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MIKE PENCE: MAKING AMERICA SAFE FOR SHARIA LAW

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 20, 2019 at 12:04 am

Adolf Hitler had a warning for the Indiana legislators who passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A warning they should have heeded–but didn’t.

It all started on June 22, 1941.

On that date, Hitler ordered his powerful Wehrmacht to invade the Soviet Union.

Less than two years earlier, in August, 1939, he had signed a “non-aggression” pact with his longtime arch-enemy, Joseph Stalin.

Since then, his army had conquered Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France.

Adolf Hitler with his generals

Now, he believed, it was time to “settle accounts” with the Soviet Union.

Only there could Germany obtain the “living space” it “needed” for its expanding population.

So at 3 a.m. on June 22, 1941, Hitler once again launched an invasion.

At first, Hitler–no doubt like the Indiana legislators–felt giddy with excitement.

Turning to Alfred Jodl, his chief of operations of the Wehrmacht,  he said: “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

German soldiers marching through Russia

But soon afterward–almost as if he had just looked into the future and seen that he had none–he told an aide: “At the beginning of each campaign, one pushes a door into a dark, unseen room. One can never know what is hiding inside.”

That certainly proved true for Hitler.

Within four years, he was dead and the Red Army occupied Berlin.

And now the law of unintended consequences may be coming true for Indiana.

On March 26, 2015, its governor, Mike Pence, signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This will allow any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

Officially, its intent is to prevent the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs.

Unofficially, its intent is to appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party.

In short, a bakery that doesn’t want to make a cake to be used at a gay wedding or a restaurant that doesn’t want to serve lesbian patrons can legally refuse to do so.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature.  And signed into law by a Republican governor.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence 

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Mike Pence said in a statement on the day he signed the bill.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Bill-signing ceremonies are usually highly public events.  Governors–and presidents–normally want their constituents to see them creating new legislation.

Yet for all his praise for the bill, Pence signed it in a ceremony closed to the public and the press.  The media were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.

It’s almost as if Pence sensed–like Hitler–that he was about to push open “a door into a dark, unseen room.” And this may well be the case.

Through that door may soon march the First Church of Cannabis.

The day after Pence signed the Act, church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that he had filed paperwork with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State.

Its registration had been approved–and Levin was ecstatic: “Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.

“Donate $100 or more and become a GREEN ANGEL.

“Donate $500 or more and become a GOLD ANGEL.

“Donate $1000 or more and become a CHURCH POOHBA.”

Click here: Whoops: Indiana’s Anti-Gay ‘Religious Freedom’ Act Opens the Door For the First Church of Cannabis | Alternet

And Levin had a personal comment for the governor who had made it all possible:

“Dear Mikey Pence…

“DUDE!.. keep crapping all over the state.. and I will plant a seed of LOVE, UNDERSTANDING and COMPASSION in each pile you leave.. and it will grow into a big skunky cannabis tree. Crap away Mikey.. Crap Away…”

No doubt many Indiana legislators are furious that their effort to attack gays may have brought legal marijuana to their highly conservative state.

But worse may yet come.

Since 9/11, Right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America.

And now Indiana’s legislators, in elevating religion above the law, may have pushed upon that door “into a dark, unseen room.” 

What will happen when:

  • Muslims in Indiana claim their right—guaranteed in Islamic religious law—to have as many as four wives?
  • Muslims demand a taxpayer-funded “halal” non-pork food shelf at free food pantries for the poor? (Exactly this happened among Somalia refugees in Minnesota in 2015.)
  • Muslims demand that police departments cancel counter-terrorism curses by claiming that their materials are anti-Muslim? (Exactly this happened in several police departments in Illinois.) 

And when they cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the basis for their demands?  

Fasten your seat belts.  It’s going to be a bumpy nightmare.

REPUBLICANS: LOVING AMERICA LESS–AND THEIR JOBS MORE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 16, 2019 at 12:04 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.

It could serve as the epitaph for the history of the Trump administration.

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. 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?  

“YEAH, IT’S TOO BAD YOU WERE SHOT. NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT ME”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 15, 2019 at 12:04 am

On the morning of August 3, 2019, a lone gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others in El Paso, Texas. 

On August 7, President Donald Trump flew to El Paso—allegedly to comfort the surviving victims of that massacre.

