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“FAT MAN” AND BUREAUCRACY WARS

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 24, 2014 at 12:00 am

The 1989 movie, Fat Man and Little Boy, provides useful insights into the real-life workings of bureaucracies.

In it, the brilliant and ambitious physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer (played by Dwight Schultz) comes–too late–to realize he’s made a deal with the devil.

The same proved true for the J. Robert Oppenhiemer of history.

Dwight Schultz as J. Robert Oppenheimer and Paul Newman as General Leslie Groves

Hired by Army General Leslie Groves (played by Paul Newman) to ramrod construction of an atomic bomb, Oppenheimer has no qualms about using it against Nazi Germany.

It’s believed, after all, that German scientists are furiously pursuing work on such a weapon.

The full horror of the extermination camps has not yet been revealed.  But “Oppie” and many other Jewish scientists working on the Manhattan Project can easily imagine the fate of Jews trapped within the borders of the Third Reich.

But then something unforeseen happens. On May 8, 1945, the Third Reich collapses and signs unconditional surrender terms.

Almost at the same time, the U.S. military learns that although some German physicists had tried to make an atomic bomb, they never even got close to producing one.

So Oppenheimer finds himself still working to build the most devastating weapon in history–but now lacking the enemy he had originally signed on to destroy.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Government has invested nearly $2 billion in the Manhattan Project–at a time when $2 billion truly meant the equivalent of $1 trillion today. Is all that money to go for nothing?

What to do?

Oppenheimer doesn’t have to make that decision. It’s made for him—by Groves, by Groves’ superiors in the Army, and ultimately by the new President, Harry S. Truman.

The bomb will be used, after all. It will just be turned against the Japanese, who are even more hated by most Americans than the Germans.

It doesn’t matter that:

  • The Japanese lack the technological skill of the Germans to produce an atomic bomb.
  • They are rapidly being pushed across the Pacific to their home islands.
  • American bombers are incinerating Japanese cities at wil.
  • The Japanese are desperately trying to find a way to surrender without losing face.

What matters is that Pearl Harbor is still fresh in the minds of Americans generally and of the American military in particular.

And that now that the Japanese are being pushed back into their home islands, they are fighting ever more fanatically to hold off certain defeat.

General Douglas MacArthur, who is scheduled to command the invasion of Japan, has estimated a million American casualties if this goes forward.

Oppenheimer, who has taught physics at the University of California at Berkeley, now finds himself being taught a lesson:

That, once set in motion, bureaucracies–like objects–continue to move forward unless something intervenes to stop them. And, in this case, there is no one willing to say: Stop.

So, on August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber drops “Little Boy” on Hiroshima.

An estimated 80,000 people die instantly.  By the end of the year, injury and radiation bring total casualties to 90,000-140,000.

On August 9, it’s the turn of Nagasaki.

Casualty estimates for the dropping of “Fat Man” range from 40,000 to 73,884, with another 74,909 injured, and another several hundred thousand diseased and dying due to fallout and other illness caused by radiation.

For Oppenheimer, the three years he has devoted to creating an atomic bomb will prove the pivotal event of his life. He will be praised and damned as an “American Prometheus,” who brought atomic fire to man.

Countless Americans–especially those who would have been ordered to invade Japan–will revere him as the man who brought the war to a quick end.

And countless Americans–and non-Americans–will condemn him as a man whose arrogance and ambition led him to arm mankind with the means of its own destruction.

Upon witnessing the first successful atomic explosion near Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer had been stunned by the sheer magnitude of destructiveness he had helped unleash.

Quoting the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita, he murmured: “Now I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds.”

Faced with the massive toll of lives taken by the device he had created, Oppenheimer became convinced that the only hope for humanity lay in abolishing nuclear weapons.

He vigorously opposed the creation of a “super” hydrogen bomb. His advice was overruled, however, and construction of this went forward at the same pace that Oppenheimer had once driven others to create the atomic bomb.

The first test of this even more terrifying weapon occurred on November 1, 1952. By 1953, just as Oppenheimer had predicted, the Soviet Union had launched its own H-bomb test.

In a famous meeting with President Truman, Oppenheimer reportedly said, “Mr. President, I have blood on my hands.”

Truman later claimed that he had offered Oppenheimer a handkerchief, saying, “Here, this will wash it off.”

