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ENDING GUN MASSACRES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 25, 2017 at 12:09 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.

REPUBLICANS: HEALTHCARE IS FOR US, BUT NOT FOR YOU

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on July 24, 2017 at 2:44 pm

On July 14, Arizona’s United States Senator John McCain underwent a “minimally invasive” medical procedure at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix to remove a blood clot from above his left eye.

Soon afterward, his Senate office announced:

“Senator McCain received excellent treatment at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, and appreciates the tremendous professionalism and care by its doctors and staff.

“He is in good spirits and recovering comfortably at home with his family. On the advice of his doctors, Senator McCain will be recovering in Arizona next week.”

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John McCain

McCain, who has a fair complexion, has repeatedly battled melanoma, a sometimes-deadly form of skin cancer. In 2000, the year he ran for President against George W. Bush, he had a particularly serious episode.

When he ran again for President in 2008, he told reporters: “Like most Americans, I go to see my doctor fairly frequently.”

He has had at least four documented cases of melanoma.

Lost in the massive publicity of McCain’s latest brush with melanoma was the sheer irony of the situation.

McCain had “received excellent treatment at Mayo Clinic Hospital” at a time when he and his fellow Republicans were vigorously trying to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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Barack Obama

The Act—nicknamed “Obamacare”—has provided access to healthcare to millions of poor and middle-class Americans who had previously been unable to afford it.

Since its becoming law on March 23, 2010, Republicans have declared it Public Enemy Number One and set out to repeal it. By March 2014 they had voted against it 54 times, trying to undo or substantially change it.

In October, 2013, they shut down the Federal Government for 15 days. They hoped to extort Obama into de-funding the ACA: If he did, they would re-open Federal agencies.

But, facing pressure from voters unable to obtain basic government services, Republicans backed down. 

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, every Republican candidate pledged to repeal Obamacare if s/he were elected.

Donald Trump—who won the Republican nomination and then the election—repeatedly made this the centerpiece of his campaign. 

On October 25, he promised: “My first day in office, I am going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk getting rid of this disastrous law and replacing it with reforms that expand choice, freedom, affordability.”

McCain himself has repeatedly tried to restrict access to healthcare by ordinary Americans.

On January 29, 2009, he voted against the Childrens Health Insurance Program Reauthorization and Expansion.

This expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage from 6.6 million children to about 11 million children.

On December 24, 2009, he voted against the ACA. 

On February 2, 2011, McCain voted to repeal the ACA.

On July 26, 2015, McCain voted to repeal the ACA and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

On December 3, 2015, he voted for the “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015.”

This would have gutted “Obamacare” by repealing the individual mandate, the employer mandate, the medical device excise tax, and the “Cadillac tax”” on expensive employee health insurance premiums.

It also included a measure to eliminate federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood for one year.

And what lay behind Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” the ACA?

Americans earning $5 million or more—those in the top 0.1%—would receive an average tax cut of nearly $250,000 in 2026, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. Those earning $875,000 and more—those in the top 1%—would save $45,500 in taxes a year.

Appearing on the June 23 edition of the PBS Newshour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields said: “And what it is, the only thing that the House and the Senate are consistently faithful on is that it’s a major tax cut, It is a redistribution.

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

“Obama, who was, you know, if anything, overly moderate for many tastes, did, in fact, lay it on the most advantaged among us to pay, to cover people who couldn’t afford it in his plan. And a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income for those earning over a quarter of a million dollars became the rallying cry, the organizing principle for the opposition.

“And that’s the one constant that has been through it all. Warren Buffett, to his everlasting credit, pointed out that he will get a tax cut under the Republican plan this year of $630,000. That’s the redistribution.

“And, you know, in the richest nation in the history of the world, it is a terrible indictment, a sad commentary that the most vulnerable among us, the least—the least among us are really tossed off as a political statement.”

Speaking on the same program, David Brooks, conservative columnist for the New York Times, said: “What it does—you ought to start with, what kind of country are we in? We’re in a country where—widening inequality.

“And so I think it’s possible to be a conservative and to support market mechanisms basically to redistribute wealth down to those who are suffering.

“This bill doesn’t do that. It goes the other way. So, I think, fundamentally, it doesn’t solve the basic problem our country has, which is a lot of people are extremely vulnerable.”

