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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

A REPUBLICAN’S DEATH PANELS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 24, 2017 at 12:47 am

During the 2008 Presidential race, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin turned slander into an art form.

Her most poisonous charge: That Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama would make “death panels” a part of his proposed healthcare program. 

Sarah Palin

But in 2012, she supported a candidate–Mitt Romney–who made his fortune through the “death panels” of his investors. 

In 1983, Bill Bain, a management consultant, gave Romney a risky assignment: Launch Bain Capital, a private equity offshoot of his profitable consulting firm Bain & Company.

Mitt Romney

But there was a catch: Romney couldn’t raise money from Bain’s current clients. If the private equity venture failed, the consulting firm mustn’t disappear with it.

Romney and his partners considered a wide range of options.

Finally, they settled on one: A group of oligarchs from El Salvador were seeking new investment opportunities.

Romney decided to meet with them.

He flew to Miami in mid-1984 and met with the Salvadorans at a local bank. Both sides left happy with their arrangement.

The Salvadorans invested about $9 million–40% of Bain Capital’s initial outside funding. 

Among those investors: Ricardo Poma, Miguel Dueñas, Pancho Soler, Frank Kardonski, and Diego Ribadeneira.

Two other wealthy and powerful El Salvadoran families–those of de Sola and Salaverria–also became founding investors in Bain Capital.

Determined to retain their privileged status, members of these families were directly or indirectly funding right-wing death squads in El Salvador.

The squads’ targets were reformers and left-wing guerrillas. According to a United Nations study, at least 75,000 were killed in the Salvadoran civil war between 1979 and 1992.

Death squad victims

By 1982, 35,000 civilians had been murdered–with right-wing death squads responsible for most of the killings, stated El Salvador’s independent Human Rights Commission.

Much of this carnage happened during the Reagan Administration (1981-1989), when right-wingers in Washington found common cause with those in Central America.

Romney’s highly lucrative dealings with men linked to Central American death squads have been verified by such publications as the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe and the Salt Lake Tribune.

A major reason why Romney refused to release more than two years’ worth of his tax returns could have been this: He had more to hide than just how little in taxes he had paid.

Some of those financial disclosures might lead–literally–to hundreds or even thousands of bodies dumped into unmarked graves throughout El Salvador.

The most prominent victim of those right-wing death squads was Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador. A longtime champion of the poor, he was celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980, when he was shot to death before his horrified congregation.

Oscar Romero

The murder was ordered by Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, founder of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party.

Roberto D’Aubuisson

After Obama’s election as President in 2008, Republicans bitterly opposed his efforts to provide all Americans–and not simply the richest 1%–with healthcare insurance.  

Those efforts ultimately bore fruit as the Affordable Care Act–otherwise known as Obamacare.

As one of those Republican opponents, Sarah Palin repeatedly claimed that Obama intended to create government “death panels” to murder elderly and disabled patients.

Although she never offered a shred of evidence for this allegation, millions of American right-wingers eagerly believed it.

On the other hand, multiple and reputable sources demonstrated how Mitt Romney made money through men who either commanded death squads or were linked to others who did.

But Palin never had a single word of criticism for the man who would become the Republican nominee for President.

Little is reliably known about the full extent of Romney’s complex financial dealings. That’s why his refusal to release more than two years’ tax returns became an issue that wouldn’t go away.

Romney released only his 2010 returns and an estimate for his 2011 returns. But his own father, Michigan Governor George Romney, released 12 years of tax returns during his 1968 run for the presidency.

Perhaps Romney had nothing to hide and refused to release his tax returns out of sheer stubbornness.

But if he were truly innocent of any wrongdoing–financial or otherwise–then it would have been in his own best interests to make the returns public.  And as quickly as possible.

This is, after all, a longstanding tradition among candidates for President. And doing so would have instantly squelched rumors and accusations that he had something sinister or embarrassing to hide.

Instead, Romney and his wife, Ann, acted as though the White House belonged to them by divine right.  And that no one had the right to ask them any questions they didn’t want to answer.

During an interview with NBC News, Romney said: “We have been very transparent to what’s legally required of us. There’s going to be no more tax releases given.”

Romney could have followed the sterling example set by his father–whom he clearly admires–anytime he wished to.

But he didn’t.

Americans may never know if “the man from Bain” has the blood of Archbishop Romero–or other El Salvadoran death squad victim––on his hands.  

