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Posts Tagged ‘THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE’

WHY AMERICANS HATE CABLE COMPANIES

In Bureaucracy, Business, Self-Help on July 29, 2016 at 12:17 am

In 1970, Robert Townsend, the CEO who had turned around a failing rent-a-car company called Avis, published what is arguably the best book written on business management.

It’s Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation From Stiffling People and Strangling Profits.

Though published 46 years ago, it should be required reading–for CEOs and consumers.

Don’t fear getting bogged down in a sea of boring, theory-ridden material.  As Townsend writes:

“This book is in alphabetical order. Using the table of contents, which doubles as the Index, you can locate any subject on the list in 13 seconds. And you can read all I have to say about it in five minutes or less.

“This is not a book about how organizations work.  What should happen in organizations and what does happen are two different things and about as far apart as they can get.  THIS BOOK IS ABOUT HOW TO GET THEM TO RUN THREE TIMES AS WELL AS THEY DO.”

Comcast is the majority owner of NBC and the largest cable operator in the United States. It provides cable TV, Internet and phone service to more than 50 million customers.

So you would think that, with so many customers to serve, Comcast would create an efficient way for them to attain help when they face a problem with billing or service.

Think again.

Consider the merits of Townsend’s short chapter on “Call Yourself Up.”

Townsend advises CEOs:“Pretend you’re a customer. Telephone some part of your organization and ask for help. You’ll run into some real horror shows.”

Now, imagine what would happen if Brian L. Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, did just that.

Brian L. Roberts

First, he would find that, at Comcast, nobody actually answers the phone when a customer calls. After all, it’s so much easier to fob off customers with pre-recorded messages than to have operators directly serve their needs.

And customers simply aren’t that important–except when they’re paying their ever-inflated bills for phone, cable TV and/or Internet service.

Comcast’s revenues stood at $19.25 billion for the fourth quarter of 2015.

In 2015, Roberts earned $36.2 million in salary, options and other compensation, a 10% increase from 2014.

So it isn’t as though the company can’t afford hiring a few operators and instructing them to answer phones directly when people phone in.

But instead of being directly connected to someone able to answer his question or resolve his problem, Roberts would hear:

“Welcome to Comcast–home of Xfinity.”

Then he would hear an annoying clucking sound–followed by the same message in Spanish.

“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance.

“To make a payment now, Press 1.  To continue this call, Press 2.”

Then he would hear: “For technical help, press 1, for billing, press 2.  For more options, press 3.”

Assuming he pressed 2 for “billing,” he would hear:

“For payment, press 1  For balance information, press 2.  For payment locations, press 3.  For all other billing questions, press 4.”

Then he would be told: “Please enter the last four digits of the primary account holder’s Social Security Number.”

Then, as if he hadn’t waited long enough to talk to someone, he would get this message: “Press 1 if you would like to take a short survey after your call.”

By the time he heard that, he would almost certainly not be in a mood to take a survey.  He would simply want someone to come onto the phone and answer his question or resolve his problem.

Then he would hear: “At the present time, all agents are busy”–and be electronically given an estimate by when someone might deign to answer the phone.

“Please hold for the next customer account executive.”

If he wanted to immediately reach a Comcast rep, Roberts would press the number for “sales.”  A sales rep would gladly sign him up for more costly products–even if he couldn’t solve whatever problem Roberts needed addressed.

Assuming that someone actually came on, Roberts couldn’t fail to notice the unmistakable Indian accent of the rep he was now speaking with.

Not Indian as in American Indian-because that would mean his company had actually hired Americans who must be paid at least a minimum American wage for their services.

No, Comcast, like many other supposedly patriotic corporations, “outsources” its “customer service support team” to the nation, India.

After all, if the “outsourced” employees are getting paid a pittance, the CEO and his top associates can rake in all the more.

Of course, the above scenario is totally outlandish–and is meant to be.

Who would expect the wealthy CEO of a major American corporation to actually wait in a telephone queue like an ordinary American Joe or Jane?

That would be like expecting the chief of any major police department to put up with hookers or panhandlers on his own doorstep.

For the wealthy and the powerful, there are always underlings ready and willing to ensure that their masters do not suffer the same indignities as ordinary mortals.

Such as the ones who sign up for Comcast TV, cable or Internet services.

RIGHT-WING TREASON: FIRST FOX, NOW TRUMP

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 28, 2016 at 12:08 am

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

The speaker was Donald Trump, holding a July 27 press conference in Doral, Fla.

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Donald Trump

And he was urging a foreign leader to hack into the private email server of his Presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.

Five days earlier, Wikileaks had released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Cyber-security experts believe the hacking originated from Russia–and that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have authorized it.

Politicians on the Left and Right expressed outrage at Trump’s remarks.