It didn’t.

Accused during the hysteria of the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts of being a Communist traitor, Oppenheimer found himself stripped of his government security clearance in 1954.

Unable to prevent the military bureaucracy from moving relentlessly to use the atomic bomb, he could not halt the political bureaucracy from its own rush into cowardice and the wrecking of others’ lives.

THE DANGERS OF TIMIDITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

President Barack Obama–or at least Neil Kornze, the director of the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM)–has some serious lessons to learn about the uses of power.

For more than 20 years, Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher, has refused to pay fees for grazing cattle on public lands, some 80 miles north of Las Vegas.

BLM says Bundy now owes close to $1 million. He says his family has used the land since the 1870s and doesn’t recognize the federal government’s jurisdiction.

In 2013, a federal judge ordered Bundy to remove his livestock. He ignored the order, and in early April, 2014, BLM agents rounded up more than 400 of his cattle.

Over the weekend of April 12-13, armed militia members and states’ right protesters showed up to challenge the move.

Rather than risk violence, the BLM did an about-face and released the cattle.

Right-wing bloggers and commentators have portrayed the incident as a victory over Federal tyranny.

According to Alex Jones’ Infowars.com: “Historic!  Feds Forced to Surrender to American Citizens.”

Right-wingers have depicted Bundy as a put-upon Everyman being “squeeaed” by the dictatorial Federal government.

They have deliberately ignored a number of inconvenient truths–such as:

  • He claims that his grazing rights were established in 1880 when his ancestors settled the land where his ranch sits.
  • But the Nevada constitution–adopted in 1864 as a condition of statehood–contradicts Bundy’s right to operate as a law unto himself.
  • The constitution says: “The people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”
  • In 1934,  the Taylor Grazing Act gave existing ranchers permits allowing them to run their herds on federal land.
  • In turn, ranchers paid user fees, which were lower than what most private landowners would have charged.
  • In 1993, the Federal government launched an effort to protect the endangered desert tortoise.
  • Certain grasslands were placed off-limits for grazing, and the government bought out the permits of some ranchers.
  • Among others, Bundy refused to sell and kept grazing his cattle on restricted federal land without a permit.
  • Amidst mounting fees and fines, Bundy repeatedly slugged it out in court against government lawyers.  He lost.
  • In 1998, a federal judge permanently barred him from letting his cattle graze on protected federal land.
  • In early April, 2014, BLM agents–charged with overseeing grazing rights–began rounding up Bundy’s cattle to remove them from federal property.

Bundy’s family and other ranchers–backed up by a motley assortment of self-declared militiamen armed with rifles and pistols–confronted the agents.

Fearing another Waco–regarded by Right-wing Americans as a second Alamo–the BLM agents backed down and released Bundy’s cattle.  And then retreated.

While Right-wingers hail this as a victory for “states’ rights,” the truth is considerably different.

Bundy’s refusal to recognize the federal government’s jurisdiction amounts to: “I will recognize–and obey–only those laws that I happen to agree with.”

And the BLM’s performance offers a texbook lesson on how not to promote respect for the law–or for those who enforce it.

As Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science warned more than 500 years ago in The Prince:

[A ruler] is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute—which [he] must guard against as a rock of danger…. 

[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude. 

As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.

In his master-work, The Discouorses, he outlines the consequences of allowing lawbreakers to go unpunished:

…Having established rewards for good actions and penalties for evil ones, and having rewarded a citizen for conduct who afterwards commits a wrong, he should be chastised for that without regard to his previous merits….

For if a citizen who has rendered some eminent service to the state should add to the reputation and influence which he has thereby acquired the confident audacity of being able to commit any wrong without fear of punishment, he will in a little while become so insolent and overbearing as to put an end to all power of the law.

The conduct of the agents of BLM has violated that sage counsel on all counts.

BLM agents should have expected trouble from Right-wing militia groups–and come fully prepared to deal with it.

The FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, for example, have created SWAT teams to deal with those who threaten  violence against the Federal Government.

Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman had a formula for dealing with domestic terrorists of his own time.

Writing to his commander, Ulysses S. Grant, about the best way to treat Confederate guerrillas, he advised:

General Willilam Tecumseh Sherman

“They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.  We cannot change the hearts of those people of the South.

