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TREASON BY NUMBERS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 25, 2018 at 12:08 am

Once you have decided on a treason,
Sign on with a man named Donald Trump.
And when you find your hatred is a reason,
Then on your country you can take a dump.

There really isn’t any need for worry,
Just do it and then go ahead and lie.
Like giving Russians secrets in the White House,
And that avoids those pests named “F.B.I.”

House and Senate Republicans have almost universally refused to to speak out against threats by President Donald Trump to fire deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and/or Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 

Or, more importantly, to take action to prevent or punish him for doing so.

On April 17, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not allow legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s independent investigation into Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election to reach the Senate floor.

Mitch McConnell portrait 2016.jpg

Mitch McConnell

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as majority leader. We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview on Fox News.

Earlier in the day, another Republican, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, claimed that legislation to protect Mueller was “unnecessary.”

“It would not be in the President’s interest to [fire Mueller] and I think he knows that,” said the Wisconsin Congressman.

Why have so few Republicans dared to stand against Trump 

Because many House and Senate Republicans received millions of dollars in “campaign contributions” from Russian oligarchs who are answerable to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

In short: Bribe monies.

And, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, the donations are entirely legal.

‘Cause it’s treason by numbers, 1, 2, 3,
It’s as easy to do as your G.O.P.
It’s treason by numbers, 1, 2, 3,
It’s as easy to do as your G.O.P.

Now if you have a taste for selling secrets
And you find it’s really thrilling as can be,
Then pick up that phone and call the Kremlin
And soon you’ll have a bud named Vladimir P.

The following data comes from the Federal Elections Commission.

One major Russian contributor is Len Blavatnik. During the 2015-16 election cycle, he proved one of the largest donors to GOP Political Action Committees (PACs).

Blavatnik’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion. In 2016, he gave $6.35 million to GOP PACs.

In 2017, he gave millions of dollars to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)Specifically, Blavatnik contributed:

  • A total of $1.5 million to PACs associated with Rubio. 
  • $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.
  • $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.
  • $3.5 million to a PAC associated with McConnell. 
  • $1.1 million to Unintimidated PAC, associated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
  • $200,000 to the Arizona Grassroots Action PAC, associated with Arizona Senator John McCain. 
  • $250,000 to New Day for America PAC, associated with Ohio Governor John Kasich.
  • $800,000 went to the Security is Strength PAC, associated with Senator Lindsey Graham.

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The Kremlin

Another Russian oligarch, Alexander Shustorovich, contributed $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee

A third oligarch, Andrew Intrater, contributed $250,000 to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.

And a fourth, Simon Kukes, contributed a total of $283,000, much of it to the Trump Victory Fund.

Altogether, four Russian oligarchs—Blavatnik, Shustorovich, Intrater and Kukes––contributed $10.4 million from the start of the 2015-16 election cycle through September 2017. Of this, 99% went to Republicans.

Yes, treason isn’t something that comes easy.
It’s an act that makes most people want to gag.
But you can earn those rubles that you long for
And the Right will back you up and wave the flag.

‘Cause it’s treason by numbers, 1, 2, 3,
It’s as easy to do as your G.O.P.
Treason by numbers, 1, 2, 3,
It’s as easy to do as your G.O.P.

As Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell participated in high-level intelligence briefings in 2016. From agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the code-cracking National Security Agency, he learned that the Russians were trying to subvert the electoral process.

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In October, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a joint statement: The Russian government had directed the effort to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.

Two weeks later, McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik.

On March 30, 2017, McConnell’s PAC accepted another $1 million from Blavatnik. This was just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 election.

Billionaires don’t give huge sums to politicians without expecting to get something in return. And this is especially true—and frightening—when the contributors are linked to a former KGB agent like Vladimir Putin, whose aggressive intentions are increasingly on display.

Now you can join the list of Right-wing traitors
In history’s dark and evil hall of shame.
Their ranks are filled with greedy, racist haters.
At least the ones that we all know by name.