But this is not the first time the Right has jeopardized American security.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, supporters of Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of leaking top-secret details of the U.S. Navy SEALs raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The raid, launched on May 1, 2011, resulted in the death of the 9/11 mastermind and the capture of a treasury of highly sensitive Al Qaeda documents.

According to Right-wingers, Obama wanted to provide Hollywood screenwriters with material for a movie to glorify his role in authorizing the raid.

In August, 2012, the Right found its own secrets-leakers.  And they operated under the name of the Fox News Network.

Their motive: To promote a book–No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden. It was slated to hit bookstores on September 11–the 11th anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

It had been penned under the pseudonym “Mark  Owen.” But the real name of the author–a 36-year-old former Navy SEAL Team Six member who took part in the raid–was Matt Bissonnette, of Wrangell, Alaska.

Bissonnette’s real name became public after multiple sources leaked it to Fox News–who revealed it on August 23.

The Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden had previously been left unidentified.

Fox News had repeatedly accused President Obama and members of his administration of treasonously leaking military secrets to the media to glorify the President.

Many former and current SEAL members feared that the book would release information that could compromise future missions.

U.S. Navy SEALs insignia

One Navy SEAL told Fox News, “How do we tell our guys to stay quiet when this guy won’t?”  Some SEALs called Bissonnette a “traitor.”

And Colonel Tim Nye, a Special Operations Command spokesman, said the author “put himself in danger” by writing the book.

“This individual came forward. He started the process. He had to have known where this would lead. He’s the one who started this, so he bears the ultimate responsibility for this.”

But Bissonnette placed more than his own life in jeopardy. He endangered the lives of every one of the men who participated in the bin Laden raid.

If Bissonnette fell into the hands of Al Qaeda terrorists or sympathizers, he could conceivably be tortured into revealing at least some of the names and locations of his former team members.

And Fox News not only revealed his true name but the town where he lived.

Even the liberal Nation magazine was appalled at the recklessness of this Right-wing propaganda outlet. Jeremy Scahill, a writer for Nation, tweeted:

“Why on earth would FOX News publish the alleged identity of one of the ST6 members who was in the OBL raid? Seriously.”

Millions of Right-wing Americans have been conditioned by decades of Fascistic propaganda to believe that:

  • Democrats are all traitors–or at least potential traitors.
  • Even those Democrats who aren’t traitors are too weak-kneed to protect the nation from its sworn enemies.
  • Democrats (have betrayed) (are betraying) (intend to betray) national security secrets to the Soviet/Chinese Communists.
  • Democrats have (betrayed/) (are betraying) (intend to betray) national security secrets to Islamic Jihadists.
  • Only Republicans can be trusted to protect the nation.

Republicans blamed President Harry S. Truman for “losing China” to the forces of Mao Tse Tung in 1949. America could not have prevented a corrupt and incompetent Chiang Kai-Shek from being driven off the Chinese mainland by Mao’s overwhelmingly powerful armies.

Then, in 1950, Senator “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy charged that the State Department was infested by Communists–and that the Truman administration knew it but refused to take action. The charges were false.

Joseph R. McCarthy

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Republicans charged that Barack Obama was really a Muslim non-citizen who intended to sell out America’s security to his Muslim “masters.”

Attacking the patriotism of their opponents has repeatedly elected Republicans:

  • It elected Dwight Eisenhower President and turned Congress Republican in 1952 and 1956.
  • It elected Richard Nixon President in 1968 and 1972.
  • It elected Ronald Reagan President in 1980 and 1984.
  • It elected George H.W. Bush President in 1988.
  • It gave Republicans control of the Congress in 1994 (although Bill Clinton had been elected President in 1992).
  • It elected George W. Bush President in 2000 and 2004.
  • It gave control of the House to Republicans in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.

And now Republicans hope this appeal will elect a man who has openly called on Vladimir Putin to hack into American computers.

WILL TRUMP-PUTIN GO THE WAY OF HITLER-STALIN?

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 27, 2016 at 12:10 am

As Melania Trump might “write” it: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”–for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The Best: For Trump, becoming the anointed Presidential choice of the Republican party marked the climax of a life studded with fame and riches.

The Worst: The televised proceedings showed Right-wingers luxuriating in hated, chanting “Lock her up!” at the mention of Hillary Clinton’s name. Trump’s speech was straight out of a Fascist playbook: “Everything’s terrible, so give me total power and I’ll make everything perfect.”

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Donald Trump

The Best: For Clinton, being anointed as the Presidential choice of her party marked the highest achievement in a life already filled with them: Former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York and Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

The Worst: On the eve of what amounted to her coronation ceremony, Wikileaks released nearly 20,000 emails hacked from computers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). These clearly revealed a bias for Clinton and against her lone challenger, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

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Hillary Clinton

One email revealed that Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the DNC, suggested that Sanders, who is Jewish, could be portrayed as an atheist.