LIKE HITLER, LIKE TRUMP–“LET THEM DIE”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 21, 2017 at 12:21 am

On March 6, 2017, House Republican leaders unveiled the American Health Care Act (AHCA) as their replacement for “Obamacare.”

Conservative Republicans immediately declared that it didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare. And “moderates” complained that it would leave too many people uninsured. 

Democrats, meanwhile, stayed silent. They had pushed hard in 2009-10 to provide all Americans with access to healthcare. And they weren’t going to participate in dismantling their signature legislation.

On March 13, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released its report estimating that about 18 million people would be uninsured in 2018 if the AHCA were enacted. The number of uninsured people would reach 19 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026.

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Still, Republicans plunged forward, with House leaders tweaking it slightly to win conservative and “moderate” votes.

Still, conservatives felt the bill helped too many people. And “moderates” feared that the millions of voters who would lose their insurance would vote them out of office at the next election. 

On March 24, President Donald Trump, knowing the AHCA couldn’t pass the House, asked Speaker Paul Ryan to pull it off the floor. 

And Ryan did so, only moments before a scheduled vote.

Finally, on May 4, House Republicans were ready to vote to pass the AHCA.

The vote was preceded by a pep rally, which featured beer, the “Rocky” theme song, the “Taking Care of Business” song, a prayer and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Some Republicans, asked whether they had read the bill they supported, refused to answer. 

That up to 24 million Americans would lose their medical insurance meant nothing to Right-wingers. 

What did matter to them was:

  • Destroying the legacy of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black President; and
  • Initiating a huge transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the 1% wealthiest.

On May 4, House Republicans passed the AHCA and sent it the Senate. There it was expected to be significantly revised.

But this, too, didn’t matter to House Republicans. They had “kept faith” with their hate-filled. Right-wing constituents—and assured their own re-elections. 

Speaking in front of nearly 100 GOP lawmakers in the White House Rose Garden, Trump boasted that the AHCA would “finish off” the “catastrophe” of Obamacare.

Donald Trump

At a White House celebration, Trump boasted: “This has brought the Republican Party together.”

But then came disaster—for Republicans—in the Senate. 

With Democrats abstaining, Republicans found themselves fighting each other. 

Some wanted to gut “Obamacare” entirely, whatever the consequences for the 24 million Americans who would be left without insurance.

Others feared that slashing more than $700 billion from Medicaid—the Federal medical insurance program for the poor—would lead to millions of angry voters turning out Republicans at the polls.

(And slashing Medicaid—as opposed to expanding it, as President Obama had sought to do—was a major reason why Republicans wanted to overturn “Obamacare.”) 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) desperately tried to hammer out a compromise between the two opposing sides. When this proved impossible, it was clear the “repeal and replace” bill wouldn’t pass the Senate. 

At that point, President Trump tweeted his own solution: “Republicans should just ‘REPEAL’ failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” 

But this proved too politically risky for some Republicans. 

On July 18, Republican Senators’ efforts to replace the ACA without a ready replacement collapsed. 

As usual, Donald Trump had a ready “solution” to offer. Like Adolf Hitler issuing his “scorched earth” order in a doomed Berlin in 1945, the President said:

“Let Obamacare fail; it’ll be a lot easier. And I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail.

“We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they’re going to say, ‘How do we fix it? How do we fix it?’ Or, ‘How do we come up with a new plan?’” 

* * * * *

Allowing Obamacare to fail would deprive millions of Americans of healthcare. But that meant nothing to Donald Trump.

Just as destroying everything still remaining in Germany had meant nothing to Adolf Hitler.

Fortunately for Germany, one man—Albert Speer—finally broke ranks with his Fuhrer.

Albert Speer

Albert Speer

Risking death, he refused to carry out Hitler’s “scorched earth” order. Even more important, he mounted a successful effort to block such destruction and persuade influential military and civilian leaders to disobey the order as well.

As a result, those targets slated for destruction were spared.

Since the election of America’s first black President, Republicans have waged a similar “scorched earth” campaign.

Acting as extortionists, they repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they didn’t get their way in legislative matters. And they repeatedly blocked legislation to help the poor, the unemployed, the sick, women, the elderly, the disabled and the middle-class. 

Like Adolf Hitler, their attitude has been: “If I can’t rule America, there won’t be an America.”

The country is still waiting for a Republican Albert Speer to step forward and save America from the self-destructive brutalities of its own Right-wing fanatics.

