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KGB AIRWAYS: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on June 10, 2016 at 12:21 am

The concept of “consumer rights” has not yet reached the airline industry.

Under Federal law, as enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration, airline passengers have only the following guaranteed rights:

If your flight is delayed (such as by bad weather) and you’re stuck on the tarnac:

  • Tarnac delays cannot exceed three hours. You can leave the plane if you choose after that.
  • Food and water must be available after the plane has been stuck on the tarnac for two hours.
  • The airline must service toilets, keep air conditioning on, and keep trash cans clean.

In addition, the U.S. government mandates these “rights” for air travelers:

  1. Compensation when you’re bumped due to overbooking –and for no other reason.
  2. An airline must accept lost/damaged baggage liability up to $3,000 in depreciated value per passenger for a domestic flight (limits on international flights are either about $1,700 or $635, depending on which rule applies).

Beyond those, all you can claim is what’s in each airline’s “contract of carriage.” Those contracts are–naturally–heavily biased toward airlines, not customers.

Unfortunately, the law–and the Congressmen who create it–is still largely owned by the airlines. Thus you, as a customer, are forced to make do with the weapons at hand.

These essentially boil down to two:

  1. Threatening the airlines with bad publicity; and
  2. Threatening the airlines with a private or class-action lawsuit.

In both cases, it’s best to first contact the highest-ranking officials in the airline company.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. They have the most to lose, and
  2. They have the power to redress your complaint.

You can try to reach the CEO or one of his assistants during the time of the incident.  But, most likely, this will happen afterwards.

If a mini-Hitler of an airline steward decides to eject you because s/he doesn’t like your clothes or request for help, there’s nothing you can do about it.

If you physically resist, you will almost certainly be arrested and charged with some version of domestic terrorism. You’ll be shipped off to jail and forced to defend yourself against the bogus charge.

Even if the authorities decide to not prosecute, you’ll have to spend at least several hundred dollars on legal representation.

And, of course, the airlines won’t care. They won’t be spending a dime on your prosecution–that will be paid for by the local U.S. Attorney’s (federal prosecutor’s) office.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, wisely advised in The Prince:

“A prince…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”

This is definitely the time to take on the trappings of a fox. However painful it is to swallow the insult at the time it’s given, don’t give the airlines an excuse to have you arrested.

Take your revenge afterward.  That’s what musician Dave Carroll did.

Carroll alleged that, in 2008, he and fellow passengers saw United Airlines’ baggage-handling crew throwing guitars on the tarmac in Chicago O’Hare. He arrived at Omaha, Nebraska, his destination to discover that the neck of his $3,500 Taylor guitar had been broken.

Carroll complained to three United employees, but they proved indifferent. He filed a claim with the airline–but was told he was ineligible for compensation.

The reason? He had not filed the claim within the company’s stipulated “standard 24-hour timeframe.”

Carroll turned to his musical roots for a remedy. He wrote a song, “United Breaks Guitars,” and turned it into a music video which he posted on YouTube and iTunes in July, 2009.

Click here: United Breaks Guitars – YouTube

The song went viral, and became a public relations nightmare for the airline.

The Sunday Times reported that, four days after the video’s posting, United Airlines’ stock price fell 10% costing stockholders about $180 million in value.

Most customers, admittedly, aren’t musicians. For them–short of suing–the weapons of choice will be:

  • The phone
  • Letters
  • The Internet
  • Consumer protection organizations that can be enlisted

Let’s start with the first: The phone.

Most customers assume the place to take their anger is the airline Customer Service desk. And the airlines encourage people to do just that.

Don’t do it.

Customer Service is staffed by people who may ooze compassion but who aren’t authorized to do anything on your behalf. And of course they’ll be well-versed in the standard airline excuses for why your request is denied.

(Think of Dave Carroll and the excuse United’s reps offered him:  You didn’t file your claim within 24 hours.)

Even if they truly want to help you, they’ll find themselves outranked at every level.

So take your complaint to someone who has the authority to resolve it. This means, preferably, the CEO of the airline, or at least one of his executive colleagues.  

The other above-mentioned remedies will be discussed in my coming series, “KGB Airways: Fighting Airline Arrogance.”

KGB AIRWAYS: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on June 9, 2016 at 12:07 am

When Leisha Hailey and her girlfriend kissed aboard a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles, they quickly found themselves in trouble.

Leisha Hailey

A flight attendant told them that Southwest was “a family airline.” When they argued they were targets of homophobia, the attendant ejected them from the plane.

Hailey–the star of Showtime’s The L-Word (and a lesbian)–posted her experience on Twitter. Calling for a boycott of Southwest, she tweeted:

“I want to know what Southwest Airlines considers as ‘family.’ I know plenty of wonderful same-sex families I would like to introduce them to. Boycott @SouthwestAir if you are gay. They don’t like us.”

Naturally, Southwest had its own explanation for what had happened:

“…We received several passenger complaints characterizing the behavior as excessive. Our crew, responsible for the comfort of all Customers on board, approached the passengers based solely on behavior and not gender. The conversation escalated to a level that was better resolved on the ground, as opposed to in flight.”

In short, the situation was “better resolved on the ground” by forcing two unarmed, non-threatening women to leave the plane rather than having the airline honor their high-priced tickets.