Sanders’ supporters have long charged that the DNC and its chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, were plotting to undercut his campaign. Now thousands of them have descended on the Democratic convention as furious protesters.

The convention opened on July 25 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and will last until the 28th.   

For Clinton, the release of the Wikileaks files could not have come at a worse time.

And it’s widely suspected that this is no accident. Cyber-security experts believe the hackers originated from Russia–and that Russian President Vladimir Putin may well have authorized it.  

Why?

Putin has infamously voiced his admiration for Trump: “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.”

Vladimir Putin

But more than one dictator’s admiration for another potential dictator-President may be at work here.

Trump has repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He believes the United States is paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance–and he wants other members to contribute far more.  

He has also said that, if Russia attacked NATO members, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after determining whether those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” If he believed that they had not done so, he would inform them: “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

For Putin, this clearly signals a reason to prefer Trump to Clinton. Trump’s statement marked the first time that a major Presidential candidate placed conditions on the United States’ coming to the defense of its major allies.

The withdrawal of the United States from NATO would instantly render that alliance kaput. Its European members that have smugly hurled insults at the United States for decades would suddenly face extinction.  

Even if their armed forces proved a match for Russia’s–which they would not–their governments would cower before the threat of Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal.

If, in fact, Putin lies behind the capture and leaking of highly embarrassing DNC files, he is not the first Communist dictator to find common cause with an avowed Right-winger.

In late August, 1939, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin negotiated a “non-aggression pact” with Nazi Germany’s Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler.

Joseph Stalin

The reason: Hitler intended to invade Poland–but feared going to war with the neighboring Soviet Union if he did so. By signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin, he avoided this danger–and gained “rights” to the western half of Poland.  

Adolf Hitler

In addition, Nazi Germany began receiving huge shipments of raw materials from the Soviet Union, as Stalin’s effort to placate Hitler and avoid a Nazi-Soviet clash.

As for Stalin, he got something, too: The eastern half of Poland, which would be occupied by the Red Army.

But the Hitler-Stalin alliance lasted less than two years. Signed on August 23, 1939, it ended without warning on June 22, 1941.

With 134 Divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more divisions for deployment behind the front–a total of three million men–the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

If Putin did authorize the leak to discredit Clinton and enable Trump to become President, there are two ways he may yet come to regret it.  

The first is if a vengeance-seeking Hillary Clinton becomes President–and inherits the resources to impose sanctions on Russia.  

And the second is if Donald Trump becomes President–and decides, like Hitler, that he doesn’t owe his onetime benefactor anything.

“SPRINGTIME FOR TRUMPLAND”

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Humor, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on July 25, 2016 at 12:05 am

Donald Trump has attached nicknames to his many political opponents.

“Little Marco” – Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

“Goofy” – Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren

“Lyin’ Ted” – Texas U.S. Senator Rafael Eduardo “Ted” Cruz

“Crooked Hillary” – Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York and Secretary of State, now the all-but-confirmed Democratic nominee for President.

Donald Trump

And now he’s picked out another catchy nickname–this time for Virginia U.S. Senator Tim Kane, chosen by Hillary Clinton to be her Vice Presidential running mate: “Corrupt Kane.”

Nicknames and ridicule can be powerful weapons. 

David Brooks, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, assessed Trump’s ability to effectively use both.

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

He did so on the May 27 edition of the PBS Newshour.  Said Brooks:

“Trump, for all his moral flaws, is a marketing genius. And you look at what he does. He just picks a word and he attaches it to a person. Little Marco [Rubio], Lyin’ Ted [Cruz], Crooked Hillary [Clinton]. 

“And that’s a word. And that’s how marketing works. It’s a simple, blunt message, but it gets under. It sticks, and it diminishes.

“And so it has been super effective for him because he knows how to do that. And she [Hillary Clinton[ just comes on with, ‘Oh, he’s divisive.’

Hillary Clinton official Secretary of State portrait crop.jpg

Hillary Clinton

“These are words that are not exciting people. And her campaign style has gotten, if anything…a little more stagnant and more flat.”

But Democrats can fight back with catchy nicknames of their own: Such as: “Deadbeat Donald,” “Nazi Boy,” “Devious Donald” or “Der Fuehrer.”

So far, only one opponent has managed to verbally stand up to Trump: Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.

A May 12 story on CNN–“Elizabeth Warren Gives Trump a Dose of His Own Medicine on Twitter”–notes:

“In the past week, the Massachusetts Democrat has refined an aggressive anti-Trump message through a series of so-called tweetstorms.”  

Elizabeth Warren--Official 113th Congressional Portrait--.jpg

Elizabeth Warren

On the May 27 edition of the PBS Newshour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields noted Warren’s ability to rattle Trump:

“Elizabeth Warren gets under Donald Trump’s skin. And I think she’s been the most effective adversary. I think she’s done more to unite the Democratic party than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.”