And if Romney does know, he isn’t saying.

“SCARFACE” AND REAL-LIFE BANKSTERS

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on March 3, 2017 at 10:37 am

It’s a scene familiar to anyone who’s seen Scarface, the 1983 classic starring Al Pacino as a Cuban drug dealer who makes it big in the cocaine business.

Scarface - 1983 film.jpg

Tony Montana (Pacino) is holding court in his Florida estate.  His visitor is a WASP-ish banker.

Bankers as a rule don’t make house calls. But Tony is no ordinary customer–his men literally haul bags full of bills into the bank when making deposits.

Except that now the banker has some unpleasant news for Tony:

We’re not a wholesale operation.  We’re a legitimate bank.  The more cash you give me……the harder it is for me to rinse.

“The fact is I can’t take any more of your money unless I raise the rates on you.”

TONY: You gonna raise…

BANKER: I gotta do it.

BANKER: The IRS is coming….

TONY: Don’t give me that shit! Let’s talk. I’m talking. I go low, you go high. I know the game. This is business talk.

BANKER: Let me explain something. The IRS is coming down heavy on South Florida. There was a Time magazine story that didn’t help. 

There’s a recession. I got stockholders I got to be responsible for.  I got to do it, Tony.

TONY: We’ll go somewhere else.  That’s it.   

BANKER: There’s no place else to go. 

TONY: Fuck you, man! Fuck you! I’ll fly the cash myself to the Bahamas.  BANKER: Once maybe. Then what? You’ll trust some monkey in a Bahamian bank with millions of your hard-earned dollars? Come on, Tony. Don’t be a schmuck. Who else can you trust? That’s why you pay us what you do. You trust us.

Stay with us. You’re a well-liked customer. You’re in good hands with us.

(At this point, movie audiences burst into laughter.  The line, “You’re in good hands with us” seemed directly lifted from the slogan used by Allstate Insurance: “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”)

Now, fast forward to 2014.

A Reuters news story dated May 21, 2014 noted that investigators from the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) were probing Charles Schwab and Bank of America Corporations Merrill Lynch brokerage.

The SEC wants to determine if these brokerages violated anti-money laundering rules that require financial institutions to know their customers.

Broker-dealers are required to establish, document and identify customers and verify their identities in compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act.

In 2012, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, ordered regulators to guarantee that financial institutions are identifying the true beneficial owners of their accounts.

The reason: Drug cartels and terrorist groups have become highly creative in hiding and transferring their illegal funds.

According to sources close to the investigation, Charles Schwab and Merrill accepted shell companies and persons with phony addresses as clients.

In both cases, some of the accounts were eventually linked to drug cartels.  Some of those accounts held hundreds of thousands of dollars; others held millions.

A Texas rancher and Charles Schwab client transferred money to a holding company that was actually a shell company.

Most of the Schwab clients being investigated lived near the Mexican border. Some were linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Click here: Exclusive: SEC probes Schwab, Merrill, for anti-money laundering violations – sources | Reuters

No further stories could be found on the Internet to update the progress of these investigations.

In fact, the government should have assumed long ago that brokerage companies were engaging in such behavior.

As Niccolo Machiavelli warned in The Discourses, his landmark book on how to preserve freedom within a republic:

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself. 

But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.

Whenever the creating of wealth becomes an end in itself, all other ends are sacrificed to this.

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.

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. 

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.

Federal investigators need to view large concentrations of wealth as sources for at least potential corruption.

And they should ruthlessly–and routinely–investigate those sources, whether in the vaults of the Mafia or of major financial institutions.

THREATS PAST AND FUTURE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 22, 2017 at 12:31 am

Robert Payne, author of the bestselling biography, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (1973), described Hitler’s “negotiating” style thusly: 

“He was incapable of bargaining. He was like a man who goes up to a fruit peddler and threatens to blow his brains out if he does not sell his applies at the lowest possible price.”

What was true for Adolf Hitler was equally true for Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican nominee for President of the United States.  

Trump’s vindictive streak was evident on October 9, 2016p, during his second Presidential debate with Hillary Clinton: “If I win I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation–there has never been so many lies and so much deception.”  

This played well with Trump’s essentially Fascistic followers, but even conservatives like political columnist Charles Krauthammer disagreed with it:

“I’m one of those who thinks there was a miscarriage of justice in not indicting her. But the problem here is the pattern from Trump. 