Now, a quick question: When does a camera become a dangerous weapon?

When you snap a picture of an especially rude airline employee.

  • A  Miami photographer was escorted off a US Airways plane and deemed a “security risk” after she did this at Philadelphia International Airport in July, 2011.

Sandy DeWitt believed the employee, Tonialla G., was being rude to several passengers in the boarding area of the flight to Miami.

So DeWitt, a professional photographer, used her iPhone to snap a picture of G.’s nametag.  She intended to file a complaint with US Airways and wanted the picture as evidence.

As DeWitt settled into her seat, preparing for take-off, G. entered the plane and confronted her.

She ordered DeWitt to delete the photo.

DeWitt had already turned off her iPhone, as required before take-off.  She turned the phone back on to prove that the photo hadn’t come out.  Even so, she deleted the too-dark picture.

G. then walked into the cockpit to inform the pilot that DeWitt was a “security risk.”

Suddenly, DeWitt found herself being escorted off the plane by two flight attendants. Her husband followed.

Speaking with Michael Lofton, a US Airways manager at Philadelphia International Airport, she learned that she would not be allowed back on the plane.

The reason:  She was a “security risk.”

But that didn’t keep Lofton from directing her to American Airlines for a flight back to Miami.

But that flight had already departed and it was already after 7 p.m. And there were no other flights back to Miami until the following morning.

“We were expecting to spend the night at the airport,” she said.

They eventually boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale at 11 p.m.

Apparently, Southwest didn’t consider her to be a “security risk.”

Naturally, US Airways had a cover-story to explain what had happened.

Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman for US Airways, told msnbc.com that DeWitt was removed for being “disruptive.”

“Once onboard, she was using foul and explicit language,” Lehmacher said. “She was removed at the request of the captain.”

Apparently, “disruptive” means whatever an airline official claims it to mean.

Business Insider ranked US Airways sixth in a list of the 19 Most Hated Companies in America.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is an economic indicator that measures the satisfaction of consumers across the United States. It is produced by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a private company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The ACSI interviews about 80,000 Americans annually and asks about their satisfaction with the goods and services they have consumed. And Americans’ most-hated companies include large banks, airlines, power and telecom companies.

David VanAmburg, managing director at ACSI, offered a critical insight into why these companies are so detested.

“These are not terribly competitive industries, as the switching barriers for most of them are quite high,” he told Business Insider in June, 2011.

“In other industries, like the food or clothing sector, the competition is huge. They bend over backwards to make customers happy, because they have to.”

That certainly does not apply to applies to airlines–whose numbers are limited and continue to shrink due to mergers and the occasionally rising cost of fuel.

For the airline industry generally, the former slogan of United Airlines–”Fly the Friendly Skies–has unofficially been replaced with: “We don’t care. We don’t have to.”

So–when you’re facing a would-be KGB agent masquerading as an airline employee–what do you do?

First, you recognize that the concept of “consumer rights” has not yet reached the airline industry.

Then you do what you can to see that it does.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on June 8, 2016 at 12:14 am

The First Amendment of the American Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.

But some airline employees haven’t gotten the word.

Click here: 3 Easy Ways to Tell If a Business Puts Its Customers First – DailyFinance

Yes, what you say can get you thrown off an airplane–or worse. And it doesn’t have to be anything even remotely like a threat.

  • In May, 2011, a US Airways flight was due to depart San Francisco International Airport for Charlotte, North Carolina at 1:20 p.m. But due to bad weather, passengers boarded the plane after 2 p.m.

Once on the plane, a flight attendant told customers over the intercom to hurry up and put their carry-ons in bins so they could take off and make their connecting flight in Charlotte.

One of the passengers, Luke Hazlewood, turned to the person next to him and said it was the airline’s fault they were late, “so don’t get mad at us.”

The flight attendant rushed out of the galley demanding to know who had said that. Once she determined it was Hazlewood, she told him he would have to leave for being disruptive and a threat to the plane.

Sandra Kraus, a former flight attendant, came to Hazlewood’s defense–and the flight attendant told her to get off the plane as well.

Both passengers asked to speak with the captain but he refused to speak with them.

Kraus was put on another flight. Hazlewood and his accompanying girlfriend (who had left the plane with him) found that US Airways wouldn’t compensate them for a hotel room.

The airline refused to answer questions about the matter. Its written statement said “The passengers interfered with the flight crew and in the interest of safety they had to be removed.”

It’s a truism in both journalism and police work: When people refuse to answer questions, it’s nearly always because they know they have something to hide.

And the airline’s response came in the classic voice of the all-powerful dictator: “They refused to treat me like God and so they had to be eliminated.”

Business Insider ranked US Airways #6 on a list of Click here: The 19 Most Hated Companies In America – Business Insider

  • In December, 2011, three middle-aged women were thrown off an AirTran flight at Palm Beach International Airport after a steward began roughly handling the luggage of one of them.

Marilyn Miller, a lawyer, was buckled in for takeoff when the attendant mishandled her overhead luggage. “I have breakables in that,” she said.

The attendant ignored her and kept shoving other bags into hers.

Another passenger, Carol Gray, a retired travel agent, asked the same attendant for help, saying that her seat was broken.