David Brooks added: “And so the tactics…is either you do what Elizabeth Warren has done, like bull-bore negativity, that kind of [get] under the skin, or try to ridicule him and use humor. Humor is not Hillary Clinton’s strongest point.”

Yet that need not remain the situation.

The Democratic convention could use ridicule to strike a deadly blow against the Presidential ambitions of Donald Trump.

Everyone expects this convention—like all political conventions—to be filled with boring, self-serving speeches. And its purpose—to nominate Hillary Clinton for President—is a foregone conclusion.  

But the message of this convention–the necessity for defeating Trump–need not be forgotten. And it won’t be–if convention planners are willing to do something truly daring and memorable. 

In 1988, Mel Brooks did exactly this with his now-classic comedy, “The Producers.” 

Brooks used this as a vehicle for lampooning the criminality of the Third Reich–and especially that of its Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler.  Especially memorable: Its production number, “Springtime for Hitler.” 

    

The press has had a field day with Melania Trump’s plagiarizing of Michelle Obama’s speech before the 2008 Democratic convention. 

Facebook and Twitter have been filled with ridicule–such as a “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoon image of villainess Natasha Fatale saying: “I write.  But Moose and Squirrel say I copy.”  

So it’s easy to imagine how a staged musical number like “Springtime for Trumpland”–complete with Nazi uniforms–would rage through the Internet. Not to mention make a great TV commercial. 

SPRINGTIME FOR TRUMPLAND  

America was having trouble
What a sad, sad story
Needed a new Leader
To restore its former glory.

Where or where was he?
Who could that man be?
We looked around
And then we found
The man for you and me.
And now it’s….

Springtime for Trumpland and bigotry–
Trumpland is happy and gay.
Our Leader’s put on a Nazi face–
Look out, here comes the Whiter race.

Springtime for Trump goons and bigotry–
Winter for Reason and Light.
Springtime for Trump goons and infamy–
Come on, Trumpsters, let’s go pick a fight.

I love Trump
My name is Dave
I’ll hunt you down
And dig your grave.

Don’t be stupid
Be a smarty.
Come and join
The RepublicaNazi party.

Springtime for Trump goons and infamy—
Killing is thrilling again.
A-bombs are saving us from toil
Soon we’ll have all the world’s black oil.

Springtime for Trumpland and infamy—
Prisons are filling once more.

Springtime for Trumpland and infamy—
Means that soon things will be swell.
You pray they will be swell
You know we’ll be going to HELL

The question remains: Is a political party noted for its cowardly Politically Correctness willing to take the plunge?

Most likely, the answer is: No.

AVOIDING OBAMA’S MISTAKES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 22, 2016 at 12:05 am

The ancient Greeks believed: “A man’s character is his fate.” It is Barack Obama’s character–and America’s fate–that he is more inclined to conciliation than confrontation.

Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s winning of the White House in his book Renegade: The Making of a President. He noted that Obama was always more comfortable when responding to Republican attacks on his character than he was in making attacks of his own.  

Rule #4: Be Open to Compromise–Not Capitulation

Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans. But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction.  

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President Barack Obama

At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and applied what Niccolo Machiavelli famously said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. 

As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote. But when it approaches, they revolt…. 

And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.  

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Niccolo Machiavelli

By refusing to vigorously prosecute acts of Republican extortion, President Obama has encouraged Republicans to intensify their aggression against him.

Their most recent act: Refusing to meet with federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland. Obama’s designated nominee to the Supreme Court after the February 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.  

Kentucky United States Senator Mitch McConnell has flatly stated: There will be no Supreme Court hearing–not during regular business or a post-election lame-duck session.

Had Obama proceeded with indictments against Republican extortion in 2011 or 2013, McConnell–who supported the extortion attempts of those years–would now be desperately meeting with his lawyers.  

Rule #5: First Satisfy Your Citizens, Then Help Them  

Obama started off well. Americans had high expectations of him.

This was partly due to his being the first black elected President. And it was partly due to the legacies of needless war and financial catastrophe left by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama entered office intending to reform the American healthcare system, to make medical care available to all citizens, and not just the richest.

But that was not what the vast majority of Americans wanted him to concentrate his energies on. With the loss of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, Americans wanted Obama to find new ways to create jobs.

This was especially true for the 11.1 million unemployed, or those employed only part-time.

Jonathan Alter, who writes sympathetically about the President in The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, candidly states this.

But Obama chose to spend most of his first two years as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which soon became known as Obamacare–through Congress.  

The results were threefold:  

First, those desperately seeking employment felt the President didn’t care about them.

Second, the reform effort became a lightning rod for conservative groups like the Tea Party.

And, third, in 2010, a massive Right-wing turnout cost Democrats the House of Representatives and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.