But if you can con you way into the White House
If you become the leader of the land,
Then treason is the sport of the elected,
And Republicans will give you a big hand.

‘Cause it’s treason by numbers
1, 2, 3,
It’s as easy to do as your G.O.P.
Treason by numbers
1, 2, 3,
It’s as easy to do
As your God-damned G.O.P.

RUBLES FOR REPUBLICANS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 19, 2018 at 1:36 am

On April 16, the New York Times published an editorial taking direct aim at the vast majority of Congressional Republicans.

Specifically, it noted their unwillingness to speak out against threats by President Donald Trump to fire deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and/or Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Director Robert S. Mueller- III.jpg

Robert Mueller

Its key paragraph:

“Make no mistake: If Mr. Trump takes such drastic action, he will be striking at the foundation of the American government, attempting to set a precedent that a president, alone among American citizens, is above the law. What can seem now like a political sideshow will instantly become a constitutional crisis, and history will come calling for Mr. [Orrin] Hatch and his colleagues.”

Orrin Hatch is the Republican United States Senator from Utah. He and Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) have warned Trump not to fire  Rosenstein or Mueller.  But most Republicans have held silent.

Why?

The Times editorial offers two reasons:

First, Republicans fear enraging an easily infuriated Trump—who might aim his Twitter account at them and cost them votes in the upcoming fall elections.

Second, Republicans fear enraging Trump’s fanatical base—which, in this instance, has two meanings:

  1. “something (as a group of people) that reliably provides support (such as for a business or political candidate)”—Merriam Webster; and
  2. “Without moral principles; ignoble”—Oxford Living Dictionaries

Republicans content themselves with this rationalization:

  1. It hasn’t happened yet;
  2. It might not happen; and
  3. If it does happen, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

And how have Republicans reacted to the Times editorial?

On April 17, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not allow legislation to protect Mueller’s independent investigation to reach the Senate floor.

Mitch McConnell portrait 2016.jpg

Mitch McConnell

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as majority leader. We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview on Fox News.  

Earlier in the day, another Republican, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, claimed that legislation to protect Mueller was “unnecessary.” 

“It would not be in the President’s interest to [fire Mueller] and I think he knows that,” said the Wisconsin Congressman.

But there is an additional reason why so few Republicans have dared to stand up against Trump. 

Trump received help from Russian Intelligence agents during the 2016 Presidential campaign. And House and Senate Republicans have received Russian help of another kind: Bribe monies.

Of course, these are not officially classified as bribes. Officially, they are “campaign contributions.” 

In recent years, a network of Russian oligarchs—all of them answerable to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin—has been increasingly contributing to top Republicans. 

And, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, the donations are entirely legal

The following data comes from the Federal Election Commission.

One such major contributor is Len Blavatnik, who holds citizenship in both the United States and the United Kingdom. During the 2015-16 election cycle, he proved one of the largest donors to GOP Political Action Committees (PACs).  

Blavatnik’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion. Before 2016, he donated to both Democrats and Republicans in meager amounts. But in 2016, he gave $6.35 million to GOP PACs. 

Millions of dollars went to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)Specifically, he contributed

  • A total of $1.5 million to PACs associated with Rubio.  
  • $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee
  • $41,000 to both Republicans and Democrats in 2017.
  • $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.
  • $3.5 million to a PAC associated with McConnell
  • $1.1 million to Unintimidated PAC, associated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 
  • $200,000 to the Arizona Grassroots Action PAC, associated with Arizona Senator John McCain. 
  • $250,000 to New Day for America PAC, associated with Ohio Governor John Kasich
  • $800,000 went to the Security is Strength PAC, associated with Senator Lindsey Graham.

Another Russian oligarch, Alexander Shustorovich, contributed $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.   

Altogether, four Russian oligarchs—Blavatnik, Shustorovich, Andrew Intrater and Simon Kukes–contributed $10.4 million from the start of the 2015-16 election cycle through September 2017. Of this, 99% went to Republicans.  

As Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell participated in high-level intelligence briefings in 2016. From agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the code-cracking National Security Agency, he learned that the Russians were trying to subvert the electoral process.  

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In October, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a joint statement: The Russian government had directed the effort to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.

Two weeks later, McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik.

On March 30, 2017, McConnell’s PAC accepted another $1 million from Blavatnik. This was just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 election

Millionaires and billionaires don’t give six- or seven-figure monetary contributions to politicians without expecting to get something in return. And this is especially true—and frightening—when the contributors are linked to a former KGB agent like Vladimir Putin, whose aggressive intentions are increasingly on display. 

It’s clear that the Republican party has moved from “Better dead than Red” to “My Wallet, First and Always.”

A REPUBLICAN–AND RED–PRESIDENT?

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on April 16, 2018 at 4:36 pm

From the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it would have been unthinkable for a Republican Presidential candidate to find common cause with a Soviet dictator.

But that utterly changed when Donald Trump won, first, the Republican Presidential nomination and, then, the White House. Trump lavishly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin—and even called on him to directly interfere in the 2016 Presidential race.

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

“Russia, if you are listening,” Trump said at a press conference in Doral, Florida, “I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing—I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

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Donald Trump

This was nothing less than treason—calling upon a foreign power, hostile to the United States, to interfere in its Presidential election.

On December 16, 2016, then-FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. agreed with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House. 

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Trump, however—as both Presidential candidate and President—has steadfastly denied any such role by Russia.  An example of this occurred during his exchange with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the third and final Presidential debate on October 19, 2016:  

CLINTON: So I actually think the most important question of this evening, Chris, is, finally, will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in in this election, that he rejects Russian espionage against Americans, which he actually encouraged in the past?

Those are the questions we need answered. We’ve never had anything like this happen in any of our elections before. 

CHRIS WALLACE: Well?

TRUMP: [After insisting that Clinton wanted “open borders” and “people are going to pour into this country,” Trump finally deigned to address Wallace’s question.]  Now we can talk about Putin. I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. 

CLINTON: … that the Russians have engaged in cyber attacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.

So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We’ve never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election.

We have 17–17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyber attacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.  And I think it’s time you take a stand…

TRUMP: She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else….

CLINTON: …17 intelligence—do you doubt 17 military and civilian…

TRUMP:  And our country has no idea.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that there has been “no collusion” between himself and anyone from Russia. 

But he has tried hard to shut down any investigation of ties between members of his 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.

He has attacked reputable news organizations—such as CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times—as “fake news” for reporting on the expanding network of proven ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

On February 15, 2017, Trump privately asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey resisted that demand. 

On May 9, 2017, Trump suddenly fired Comey, claiming his motive for doing so was that Comey had mistreated Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential race. 

But on May 10, he unintentionally gave away the real reason. It happened during a meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.  

Kislyak was reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He had been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General, and fired National Security Adviser Flynn.  

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Comey’s firing resulted in demands for a Special Counsel to investigate Russian efforts to subvert the 2016 election. On May 17, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Meuller III to do so. 

Since then, Trump has repeatedly threatened to fire Mueller to shut down the investigation. 

On April 15, during an interview on ABC’s “20/20” to promote his upcoming book, A Higher Loyalty, Comey was asked: Do you think the Russians have compromising material on Trump? 

And he answered: “I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible.”

WHY REPUBLICANS REALLY SUPPORT TRUMP

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

As President Donald Trump lurches daily from one crisis to another—most of them of his own making—many Americans ask: “Why do Republicans continue to support him?” 

The answer lies in what happened 73 years ago in Berlin—when the “Thousand-Year” Third Reich collapsed after little more than 12 years.

While the Nazi Party ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945, its influence over all aspects of Germans’ lives was suffocating.