“I’m not talking to you,” said the attendant, and poked her in the arm. He then threatened to throw Miller and Gray off the plane.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Miller.

“Well, you’re getting off,” said the attendant.

Two sheriff’s deputies and airline staff arrived to remove them.

A third passenger, a therapist named Karyn Schoor, spoke up in their defense: “This is crazy, they didn’t do anything. Why are you doing this to them?”

“Throw her off too,”’ ordered the attendant.

All three women were marched off the plane and back into the terminal.

The women were offered flights on other airlines paid for by AirTran.

And the official explanation given by AirTran?

“Our employees are responsible for the safety and comfort of everyone onboard a flight. Our goal is always to mitigate any uncomfortable situation prior to departure.”

Uncomfortable for whom–the passenger who doesn’t want her luggage roughly treated?  Or the attendant whose ego gets bent out of shape at the slightest objection?

  • In July, 2010, Southwest Airlines removed a slender, five-foot-four woman from a plane to accomodate an obese passenger.

The woman was flying standby from Las Vegas to Sacramento.  She had paid full fare for the last available seat, boarded and stowed her bags–and was told she must deplane immediately.

The reason: A late-arriving, 14-year-old passenger required two seats because of her girth.

When the woman asked Southwest personnel why she was being removed her from the flight, they berated her for daring to question their decision.

The temporarily stranded passenger managed to catch the next flight out to Sacramento.

  • You don’t have to assault someone to be thrown off an airplane. Even kissing your partner will do.

Southwest Airlines kicked Leisha Hailey–who not only played a lesbian in Showtime’s The L-Word series but is one–and her girlfriend off a flight to Los Angeles.

Their crime?  Kissing.

A flight attendant told them that Southwest was “a family airline.” When they argued they were targets of homophobia, the attendant ejected them from the plane.

KGB AIRWAYS: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on June 7, 2016 at 12:02 am

With the summer tourism season now on, tens of thousands of Americans will be flying across the country to visit with loved ones.

And many of them will become the victims of KGB Airways.  

In truth, many airline personnel treat passengers the way KGB agents once treated Soviet citizens–with the arrogance that comes from holding near-absolute power over the lives of others.

Consider the following:

  • From the website of American Airlines:

ESSENTIAL NEEDS DURING EXTRAORDINARY DELAYS

In the case of extraordinary events that result in very lengthy onboard delays, American will make every reasonable effort to ensure that essential needs of food (snack bar such as Nutri-Grain®), water, restroom facilities, and basic medical assistance are met.

We are not responsible for any special, incidental or consequential damages if we do not meet this commitment.

Translation:  On one hand, American promises that it will try to ensure that “essential needs of food, water, restroom facilities and basic medical assistance are met” during “very lengthy onboard delays.” On the other hand, if they “do not meet this commitment,” that’s just the passengers’ tough luck.

ACCEPTANCE OF PASSENGERS

American may refuse to transport you, or may remove you from your flight at any point, for one or several reasons, including but not limited to:  

  1. Compliance with government requisition of space.
  2. Action necessary or advisable due to weather, or other conditions beyond American’s control.
  3. Refusal to permit a search of person or property for explosives or for deadly, controlled, or dangerous weapons, articles or substances.
  4. Refusal to produce positive identification upon request.
  5. Your physical or mental condition is such that in American’s sole opinion, you are rendered or likely to be rendered incapable of comprehending or complying with safety instructions without the assistance of an attendant.
  6. Your conduct is disorderly, abusive or violent.  
  7. Appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
  8. Attempt to interfere with any member of the flight crew.
  9. Have a communicable disease that has been determined by a federal public health authority to be transmissible to other persons in the normal course of flight.
  10. Refuse to obey instructions from any flight crew member.
  11. Have an offensive odor not caused by a disability or illness.
  12. Are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers or are barefoot.
  13. Engage in any action, voluntary or involuntary, that might jeopardize the safety of the aircraft or any of its occupants.

Translation: “American may refuse to transport you, or may remove you from your flight at any point” for just about any reason it wants to give.

Click here: Conditions of carriage – Contract of transportation – American Airlines

DELAYS, CANCELLATIONS AND DIVERSIONS

American Airlines will provide customers at the airport and onboard an affected aircraft with timely and frequent updates regarding known delays, cancellations and diversions and will strive to provide the best available information concerning the duration of delays and to the extent available, the flight’s anticipated departure time.

We are not responsible for any special, incidental or consequential damages if we do not meet this commitment.

Translation: On one hand, American promises to give customers “timely and frequent updates regarding known delays, cancellations and diversions.” On the other hand, American absolves itself from any damages “if we do not meet this commitment.”

And how does all this translate into action?

  • In late March, 2012, a woman was barred from boarding an American Airlines flight because its staff disliked her choice of clothing. She was wearing a T-shirt bearing the words: “IF I WANTED THE GOVERNMENT IN MY WOMB, I’D F— A SENATOR.”

After taking a seat she was told by a flight attendant that she needed to speak with the captain, who found the T-shirt “offensive.”  He said she would have to change before she could re-board the plane.

The passenger claims this interaction caused her to miss her connection: Her luggage was checked and “changing shirts without spending money wasn’t an option.”