LIKE HITLER, LIKE TRUMP–“LET THEM DIE”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 20, 2017 at 12:50 am

Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments for the Third Reich, was appalled.

His Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler—the man he had idolized for 14 years—had just passed a death sentence on Germany, the nation he claimed to love above all others.

Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler pouring over architectural plans

On March 19, 1945, facing certain defeat, Hitler had ordered a massive “scorched-earth” campaign throughout Germany.

All German agriculture, industry, ships, communications, roads, food stuffs, mines, bridges, stores and utility plants were to be destroyed.

If implemented, it would deprive the entire German population of even the barest necessities after the war.

Now living in a bunker 50 feet below bomb-shattered Berlin, Hitler gave full vent to his most destructive impulses.

Adolf Hitler addressing boy soldiers as the Third Reich crumbles

“If the war is lost,” Hitler told Speer, “the nation will also perish. This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis which the people will need to continue even a most primitive existence.

“On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves, because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation.

“Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have all been killed.”

Speer argued in vain that there must be a future for the German people. But Hitler refused to back down. He gave Speer 24 hours to reconsider his opposition to the order.

The next day, Speer told Hitler: “My Fuhrer, I stand unconditionally behind you!”

“Then all is well,” said Hitler, suddenly with tears in his eyes.

“If I stand unreservedly behind you,” said Speer, “then you must entrust me rather than the Gauleiters [district Party leaders serving as provincial governors] with the implementation of your decree.”

Filled with gratitude, Hitler signed the decree Speer had thoughtfully prepared before their fateful meeting.

By doing so, Hitler unintentionally gave Speer the power to thwart his “scorched earth” decree.

Speer had been the closest thing to a friend in Hitler’s life. Trained as an architect, he had joined the Nazi Party in 1931.

He met Hitler in 1933, when he presented the Fuhrer with architectural designs for the Nuremberg Rally scheduled for that year.

From then on, Speer became Hitler’s “genius architect” assigned to create buildings meant to last for a thousand years.

In 1943, Hitler appointed him Minister of Armaments, charged with revitalizing the German war effort.

Nevertheless, Speer now crisscrossed Germany, persuading military leaders and district governors to not destroy the vital facilities that would be needed after the war.

“No other senior National Socialist could have done the job,” writes Randall Hanson, author of Disobeying Hitler: German Resistance After Valkyrie.

“Speer was one of the very few people in the Reich—perhaps even the only one—with such power to influence actors’ willingness/unwillingness to destroy.”

Despite his later conviction for war crimes at Nuremberg, Speer never regretted his efforts to save Germany from total destruction at the hands of Adolf Hitler.

Fast-forward to the United States and the 2008 election of the nation’s first black President. 

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act (ACA), nicknamed Obamacare. Its purpose: To provide access to healthcare for millions of poor and middle-class Americans who had heretofore been unable to obtain it.

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President Barack Obama

It became—and remains—Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. 

Republicans immediately declared “Obamacare” Public Enemy Number One and set out to repeal it. By March 2014 they had already voted against it 54 times, trying to undo or substantially change it.

In October, 2013, they shut down the Federal Government for 15 days. They hoped to extort Obama into de-funding the ACA: If he did, they would re-open Federal agencies.

But, facing pressure from voters unable to obtain basic government services, Republicans backed down. 

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, every Republican candidate pledged to repeal Obamacare if s/he were elected.

Donald Trump—who won the Republican nomination and then the election—repeatedly made this the centerpiece of his campaign. 

On October 25, he promised: “My first day in office, I am going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk getting rid of this disastrous law and replacing it with reforms that expand choice, freedom, affordability.

“You’re going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost. And it’s going to be so easy.”

But after taking office on January 20, he found that replacing the ACA wasn’t so easy.

On March 6, 2017, House Republicans unveiled the American Health Care Act (AHCA). This was attacked by conservatives because it didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare. And “moderate” Republicans complained that it would leave too many people uninsured.

On March 13, 2017, the Congressional Budget Committee released its report estimating that about 18 million people would be uninsured in 2018 if the AHCA were enacted. The number of uninsured people would reach 19 million in 2020 and 23 million in 2026. 

Still, Republicans plunged forward, with House leaders making slight changes to win conservative and moderate votes.

“FAMILY VALUES”: A SLOGAN FOR HYPOCRITES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 19, 2017 at 12:10 am

Dennis Hastert, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, was released from Federal prison today–July 18.