But what was officially intended to be a day of comforting the afflicted became one of Presidential egomania.

Trump initially praised the medical staff of the University Medical Center at El Paso: “The job you’ve done is incredible. They’re talking about you all over the world.”

But then he quickly pivoted to praise himself.

He said that he and his Democratic Presidential rival, Beto O’Rourke, had staged political rallies in El Paso earlier in February. And he mocked the relatively small size of the crowd that had attended the one by O’Rourke:

“I was here three months ago, we made a speech. That place was packed. …That was some crowd. And we had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot, they said his crowd was wonderful.” 

Trump did not boast that he has still not paid the $569,204.63 his campaign owes to El Paso for police and public safety fees from that rally.

Image result for Images of deadbeat

After mocking Beto O’Rourke, Trump referred to his earlier visit that day to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

Three days earlier, on the morning of August 4, another gun massacre had rocked Dayton. Ten people were killed, including the gunman, and 27 others were injured.

But empathy for the victims—dead and living—was far from Trump’s mind as he spoke with medical staffers in El Paso: 

“We had an amazing day. As you know, we left Ohio. And the love and the respect for the office of the presidency, it was—I wish you could have been in there to see it. I wish you could have been in there.”

John Olilver, an English comedian, political commentator and television host, offered a scathing review of Trump’s behavior: “Look, we all know how much Trump struggles to do the bare minimum of being a president, but it’s still genuinely shocking just how much he struggles to do the bare minimum of being a fucking person.

Image result for Images of John Oliver

John Oliver

“Just consider the thought process that happened there: He visited a hospital filled with victims of a mass shooting and thought to himself: ‘Remember that other time when I was the center of attention and it was better?’ And then he thought: ‘Do you think anyone else remembers that?’ Then he thought: ‘I should remind them, right?!’ Then he thought: ‘Great idea!'”

From the outset of his Presidency, Trump has routinely made himself the center of attention on what should have been a somber occasion.

The first time this happened was on January 21, 2017—the day after his inauguration.

He visited the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia, to pay tribute to the men and women who discover—and counter—the deadly plots of America’s sworn enemies. 

Now Trump stood before what, to CIA employees, was the agency’s most sacred site: The star-studded memorial wall honoring the 117 CIA officers who had fallen in the line of duty.

Image result for Images of Trump speaking at the CIA

Donald Trump at the CIA

So Trump talked about—himself. 

Here are the some excerpts:

….You know, when I was young and when I was—of course, I feel young. I feel like I’m 30, 35, 39. Somebody said, are you young? I said, I think I’m young. You know, I was stopping— when we were in the final month of that campaign, four stops, five stops, seven stops. Speeches, speeches, in front of 25,000, 30,000 people, 15,000, 19,000 from stop to stop. I feel young…. 

* * * * *

And I was explaining about the numbers. We did a thing yesterday at the speech. Did everybody like the speech?  I’ve been given good reviews. But we had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. 

I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was—it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there.

Image result for Images of crowds at Obama and Trump inaugural

Crowds at Obama (left) and Trump (right) Inaugurals

And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well. I said, it was almost raining, the rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech. 

* * * * *

So a reporter for Time magazine—and I have been on their cover, like, 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine. Like, if Tom Brady is on the cover, it’s one time, because he won the Super Bowl or something, right?

I’ve been on it for 15 times this year. I don’t think that’s a record….that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think? 

* * * * *

Former CIA director John Brennan thought Trump’s remarks were “despicable.”

That word is now widely being used to describe the man who, tweeted Beto O’Rourke, “helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible.”

AMERICA’S “SOCIOPATH-IN-CHIEF”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 14, 2019 at 12:05 am

August 7 was supposed to be a day of mourning and comforting.

Mourning—for the 32 gun massacre victims slaughtered on August 3 and 4 in, respectively, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. And comforting—by President Donald Trump, who planned to visit the hospitalized survivors of those shootings.

The day turned out to be one of vitriol by and self-aggrandizement for Trump. 

In El Paso, none of the patients being treated at University Medical Center agreed to meet with Trump. 

Although reporters were barred from covering Trump’s visit, a photo posted on Twitter by Melania Trump captured perhaps the most incendiary moment of his day.

It showed Trump flashing a thumb’s-up while posing with the two-month-old son of Andre and Jordan Anchondo—both of whom had been shot by the El Paso gunman, Patrick Wood Crusius. 