“Censorship prevailed, education was undermined, family life was idealized, but children were encouraged to turn in disloyal parents,” reads the back cover of Richard Grunberger’s classic 1971 book, The 12-Year Reich

“‘Volk’ festivals, party rallies, awards, uniforms, pageantry all played a part in the massive effort to shape the mind of a nation.” 

Image result for Images of "The 12-Year Reich"

And yet, after the Reich surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on May 8, 1945, a strange thing happened: Virtually no German admitted to having been a Nazi—or having even known one.

American and British soldiers couldn’t find any German veterans willing to admit they had ever fought against Western, democratic nations. All the once-proud legionaries of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS swore they had been fighting “the real enemy”—the Russians—on the Eastern front.

Countless Germans claimed to have hidden Jews in their attics. If so, how had six million Jews died horrifically before the Reich fell? 

And almost universally, they blamed the conflict on the man they had embraced as their Fuhrer.

In short: Adolf Hitler had lost the war he started—making him a loser nobody wanted to be identified with.

In the decades since, the “loser” tag has continued to stick with those who once served the Third Reich. Mel Brooks has repeatedly turned German soldiers—once the pride of the battlefield—into idiotic comic foils.

Even the fearsome Gestapo was spoofed for laughs on the long-running TV comedy, “Hogan’s Heroes.”

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“Hogan’s Heroes”

“Americans love a winner,” George C. Scott as George S. Patton says at the outset of the classic 1970 movie. “And will not tolerate a loser.” 

And that is why Republicans have stuck so closely with President Donald J. Trump.

A typical example of this occurred on June 8, 2017 after former FBI director James Comey testified before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Comey revealed that, on February 14, Trump had ordered everyone but Comey to leave a crowded meeting in the Oval Office.

Flynn had resigned the previous day from his position as National Security Adviser. The FBI was investigating him for his previously undisclosed ties to Russia.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” said Trump. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

This was clearly an attempt by Trump to obstruct the FBI’s investigation.

Yet Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan rushed to excuse his clearly illegal behavior: “He’s new at government, so therefore I think he’s learning as he goes.”

Paul Ryan's official Speaker photo. In the background is the American Flag.

Paul Ryan

David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, offered a more accurate explanation of Trump’s motives. Speaking on The PBS Newshour, Brooks said:

“We are a nation of laws. Donald Trump lives in an entirely different cultural universe. He is more clannist, believing in clan, believing in family, believing in loyalty, not recognizing objective law, not recognizing the procedures that is really how modern government operates….

“It’s not only that he doesn’t know the rules, but at all along and throughout his presidency, he has sort of trampled on the rules almost as a matter of policy, as a matter of character, because he doesn’t believe in that kind of relationships. It’s all personal loyalty, not about laws and norms and standards.”

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

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

What Republicans truly fear about Donald Trump is that he will finally cross one line too many—like firing Special Counsel Robert Meuller. 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.

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 Congressional 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.

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?  

GREATNESS IN HEROES: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 11, 2018 at 12:04 am

Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers.

Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich.

Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the former military hero now falsely condemned and executed as a traitor by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1938, Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) also became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) secret police sent to arrest him.

Image result for images of Dmitri Shostakovich

Dimitri Shostakovich

“He had a large picture of Tukhachevsky in his room, and after the announcement that Tukhachevsky had been shot as a traitor to the homeland, Zhilayev did not take the picture down.

“I don’t know if I can explain how heroic a deed that was….As soon as the next poor soul was declared an enemy of the people, everyone destroyed in a panic everything connected with that person….

“And naturally, photographs flew into the fire first, because if someone informed on you, reported that you had a picture of an enemy of the people, it meant certain death.

“Zhilayev wasn’t afraid. When they came for him, Tukhachevsky’s prominently hung portrait amazed even the executioners.”

“What, it’s still up?” one of the secret police asked.

“The time will come,” Zhilayev replied, “when they’ll erect a monument to him.”

As, in fact, has happened. 

Meanwhile, Stalin has been universally condemned as one of history’s greatest tyrants.