“He has spoken about using the powers of the government to go after other opponents like the publisher of The Washington Post 

“Do we want to invest in him all the powers of the government if he acts where he seems to want to carry out vendettas?” 

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Charles Krauthammer

But making threats against anyone who has dared to cross him or has merely roused his ire is a longtime Trump characteristic.  

In 2010, Tarla Makaeff, a former customer of Trump’s real-estate seminar business, filed a fraud lawsuit against now-defunct Trump University.  

Trump retaliated by filing a defamation suit against her. The case was dismissed by a judge. But Trump continued to attack her during his Presidential candidacy.  

During a campaign rally he assailed her as a “horrible, horrible witness,” and then posted on Twitter that she was “Disgraceful!”  

Makaeff ultimately persuaded the judge presiding over the Trump University case to let her remove her name as a plaintiff.  

Trump has long employed a series of hardball tactics against anyone who threatens his ego:

  • Countersuits, threats and personal insults against outsiders; and
  • Stringent confidentiality agreements against employees, business partners, his former spouses and now his campaign staffers.  

As an authoritarian who demands the right to craft his own image. Trump furiously denies others the right to dissent from it.  

In February, 2016, Trump said that he was “gonna open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”  

After the New York Times published pages from his 1995 tax return, Trump tweeted that his lawyers “want to sue the failing @nytimes so badly for irresponsible intent. I said no (for now), but they are watching. Really disgusting.”   

Trump is a master of “dog whistle” threats. On August 9, 2016, he falsely told a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina: “Hillary [Clinton] wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment.  

“If she gets to pick her [Supreme Court] judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” 

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Hillary Clinton

“Don’t treat this as a political misstep,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, who has called for stiffer gun laws, wrote on Twitter. “It’s an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy & crisis.”  

Trump–and his apologists–claimed he was simply “joking.”  

But Trump was not done with making threats against Hillary Clinton–and her husband, Bill. 

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Donald Trump

On October 7, 2016, The Washington Post leaked a video of Donald Trump making sexually predatory comments about women (“I don’t even wait. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”).

The remarks came during a 2005 exchange with Billy Bush, then the host of Access Hollywood.

The admissions ignited a firestorm against Trump, even among many Republicans.

Rather than accept responsibility for his actions, Trump blamed the Clintons–who had nothing to do with the release.

Speaking before a rally in Pennsylvania on October 10, Trump threatened: “If they wanna release more tapes saying inappropriate things, we’ll continue to talk about Bill and Hillary Clinton doing inappropriate things. There are so many of them, folks.”

Since being elected President, Trump has continued to lash out at a wide range of people, organizations and even countries.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, offered a still-timely warning to those inclined to gratuitously hand out insults and threats:

“I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one.

“For neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy–but the one makes him more cautions, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”

And for those who expect Trump to stop constantly picking fights, Machiavelli has an equally stern warning:

“No man can be found so prudent as to be able to [adopt his mode of operating to changing circumstances] either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him, or else because, having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it….”

ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR PRESIDENT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 15, 2017 at 1:50 pm

President Donald Trump was furious.

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

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

Donald Trump official portrait.jpg

Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

One of these was his press secretary, Sean Spicer:

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

Sean Spicer.jpg

Sean Spicer

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

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

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

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

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

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Kelleyanne Conway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

A single example will serve to illustrate: 

On January 27, Trump signed an executive order that:

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

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

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

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey are all countries where President Trump has close business ties. His properties include two luxury towers in Turkey and golf courses in the United Arab Emirates.

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

ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR PRESIDENT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 13, 2017 at 2:33 am

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

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John F. Kennedy Inaugural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melania Trump

Melania Trump

According to the complaint that her attorney filed:

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

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

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

Melania is alleging $150 million in damages.

Enter the Emoluments Clause.

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

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

The Founding Fathers of the United States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for Images of Grab Your Wallet campaign

Among the retailers targeted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump drafted other members of his administration to attack Nordstrom.

One of these was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

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

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

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

But even more was to come.

“WORKING TOWARDS THE PRESIDENT”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 1, 2017 at 12:01 am

In Stalingrad, a 1993 war movie, a platoon of German Army soldiers leaves behind the beaches and beauties of Italy and find themselves fighting desperately to stay alive in Russia.

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Early in the film, there is an exchange that has its real-life counterpart almost 75 years later.

A young, idealistic German lieutenant, newly transferred to the Russian front, is horrified when he sees a fellow soldier from another unit sadistically beat a Russian prisoner to death.