Image result for Images of Donald Trump posing with baby in El Paso hospital

Donald and Melania Trump posing with orphaned baby

From the smiles on the Trumps’ faces, a viewer might think the boy belonged to them.

Outrage erupted almost immediately on Twitter:

Greg Pinelo: “This is a photo of Trump grinning while Melania holds a baby orphaned by the shooting. A baby who was taken from home and forced to serve as a prop at a photo-op for the very monster whose hate killed her/his parents. I would need 280,000 characters to say how furious I am.”

Bryan William Jones: “I am genuinely confused and horrified by this image. Am I taking this the wrong way? Why is Trump and Melania posing, GRINNING, and giving a thumbs up with the infant who’s parents were murdered by the shooter in El Paso. Seriously… WTH is going on?”

What was going on was this: The orphaned child, named Paul, had been injured during the shooting, breaking his fingers when his mother, Jordan, fell on him. She died trying to protect him. Her husband, Andre, died trying to shield her from the bullets.

The baby’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, had brought Paul back to the hospital—reportedly at the request of the White House—for a photo-op with Trump.

Anchondo stands next to Donald Trump in the photo. Tito is a strong supporter of Trump.

According to him, so was his brother, Andre: “I think people are misconstruing President Trump’s ideas. My brother was very supportive of Trump.”

And so, ironically enough, so was the killer—Patrick Wood Crusius—whose victims were mostly Hispanics.

Just 27 minutes before the massacre, Crusius had posted an online manifesto warning about a “Hispanic invasion.”

Its language was similar to that used by Trump: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought about by an invasion….

“In short, America is rotting from the inside out, and peaceful means to try to stop this seem to be nearly impossible.”

Another viewer of the photo who was thoroughly outraged by it was David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times. 

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

Appearing on the August 9 edition of The PBS Newshour, Brooks said: “Well, there’s a photo, a still from that visit where he’s with the orphan baby and two family members, with his wife.

“And Melania is holding the child. And he’s got this grin and the thumb up. And when I looked at that photo, I thought, the Democrats are having a debate: Is he a racist? Is he a white supremacist? And I look at that photo, I think, well, he’s a sociopath.

“He’s incapable of experiencing or showing empathy. And, politically, it’s helpful for him to target that lack of empathy and fellow feeling toward people of color. But how much have we seen him show empathy for anybody?

“And so I look at that as someone who is unloved and made himself unlovable and whose subject is himself, is his own competitive greatness. And so he doesn’t do the consoler in chief just because he doesn’t do that emotional range.” 

This wasn’t the first time that Brooks had commented on Trump’s apparent incapacity for empathy.

On March 25, 2016, Brooks, again on The PBS Newshour, said: “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, so his relationship with women, it has no love in it. It’s trophy.

“And [Trump’s] relationship toward the world is one of competition and beating, and as if he’s going to win by competition what other people get by 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, but it comes out in his attitude toward women.”

Brooks may be the first conservative columnist to describe a Republican President as a “sociopath.” Given Trump’s behavior on what was supposed to be a day of national mourning, it isn’t likely to be the last time Brooks uses that word. 

AMERICA’S “SOCIOPATH-IN-CHIEF”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 13, 2019 at 12:14 am

Since 2006, 1,714 people have been killed in 311 mass shootings within the United States. This works out to about one incident per every two weeks.

From January 1 to August 5, 2019—216 days into the year—the United States has had 112 people killed in gun massacres. That comes to about one death every other day, according to an analysis by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

On the morning of August 3, 2019, a lone gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others in El Paso, Texas. The killer—Patrick Wood Crusius—reportedly targeted Latinos.

Then, on the morning of August 4, another gun massacre occurred—in Dayton, Ohio. Ten people were killed, including the gunman, and 27 others were injured. 

On August 7, President Donald Trump flew first to Dayton and then to El Paso—allegedly to comfort the surviving victims of those massacres.

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Donald Trump

So what was officially intended to be a day of comforting the afflicted became one of Presidential egomania, venom and self-pity.

On the night of August 6, Trump tweeted an attack on Democratic Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke:

“Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O’Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!”

The tone was that of an all-powerful dictator addressing a rebellious subject.

O’Rourke quickly replied on Twitter: “22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I.”