Image result for Images of Statues to Mikhail Tukhachevsky

Mikhail Tukhachevsky appears on a 1963 Soviet Union postage stamp

Third hero—James Brien Comey (December 14, 1960)

Comey served as United States Attorney (federal prosecutor) for the Southern District of New York (2002-2003).

As United States Deputy Attorney General (2003-2005), he opposed the warrantless wiretapping program of the George W. Bush administration. He also argued against the use of water boarding as an interrogation method.

In 2005, he entered the private sector as General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Lockheed Martin, the biggest contractor for the Department of Defense. 

On July 29, 2013, the United States Senate voted 93 -1 to confirm Comey as director of the FBI, the seventh in its history.

James Comey official portrait.jpg

James B. Comey

He directed the FBI from his appointment in 2013 by President Barack Obama until his firing on May 9 by President Donald Trump.

In a move that Joseph Stalin would have admired, Trump gave no warning of his intentions. Instead, he sent Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard, to the FBI with a letter announcing Comey’s dismissal.

Trump had three reasons for firing Comey:

  1. Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made this “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January. After refusing to make that pledge, Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief.
  2. Trump had tried to coerce him into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand.
  3. Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents. 

As a Presidential candidate and President, Trump:

  • Steadfastly denied those revelations;
  • Repeatedly attacked the “fake news” media reporting these revelations. Chief among his targets: CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post; and
  • Attacked the Intelligence agencies responsible for America’s security. 

On May 10—the day after firing Comey—Trump met in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Kislyak is reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General, and fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

During that meeting he gave the Russians sensitive Intelligence on ISIS that had been supplied by Israel. 

Two days later, on May 12, Trump tweeted a threat to the fired FBI director: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” 

But shortly afterward, it appeared Trump was the one who should worry: Reports surfaced that Comey had written memos to himself immediately after his private meetings with Trump. 

He had also told close aides that Trump was trying to pressure him into dropping the investigation into close ties between Russian Intelligence agents and Trump campaign staffers.

As for Trump’s threat of having tapes of his and Comey’s conversations: Like Trump’s claim that he could prove that Barack Obama wasn’t an American citizen, this, too, proved to be a lie.

And Comey’s firing led directly to a result Trump did not anticipate: Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yielded to demands from Democrats and appointed former FBI Director Robert Meuller III as a special prosecutor to investigate those ties.

HOW TO CREATE TRUST–AND DISTRUST–IN GOVERNMENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 6, 2018 at 2:29 pm

In 2005, Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, was placed on the United States Government’s No-Fly list, operated by the Terrorist Screening Center.

It wasn’t because she was a member of Al Qaeda. It happened because of an FBI screw-up.

The mess started in January 2005, when Ibrahim and her 14-year-old daughter arrived at the San Francisco Airport. Their destination: Hawaii, to attend a conference trip sponsored by Stanford.

Ibrahim, still recovering from a recent hysterectomy, was in a wheelchair.

When she approached the United Airlines counter to check in, she was seized, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a police car and taken to a holding cell.

There she was interrogated. During this, paramedics had to be summoned because she hadn’t taken her surgery medication.

Then, to her surprise, she was released—and told that her name had been removed from the No-Fly list. She boarded a flight to Hawaii and attended the conference.

But in March 2005, the situation suddenly changed.

Having returned to Malasia, she bought a ticket to fly back to California to meet with her Stanford thesis adviser. But at the airport, she was banned from the flight.

She was told that her student visa had been revoked, and that she would longer be let into the United States. When she asked why, authorities refused to give a reason.

She would not learn the answer for another eight years.

An FBI agent in San Jose, California, had conducted a background check on Ibrahim.  He hadn’t meant to place her on theNo-Fly list.

Image result for Images of FBI headquarters

 Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

He had simply checked the wrong boxes on a form. He didn’t even realize the mistake until nearly a decade later, during his deposition in 2013.

In fact, he filled out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions provided on the form. He did so even though the form stated, “It is recommended that the subject NOT be entered into the following selected terrorist screening databases.”