He had served 13 months of a 15-month sentence.

Hastert was the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007. He had been indicted on May 28, 2015, for violating federal banking laws and lying to the FBI.

He had tried to conceal $3.5 million he had paid since 2010 to a man he had molested as a high school student.

The student had been on the wrestling team that Hastert had coached as a teacher at Yorkville High School in Yorkfille, Ill.

“I felt a special bond with our wrestlers,” Hastert wrote in his 2004 memoirs, Speaker: Lessons From Forty Years of Coaching and Politics. “And I think they felt one with me.”

Apparently that “special bond” extended to activities outside the ring. In the pre-sentence  report, Justice Department prosecutors charged that Hastert had abused four young boys when he was their wrestling coach. One was only 14 years old.  

Hastert had claimed that a coach should never strip away another person’s dignity. But, said federal prosecutors, “that is exactly what defendant did to his victims. He made them feel alone, ashamed, guilty, and devoid of dignity.”

Later, in 1981, Hastert entered Congress.

Dennis Hastert

Hastert was not indicted for having had a sexual relationship with an underage student. The statute of limitations had long ago run out on that offense.

He was indicted for trying to evade federal banking laws and lying to the FBI.

The Bureau had wanted to know if Hastert was using the cash for criminal purposes or if he was the victim of a criminal extortion.

And Hastert had claimed he was storing cash because he didn’t feel safe with the banking system: “Yeah, I kept the cash. That’s what I’m doing.”

J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building

On October 28, 2015, Hastert pleaded guilty to structuring money transactions in a way to avoid requirements to report where the money was going.  

Although he escaped going to prison as a child molester, he did not escape the stigma of being labeled one.

“The defendant is a serial child molester,” pronounced Judge Thomas M. Durkin at Hastert’s sentencing. “Some actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works. Nothing is more stunning than having ‘serial child molester’ and ‘Speaker of the House’ in the same sentence.”

During his tenure as Speaker of the House, Hastert had waged all-out war on homosexual rights. This included:

  • Pushing the anti-homosexual Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) through the House. This “forbids requiring any state or any other political subdivision of the United States to credit as a marriage a same-sex relationship treated as marriage in another state or equivalent government.”
  • Proposing a Constitutional amendment to “establish that marriage shall consist of one man and one woman.”
  • Voting against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which banned companies from discriminating against employees “on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Owing to Hastert’s “deeply conservative” voting record, in 1998, he received perfect scores of 100 from

  • The National Rifle Association;
  • The Christian Coalition;
  • The National Right to Life Committee; and
  • The Chamber of Commerce.

Hastert, who concealed his past as a sexual predator while claiming to be a man of virtue, wrote in his autobiography: “I was never a very good liar. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. I could never get away with it, so I made up my mind as a kid to tell the truth and pay the consequences.”

It would take decades before the revealing of the truth forced him to pay the consequences.

Hastert makes the third Republican “family values” Speaker of the House to become ensnared in an ethics scandal.

  • Newt Gingrich was the first Speaker (1985-1999) in the history of the House to be reprimanded and punished for ethics violations. His offense: Claiming tax-exempt status for a college course run for political purposes.
  • His successor, Bob Livingston, a supposedly happily married man and Gingrich’s presumed successor, was forced to resign when Hustler publisher Larry Flynt revealed his sexual infidelities. He had self-righteously demanded that President Bill Clinton, who had had an extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, resign his office.
  • Dennis Hastert’s conduct involved neither money nor women—but a series of male high school students.

Of course, Democrats have had their sex scandals as well. But Democrats usually don’t suffer as badly from them.

The reason: Republicans portray themselves as moral examples for the nation. So for them, being caught literally with their pants down proves a double-whammy.

They are condemned for their specific illegal/immoral acts—and for the sheer hypocrisy of their false claims of sainthood.

Ironically, Right-wingers like Hastert would fare better when caught in homosexual or extramarital affairs if they simply admitted their sexual tastes and registered as Democrats.

But in heavily Right-wing states like Texas and Oklahoma, they wouldn’t stand a chance of being elected as a Democrat. And Red-state voters, feeling themselves moral arbiters of the nation, wouldn’t elect anyone they thought was “unnatural.”

So Right-wingers will continue pretending to be moral paragons—and will continue paying the price when they’re exposed as fallible humans. 