Beto O'Rourke, Official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg

Beto O’Rourke

Then Trump attacked The New York Times for changing its “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism” headline: “After 3 years I almost got a good headline from the Times!”

Trump next tried to tie the Dayton shooter to Democrats, no doubt because Republicans have been the party resisting gun control legislation: “Meanwhile, the Dayton, Ohio, shooter had a history of supporting political figures like [Senator] Bernie Sanders, [Senator] Elizabeth Warren, and ANTIFA.” @OANN I hope other news outlets will report this as opposed to Fake News. Thank you!”

Dayton’s mayor, Nan Whaley, and Ohio’s United States Senator, Sherrod Brown, reacted positively to Trump’s visit to Miami Valley Hospital: “They were hurting. He was comforting. He did the right things. Melania did the right things,” Brown said. “And it’s his job in part to comfort people. I’m glad he did it in those hospital rooms.”

Whaley added: “I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton.”

Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton, Ohio USA.jpg

Nan Whaley

Daniel E. Cleary [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

This did not, however, prevent Trump from attacking both of them on Twitter: “Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with the Victims & families, Law Enforcement, Medical Staff & First Responders. It was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love.

“Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally….misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with. They were all amazing!” 

White House Press Secretary Stephan Grisham tweeted: “President @realDonaldTrump graciously asked Sen Brown & Mayor Whaley to join as he and the First Lady visited victims, medical staff & first responders. It is genuinely sad to see them immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics.” 

White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino tweeted: “Very SAD to see Ohio Senator Brown, & Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley – LYING & completely mischaracterizing what took place w/ the President’s visit to Miami Valley Hospital today. They are disgraceful politicians, doing nothing but politicizing a mass shooting, at every turn they can.”

“The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video. They all loved seeing their great President!”

Responding to Trump’s attacks, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley tweeted: “Not sure what the President thinks @SenSherrodBrown and I misrepresented. As we said, the victims and first responders were comforted by his presence. Let’s hope he’s not one of these all talk, no action politicians and actually does something on gun control. #DoSomething.” 

From Dayton it was on to El Paso—and more personal attacks via Twitter.

First target: Former Vice President and now Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden: “Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring! The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks with this guy. It will be over for them, not to mention the fact that our Country will do poorly with him. It will be one big crash, but at least China will be happy!”

Then he blasted Shepard Smith, one of the few anchors on Right-wing Fox News Network who’s willing to criticize him: “Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews. Actually, whenever possible, I turn to @OANN!” 

From Dayton, it was on to El Paso—and a photo-op that would provoke national outrage.

READY TO END GUN MASSACRES? HERE’S HOW.

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 6, 2019 at 12:05 am

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

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

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

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

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

Two things:

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

Politicians—with rare exceptions—have only two goals:

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

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

Consider Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

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

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

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

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

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

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

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE NRA’S “GUN-TIME RELIGION” AND ITS “HOLY BODYCOUNT”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 5, 2019 at 1:00 am

On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz slaughtered two faculty members and 15 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

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

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

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

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Wayne LaPierre

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

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

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

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

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

His C-PAC congregation gave him a wild ovation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their leader, Mendez, chants:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NRA CHORUS: Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!

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

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

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

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

NRA CHORUS (singing): Unto my God!

NRA CONGREGATION (singing):

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

The good Gun makes us what we are!

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

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

* * * * * *  

On December 14, 2012, a psychotic gunman using military firepower slaughtered 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since then, at least 2,189 mass shootings have erupted nationwide, with at least 2,475 killed and 9,137 wounded.

CORPORATE DATA BREACHES? BLAME CEOs: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 2, 2019 at 12:43 am

On July 15, 2015, Ashley Madison joined the list of companies that failed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information—such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

And Ashley Madison had more reason than most to do this—as the notorious website for cheating wives and husbands.

After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true. Yet apparently its owners didn’t care enough about the privacy of their customers to provide adequate security.

Like so many other companies hit by hackers, Ashley Madison sought to reassure its dangerously compromised customers:

“At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.”

This statement gave new meaning to the phrase, “Closing the barn door after the cow has gotten out.”

Avid Life Media assured its customers that it had hired “one of the world’s top IT security teams” to work on the breach.

Adultery-dating website Ashley Madison hacked

So why wasn’t this “top IT security team” hired at the outset?