Thus, Ibrahim was placed on the No-Fly list.

That was bad enough—but at least understandable. FBI agents are human, and can and do err like anyone else.

What is not understandable or forgivable is this:

After Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the United States Government in 2006, the Justice Department ordered a cover-up—to prevent word from leaking that one of its agents had made a mistake.

Moreover, Ibrahim was ordered by the Justice Department to not divulge to anyone that she was suing the United States Government—or the reason for the lawsuit.

Ibrahim is currently the dean of architecture at University Putra Malaysia.

Because the Justice Department refused to admit its mistake, attorneys working pro bono for Ibrahim incurred a reported $3.8 million in legal fees, as well as $300,000 in litigation costs.

In his recent decision on the case, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, based in San Francisco, called the agent’s error “conceded, proven, undeniable and serious.

Once derogatory information is posted to the Terrorist  Screening Database, it can propagate extensively through the  government’s interlocking complex of databases, like a bad credit  report that will never go away,” he wrote.

The Justice Department could have quickly admitted the mistake and quickly moved to correct it.  But the egos of Federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors effectively ruled out this option.

Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2006-2011) had a completely different approach to dealing with mistakes.

In his autobiography, Duty, he writes of his determination to promote good relations between the Pentagon and the reporters who covered it.

Robert Gates, official DoD photo portrait, 2006.jpg

Robert Gates

In his commencement address at the Anapolis Naval Academy on May 25, 2007, he said:

“…the press, in my view [is] a critically important guarantor of our freedom.

“When it identifies a problem, the response of senior leaders should be to find out if the allegations are true. And if so, say so, and then act to remedy the problem.

“If [the allegations are] untrue, then be able to document that fact.”

Millions of Americans not only distrust the Federal Government—they believe it is aggressively conspiring against them.

But the vast majority of Federal employees do not come to work intent on destroying the lives of their fellow Americans.

They spend most of their time carrying out routine, often mind-numbing tasks—such as filling out what seem like an endless series of forms. 

But even where no malice is involved, their actions can have devastating consequences for innocent men and women. It’s easy, for example, to turn down someone for disability coverage when you’ve reduced human applicants to black-and-white documents.

But the consequences become even more frightening in cases where “national security” can be invoked to hide error, stupidity, or even criminality.

The refusal of the Justice Department to quickly admit the honest mistake of one of its agents prevented Ibrahim from boarding a commercial flight for seven years.

Federal agencies should follow the advice given by Robert Gates: Admit your mistakes and act quickly to correct them. 

Unless this happens, the poisonous atmosphere of distrust between the Government and its citizens will only worsen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greed-test CEOs for future government loans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alan Greenspan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In addition:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It means: “Let criminals be criminals.”

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

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

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

Robert Benmosche

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

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

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

Which it promptly got.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the situation need not remain this way.

COMBATING FASCISM TODAY: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 2, 2018 at 12:04 am

In 2014, Arizona Republicans passed Senate Bill 1062.

This allowed business owners to legally discriminate against gay and lesbian customers—including the right to refuse medical care to them.  

Its intent: To appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party. 

Gays and their supporters reacted by threatening a legal business and tourism boycott of Arizona. And the business community and its supporters, alarmed, took notice. 

  • Large businesses—such as Apple, American Airlines, AT&T, Delta Airlines, Verizon and Intel—publicly opposed the measure. 
  • With Super Bowl XL1X scheduled to be played in 2015 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee expressed concern.
  • Arizona’s United States Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake publicly urged Governor Jan Brewer to veto the measure, citing worries about the economic impact on the state’s businesses.

Faced with a choice between monetary greed and ideological fanaticism, Brewer chose to veto the legislation on February 26, 2014.  