Rule #6: Be Careful What You Promise  

Throughout his campaign to win support for the ACA, Obama had repeatedly promised that, under it: “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.”

But, hidden in the 906 pages of the law, was a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.

The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans--so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law. 

If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain new coverage that did.

It soon turned out that a great many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.

Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare: Charged and ridiculed as a liar.

Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” sarcastically ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise.

Jon Stewart

The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor; since we can’t, you must be a liar.

As a result, the President found his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–tarnished.

All of which takes us to yet another warning offered by Machiavelli: Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil….

AVOIDING OBAMA’S MISTAKES: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 21, 2016 at 12:07 am

If Hillary Clinton succeeds Barack Obama as President, can gain much by learning from his mistakes.

In 2011, Obama could have ended Republican extortion by invoking the law–that of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and/or the USA Patriot Act.

Or he could have faced down Republican extortionists by urging his fellow Americans to rally to him in a moment of supreme national danger.  

Rule #2: Rally Your Citizens Against a Dangerous Enemy 

President John F. Kennedy did just that–successfully–during the most dangerous crisis of his administration.

Addressing the Nation on October 22, 1962, Kennedy shocked his fellow citizens by revealing that the Soviet Union had installed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.

John F. Kennedy

After outlining a series of steps he had taken to end the crisis, Kennedy sought to reassure and inspire his audience. His words are worth remembering today:

“The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are, but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

President Obama could have sent that same message to the extortionists of the Republican Party.

Yet this was another option he failed to exploit. And he and the Nation have continued to pay the price for it.  

Rule #3: Timidity Toward Aggressors Only Leads to More Aggression

In September, 2013, Republicans once again threatened to shut down the Federal Government unless the President agreed to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as “Obamacare.

They were enraged that millions of uninsured Americans might receive medical care on a par with that given members of the House and Senate.

So on September 20, the House voted on a short-term government funding bill that included a provision to defund Obamacare.

Obama and Senate Democrats rejected that provision. If the House and Senate couldn’t reach a compromise, many functions of the federal government would be shut down indefinitely on October 1.

According to Republicans: They wanted to save the country from bankruptcy–although the Congressional Budget Office stated that the ACA would lower future deficits and Medicare spending.

After passing the House and Senate, the ACA had been signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.

On June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court–whose Chief Justice, John Roberts, is a Republican–had upheld the constitutionality of the ACA.

Yet House Republicans still sought a way to stop the law from taking effect. By September, 2013, they had voted 42 times to repeal “Obamacare.”

But their efforts had failed; the Democratic-led Senate made it clear it would never go along with such legislation.

Finally, unable to legally overturn the Act or to legislatively repeal it, House Republicans fell back on something much simpler: Threats and fear.

Threats–of voting to shut down salaries paid to most Federal employees. Most, because they themselves would continue to draw hefty salaries while denying them to FBI agents, air traffic controllers and members of the military, among others.

And fear–that would be generated throughout the Federal government, the United States and America’s international allies.

Republicans claimed it was Obama and Senate Democrats who refused to see reason and negotiate.

But then a Republican accidentally gave away the real reason for the shutdown.

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told the Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Martin Stutzman

In short, Republicans–as admitted by Martlin Stutzman–were out to get “respect.” A member of the Crips or Bloods couldn’t have said it better.  

The shutdown began on October 1, 2013–and ended 16 days later with even Republicans admitting it had been a failure.

President Obama, a former attorney, denounced House Republicans as guilty of “extortion” and “blackmail.” If he truly believed them to be so guilty, he could have once again invoked RICO and/or the USA Patriot Act. 

Yet he did neither.

Had the President dared to prosecute such criminal conduct, the results would have been:

  • Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would have been forced to lawyer-up. That in itself would have been no small thing, since good criminal attorneys cost big bucks.  
  • Obsessed with their own personal survival, they would have found little time for engaging in the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted. In fact, doing so would have only made their conviction more likely.
  • The effect on Right-wing Republicans would have been the same as that of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers: “You cross me and threaten the security of this Nation at your own peril.” 

True, some prosecuted Republicans might have beaten the rap. But first they would have been forced to spend huge amounts of time and money on their defense.

And with 75% of Americans voicing disgust with Congress, most of those prosecuted might well have been convicted.

It would have been a long time before Republicans again dared to engage in such behavior.

AVOIDING OBAMA’S MISTAKES: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 20, 2016 at 12:11 am

If Hillary Clinton becomes the nation’s first woman President, that will certainly be as big a historical milestone as Barack Obama’s becoming the first black man to hold that office.

But simply being elected President will not guarantee her success–any more than it guarantees success to any President.  

Every President faces challenges that his (up to now) predecessor didn’t. But others can be reasonably anticipated. For Clinton, a totally predictable challenge will be the sheer hatred and ruthless opposition Republicans aimed at Obama.  