On August 18, 2015, the hackers began releasing their pirated information. 

Ashley Madison’s customers chose to put their private information on its computer system.

Those of Equifax, didn’t. Equifax collected this from credit card companies.

From Mid-May through July, 2017, Equifax was hacked. The breach was discovered on July 29. 

But the company didn’t announce it until September 7, 2017.

As a result, the private data of nearly 150 million people was compromised.

On July 22, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that Equifax, one of the nation’s largest credit-reporting companies, would pay up to $700 million to settle with the FTC and consumers.

If approved by the federal district court Northern District of Georgia, the settlement will provide up to $425 million in monetary relief to consumers and a $100 million civil money penalty.

According to Karl A. Racine, attorney general for Washington, D.C., it’s the largest settlement ever for a data breach. 

“Equifax failed to protect consumers’ information and failed to enact reasonable security measures under California’s data security laws,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a news conference.

“That left very important personal information exposed and allowed hackers to steal consumers’ names, Social Security numbers, their birth dates, their addresses and in some instances their driver’s license number and even credit related information.”

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And for those who believe the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public one: On the week that Equifax agreed to pay $700 million for its massive 2017 data breach, Richard Smith, its disgraced former CEO, got some wonderful news: 

  • He was slated to receive as much as $19.6 million in stock bonuses since leaving the company.
  • That’s roughly 1,000 times the $20,000 maximum payout that any financially damaged consumer can collect from Equifax.
  • In addition, Equifax agreed to cover Smith’s medical bills for life, a benefit the company estimates is worth another $103,500.
  • Equifax decided he deserved a $24 million pension.
  • Smith got $50,000 in tax and financial planning services.
  • His stock bonuses cover a period that includes the former executive’s performance in 2017. 

When CBS News contacted Equifax on this development, the company refused to comment. Neither could Smith be reached.

There is a reason why these security breaches keep happening.

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

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

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

Hering warned that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.” And he offered 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,” wrote 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. The Justice Department should vigorously prosecute CEOs whose companies’ criminal 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.”

CORPORATE DATA BREACHES? BLAME CEOs: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 1, 2019 at 12:08 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.

Among those companies hacked:

  • Kmart
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Target
  • Sony Pictures 
  • Primera Blue Cross
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase

In 2015, they were joined by health insurance giant Anthem Inc. The company 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 
  • Employment information

Some of the customer data may have included 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 believed 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 encrypted 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 denied any wrongdoing.

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.”  

On July 15, 2015, Ashley Madison—the notorious website for cheating wives and husbands—joined this list.

Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan is: “Life is short.  Have an affair.”

One of its ads featured a photo of a woman apparently kneeling at the feet of a bare-chested man, her hand passionately clawing at his belt. Next to her was the caption: “Join FREE & change your life today. Guaranteed!”

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Millions of its clients suddenly found their lives changed in ways they never imagined—for the worse.

Ashley Madison claimed to have more than 37 million members.  

Its hackers were enraged at the company’s refusal to fully delete users’ profiles unless it received a $19 fee.

Referring to themselves as “The Impact Team,” they stated in an online manifesto: “Full Delete netted [Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison] $1.7 million in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie.

“Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real names and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”

On July 20, 2015, Avid Life Media defended the service, and promised to make it free.

The hackers demanded: “AM [Ashley Madison] AND EM [Established Men] MUST SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY PERMANENTLY.

“We have taken over all systems in your entire office and production domains, all customer information databases, source code repositories, financial records, emails.

“Shutting down AM and EM will cost you, but non-compliance will cost you more.”

The hackers threatened to “release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

Avid Life Media assured its customers that it had hired “one of the world’s top IT security teams” to work on the breach:

“At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act.”

So why didn’t the company hire “one of the world’s top IT security teams” before the hack?

THE MEDIA AND MUELLER: JUDGING BY THE EYE, NOT THE HAND

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 29, 2019 at 2:05 am

….For men in general judge more by the eyes than by the hands, for every one can see, but very few have to feel.  Everyone sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are….

So wrote Niccolo Machiavelli in his famous book, The Prince, on how to attain political power.

And his advice applies directly to the reception given the July 24 appearance of former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller before the House Judiciary Committee. 