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Governor Jan Brewer

Suddenly, Right-wingers who had anticipated becoming persecutors now claimed themselves to be victims. Among their rants on Twitter:

  • “CNN led full court media press to take away rights of Christians. Just the beginning. Using tolerance as weapon against us. Wake up.”  –John Nolte(@NolteNC)
  • “Not sure what the GOP stands for when it stands against religious freedom out of pure fear of political correctness.”  –Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro)
  • “Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer makes Christians in her state second class citizens.” –toddstarnes (@toddstarnes)
  • “A sad day for Arizonans who cherish and understand religious liberty.” –The Center for Arizona Policy 

American Rightists believed they had a right to withhold their business services from those they hated.

But they considered it unfair and even demonic for gays and their supporters to withhold monies from discriminatory Arizona businesses.  

Story #3:

On February 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz slaughtered two faculty members and 15 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. His weapon of choice: An AR-15 assault rifle, often favored by gun massacre killers.

Among the students who survived the carnage: 17-year-old David Hogg. He quickly joined the student-led gun control advocacy group Never Again, becoming one of its best-known spokesmen. 

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David Hogg

He and his fellow student activists were immediately targeted for vicious insults and even death threats by the National Rifle Association and its shills—especially those in Congress and the Fox News Network. 

One of these shills was Fox News host Laura Ingraham. On March 28, not content with attacking Hogg’s efforts to ban assault weaponry, she attacked him personally, tweeting:

“David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it. (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA…totally predictable given acceptance rates.)” 

Hogg hadn’t been able to get into UC Los Angeles, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, or UC Irvine, despite having a 4.2 grade point average. 

For many Twitter users, this was beyond the pale, and they made their anger known: 

“Laura, you’re a parent. This is pretty deplorable.”

“Can’t imagine why any adult would make fun of a kid over college rejections, let alone a kid who’s been through what the Parkland kids have.”

“What is the purpose of this tweet? What is wrong with you? Are you actually proud of this? Regardless of your political beliefs and motivations, THIS is how you choose to present yourself? You must be so sad, angry and scared.”  

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  Laura Ingraham 

But it fell to David Hogg to strike back in a way guaranteed to frighten even the most fanatical Rightists. 

“I’m not going to stoop to her level and go after her on a personal level,” he said. “I’m going to go after her advertisers.”

He posted the following tweet to his 600,000 Twitter followers: 

“Pick a number 1-12 contact the company next to that #  

“Top Laura Ingraham Advertisers 

1. @sleepnumber
2. @ATT
3. Nutrish
4. @Allstate & @esurance
5. @Bayer
6. @RocketMortgage Mortgage
7. @LibertyMutual
8. @Arbys
9. @TripAdvisor
10. @Nestle
11. @hulu
12. @Wayfair

Nutrish was the first advertiser to drop its sponsorship of Ingraham’s program.  Other brands followed.  

Suddenly alarmed, Ingraham tweeted the next day: “Any student should be proud of a 4.2 GPA —incl. @DavidHogg111. On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland. For the record, I believe my show was the first to feature David…”   

Hogg dismissed her statement: “She only apologized after we went after her advertisers.” He said that he would accept her apology only if she denounced “the way your network has treated my friends and I in this fight.”  

Ingraham isn’t likely to do that. She has stayed silent since her tweet. Meanwhile, her advertisers have continued to fall off:   

  • The Atlantis
  • Bayer
  • Paradise Island Resort
  • Office Depot
  • Jenny Craig Miracle
  • Ear
  • Honda
  • Progressive
  • Hulu
  • TripAdvisor
  • Expedia
  • Wayfair
  • StitchFix
  • Jos A. Bank
  • Nestle and 
  • Johnson & Johnson.

Although only 17, David Hogg knows it’s better to stand up to tyrants than submit to them. He is sending a message that even the most hard-core Fascists can understand: Attack me and you’ll get it right back in your ugly faces.

COMBATING FASCISM TODAY: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 30, 2018 at 12:24 am

There are two ways to deal with bullies: Submit to them—or stand up to them. 

Here are three stories of what happened when intended victims counterattacked their would-be predators.

Story #1:

Karen Handel, vice president of public affairs for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, had it all worked out.