And unless she determines, early on, to confront and overcome it, she will find her agenda just as blocked and undermined as Obama so often did.  

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Hillary Clinton

For example: 

On July 9, 2011, Republican extortionists threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their budgetary demands were met.

They refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

If Congress failed to raise the borrowing limit of the federal government by August 2, the date when the U.S. reached the limit of its borrowing abilities, it would begin defaulting on its loans.

As Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, explained the looming economic catastrophe: “If you don’t send out Social Security checks, I would hate to think about the credit meeting at S&P and Moody’s the next morning.

“If you’re not paying millions and millions and millions of people that range in age from 65 on up, money you promised them, you’re not a AAA,” said Buffett.  

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Warren Buffett 

A triple-A credit rating is the highest possible rating that can be received.

And while Republicans demanded that the disadvantaged tighten their belts, they rejected raising taxes on their foremost constituency–the wealthiest 1%.

Raising taxes on the wealthy, they insisted, would be a “jobs-killer.” It would “discourage” corporate CEOs from creating tens of thousands of jobs they “want” to create.

As the calendar moved closer to the fateful date of August 2, Republican leaders continued to insist: Any deal that includes taxes “can’t pass the House.”

One senior Republican said talks would go right up to–and maybe beyond–the brink of default.

“I think we’ll be here in August,” said Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, of Texas. “We are not going to leave town until a proper deal gets done.”

President Obama had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012. But in mid-July, he simply asked congressional leaders to review three options with their members: 

  1. The “Grand Bargain” choice–favored by Obama–would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues.
  2. A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion.
  3. The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

And the Republican response?

Said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee: “Quite frankly, [Republican] members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.”

With the United States teetering on the brink of national bankruptcy, President Obama faced three choices:

  1. Counter Republican extortion attempts via RICO–the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.
  2. Make a Cuban Missile Crisis-style address to the American people, seeking to rally them against a criminal threat to the financial security of the Nation.
  3. Cave in to Republican demands.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Three.  

Rule #1 Ruthlessly Prosecute the Acts of Ruthless Criminals

But Obama could have countered that danger via the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

In 1970, Congress passed RICO, Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961-1968.  Its goal: Destroy the Mafia.

U.S. Department of Justice

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion.

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.” 

And if President Obama had believed that RICO was insufficient to deal with this crisis, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.  

President George W. Bush signs the USA Patriot Act into law – October 26, 2001

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place. President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place. President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.

Prosecuting members of Congress would not have violated the separation-of-powers principle. Congressmen had been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.

Such prosecutions–and especially convictions–would have served notice on current and future members of Congress that the lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage as part of a negotiated settlement.

MIKE PENCE’S LEGACY: BRINGING SHARIA LAW TO AMERICA

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 18, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Michael Richard “Mike” Pence served as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013. He also served as Chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009 to 2012.  

In 2012, he ran for Governor of Indiana, won the election, and assumed this office in 2013.

On July 15, 2016, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he had selected Pence as his Vice Presidential running mate in the 2016 Presidential election.

As a member of Congress, Pence: 

  • Voted, in 2007, to defund Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions.
  • Opposed, in 2009, giving American citizenship to children born to illegal aliens living within the United States.
  • Compared the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • Voted to eliminate funding for climate education programs and to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

As Governor, Pence: 

  • Unsuccessfully pushed for a 10% income-tax rate cut.
  • Signed legislation in 2015 that repealed an 80-year-old Indiana law requiring construction companies working on publicly funded projects to pay a prevailing wage.
  • Successfully lobbied in 2013 to limit reductions in sentences for marijuana offenses.
  • Agreed, in 2015, to expand Medicaid in Indiana, in accordance with the Affordable Care Act.

But for all of Pence’s actions as Congressman and Governor, the one which may prove the most far-reaching may be this: His signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As Governor of Indiana, he did this on March 26, 2015. The law allows any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

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Mike Pence

Officially, its intent is to prevent the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs. Unofficially, its purpose is to appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party.

In short, a bakery that doesn’t want to make a cake to be used at a gay wedding or a restaurant that doesn’t want to serve lesbian patrons will have the legal right to refuse to do so.

The same applies for a hospital that doesn’t want to provide care to a gay or lesbian patient. 

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature.  

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

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

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

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

It’s almost as if Pence sensed that he was about to push open a door into a danger-filled room. And this may well be the case.

Through that door may soon march the First Church of Cannabis. The day after Pence signed the Act, church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that he had filed paperwork with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State.

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

“Donate $100 or more and become a GREEN ANGEL. Donate $500 or more and become a GOLD ANGEL. Donate $1000 or more and become a CHURCH POOHBA.”

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

Since 9/11, Right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America. And now Indiana’s legislators, in elevating religion above the law, may have laid the legal foundations for making that possible.