Business Insider ranked American Airlines 8th on a list of The 19 Most Hated Companies In America.

  • In July, 2011, Malinda Knowles, a 27-year-old financial consultant, was kicked off a JetBlue flight at JFK Airport in New York because of her attire–a baggy blue T-shirt and denim shorts.

A male JetBlue employee walking down the aisle noticed Knowles. He told her he didn’t think she was wearing enough clothing. An argument erupted when the employee put his walkie-talkie between her legs to see if she was wearing shorts underneath. When Knowles objected, the JetBlue worker brought her off the plane and to a hangar.

There she modeled for the employees, showing that she was wearing shorts. She returned to the plane, but the same employee once again approached her and said: “The captain is refusing to fly you today. We need to remove you from the flight.”

After waiting four hours for another flight, she arrived in Florida. Apparently the crew of that plane didn’t have any problem with her attire.

Knowles has since filed a lawsuit against JetBlue.

EVERY DICTATOR KNOWS HIS OWN

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 3, 2016 at 12:01 am

“And I have to say, I don’t understand Donald [Trump’s] bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America.”  

The speaker was Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, addressing an audience in San Diego, California, on June 2.

“He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit’ for taking over North Korea–something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie.

“And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A. Now, I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants,” said Clinton.

Yes, Donald Trump admires Vladimir Putin. And Vladimir Putin admires Donald Trump.

To many people, it’s the ultimate odd-couple: The lifelong Communist and former KGB officer (Putin) walking arm-in-arm with the billionaire, publicity-hungry capitalist.

What could be going on here?

First Putin:

“He is a bright personality, a talented person, no doubt about it. It is not up to us to appraise his positive sides, it is up to the U.S. voters. but, as we can see, he is an absolute leader in the presidential race.

“He is saying that he wants to move to a different level of relations with Russia, to a closer, deeper one. How can we not welcome that?  Of course, we welcome that.”

Now Trump:

“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

Related image

Donald Trump

Appearing on the December 18, 2015 edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump said: “Sure, when people call you ‘brilliant,’ it’s always good. Especially when the person heads up Russia.”

The host, Joe Scarborough, was upset by Trump’s praise for Putin: “Well, I mean, [he’s] also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. obviously that would be a concern, would it not?”

TRUMP: He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: But again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.

TRUMP: I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.

SCARBOROUGH: I’m confused. So I mean, you obviously condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?

TRUMP:  Oh sure, absolutely.

When Trump praised Putin as a leader–“unlike what we have in this country”–he no doubt meant President Barack Obama.

Ironically, it is Obama–not Trump–who has repeatedly been named in Gallup polls as the most admired man in America in each of the last seven years, beginning with 2008, the year he was elected president.

Although Trump didn’t mention former President George W. Bush, his insult applies–unintentionally but accurately–to Obama’s predecessor.

In June 2001, Bush and Vladimir Putin met in Slovenia. During the meeting a truly startling exchange occurred.

Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush

Putin, a former KGB Intelligence officer, had clearly done his homework on Bush. When he mentioned that one of the sports Bush had played was rugby, Bush was highly impressed.

“I did play rugby,” said Bush. “Very good briefing.”

Bush knew that Putin had worked for Soviet intelligence. So he should not have been surprised that the KGB had amassed a lengthy dossier on him.

But more was to come.

BUSH: Let me say something about what caught my attention, Mr. President, was that your mother gave you a cross which you had blessed in Israel, the Holy Land.

PUTIN: It’s true.

BUSH: That amazes me, that here you were a Communist, KGB operative, and yet you were willing to wear a cross. That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President. May I call you Vladimir?

Putin instantly sensed that Bush judged others–even world leaders–through the lens of his own fundamentalist Christian theology.

Falling back on his KGB training, Putin seized on this apparent point of commonality to build a bond. He told Bush that his dacha had once burned to the ground, and the only item that had been saved was that cross.

“Well, that’s the story of the cross as far as I’m concerned,” said Bush, clearly impressed. “Things are meant to be.”

Afterward, Bush and Putin gave an outdoor news conference.

“Is this a man that Americans can trust?” Associated Press correspondent Ron Fournier asked Bush.

“Yes,” said Bush. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue.

“I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.  I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”

Of course, no one from the Right–including Trump–is now recalling such embarrassing words.

It’s far more politically profitable to pretend that all of America’s tensions with Russia began with the election of Barack Obama.

And that those tensions will vanish once another Rightist–and non-black–President enters the White House.

THE “TWO MINUTES HATE”–A GOP GIFT: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on May 23, 2016 at 12:05 am

Republicans and their Rightist allies have repeatedly compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. But their propaganda campaign draws heavily on the Nazi leader’s own advice.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler laid out his formula for successful propaganda: “All effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials.

“Those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotypical formulas.  These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”

Adolf Hitler

Consider the vocabulary Right-wingers use to describe their political adversaries:

“Liberals,” “radicals, “bankrupting,” “treason,” subversion,” “slander,” “terrorism,” “betrayal,” “catastrophe,” “shattering the American dream,” “leftists,” “Communists,” “government takeover,” “socialism,” “power grab,” “secularism,” “environmentalism.”