DATA SECURITY BREACHES: “WE DON’T CARE–WE DON’T HAVE TO”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 14, 2017 at 1:15 am

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on the 1960s comedy hit, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, as Ernestine, the rude, sarcastic switchboard operator for Ma Bell.

She would tap into customers’ calls, interrupt them, make snide remarks about their personal lives. And her victims included celebrities as much as run-of-the-mill customers.

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

She introduced herself as working for “the phone company, serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth.”

But perhaps the line for which her character is best remembered was: “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”

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

Clearly, too many companies take the same attitude as Ernestine: “We don’t care. We don’t have to.”

This is especially true for companies that are supposed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information—such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

An October 22, 2014 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raised the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is clearly: No.

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

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

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

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

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

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

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

Among the customers’ information accessed:

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

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

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

Bad as that news was, worse was to come.

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

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

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

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

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

This is a commonplace practice in the healthcare industry.

The FBI launched an investigation into the hack.

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, John Hering’s complaints remain as valid today as they did last October.

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

Hering warns that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.” And he offers several reasons for this:

  • The sheer number of data compromises;
  • Relatively little consumer outcry;
  • Almost no impact on the companies’ standing on Wall Street;
  • Executives may consider such breaches part of the cost of doing business.

“There’s a short-term mindset and denial of convenience in board rooms,” writes Hering.

“Top executives don’t realize their systems are vulnerable and don’t understand the risks. Sales figures and new products are top of mind; shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

There are three ways corporations can be forced to start behaving responsibly on this issue.

  1. Smart attorneys need to start filing class-action lawsuits against companies that refuse to take steps to protect their customers’ private information. There is a name for such behavior: Criminal negligence. And there are laws carrying serious penalties for it.
  2. There must be Federal legislation to ensure that multi-million-dollar fines are levied against such companies—and especially their CEOs—when such data breaches occur.
  3. Congress should enact legislation allowing for the prosecution of CEOs whose companies’ negligence leads to such massive data breaches. They should be considered as accessories to crime, and, if convicted, sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Only then will the CEO mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because we’ll lose our money and/or freedom if we don’t.”

AMERICA UNDER BIBLICAL RULE–A DESCENT INTO HELL: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 12, 2017 at 12:04 am

On February 18, 2012, GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum warned about the “phony theology” of President Barack Obama.

Rick Santorum

“It’s not about you,” Santorum told supporters of the right-wing Tea Party in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s not about your quality of life.

“It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”

Which raises an interesting question: What would a Bible-based agenda mean for the country?

The death penalty would be vastly expanded to cover such “crimes” as:

  • Sabbath-breaking: Because the Lord considers it a holy day, anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death.  (Exodus 31:12-15)
  • Adultery:  If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)
  • Fornication: A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death.  (Leviticus 21:9)

A Biblical-era stoning

  • Nonbelievers: They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13)
  • Homosexuality:  If a man also lies with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20-13) 
  • Taking the Lord’s name in vain: Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. (Leviticus 24:16)

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution—which forbids slavery—would be repealed. The Bible not only permits slavery but lays out rules for its practice—such as:

  • When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. (Exodus 21-7)
  • However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. (Leviticus 25:44-45)
  • Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (1 Peter 2:18)

Almost all scientific progress would be discarded, since most of its findings conflict with the Bible:

  • One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4). This claim is totally contradicted by what astronomers now know about the eventual fate of the Earth: In about 7.6 billion years, the sun will exhaust its nuclear fuels.  This will vastly increase its heat and gravitational pull, and at least Mercury, Earth and Venus will be vaporized.
  • The Bible speaks of a world where physical laws are often violated by the will of God. Thus, Jesus turns water into wine and raises Lazarus from the dead; Jonah lives inside a fish for three days; Noah dies at 950 years; and demons are exorcised.
  • In Biblical times, mental illness was seen as a manifestation of demonic possession. Today we know that mental illness has nothing to do with evil spirits.

Laws guaranteeing equal rights for women would be repealed:

  • I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (1 Timothy 12:10)
  • Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
  • A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. (1 Timothy 2:11)
  • But if…evidence of the girl’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsman shall stone her to death. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)

Military conflicts would be fought without regard to the Geneva Convention–as the Israelites did:

  • “You are my battle-ax and sword,” says the Lord. “With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms….With you I will shatter men and women, old people and children, young men and maidens. With you I will shatter shepherds and flocks, farmers and oxen, captains and rulers.”  (Jeremiah 51:20-23)

Depiction of the taking of Jericho by the Israelites

  • Samuel said to Saul, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15, 1-3) 

Yes, a nation governed by “a theology based on the Bible” would be one far different from the United States we know today.