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Muslims demanding the imposition of Sharia law–on themselves and non-Muslims

Ironically, this may not be so far removed from the goals of the Republican party as many think. Both the party and adherents of Sharia agree:

  • Women should have fewer rights than men.
  • Abortion should be illegal.
  • There should be no separation between church and state.
  • Religion should be taught in school.
  • Religious doctrine trumps science.
  • Government should be based on religious doctrine.
  • Homosexuality should be outlawed.

What will happen when: 

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

And when they claim that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects those rights?  

Hang onto your hijabs–it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

WHEN WHITES WERE TARGETS: PART FIVE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 18, 2016 at 12:05 am

On April 22, 1974, a break finally came in the “Zebra killers” case.

Anthony Cornelius Harris, a member of the Nation of Islam–otherwise known as the Black Muslims–came forward as a police witness.

Before doing so, he visited the parents of his close friend, Larry Craig Green–who was one of the “Zebra” killers. He hoped that, through Green’s mother, he could persuade his comrade to go with him to the police as a witness against the other three Death Angels.

While at the home of Green’s parents, he called Green.

“I knew right there it was impossible to get him to admit to doing anything,” Harris later testified. “He told me to get the hell out of his house and never to come back.”

Later, Harris phoned the Black Self-Help moving and storage company where he had been working for the last six months.

One of the Muslims he spoke with was Green, who warned him: “Man, they’ve got a contract out to kill you, your wife and the baby.”

It was then that Harris realized that he, his wife, Debra, and their newborn son had been marked for death by his former friends. There was nowhere else to go but the police if he wanted to stay alive.

So, on April 22, 1974, he came forward as a police witness.

Many police believed Harris had been one of the killers himself.  He bore a strong resemblance to the suspect in a police artist’s sketch: A young black man with a short Afro and pointed chin.

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Police composite sketch of “the Zebra killer”

But Harris insisted that he hadn’t murdered anyone, and that he had resisted efforts by his friends to enlist him in their murder spree. He claimed to fear for his life at the hands of his fellow Muslims.

The police immediately placed Harris and his family under round-the-clock guard.

At 5 a.m. on the morning of May 1, 1974, more than 100 police officers assembled at the San Francisco Hall of Justice. They were heavily armed–with shotguns, submachineguns and automatic rifles.

Their assignment: Arrest seven men believed responsible for the brutal series of murders known as the “Zebra” case.

At a given signal, police charged into the various homes and apartments where the suspects lay sleeping.  None of the wanted men offered any resistance.

Three of the seven were soon release for lack of evidence.  The remaining three–Larry Craig Green, Manuel Moore and J.C. Simon–were held at high bond.

A fourth suspect, Jessie Lee Cooks, was already serving a life sentence in prison for his admitted murder of Frances Rose, a physical therapist, on October 30, 1973.

Cooks would be charged with other “Zebra” murders by a San Francisco grand jury on May 16, 1974.

Chief Assistant District Attorney W.H. Guibbini asked for high bail for three of the suspects after their indictment.  Presiding Superior Court Judge Clayton V. Horn raised it to $300,000 each.

The accused killers remained in jail before and during their trial.

The trial began on March 3, 1975, and lasted longer than any previous one in the history of California–376 days. Testimony from 181 witnesses–115 for the prosecution–filled 13,331 pages of trial transcript.

San Francisco Superior Court

The Nation of Islam paid for the legal representation of every one of the defendants except Cooks, who had admitted to murdering Frances Rose. 

During his testimony as a prosecution witness, Harris was guarded constantly by San Francisco police. 

When the SFPD’s resources began to be strained, Harris was placed on the Witness Security Program, operated by the U.S. Marshals Service for the Justice Department. Originally created to safeguard Mafia witnesses, it offers protection, relocation and new identities to those who testify against organized crime groups.  

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Deputy U.S. marshals guarding a witness while testifying before Congress

Harris was flown to Houston, Texas, and kept under the watchful eye of the local police. From there he moved to El Paso, and then on to Las Vegas.

He proved a difficult witness to protect. Refusing to take a job suitable for his menial work skills, he demanded ever-increasing amounts of subsistence money from, first, the SFPD, and, later, the U.S. Marshals Service. At times he threatened to recant his testimony unless he got more subsistence payments.

After the trial, Harris received a portion of the $30,000 reward. Eventually he turned up in Oakland, and then ultimately disappeared.

On March 13, 1976, Larry Craig Green, Manuel Moore, Jessie Lee Cooks and J.C. Simon were convicted of multiple murders. All were sentenced to life in state prison, where they remain today.

The toll of victims taken by the “Zebra” killers had been staggering:

  • Sixteen murdered
  • Five wounded
  • One raped
  • The attempted kidnapping of three children

At the time of sentencing, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Joseph Karesh turned to a wall map showing where each of the murders had taken place.

