disposable coffee cups featured snowflakes, winter scenes, reindeer and Christmas ornaments.

But in 2015, Starbucks decided to go with a minimalist, all-red design, its only feature being the company’s green and white logo.

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Baked Alaska with his Trump cup

This angered some religious conservatives, who generally care more about symbols than substance. And Trump was eager to enlist evangelicals as voters.

During a campaign rally in October, Trump promised: “I guarantee if I become president, we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store.”

Donald Trump September 3 2015.jpg

Donald Trump

On November 9, 2015, addressing  a crowd of several thousands in Springfield, Illinois, Trump said: “Did you read about Starbucks? No more Merry Christmas on Starbucks.

“I have one of the most successful Starbucks, in Trump Tower. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care. That’s the end of that lease, but who cares?

“If I become president, we’re all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you.”

Trump did not explain how he would coerce non-Christian Americans—-such as atheists, Jews and Muslims—into observing a Christian holiday.

Those who claim that Christmas is threatened don’t know—or are ignoring—-the following:

  • The Christmas shopping season can start as early as September. Some consumers begin even earlier.
  • For 2018, the National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion for the holiday season.
  • Holiday sales in 2017 totaled $687.87 billion
  • For many stores, holiday shopping accounts for nearly a third of annual sales.
  • In 2016, the average American spent $935.58 on holiday gifts. In 2017, s/he was expected to spend $708.81.

In short, no one is “making war” on Christmas—-except Right-wing broadcasters at Fox News to jack up ratings.  

As to the historical realities of this season:

  • There is no reference anywhere in the Bible to the month—-let alone the day—of Jesus’ birth.
  • Jesus never commanded his followers to celebrate his birth—-but he did call on them to remember his death.  It’s called Easter.
  • Many of the “religious” traditions associated with Christmas stem from the pagan Roman festival, Saturnalia, which celebrated the “birthday” of the sun.
  • This was celebrated December 17-25.
  • Saturnalia traditions included feasting, gift-giving, lighting candles (to ward off evil spirits) and displaying wreaths (as a sign of coming spring).
  • Early Christians tried mightily to convince their members to stop celebrating the Saturnalia.
  • When these efforts failed, the Roman Catholic Church, in the fourth century, “Christianised” the festival by naming Saturnalia’s concluding day, December 25, as Jesus’ birthday.

In George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, Oceania is always at war with Eurasia or Eastasia. Its citizens are kept in a constant state of frenzy as they’re directed to search for endless “enemies of the state.”

This, in turn, allows the unseen rulers of Oceania to run their dictatorship without interference.

It’s a lesson well-known to hucksters like Donald Trump and the men who run Fox News.

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM: MONEY TRUMPS MORALITY

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 18, 2018 at 12:03 am

Once again, the self-righteous cry of “American exceptionalism” is being taken up by members of the United States Congress.

That is: Americans prize morality over money in international relationships.

It’s a myth the historical record won’t support.

The reason for the self-righteous outrage: The disappearance of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.  

He had worked in the Saudi embassies in Washington and London, establishing himself as an unofficial spokesman for the Saudi royal family.

His independent streak and empathy for the Western perspective made him a uniquely important, well-liked contact for foreign journalists and diplomats seeking to understand the royal perspective.

Then, in 2017, Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince, and quickly consolidated power over the kingdom.

Khashoggi’s independent streak made him unwelcome there, so he moved to Virginia and became a columnist for The Washington Post.  He also became the crown prince’s chief critic in the West. 

On October 2, Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to pick up a document.

Khashoggi’s marriage had ended under the strain of his voluntary exile from Saudi Arabia. He had since become engaged to a Turkish woman. He thus needed to obtain a document attesting to his divorce from the Saudi authorities so he could remarry in Turkey. The wedding was scheduled for the following day.  

JamalKahshoggi.png

 Jamal Khashoggi

[GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Turkish authorities have released video footage of Khashoggi walking into the consulate; they say there is none of him leaving it. The Saudis insist that he left the consulate safely, but have not offered any evidence to support this claim.

Turkish officials speaking anonymously say their government has detailed evidence to prove the following:

  • That 15 Saudi agents flew into Istanbul on two private jets.
  • The airline company has close ties to the crown prince and Saudi Interior Ministry.
  • The agents waited for Khashoggi inside the consulate and murdered him within two hours of his arrival.
  • The assassins used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s corpse. 

These reports have ignited an explosion of “American exceptionalism” among members of Congress—including Republicans.  

“I believe the Trump administration will do something,” Florida United States Senator Marco Rubio said. “The president has said that. But, if he doesn’t, Congress will. That, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty.” 

And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said: “I think one of the strong things that we can do is not only stop military sales, not only put sanctions on Saudi Arabia, but most importantly, get out of this terrible, terrible war in Yemen led by the Saudis.”

Fueling Republicans’ declared outrage: President Donald Trump’s heated defense of the Saudis—with whom he’s long had a financially profitable relationship. 

“They buy all sorts of my stuff,”‘ Trump said in July 2015. “All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundreds of millions.”

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Donald Trump

Among those “toys”: 

  • In June 2001, he sold the 45th floor of Trump World Tower to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for $4.5 million, according to a publicly filed deed for the transaction.
  • In August 2015, two months after he launched his presidential campaign, Trump registered eight limited-liability companies that appeared tied to possible deals in the country, according to public records. All of the companies contained “Jeddah,” the name of a Saudi Arabian port city, in their title. 
  • In 2015, Trump’s daughter Ivanka told Hotelier Middle East, “Dubai is a top priority city for us. We are looking at multiple opportunities in Abu Dhabi, in Qatar, in Saudi Arabia, so those are the four areas where we are seeing the most interest. We haven’t made a final decision in any of the markets but we have many very compelling deals in each of them.”

Of course, Trump is now claiming a higher motive for siding with the Saudis. He doesn’t want to scuttle a major defense deal he made with Saudi Arabia in May, 2017:

“I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States because you know what they’re going to do, they’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China,” 

And the next day, Trump said he had spoken with Saudi King Salman: “The king firmly denied any knowledge of it. … It sounded to me like these could have been rogue killers, who knows?” 

This is comparable to Trump’s refusal, during his first debate with Hillary Clinton in September, 2016, to admit Russian hacking of the 2016 Democratic National Committee: “It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

“Here we go again with you know you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that,” said Trump on October 16.

“We just went through that with [Supreme Court nominee] [Brett] Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”

Factual note: Although confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, Kavanaugh was not proven innocent.  The FBI was not allowed to interview Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused him of attempted rape 36 years ago. 

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