Since a number of Old Testament practices might lend themselves to easy abuse, this is not a matter to be taken lightly.

AMERICA UNDER BIBLICAL RULE–A DESCENT INTO HELL: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 11, 2017 at 12:03 am

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, America’s most famous preacher, spends a lot of time deciding who qualifies as a Christian—and who doesn’t.

Franklin Graham

He said just that on the February 21, 2012 edition of the MSNBC show, “Morning Joe.”

First, however, he offered his views on the relative Christian dedication of the major contenders for the Presidency in 2012:

President Barack Obama: “Islam sees him as a son of Islam….I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich:“Newt’s been married several times… but he could make a good candidate. I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is.”

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum: “His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it. I think he is, no question, a man of faith.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: “I’m just saying most Christians would not recognize Mormonism. Of course they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have a lot of other things that they believe in, too, that we don’t accept theologically.”

Thus, Graham had no problem in pronouncing as “saved” a notorious multiple-adulterer like Gingrich, or a rights-denying religious zealot like Santorum.

But he clearly refused to pronounce as “saved” a longtime church-goer like Obama or a Mormon like Romney (whose faith, most evangelicals like Graham believe, is actually a non-Christian cult).

Toward the end of the program, Mike Barnicle, one of the panelists interviewing Graham, said: “You must spend a big part of the day checking out what you conceive to be people’s depth of faith, in terms of measuring.”

“This is my business,” replied Graham. “You guys go through newspapers every day. I look at a person’s political interest, but more importantly I look at their spiritual interests….

“You have to go by what a person says, and how they live their lives…Are they faithful church goers? Or do they just go when the cameras are on them?”

Another man who dedicated his life to judging the religious commitment of others was Bernard Gui, the chief inquisitor at Toulouse from 1308 to 1322.

Bernard Gui

His inquisition of those suspected or accused of heresy led to over 900 guilty verdicts. Of those convicted during examination by Gui, 42 were executed—by being burned at the stake.

Gui closely studied the best methods for interrogating “heretics.” He set forth his findings in his most important and famous work, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis. or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness.”

In this, he offered a vivid example of how such interrogations might go. The following is taken from that manual:

Interrogator: You call your faith Christian, for you consider ours as false and heretical. But I ask whether you have ever believed as true another faith than that which the Roman Church holds to be true?

Accused Heretic: I believe the true faith which the Roman Church believes, and which you openly preach to us.

Interrogator: Perhaps you have some of your sect at Rome whom you call the Roman Church. I, when I preach, say many things, some of which are common to us both, as that God liveth, and you believe some of what I preach. Nevertheless you may be a heretic in not believing other matters which are to be believed.

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“Heretic” being burned at the stake

Accused Heretic: I believe all things that a Christian should believe.

Interrogator: I know your tricks. What the members of your sect believe you hold to be that which a Christian should believe. But we waste time in this fencing. Say simply, Do you believe in one God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost?

Accused Heretic: I believe.

Interrogator: Do you believe in Christ born of the Virgin, suffered, risen, and ascended to heaven?

Accused Heretic: (Briskly) I believe.

Interrogator: Do you believe the bread and wine in the mass performed by the priests to be changed into the body and blood of Christ by divine virtue?

Accused Heretic: Ought I not to believe this?

Interrogator: I don’t ask if you ought to believe, but if you do believe.

Accused Heretic: I believe whatever you and other good doctors order me to believe.

Inquisitor: Those good doctors are the masters of your sect; if I accord with them you believe with me; if not, not.

Accused Heretic: I willingly believe with you if you teach what is good to me.

Inquisitor: You consider it good to you if I teach what your other masters teach. Say, then, do you believe the body of our Lord, Jesus Christ to be in the altar?

Accused Heretic: (Promptly) I believe that a body is there, and that all bodies are of our Lord.

Interrogator: I ask whether the body there is of the Lord who was born of the Virgin, hung on the cross, arose from the dead, ascended, etc.

Accused Heretic: And you, sir, do you not believe it?