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Niccolo Machiavelli

There he testified that Donald Trump, the President of the United States:

  • Sought Russian interference during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
  • Benefited from that intervention.
  • Concealed his close personal economic ties to Vladimir Putin by lying to the public about his hidden attempts to secure a construction project in Moscow.
  • Lied to the special prosecutor.
  • Directed subordinates to falsify records.
  • Tried to exert “undue influence” on law enforcement in order to protect himself and his allies.

A July 26 article in The Atlantic—entitled “The Press Has Adopted Trump’s Reality-Show Standards”—sums up the general reaction of the nation’s press to these bombshell revelations:

“In any other administration, in any other time, a special prosecutor, former FBI director, and decorated Marine testifying that the president of the United States was an unprosecuted felon who encouraged and then benefited from an attack on American democracy in pursuit of personal and political gain would bring the country to a grinding halt.

“But the American political press found Mueller insufficiently dazzling.” 

Among those media:

  • The New York Times: “Mueller’s Performance Was a Departure From His Much-Fabled Stamina.”
  • The Washington Post: “On Mueller’s Final Day on the National Stage, a Halting, Faltering Performance.” And another reporter dubbed him a “weary old man.”
  • The Hill: “Muller’s ‘Blockbuster’ Appearance Turned into ‘Bomb’ of Performance.”
  • Politico: “Bob Mueller Is Struggling.”
  • Right-wing media openly questioned Mueller’s health. These same media never mention that Trump is grotesquely overweight, never walks when he can ride, and eats a diet high in fats and calories.

In short: The nation’s most influential news media—on which citizens depend for their understanding of national and international personalities and events—has adopted the standards of teenagers.

News Media

Summer is when American teenagers lose themselves in movies featuring superheroes such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man.

Americans like their heroes young and powerful—preferably invincible. They want their heroes to be handsome and their villains to be ugly. They want to see lots of explosions and collapsing buildings.

And if a superhero can deliver a zinger of a line while throwing a KO punch, so much the better.

Lacking a sense of history—or concern for it—most Americans remain ignorant of the men, women and events that have shaped the era in which they live. 

Most of those who watched Robert Mueller testify before Congress knew nothing of the sacrifices he had made for his country: 

  • As a Marine Vietnam veteran decorated for heroism (1968-1971);
  • As a United States Attorney (1986-1987 and 1998-2001);
  • As a United States Assistant Attorney General (1990-1993 and 2001); and
  • As director of the FBI (2001-2013).

Retiring from the FBI in 2013 at age 69, Mueller’s 27-year career as a dedicated law enforcer seemed at last to be over.

Then President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for daring to investigate links between Russian Intelligence agents and the Trump 2016 Presidential campaign.

And, once again, on May 17, 2017, Mueller accepted his country’s call to serve as Special Counsel to investigate those links.

Director Robert S. Mueller- III.jpg

Robert Mueller

Since then, Trump, his shills in Congress and Right-wing Fox News have relentlessly attacked Mueller’s integrity and investigative methods.

Never knowing when he might be fired by Trump, Mueller quietly and methodically pursued his investigation.

As a result, Mueller:

  • Indicted three companies and 34 individuals.
  • Obtained eight guilty pleas to felonies or convictions—including five Trump associates and campaign officials.
  • Unveiled the Russians’ determination to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton.
  • Discovered that Trump associates knew about Russian outreach efforts during the campaign. 

Since the onset of Mueller’s investigation, President Trump and his Republican lackeys in the House and Senate have ruthlessly tried to smear his name and undermine his findings.

So on July 24, a Democratic Congress summoned Mueller to testify publicly about the conclusions he had reached. He was forced to:

  • Testify for seven hours before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.
  • Endure powerful, hot klieg lights needed by television cameras.
  • Patiently take questions that were at times self-serving 
  • Respectfully answer questions meant to attack his personal and professional integrity.
  • Simplify complex legal scenarios for men and women who have the attention span of a gnat. 

Although Mueller was joined by former deputy special counsel Aaron Zebley, Zebley was forbidden to give testimony. He could only serve as Mueller’s counsel, giving quiet advice.

So the entire seven hours of public testimony fell on the shoulders of a 74-year-old man. No wonder he appeared tired by the end of the day.

A news media that prizes glitz over substance has abdicated the role intended for it by the Founding Fathers: To act as a watchdog over the nation’s leaders. 

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