In recent years, the GOP has targeted gays and lesbians as America’s subversive enemies.

These attacks have come as thinly disguised as efforts to “restore religious freedom.”

In December, 2014, Republicans in the Michgan House of Representatives passed “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

The bill would allow public agencies and private businesses to refuse service to anyone under the claim that their “religious beliefs” had been affronted.

And the State government would be legally prevented from intervening if a person claimed that his/her “deeply-held religious beliefs” was the reason for acting–or not acting–in a certain way.

Thus:

  • An emergency room doctor could refuse service to a gay or lesbian needing medical care.
  • A pharmacist could refuse to fill a doctor’s prescription for birth control, or HIV medication.
  • A DMV clerk could refuse to give a driver’s license to someone who’s divorced.  
  • An employer could deny equal pay to women.

The bill seems modeled on a proposed law that the Republican House and Senate in Arizona sent to Governor Jan Brewer in 2014.

Under threat of a nationwide boycott of Arizona if the bill became law, Brewer vetoed it.

Republicans have introduced similar “right-to-discriminate” legislation in other states as well:

  • On March 26, 2015, its governor, Mike Pence, signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This will allow any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.
  • In Kansas, lawmakers voted to exempt individuals from providing any service that was “contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • That bill passed the state’s House chamber on February 11, 2014, triggering national backlash.  It stalled in the Senate and didn’t advance beyond that body.
  • In January, 2014, South Dakota Republicans introduced a bill to let businesses refuse to serve same-sex couples on the grounds that “businesses are private and that their views on sexual orientation are protected to the same extent as the views of private citizens.”
  • The South Dakota bill–which was killed in February, 2014–would have made it illegal for a gay person to file a lawsuit charging discrimination.

Republicans claim they want to “get the government off the backs of the people.” But their fixation  on regulating the sexual lives of Americans ensures government intrusions of the most intimate kind.

Since 9/11, Republicans have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America.

Ironically, Right-wing legislators, in elevating religion above the secular law, may have laid the legal foundations for making that possible.

What will happen when some Muslims claim their right–guaranteed in Islamic religious law–to have as many as four wives?

And when they claim that the “religious freedom” laws protect that right?

Republicans have defended such legislation by equating gays with child predators.

In fact, the Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute states that 90% of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends, and the majority are men married to women.

Yet Republicans and their Rightist allies have refused to condemn such heterosexual–and Right-wing–child molesters as Dennis Hastert and Josh Duggar.

Josh Duggar, the “all-American” child molester

On May 21, 2015, responding to press leaks, Duggar resigned as director of the Family Research Council, a Right-wing organization dedicated to fighting sexually-oriented issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and pornography.

In 2002-3, as a 14-15 year-old, Duggar had fondled the breasts and vaginas of five underage girls–four of whom were his own sisters.

And on October 28, 2015, Hastert–Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007–pleaded guilty to structuring money transactions in a way to avoid requirements to report where the money was going.

Dennis Hastert

The reason: To conceal the truth about his past as a child molester. Hastert had abused four young boys when he was their high school wrestling coach.  One was only 14 years old.

Despite such setbacks, the politics of “smear and fear” have been good to Republicans–and their Right-wing allies.  

The Republican “base” refuses to learn that those who portray themselves as morally superior are:

  1. Hypocrites, who are in effect saying: “Do as I say, not as I do,” or
  2. Fanatics, who intend to force their version of morality on others.

So long as millions of hate-filled Right-wingers support the endless succession of “two minute hates,” Republicans will continue to target an endless series of victims.

The good news: As blacks, Hispanics, women, gays and others become a significant political force, Republicans will stop attacking them and court them for votes.

The bad news: Republicans will move on to find other still-helpless scapegoats for America’s troubles.

THE “TWO MINUTES HATE”–A GOP GIFT: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on May 20, 2016 at 12:01 am

In 1953, Red-baiting Wisconsin United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy finally overstepped himself.

He attacked the leadership of the United States Army as “a hotbed of traitors” and convened an inquiry through the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Joseph McCarthy

But the hearings backfired, exposing McCarthy as the bullying demagogue he was. A Senate committee voted to condemn his behavior, charging that he had “acted contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.”

Although McCarthy remained in the Senate another two and a half years, his political influence had ended.

Yet even without McCarthy, Republicans rode the issue of anti-Communism to victory from 1948 to 1992.

After holding the White House for eight years under Dwight D. Eisenhower, they lost it in 1960 to John F. Kennedy and again in 1964 to Lyndon B. Johnson.

By 1968, with the nation mired in Vietnam and convulsed by antiwar demonstrations and race riots, Americans turned once more to those who preyed upon their fears and hates.

They elected Richard Nixon, who promised to end the Vietnam war and crack down on “uppity” blacks and antiwar demonstrators.

The same strategy re-elected him in 1972.

After Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976 and lost it in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, Republicans held the White House until 1992.

During the 1970s and 1980s, they continued to accuse their opponents of being devious agents–or at least unwitting pawns–of “the Communist conspiracy.”

Even as late as 1992, President George H.W. Bush and the Republican establishment charged that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton might be a KGB plant.

George H.W. Bush

Their evidence: During his tenure at Oxford University in 1969-70, Clinton had briefly visited Moscow.