He seeks out the man’s superior, a captain, and says: “Captain, I must protest about the behavior of your men.”

“You want to protest?” asks the captain, grinning sardonically. “Tell the Fuhrer.”

Fast forward to January 28, 2017, the day after President Donald J. Trump signed into law an executive order which:

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

The new rules–and the efforts of security personnel at major international airports to enforce them–triggered a tsunami of chaos and fear among travelers.

“We’ve gotten reports of people being detained all over the country,” said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project. “They’re literally pouring in by the minute.”

Refugees on flights when the order was signed on January 27 were detained upon arrival.

Many students attending American universities were blocked from returning to the United States from visits abroad.

Image result for Images of "Trump is poised to sign an Executive Order...."

According to Homeland Security officials, 109 people who were already in transit to the United States when the order was signed were denied access; 173 were stopped before boarding planes heading to America. Eighty-one people who were stopped were eventually given waivers to enter the United States.

Internationally, travelers were seized by panic when they were not allowed  to board flights to the United States. In Dubai and Istanbul, airport and immigration officials turned passengers away at boarding gates. At least one family was removed from a flight it had boarded.

Earlier on January 28, Trump, isolated in the White House from all the chaos he had unleashed in airports across the nation and throughout the world, said:

“It’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared. It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”

Then the American Civil Liberties Union intervened.

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Two Iraqi immigrants, defended by the ACLU, accused Trump of legal and constitutional overreach.

The Iraqis had been detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.  One had served as an interpreter for American forces in Iraq for a decade. The other was en route to reunite with his wife and son in Texas.

The interpreter, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was released after nearly 19 hours of detention. So was the other traveler, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi.

Before the two men were released, one of their lawyers, Mark Doss, a supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project, asked an official, “Who is the person we need to talk to?”

“Call Mr. Trump,” said the official, who refused to identify himself.

He might just as well have said: “You want to protest? Tell the Fuhrer.”

The ACLU action secured at least a temporary blocking of part of Trump’s order. A Brooklyn judge barred the government from deporting some arrivals who found themselves ensnared by the Presidential order.

Judge Ann M. Donnelly of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, ruled that sending the travelers home could cause them “irreparable harm.” She said the government was “enjoined and restrained from, in any manner and by any means, removing individuals” who had arrived in the United States with valid visas or refugee status.

But she did not force the administration to let in people otherwise blocked by the executive order who have not yet traveled to the United States. Nor did she issue a broader ruling on the constitutionality of the order.

* * * * *

On November 8, millions of ignorant, hate-filled, Right-wing Americans elected Donald Trump–a man reflecting their own hate and ignorance–to the Presidency.

Summing up Trump’s character in a March 25, 2016 broadcast of The PBS Newshour, conservative political columnist David Brooks warned: “The odd thing about [Trump’s] whole career and his whole language, his whole world view is there is no room for love in it.  You get a sense of a man who received no love, can give no love…. 

And so you really are seeing someone who just has an odd psychology unleavened by kindness and charity, but where it’s all winners and losers, beating and being beat. And that’s part of the authoritarian personality.”

There were countless warning signs available for Trump’s supporters to see–if they had wanted to see them:  

  • His threats against his political opponents;
  • His five-year “birtherism” slander against President Obama–which even he was forced to disavow;
  • His rampant egomania;
  • His attacks on everyone who dared to disagree with him;
  • His refusal to release his tax returns;
  • His history of bankruptcies and lawsuits filed against him;
  • His bragging about sexually abusing women (“Grab them by the pussy”).

Those who voted against Trump are now learning the meaning of the Nazi slogan: “The Fuhrer proposes and disposes for all.”

“WORKING TOWARDS THE PRESIDENT”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 31, 2017 at 12:11 am

When historians–and ordinary citizens–think about the Third Reich, the name of Werner Willikens doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

Adolf Hitler, Herman Goring, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann–yes.

But Werner Willikens?  Why him?

Ian Kershaw has unearthed the reason.

Ian Kershaw  is a British historian and author who has written extensively about the Third Reich. He is best-known for his monumental, two-volume biography, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris (1998) and Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis (2000). 

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Ian Kershaw

Willikens, State Secretary in the Ministry of Food, gave a speech on February 21, 1934 that casts new light on how Hitler came to exercise vast authority over Nazi Germany:

“Everyone who has the opportunity to observe it knows that the Fuhrer can hardly dictate from above everything he intends to realize sooner or later.