“But we can make war so terrible that they will realize the fact that . . . they are still mortal and should exhaust all peaceful remedies before they fly to war.”

GOVERNMENT AS IT REALLY WORKS: PART TWO (END)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary, Law Enforcement, Law, Military on April 22, 2014 at 12:40 am

In 1972, 41 years before Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency was spying on the Internet, David Halberstam issued a warning about government secrecy.

As a young reporter for the New York Times covering the early years of the Vietnam war, Halberstam had repeatedly confronted government duplicity and obstruction.

David Halberstam (on left)

Halberstam arrived in South Vietnam in 1962.  Almost at once he realized that the war was not going well for the United States Army and its supposed South Vietnamese allies.

The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) was ill-trained and staffed with incompetent officers who sought to avoid military action.

Reports to military superiors were filled with career-boosting lies about “progress” being made against Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers.

“Screw up and move up” was the way Americans described the ARVN promotion system.

Halberstam soon learned that the phrase applied just as much to the American Army as well–for reasons of the same incompetence and duplicity.

Returning from Vietnam and resigning from the Times, Halberstam set to work on his landmark history of how the United States had become entangled in a militarily and economically unimportant country.

He would call it The Best and the Brightest, and the title would become a sarcastic reference to those men in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations whose arrogance and deceit plunged the United States into disaster.

Halberstam outlined how the culture of secrecy and unchecked power led American policymakers to play God with the lives of other nations.

Out of this grew a willingness to use covert operations.  And this meant keeping these secret from Americans generally and Congress in particular.

This ignorance allowed citizens to believe that America was a different country.  One that didn’t engage in the same brutalities and corruptions of other nations.

Thus, President Lyndon B. Johnson claimed to be the peace candidate during the 1964 election.  Meanwhile, he was secretly sending U.S. Navy ships to attack coastal cities in North Vietnam.

When North Vietnam responded militarily, Johnson feigned outrage and vowed that the United States would vigorously resist “Communist aggression.”

The history of covert operations has had its own in- and -out-of seasons:

  • During the Eisenhower Administration, the Central Intelligence Agency overthrew the governments of Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954).
  • During the Kennedy Administration, the CIA repeatedly tried to assassinate Cuba’s “Maximum Leader,” Fidel Castro.
  • During the Nixon Adminisdtration, the CIA plotted with right-wing army leaders to successfully overthrow Salvador Allende, the Leftist, legally-elected President of Chile (1973).
  • In 1975, the CIA’s history of assassination attempts became public through an expose by New York Times Investigative Reporter Seymour Hersh.
  • Following nationwide outrage, President Gerald Ford signed an executive order banning the agency from assassinating foreign leaders.

After 9/11, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney decided to “take off the gloves.”

The CIA drew up an ever-expanding list of targets and used killer drones and Special Operations troops (such as SEALs and Green Berets) to hunt them down.

Predator drone firing Hellfire missile

And when these weren’t enough, the CIA called on expensive mercenaries (such as Blackwater), untrustworthy foreign Intelligence services, proxy armies and mercurial dictators.

In his 2013 book, The Way of the Knife, New York Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti traces the origins of this high-tech, “surgical” approach to warfare.

Within the course of a decade, the CIA has moved largely from being an intelligence-gathering agency to being a “find-and-kill” one.

And this newfound lethality came at a price: The CIA would no longer be able to provide the crucial Intelligence Presidents need to make wise decisions in a dangerous world.

While the CIA sought to become a more discreet version of the Pentagon, the Pentagon began setting up its own Intelligence network in out-of-the-way Third World outposts.

And, ready to service America’s military and Intelligence agencies at a mercenary’s prices, are a host of private security and Intelligence companies.

Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel, warns of the potential for trouble: “There is an inevitable tension as to where the contractor’s loyalties lie.  Do they lie with the flag?  Or do they lie with the bottom line?”

Mazzetti warns of the dark side of these new developments. On one hand, this high-tech approach to war has been embraced by Washington as a low-risk, low-cost alternative to huge troop commitments and quagmire occupations.

On the other hand, it’s created new enemies, fomented resentments among allies and fueled regional instability.  It has also created new weapons unbound by the normal rules of accountability in wartime.