Thus, the Republican charged that he might have been “programmed” as a real-life “Manchurian candidate” to become, first, Governor of Arkansas–one of America’s poorest states–and then President.

What made this charge all the more absurd: The Soviet Union had officially dissolved in December, 1991.

Republicans continued to accuse their opponents of being “Communists” and “traitors.” But these charges no longer carried the weight they had while the Soviet Union existed.

Right-wingers had to settle for attacking their opponents as “liberals” and “soft on crime.”

When riots flared in 1992 after the acquittal of LAPD officers who had savagely beaten Rodney King, President George H.W. Bush blamed the carnage on the “Great Society” programs of the 1960s.

Then, on September 11, 2001, Republicans–and their right-wing supporters–at last found a suitable replacement for the Red Menace.

Two highjacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center in New York and one struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

Exit The Red Bogeyman.  Enter The Maniacal Muslim.

Consider:

  • Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-Minn.): On July 13, 2012, she sent letters to the Inspectors General of the Departments of Defense; State; Justice; and Homeland Security, demanding a “a multi-department investigation into potential Muslim Brotherhood infiltration into the United States Government.”
  • Rick Santorum:  On supporting the racial profiling of Muslims: “Obviously, Muslims would be someone you look at, absolutely.”
  • Mitt Romney: “Based on the numbers of American Muslims in our population, I cannot see that a Cabinet position [for a Muslim] would be justified.

The 2008 election of Barack Obama pushed the Republican “treason chorus” to new heights of infamy.

Barack Obama

Almost immediately after Obama took office, he came under attack by an industry of right-wing book authors such as Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.

The following titles vividly reveal the hates, fears and ambitions of their authors–and audience:

  • Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda by Sean Hannity
  • Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation by Jason Mattera
  • How Barack Obama is Bankrupting the U.S. Economy by Stephen Moore
  • The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists by Aaron Klein
  • The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency by Ken Blackwell
  • Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies by Michelle Malkin
  • Why Obama’s Government Takeover of Health Care Will Be a Disaster by David Gratzer
  • To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine by Newt Gingrich
  • Obama’s Radical Transformation of America: Year One by Joshua Muravchik
  • Power Grab: How Obama’s Green Policicies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America by Christopher C. Horner
  • America’s March to Socialism: Why We’re One Step Closer to Giant Missile Parades by Glenn Beck
  • The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality by Jerome R. Corsi
  • Censorship: The Threat to Silence Talk Radio by Brian Jennings
  • The War On Success: How the Obama Agenda Is Shattering the American Dream by Tommy Newberry
  • Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them by Steven Milloy
  • Liberalism is a Mental Disorder: Savage Solutions by Michael Savage
  • Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter
  • Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right by Ann Coulter
  • Catastrophe: How Obama, Congress and the Special Interests Are Transforming…a Slump into a Crash, Freedom Into Socialism and a Disaster into a Catastrophe….And How to Fight Back by Dick Morris

THE “TWO MINUTES HATE”–A GOP GIFT: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 19, 2016 at 12:01 am

The Right’s fixation on transgender “dangers” is only the latest in a long string of “enemies” painted by the Republican party.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the “enemy” was blacks.  The key to winning votes of racist whites without appearing racist lay in what Republicans called “the Southern Strategy.”

It was this that won Richard Nixon the Presidency in 1968 and 1972 and the White House for George H.W. Bush in 1988.

In a now-infamous 1981 interview, Right-wing political consultant Lee Atwater explained how this worked:

You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires.

“So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.

“Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.…

“’We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’

“So anyway you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.” 

Lee Atwater 1989.jpg

Lee Atwater 

At the end of his life, Atwater recognized the monster he had helped unleash.

Like Reinhard Heydrich–the designer of the “Final Solution” who, on his deathbed, begged forgiveness for his crimes–Atwater, in a 1991 article for Life, apologized to former Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of the 1988 campaign.

But blacks have by no means been the only targets–and victims–of Republican hate campaigns. A partial list of these would include:

  • Liberals
  • Women
  • Socialists
  • Secularists
  • Disabled
  • Environmentalists
  • Hispanics
  • Gays
  • Lesbians

And now transgenders.

George Orwell’s classic 1949 novel, 1984, serves as a better guide to Republican electioneering than any official statement of the GOP.

1984 is set in a futuristic dictatorship called Oceania, whose constantly alternating mortal enemies are Eurasia and Eastasia.

A daily fixture of life in Oceania is the “Two Minutes Hate.”  During this, Party members must watch a film depicting the Party’s enemies and express their hatred for them in exactly two minutes.

Chief among these is Emmanuel Goldstein, who is obviously based on Leon Trotsky, the longtime antagonist of Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union for almost 30 years.

The “Two Minutes Hate” serves as a form of brainwashing, whose purpose is to whip ordinary citizens into a frenzy of hatred and loathing for whoever the Party designates as its–and their–mortal enemies.

Since the end of World War II, Republicans have regularly hurled the charge of “treason” against anyone who dared to run against them for office or think other than Republican-approved thoughts.

Republicans had been locked out of the White House from 1933 to 1952, during the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

Determined to regain the Presidency by any means, they found that attacking the integrity of their fellow Americans a highly effective tactic.