“On the contrary, up till now everyone with a post in the new Germany has worked best when he has, so to speak, worked towards the Fuhrer….

“In fact, it is the duty of everybody to try to work towards the Fuhrer along the lines he would wish.  Anyone who makes mistakes will notice it soon enough.

“But anyone who really works towards the Fuhrer along his lines and towards his goal will certainly both now and in the future one day have the finest reward in the form of the sudden legal confirmation of his work.”

Volker Ullrich, bestselling author of Hitler: Ascent 1889 – 1939, summed up the results of this interplay between Hitler and his subjects:

“Kershaw tried to show that in many instances Hitler didn’t need to do very much at all since German society–everyone from the underlings surrounding him to ordinary people on the street–were increasingly inclined to anticipate and fulfill the Fuhrer’s every wish, ‘working towards him.’

“…Kershaw did not minimize the historical role played by Hitler and his insane, ideological fixations, but he did illustrate that without the readiness of many people to work for the man in charge, there would have been no way he could have achieved his murderous aims.

“Kershaw’s main thesis was that the dynamics of the Nazi regime arose from the interplay of Hitler’s intentions with activism emanating from subordinate individuals and institutions. The results were ever more radical ‘solutions.'” 

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With the Third Reich dying in the flames of Berlin, at about 3:30 p.m. on April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler simultaneously bit on a cyanide capsule and fired a pistol shot into his right temple.

The concept of “working towards the Fuhrer” seemed to have come to a literally fiery end.

Fast forward almost 72 years later–to 4:42 p.m. on January 27, 2017.

Newly inaugurated President Donald J. Trump signs into law an executive order that:

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

Trump’s executive order reads as follows: “In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.

“The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law.”

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President Donald Trump

But that statement excludes three extremely troubling facts.

First: Over the past four decades, there have been no fatal attacks within the United States by immigrants from any of those seven banned countries.

Second, approximately 3,000 Americans have been killed by immigrants from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey. Most of those victims died during the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

In fact, 15 of the 19 highjackers who took part in those attacks came from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Ladin, the mastermind of the attacks, was himself a Saudi from a wealthy family with strong ties to the Saudi Royal Family.

Third, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey are all countries where President Trump has close business ties. His properties include two luxury towers in Turkey and golf courses in the United Arab Emirates.

Trump lists companies on his FEC filing possibly related to a development project in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest city, located outside Mecca: DT Jeddah Technical Services Manager LLC, DT Jeddah Technical Services Manager Member Corp., THC Jeddah Hotel Manager LLC and THC Jeddah Hotel Manager Member Corp.

Trump lists two companies on his FEC filing possibly related to business in Egypt: Trump Marks Egypt and Trump Marks Egypt LLC.

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

On January 11, Trump said that:

  • He would resign from his positions at the Trump Organization but that he would not divest his ownership.
  • The organization would be managed by his sons Eric and Don Jr. and chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.
  • The organization would terminate pending deals and not seek new international business.

Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, said that these measures did not resolve the President’s conflict-of-interest problems and called them  “meaningless.”

It was after Trump signed his executive order that the true consequences of “working towards the Fuhrer”–or President–were fully revealed.

GO TO COLLEGE, BECOME A BABYSITTER

In Business, History, Law, Social commentary on December 23, 2016 at 12:11 am

Once again, December final exams are fast approaching–and, with them, 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 work

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

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 recent 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.”  

Click here: Growing Nanny Industry Is Enticing More College Graduates

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.

Click here: What Recruiters Look At During The 6 Seconds They Spend On Your Resume

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

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.

A NIGHTMARISH VISION OF “THE AMERICAN DREAM”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 19, 2016 at 12:05 am

On August 17, 2015, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump outlined his strategy for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He would order American forces to take over the oil fields that ISIS has seized in Iraq.

Trump outlined his plans for future military operations against ISIS on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd.

“Now we’re there, and you have ISIS….And ISIS is taking over a lot of the oil in certain areas of Iraq.

“And I said, you take away their wealth. You go and knock the hell out of the oil. Take back the oil. We take over the oil, which we should have done in the first place” during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

After taking over the Iraqi oil fields, said Trump, “we’re going to have so much money.