She had fashioned what she believed was a politically viable plan for Komen to pull its grant monies from Planned Parenthood (PP).

Karen Handel

She didn’t care that this money went entirely for breast cancer screenings for poor women. What she did care about was that about 3% of all PP revenues went toward providing abortion services.

Since being hired by Komen as vice president of public affairs, in April, 2011, Handel had pushed to drop PP from grants. She had promised to de-fund PP during her failed 2010 campaign for governor of Georgia. 

So, in 2012, she made her move.

The official version, as put out by Handel and the top brass of Komen, went: “We’ve halted grants to Planned Parenthood because it’s under investigation by Congress for misuse of funds.”

Unfortunately for Komen, the public instantly saw through the lie. And the results for Komen were as devastating as those that threatened to engulf Arizona two years later.

Any crank in Congress can start an “investigation” into anything.

And PP was “under investigation” by a crank: Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Stearns, a fanatical anti-abortionist, claimed he wanted to determine whether PP had spent public money on abortions over the last decade.

But Stearns didn’t hesitate to slander the patriotism of thousands of 9/11 “first responders”–the police, firefighters, construction workers and others who risked their lives to save their fellow Americans.

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Rep. Cliff Stearns

He did so by demanding that they submit their names, birthplaces, addresses, government ID numbers and other personal data to the FBI to prove they were not terrorists. 

Only then could they receive federally-subsidized medical care for injuries caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.  

Not one terrorist was discovered in the resulting investigations.

Public outrage at Komen was immediate and overwhelming:

  • More than 50 members of Congress signed letters asking  Komen to reverse course.
  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly rebuked Komen and pledged $250,000   to PP.
  • Approximately 37,000 people from all over the country signed a petition demanding Handel’s resignation.
  • PP raised nearly $3 million in contributions.

Reeling before this onslaught of criticism, Komen issued a statement: “We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants.”

Having failed in their latest assault on women’s rights, the Right’s would-be predators now portrayed themselves as victims:

  • “The last time I checked,” Handel told Right-wing Fox News, “private non-profit organizations have a right and a responsibility to be able to set the highest standards and criteria on their own without interference, let alone the level of vicious attacks and coercion that has occurred by Planned Parenthood. It’s simply outrageous.”
  • “Planned Parenthood campaigns to destroy anyone who questions them,” charged Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.
  • “Their attitude is that of an immature teenager with an enormous sense of entitlement. This is just more proof that Planned Parenthood will pulverize anyone who dares to question them,” Dannenfelser said.
  • “What Planned Parenthood did to that venerable and honorable organization [Komen Foundation] is nothing less than a Mafia-style shakedown,” said Steven H. Aden, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. The Fund bitterly opposes abortion, gay marriage, birth control and the separation of church and state.

Many conservatives correctly defended Komen’s right, as a private charitable organization, to give—or withhold—its money as it saw fit.

But these same conservatives refused to grant PP’s outraged supporters the same right: To withhold their own monies from Komen. 

National Review’s Daniel Foster called the backlash to Komen “disgusting,” attacking PP and “the Left” for their “gangsterism.”

Story #2:

Two years later, in 2014, the Right made another move to strip Americans it didn’t like of their most basic rights.  Their weapon of choice: Arizona Senate Bill 1062.

The legislation had been passed by the Republican-controlled State House of Representatives and Senate. Its intent: 

  • Allow business owners to turn away gay and lesbian customers.
  • Allow employers to deny equal pay to women.
  • Allow individuals to renege on contract obligations.  
  • Allow hospitals to refuse to provide medical care to a gay or lesbian patient.

And all of these actions would have been legally protected—so long as “sincere religious belief” was cited  as the reason.

The legislation was written by the Right-wing advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy and the Christian legal organization, Alliance Defending Freedom. 

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

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

Gays and their supporters reacted by threatening a legal business and tourism boycott of Arizona.  And the business community and its supporters, alarmed, took notice.  

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