Finally, it’s raised new and troubling ethical questions, such as:

  • What is the moral difference between blowing apart a man at a remote distance with a drone-fired missile and shooting him in the back of the head at close range?
  • Why is the first considered a legitimate act of war–and the second considered an illegal assassination?

In time, there will be answers to many of the uncertainties this new era of push-button and hired-soldier warfare  has unleashed.  And at least some of those answers may come at a high price.

GOVERNMENT AS IT REALLY WORKS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2014 at 1:03 am

Millions of Americans are outraged to find that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been running a program to spy on the Internet.

National Security Agency

Created in 1952, the NSA is the largest signals-intercepting and code-cracking agency in the world, using specially designed high-speed computers to analyze literally mountains of data.

Headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, the NSA dwarfs the better-known Central Intelligence Agency in both its budget (which is classified) and number of employees (40,000).

NSA’s program–entitled PRISM–collects a wide range of data from nine Internet service providers, although the details vary by provider.

Here are the nine ISPs:

  • AOL
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Skype
  • Facebook
  • PalTalk
  • Apple
  • YouTube

And here is what we know (so far) they provide to the ever-probing eyes of America’s Intelligence community:

  • Email
  • Videos
  • Stored data
  • Photos
  • File transfers
  • Video conferencing
  • Notification of target activity (logins)
  • Online social networking details
  • VolP (Voice Over Internet Porocol)
  • Special requests

“Trailblazer,” NSA’s data-mining computer system

The program has been run by the NSA since 2007.  But its existence became front-page news only in early June, 2013, when a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked its capabilities to The Guardian, a British newspaper.

While millions of Americans were surprised at this massive electronic vacuuming of data, at least one man could not have been.

This was Neil Sheehan, the former New York Times reporter who, in 1971, broke the story of the Pentagon Papers.  A secret Pentagon study, it documented how the United States became entangled in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

Its existence had been leaked by Daniel Ellsburg, a former defense analyst for the RAND corporation.

Among the Pentagon Papers’ embarrassing revelations:

  • Four Presidents–Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson–had misled the public about their intentions.
  • At least two Presidents–Kennedy and Johnson–committed increasing numbers of ground forces to Vietnam out of fear.  Not fear for the South Vietnamese but fear that they (JFK and LBJ) would be charged with being “soft on Communism” and thereby not re-elected.
  • Kennedy knew the South Vietnamese government to be thoroughly corrupt and inept, and plotted to overthrow its president, Ngo Dinh Diem, to “save” the war effort.
  • During the Presidential campaign of 1964, Johnson decided to expand the war but posed as a peacemaker.  He claimed that his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, wanted to bomb North Vietnam and send thousands of American soldieers into an unnecessary war.

A memo from the Defense Department under the Johnson Administration summed up the duplicity behind the war.  It listed the real reasons for American involvement: “To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.”

  • 70% – To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.
  • 20% – To keep South Vietnam and the adjacent territory from Chinese hands.
  • 10% – To permit the people of South Vietnam to enjoy a better, freer way of life.
  • ALSO – To emerge from the crisis without unacceptable taint from methods used.
  • NOT – To ‘help a friend’.

The study implicated only the administrations of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

But then-President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, saw the release of the papers as a dangerous breach of national security.

After the New York Times began publishing the study, Nixon ordered the Justice Department to intervene.

For the first time in United States history, a federal judge legally forbade a newspaper to publish a story.

The Times frantically appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post (having gotten a second set of the documents from Ellsburg) rushed its own version of the story into print.

On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court ruled, 6–3, that the government had failed to meet the burden of proof required for prior restraint of press freedom.

For Sheehan, reading the Papers was an eye-opener, a descent into a world he had never imagined possible.

As David Halberstam wrote in The Best and the Brightest, his best-selling 1972 account of how arrogance and deceit led the United States into disaster in Vietnam:

Sheehan came away with the overwhelming impression: that the government of the United States was not what he had thought it was.

Sheehan felt that he had discovered an inner U.S. government, highly centralized, and far more powerful than anything else.  And its enemy wass not simply the Communists but everything else–its own press, judiciary, Congress, foreign and friendly governments.

It had survived and perpetuated itself, often by using the issue of anti-Communism as a weapon against the other branches of government and the press.  And it served its own ends, rather than the good of the Republic.

This inner government used secrecy to protect itself–not from foreign governments but to keep its own citizens ignorant of its crimes and incompetence.