“As I look at this map and see all these dots,” said Karesh, “I hope we do not forget all these people who have been reduced to dots.”

WHEN WHITES WERE TARGETS: PART FOUR (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 15, 2016 at 12:05 am

The slayings of the “Zebra killers” were always proceeded by elaborate safety precautions. These included disguises, escape routes and the use of safehouses.

“In case you kill someone in that area,” Harris later testified that his Muslim friends were told, “you can automatically go to that house.  There won’t be any questions asked about it at all.

“They made that clear all the time, every Saturday, at the Fruit of Islam (FOI) meetings. The FOI was the enforcement and disciplinary arm of the Nation of Islam.

“They said that if you’re going to kill someone, come right out and say it.  Let us know ahead of time so we can set up a good alibi.”

Recruiting poster for the Fruit of Islam, the elite guard of the Nation of Islam

Non-Muslims were not to be trusted or used in any way.

“Our own attorneys,” the listeners were told at these weekend meetings, “will lie for you,” Harris quoted one of the Muslim speakers as saying.

On the night of January 28, 1974, J.C. Simon, Larry Green and Manuel Moore launched their most spectacular assault on San Francisco whites.

Shots and screams echoed throughout the city as the killers, cruising in a fast-moving black Cadillac, literally turned the streets into a shooting gallery:

  • Tana Smith, a secretary, was slain while waiting at a bus stop.
  • A derelict, John Bambic, was murdered as he rummaged in a garbage can.
  • Vincent Wollin, a pensioner, was walking down the street when one of the gunmen fatally overtook him.
  • A housewife named Jane Holly was killed in a Laundromat while she removed clothes from a dryer.
  • And Roxanne McMillan, another housewife, was critically wounded and left paralyzed from the waist down as she walked down a flight of stairs to her apartment.

Each of these victims had been shot twice in the back by a black gunman using a .32 automatic pistol.

Just hours before the murder spree, Anthony Harris had asked his friend, Larry Green, why their comrade, J.C. Simon, was so depressed and irritable.

“He’s pretty pissed off because he didn’t make lieutenant,” Green had replied. “He didn’t have enough kills on his record.”

The killings continued up to mid-April, 1974.

On April 20, 1974, San Francisco’s liberal mayor, Joseph L. Alioto, authorized a city-wide police dragnet to flush out the still-supposed lone gunman.

Throughout the city, roving squads of specially-assigned officers stopped and questioned over 600 young black men. Those stopped were thought by police to resemble a vague description of the “killer,” as given by witnesses and surviving victims.

Some blacks were stopped so many times they were issued special identification cards to prevent future police interrogations.

The dragnet failed to flush out the Zebra Killers, but it touched off an uproar within the black community. Mayor Alioto was heatedly denounced by civil rights and religious activists.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a suit in federal court for the Northern District of California to halt the stops.

On April 26–six days after the dragnet began–San Francisco’s U.S. District Judge Alfonzo J. Zirpoli acted on the NAACP’s suit.  He declared the stops an unconstitutional violation of blacks’ civil rights.

In the future, ordered Zirpoli, police would need specific information leading them to believe that whoever they stopped had committed a crime or was in the process of doing so.

In San Francisco, the sudden collapse of the citywide police dragnet brought new shivers of panic to an already frightened citizenry.

Many whites stopped going outdoors after dark.  Even police officers frequently looked over their shoulders as evening approached.

Some whites–especially in the heavily Italian North Beach area–began talking about spreading vigilante terror among blacks.

And the murder-spree affected the city financially: The tourist trade–on which San Francisco depended for so much of its revenue–sharply declined.

The reaction of blacks was entirely different.

During the manhunt for the notorious “Zodiac” serial killer in the late 1960s, San Francisco police had relied heavily on dragnets and interrogations of young white men resembling a composite sketch.

But blacks charged racism when the same tactic was used to hunt for the supposed lone “Zebra” gunman. 

Many blacks blamed “unemployment” and “oppression” for the attacks. When interviewed by the San Francisco Examiner, none condemned the murders or expressed sympathy for their victims.

Then, on April 22, 1974, a break finally came in the case. 

Anthony Cornelius Harris decided to tell the police what he knew about the men responsible for the murders.

The killings, said Harris, weren’t the work of a crazed loner. They were being carried out by a group of militant Black Muslims who made use of elaborate security precautions.

Harris’ intimate knowledge of the killers stemmed from their having been among his closest friends for over six months.

Harris claimed that the killers had repeatedly tried to enlist him as an accomplice.  He insisted that he could not bring himself to commit cold-blooded murder. This led his friends to suspect that Harris might be a police informer or agent.

Harris began fearing for his life.  He also wanted the $30,000 reward being offered for the capture of the still-supposed lone gunman.

On May 1, 1974, police–acting on Harris’ information–arrested seven suspects.

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