Interrogator: I believe it wholly.

Accused Heretic: I believe likewise.

WILD BILL HICKOK VS. THE NRA: PART TWO (END)

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 7, 2017 at 12:16 am

After being fired as town marshal of Abilene, Kansas, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok lived another five years. But they weren’t good ones.

Unlike William F. Cody, Hickok couldn’t adjust to the changing West.

It was becoming less wild. His scouting days were over—the Indian wars were rapidly coming to an end.

(In June, 1876, barely two months before his own death, the Sioux and Cheyenne would wipe out the other famous “Long Hair” of the plains–George Armstrong Custer—at the battle of Little Bighorn.)

And most towns, like Abilene, increasingly had little use for lead-slinging lawmen like Hickok.

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok

Worst of all, he was going blind—either from a venereal disease he had contracted or from the glare of too many prairie sunrises.

In 1873, Hickok tried his hand as an actor in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But he was a terrible performer—and knew it.

The fault, however, did not lie entirely with him. Even Laurence Oliver would have rebelled at spouting lines like: “Fear not, fair maiden, for you are ever safe with Will Bill, who has sworn to defend to the death your maidenly virtue.”

Not that the audiences cared. They had come to see legendary plainsmen—such as Hickok and Cody—in the flesh, not great theater.

Hickok asked Cody to release him from his contract. Cody refused. So Hickok once again turned to his guns for a solution.

In this case, it meant shooting blanks into the legs and buttocks of “dead” Indians who suddenly sprang to life and rushed off the stage. And one night, Hickok put a real bullet through a stage light that was hurting his already sensitive eyes.

That, finally, convinced Cody that Hickok’s acting days were over.

In March, 1876, he married Agnes Lake Thatcher, a circus acrobat several years his senior.

In April, he told Agnes he was heading for the gold rush country of Deadwood, South Dakota. After he made his fortune, he would send for her.

But she never saw him again.

Deadwood was the sort of town the National Rifle Association wants to see replicated across modern-day America. Everyone wore a gun, and there was no town ordinance against doing so. Nor were there any law-enforcers like Hickok to protect the public from the kill-crazy antics of liquored-up gunmen.

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Grave of “Wild Bill” Hickok

Worse for Hickok, he had two strikes against him: His reputation as a matchless gunfighter had preceded him—and his failing vision put him at a disadvantage in backing it up.

Arriving in Deadwood, he quickly decided that the strenuous life of a gold-miner was not for him. Instead, he would seek his fortune as he often had—in saloons as a gambler.

And, as he had so often, he spent more of his time losing money than making it.

On August 2, 1876, his long trail of bad luck finally ran out.

He had always sat with his back to a wall, as a precaution against ambush. On this afternoon, he found his preferred seat taken by another gambler named Charles Rich. Hickok asked Rich to trade places with him, but when the latter refused, Hickok didn’t press the matter. 

It was a sign that Hickok’s reputation had sharply fallen. Ten years earlier, had he made such a request, the other gambler would have rushed to swap chairs.

Hickok paid no attention as a whiskey bum named Jack McCall walked around to the corner of the saloon to where the ex-lawman was playing.

Jack McCall

The previous night, Hickok had won considerable money from McCall in a poker game—and had generously given him back enough to buy something to eat.

(The 1995 movie, Wild Bill, depicted McCall as Hickok’s illegitimate son seeking vengeance on the father who had abandoned him. But this was completely false, as the two were completely unrelated. The one saving grace to this otherwise absurd film was Jeff Bridges’ gritty performance as Hickok.)

Suddenly, McCall  pulled a double-action .45 from under his coat, shouted “Take that!” and shot Hickok in the back of the head.

Hickok died instantly.  He was 39.

As he slid from the table, he dropped the cards he had been holding—a pair of eights and another pair of Aces, which has ever since been known as “the dead man’s hand.”

McCall was “tried” by a mining court.  He claimed that Hickok had murdered his brother and he had sought revenge.  He was acquitted.

He headed for Wyoming, where he incessantly bragged that he had killed the famous “Wild Bill” Hickok.

McCall was arrested in Laramie and charged with murder. The trial in Deadwood was found to have been invalid—owing to the town’s being in Indian territory and outside the reach of United States law.

Once again forced to stand trial, McCall found himself convicted. On March 1, 1877, he was hanged. Later, it was discovered that McCall had never had a brother.