During the 1950s, Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy rode a wave of paranoia to national prominence–by attacking the patriotism of anyone who disagreed with him.

Joseph McCarthy

Elected to the Senate in 1946, he rose to national prominence on February 9, 1950, after giving a fiery speech in Wheeling, West Virginia:

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”

Americans were already growing increasingly fearful of Communism:

  • Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had not withdrawn the Red Army from the countries it had occupied in Eastern Europe during World War II.
  • In 1948, the Soviet Union developed–and demonstrated–its own atomic bomb, an achievement U.S. scientists had claimed would not happen for at least a decade.
  • In 1949, China fell to the triumphant armies of Mao Tse Tung.

But anti-communism as a lever to political advancement sharply accelerated following McCarthy’s speech. Republicans–resentful at being denied the White House since 1932–seized upon anti-communism as their passport to power.

No American–no matter how prominent–was safe from the accusation of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer–”a Comsymp” or “fellow traveler” in the style of the era.

Among those accused:

  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had overseen America’s strategy for defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan
  • President Harry S. Truman
  • Playwrights Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller
  • Actors Charlie Chaplin, Zero Mostel, Lloyd Bridges, Howard Da Silva, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield
  • Composers Arron Copland and Elmer Bernstein
  • Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who presided over the creation of America’s atomic bomb
  • Actresses Lee Grant, Delores del Rio, Ruth Gordon and Lucille Ball
  • Journalists Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer, who had chronicled the rise of Nazi Germany
  • Folksinger Pete Seeger
  • Writers Irwin Shaw, Howard Fast, John Steinbeck and Dashiell Hammett

Even “untouchable” Republicans became targets for such slander.

The most prominent of these was President Dwight D. Eisenhower–labeled ”a conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy” by Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society in 1958.

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” TELLS UGLY TRUTHS ABOUT GOVERNMENT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

“Bridge of Spies” vividly recaptures a now-forgotten time in American history.

It was the time of “the Cold War.”  A time when:

  • America was almost universally seen as “The Good Guy,” in contrast to “The Bad Guy” of the Soviet Union;
  • The United States and the Soviet Union held each other at bay with arsenals of nuclear weapons;
  • Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy terrorized the nation, accusing anyone who disagreed with him of being a Communist–and leaving ruined lives in his wake;
  • American TVs blared commercials warning that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had boasted: “We will bury you”; and
  • Children and teenagers were taught in school that they could survive a nuclear attack through “duck and cover” drills. They were instructed to keep their bathtubs filled with water for safe drinking, in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike.

Bert2.png (300×232)

Bert the Turtle teaches schoolchildren to “Duck and Cover”

Yet even in this poisonous atmosphere of fear and denunciation, some men stood out as heroes–simply by holding fast to their consciences.

One of these was a New York insurance attorney named James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks). Asked by the Justice Department to defend arrested Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) Donovan did what no one expected.

He gave Abel a truly vigorous defense, arguing that the evidence used to convict him was the legally-tainted product of an invalid search warrant.

Upon Abel’s conviction and sentencing to 45 years’ imprisonment, Donovan again shocked the political and legal communities by appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

Donovan argued that Constitutional protections should apply to everyone–including non-Americans–tried in American courts. To do less made a mockery of the very freedoms we claimed to champion.

He lost by a vote of 5-4. But the arguments he made would resurface 50 years later when al-Qaeda suspects were hauled into American courts.

James B. Donovan

In 1961, Donovan was again called upon to render service by a Federal agency–this time the CIA.  It wanted his help in negotiating the release of its spy, Francis Gary Powers, shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while flying a high-altitude U-2 spy plane.

Throughout “Bridge of Spies,” audiences learn some unsettling truths about how the American government–and governments generally– actually operate.

The first three of these were outlined in Part one of this series:

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

Truth #2: Individual conscience can wreck the best-laid plans of government.

Truth #3: High-ranking government officials will ask citizens to take risks they themselves refuse to take.

Now for the remaining truths revealed in this movie.

Truth #4: Appeals to fear often prevail when appeals to humanity are ignored.

After crossing into East Germany, Donovan enters into negotiations with Wolfgang Vogel, a lawyer representing the East German government.

Vogel offers to exchange Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student seized by the East German secret police, for Abel. Donovan replies this is a deal-breaker; the United States (which is never mentioned during the negotiations) wants Powers, not Pryor.

Nevertheless, Donovan is equally concerned for Pryor, and adds him to the list of hostages to be released in return for Abel.

Then a new complication arises: The East German government that holds Pryor threatens to pull out. claiming to be insulted because Donovan did not inform them that the USSR was a party to the negotiation.

His reasoned, legal arguments having failed, Donovan resorts to a threat. He conveys a warning to the president of East Germany:

Abel has not yet revealed any Soviet secrets. But if this deal fails, he may well do so to earn favors from the United States government. And, in that case, the Soviets will blame you–Erich Honecker, the president of East Germany–for the resulting damage.

Where arguments based on humanity have failed, this one–based on fear–works.  A prisoner-exchange is arranged.

Truth #5: Personal loyalty can supersede bureaucratic inventions.