“And what I would do with the money that we make, which would be tremendous, I would take care of the soldiers that were killed, the families of the soldiers that were killed, the soldiers, the wounded warriors that are–see, I love them.”

Actually, Trump’s idea forms the plot of The Profession, a 2011 novel by bestselling author Steven Pressfield.

The Profession

Pressfield made his literary reputation with a series of classic novels about ancient Greece.

In Gates of Fire (1998) he explored the rigors and heroism of Spartan society–and the famous last stand of its 300 picked warriors at Thermopylae.

In The Virtues of War (2004) he entered the mind of Alexander the Great, whose armies swept across the known world, destroying all who dared oppose them.

Steven Pressfield Focused Interview

 Steven Pressfield

But in The Profession, Pressfield created a plausible world set into the future of 2032. The book’s own dust jacket offers the best summary of its plot-line:

“The third Iran-Iraq war is over. The 11/11 dirty bomb attack on the port of Long Beach, California is receding into memory. Saudi Arabia has recently quelled a coup. Russians and Turks are clashing in the Caspian Basin….

“Everywhere military force is for hire. Oil companies, multi-national corporations and banks employ powerful, cutting-edge mercenary armies to control global chaos and protect their riches.

“Even nation states enlist mercenary forces to suppress internal insurrections, hunt terrorists, and do the black bag jobs necessary to maintain the new New World Order.

“Force Insertion is the world’s merc monopoly. Its leader is the disgraced former United States Marine General James Salter, stripped of his command by the president for nuclear saber-rattling with the Chinese and banished to the Far East.’

Salter appears as a hybrid of World War II General Douglas MacArthur and Iraqi War General Stanley McCrystal. 

Douglas MacArthur (left), Stanley McCrystal (right)

Like MacArthur, Salter has butted heads with his President–and paid dearly for it. Now his ambition is no less than to become President himself–by popular acclaim. And like McCrystal, he is a pure warrior who leads from the front and is revered by his men.

Salter seizes Saudi Arabian oil fields, then offers them as a gift to America. By doing so, he makes himself the most popular man in the country–and a guaranteed occupant of the White House.

And in 2032 the United States is a far different nation from the one its Founding Fathers created in 1776.

“The United States is an empire…but the American people lack the imperial temperament. We’re not legionaries, we’re mechanics. In the end the American Dream boils down to what? ‘I’m getting mine and the hell with you.’”

Americans, asserts Salter, have come to like mercenaries: “They’ve had enough of sacrificing their sons and daughters in the name of some illusory world order. They want someone else’s sons and daughters to bear the burden….

“They want their problems to go away. They want me to to make them go away.”

And so Salter will “accept whatever crown, of paper or gold, that my country wants to press upon me.”

Returning to the United States, he is acclaimed as a hero–and the next President.

He is under no delusion that his country is on a downward spiral toward oblivion: “Any time that you have the rise of mercenaries…society has entered a twilight era, a time past the zenith of its arc.”

Nor does he believe that his Presidency will arrest that decline: “But maybe in the short run, it’s better that my hand be on the wheel…rather than some other self-aggrandizing sonofabitch whose motives might not be as well intentioned….” 

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal; they are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.

 Niccolo Machiavelli

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli issued a warning against relying on men whose first love is their own enrichment.

Steven Pressfield, in a work of fiction, has given us a nightmarish vision of a not-so-distant America where “Name your price” has become the byward for an age.

Both warnings are well worth heeding.

THE ANNUAL “WAR ON CHRI$TMA$” IS ABOUT TO BEGIN

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on November 25, 2016 at 12:02 am

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

  • Christmas trees;
  • Nativity scenes;
  • Singing carols; and
  • 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 patriarch Rupert Murdoch.

In 2013, it fell to Fox hostess Megyn Kelly to carry the ball. And she did so on December 11 on “The Kelly File,” her 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,” Kelly said.

“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” special, would make that claim.

Two years later, 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.

This angered some religious conservatives, who generally care more about symbols than substance.

It’s the old “war on Christmas” mantra all over again. And Trump–who hoped to win evangelical votes throughout the country–was happy to become its biggest cheerleader.

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

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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–to observe 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.
  • In 2013, the American retail industry generated over $3 trillion during the Christmas holidays. 
  • These holiday sales reflected about 19.2% of the retail industry’s total sales that year.
  • More than 768,000 temporary employees were hired throughout the United States to help stores cope with the holiday rush.
  • The average American will spend about $805 on on Christmas gifts

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.

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