WILD BILL HICKOK VS. THE NRA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 6, 2017 at 12:33 am

Almost everyone has heard of “Wild Bill” Hickok—the legendary Western scout, Indian fighter, two-gun lawman and crack shot.

And the legend, not the man, is often invoked–inaccurately—by “gun rights” advocates who seek to reduce the entire Constitution to a single amendment: The Second Amendment.

But there is a vast difference between Hickok the legend–and Hickok the actual man.

For one thing, his real name wasn’t “Bill”—or even “William.” It was James Butler Hickok.

He supposedly got the name “Wild Bill” after thwarting an attempted lynching—and a woman applauded his bravery with: “Good for you, Wild Bill!”

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok

For another, Hickok didn’t spend most of his life as a town marshal. His gunslinging days as a lawman lasted just two years—1869 to 1871.

And they ended badly. His first stint as a lawman came at Hays City, Kansas. As sheriff, he shot and killed at least two men.

According to legend, one of these shootings occurred when Hickok, looking in a bar mirror, saw a ruffian named Strawhan pull a pistol to shoot him in the back.

Hickok, looking into the mirror, threw a “trick shot” over his shoulder–and nailed Strawhan dead.

Then Hickok’s luck ran out. On July 17, 1870, several members of the 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked him in Drum’s Saloon. Knocked to the floor and repeatedly kicked, Hickok had reason to fear death.

Drawing his pistols, he killed one private and wounded another. Although he had acted in self-defense and the shootings were entirely justifiable, Hickok now faced even greater danger from other, enraged members of the same regiment.

He decided to leave Hays before they could take their revenge.

His next posting as town marshal came in Abilene, Kansas. This stint lasted from April to December, 1871.

And, like his last one as a “town-tamer,” it ended with a deadly shootout.

A major portion of his duties lay in enforcing the “no firearms worn or used in town” edict.

Abilene was a cattle town, the end of the line for many outfits seeking a major railhead where their hundreds of beeves could be dropped off and shipped eastward.

When cowboys—most of them in their teens or early 20s—reached Abilene, they wanted to celebrate. Their long drive was over, and now they could finally get paid. And there were plenty of bars and whores waiting to pick up their newly-issued monies.

This combination of randy men and ready supplies of alcohol and women often led to trouble. One cowboy might make a pass at another’s “lady” for the night. Or an argument might erupt over a card game.

It was Hickok’s duty to make sure that such arguments were settled only with fists. And that meant demanding that all cowboys’ guns be checked at the marshal’s office until the “boys” were ready to leave Abilene.

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Replica of Hickok’s 1851 Navy Colt

This, of course, contradicts the “open carry” demands of the National Rifle Association. And most of its members—if transported to the Old West—would find themselves on the wrong side of Hickok.

And that wasn’t a good place to be—as Texas gambler Phil Coe learned to his dismay. Coe and Hickok had clashed before.

As co-owner of the Bull’s head Saloon, Coe had advertised its wares with a sign depicting a bull with oversized sexual organs. A number of citizens raged that this was obscene and demanded that the animal’s sexuality be greatly reduced.

The city fathers agreed. Hickok stood nearby with a shotgun while a painter made the necessary deletions.

On October 5, cowboys were flooding into Abilene, looking for a good time. Coe, feeling in high spirits, decided to celebrate by firing his pistol into the air several times.

The shots quickly brought Hickok to the scene.

“Did you fire that shot?” Hickok demanded.

Coe supposedly replied: “I shot at a dog—and I’ll shoot at another.”

Coe threw a shot at Hickok—which missed.

Hickok whipped out his two revolvers and put two bullets into Coe’s stomach, mortally wounding the Texan, who died three days later.

With Coe’s Texas buddies surrounding him, Hickok suddenly heard someone rushing at him from behind. Hickok whirled and fired twice more—into the chest of his own deputy, Mike Williams, who had been running to his aid.

Hickok, aghast at his mistake, gently carried Williams into a saloon and placed his body onto a billiard table. Then he raged through Abilene, ordering an end to the festivities and knocking down any cowboys foolish enough to resist.

Owing to this latest explosion in violence, the city fathers quickly reached two decision: First, they put an end to Abilene’s years as a major cattle shipping point. From now on, cattlemen were no longer welcome there.

And then they fired Hickok as city marshal in December, 1871.

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