On February 10, 1962, Donovan, Abel and several CIA agents arrive at the Glienicke Bridge, which connects East and West Germany. The Soviets have Powers, but not Pryor–who is to be released at Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East and West Berlin.

    Glienicke Bridge, the “Bridge of Spies” 

The CIA agent in charge of the American delegation tells Abel he can cross into East Germany, even though Pryor has not been released.

But Abel has learned that Donovan has negotiated the release of not only Powers but Pryor. Out of loyalty to the man who has vigorously defended him, he waits on his side of the bridge until word arrives that Pryor has been released.

Then Abel crosses into East Germany while Powers crosses into the Western sector.

Donovan returns home. Before flying off to West Germany, he had told his wife he was going on a fishing trip in Scotland.

His wife and children learn the truth about the risks he ran and the success he attained only when a television newscast breaks the news:

Francis Gary Powers has been returned to the United States. And the man responsible is James Donovan, once the most reviled man in America for having defended a notorious Soviet spy.

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” TELLS UGLY TRUTHS ABOUT GOVERNMENT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 18, 2016 at 12:01 am

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “Bridge of Spies,” is that rarity among films: An intelligent mixture of history and drama, stripped of gratuitous sex and violence.

It’s also a film that accurately reveals unsettling truths about how government intelligence agencies really operate.

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

The movie opens with the FBI’s arrest of KGB spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance). The evidence against him is overwhelming. This–plus the “Red Scare” climate of 1957–will guarantee his conviction.

But the Eisenhower administration doesn’t want the upcoming trial to be seen as a hangman’s court. It must have the appearance of a fair proceeding.

So the Justice Department (through the Brooklyn Bar Association) asks a New York insurance attorney named James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to take on Abel’s defense. He’s expected to make a reasonably competent effort but not go all out on behalf of his client.

Truth #2: Individual conscience can wreck the best-laid plans of government.

Donovan has never handled a spy case before. And he has no delusions that Abel isn’t the spy he’s charged with being. But he’s determined to give Abel the same committed defense he would give to any other client.

Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) and James Donovan (Tom Hanks) in court

This comes as a shock to the prosecutors, the judge, his law firm and even his family.

A CIA agent approaches Donovan in a nearly deserted restaurant and asks him to reveal any secrets that might help win Abel’s conviction.

Donovan replies: “This conversation isn’t happening.”

“No, of course not,” replies the CIA agent, assuming Donovan is agreeing to keep the overture secret.

“No, I mean this conversation isn’t happening,” angrily says Donovan, who leaves the agent fuming.

Donovan becomes a pariah; his mailbox is stuffed with hate mail and one night a would-be drive-by killer riddles his house with bullets.

Abel is convicted and sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment. But Donovan–again shocking everyone he knows–pursues an appeal up to the Supreme Court.

He argues that the evidence against Abel is tainted by an invalid search warrant. No American citizen could be convicted under such circumstances. And the Constitutional protections that hold true for Americans should hold equally true for non-Americans charged with crimes in American courts.

Donovan’s arguments will be heard a half-century later, when al-Qaeda suspects are hauled before American courts.

He puts on an impressive case on Abel’s behalf, but loses 5-4 at the Supreme Court.

That seems to be the end of Donovan’s relationship with Abel. But events soon dictate otherwise.

Before the judge could pronounce a death sentence on Abel, Donovan had argued that this might be a mistake. The day might come, he told the judge, when an American spy might fall into Soviet hands.

And then the United States would need to swap Abel to secure the release of its own agent.

The judge, moved by that argument, had given Abel a lengthy prison term instead.  

That day comes sooner than anyone in the Pentagon expects.

On May 1, 1960, Francis Gary Powers, a former Air Force pilot, is flying a high-altitude U-2 plane above the Soviet Union for the CIA. The plane is equipped with state-of-the-art cameras, and Powers intends to photograph military sites and other important complexes.

Suddenly, a surface-to-air missile slams into the plane. Powers ejects before it crashes, but fails to commit suicide with a poison pin concealed in a phony silver dollar. He’s captured by the KGB and brutally interrogated, but maintains his silence.

At about the same time, Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student living in West Germany, visits his German girlfriend living in Soviet-dominated East Germany.

The Soviets are starting to build their infamous Berlin Wall, which will stop the flow of refugees from East to West. Pryor tries to bring his girlfriend and her father into West Berlin, but he’s stopped and arrested by agents of Stasi, the East German police, who accuse him of being a spy.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union wants its spy, Abel, returned, before he can spell its secrets. In turn, the new Kennedy administration wants Powers returned, before he can be made to spill American secrets.

Truth #3: High-ranking government officials will ask citizens to take risks they themselves refuse to take.

In 1961, Donovan is once again sought out by the American government–this time by no less than CIA Director Allen Dulles.

And he’s asked to go where no official American representative can go–East Germany. His new assignment: Negotiate the exchange of Powers for Abel.

The CIA wants its spy back. And it’s willing to send Donovan into East Germany to negotiate his release. But it’s not willing to back him up if he’s arrested by Stasi, the notorious East German secret police.  

The fiction must be maintained that Donovan is acting strictly on his own behalf, not that of the United States.

In such a case, Donovan could spend the rest of his life in a Communist prison cell.

 

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