Each succeeding President was careful to not expose the faults of his predecessor.

Essentially the same people were running the government, wrote Halberstam, and so each new administration   faced virtually the same enemies.

THE TRUTH CAN MAKE US FREE

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on April 18, 2014 at 12:15 am

Once in a while, a politician slips up.

He forgets the presence of his PR handlers.  He wanders off his carefully-prepared script.  He gets so angry at reporters that he does something he would never otherwise do.

He blurts out the truth–about what he actually intends to do, or how he actually feels about an issue.

For at least a few days, the news media converges on the politician–who rushes to the safety of his PR reps.

They, in turn, quickly issue press releases to “explain” what the politician “really meant to say”:

  • He was “misunderstood.”
  • He was “misquoted.”
  • He’s the victim of a press “vendetta.”

Perhaps the most famous such “here’s-what-I-meant-to-say” statement was issued by Ron Ziegler, press secretary for President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

Starting on June 17, 1972, the Washington Post had investigated a series of crimes committed by Nixon operatives to ensure his re-election.

For the next 10 months, Ziegler and other Nixon administration officials denied any wrongdoing–and viciously attacked the Post as waging a vendetta against Nixon.

Then, on April 17, 1973, Ziegler once again stood before the White House press corps to offer yet another prepared statement: “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”

Ron Ziegler

By which he meant: “The statement I’m making now is the truth.  All the previous statements were lies.”

In 2012, the Republican party once again faced a “truth-will-out” scandal.

On August 19, 2012, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) justified his opposition to abortion by claiming that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant.

During a TV interview, the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate was asked if he supported abortion in the case of rape.  He replied:

“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

“But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Todd Akin

Akin won the Republican primary on August 7–but then lost to incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). in November, 2012.

McCaskill was quick to issue a response.

“It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape.  The ideas that Todd Akin has expressed about the serious crime of rape and the impact on its victims are offensive.”

This was not the first time Akin “misspoke” on abortion.

On August 8, 2012, he said during a radio interview: “As far as I’m concerned, the morning-after pill is a form of abortion, and I think we just shouldn’t have abortion in this country.”

But the firestorm of outrage that greeted his “legitimate rape” comment caught Akin by surprise.  So he did what politicians do when they’ve mistakenly told the truth.

With the help of his PR handlers, he “clarified” his previous statement:

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.

“I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue.

“But I believe deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

Mitt Romney, awaiting his nomination as the Republican Presidential candidate, also bitterly opposed abortion and wanted to make it illegal once again.

But Romney also didn’t expect a firestorm to erupt over Akin’s truth-blurb.  Thus, on the day Akin revealed his true feelings about women, Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, told the Huffington Post:

“Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”

Clearly, Romney believed that would be enough.  The press would move on to another issue and he would be off the hook once again.

Only the press didn’t move on to another issue.

Akin’s comment obviously recalled to voters the libelous statements made earlier in 2012 by Rush Limbaugh against Georgetown University Law student Sandra Fluke.

Rush Limbaugh

In these, Limbaugh–America’s porcine version of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels–called Fluke a “slut” and “a prostitute”  because she had urged Congress to make insurance companies cover contraception expenses.

Desperate to make the issue go away, Romney told National Review Online: ”Congressman’s Akin comments on rape are insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong.

“Like millions of other Americans, we found them to be offensive.”

What Romney and his fellow Republicans truly found offensive was this:  Akin’s statement threatened to deny them the power they sought to rule Americans’ lives.

And, on November 6, 2012, Aiken’s unintended truth-telling cost the Republicans the White House.

BE YOUR OWN AIR MARSHAL

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 17, 2014 at 12:05 am

On June 5, 2013, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) finally came face-to-face with reality.

It announced that it was abandoning its plan to let passengers carry small knives, baseball bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes, as it had originally intended.

But TSA didn’t drop this plan because it wanted to.  It did so only after fierce opposition from passengers, Congressional leaders and airline industry officials.

TSA Administrator John Pistole unveiled the proposal in March, 2013.

Said Pistole: Increased protective measures–such as hardened cockpit doors and armed off-duty pilots traveling on planes–made it impossible for terrorists to use small folding knives to highjack a plane.

He said that intercepting them takes time that would be better used searching for explosives and other more serious threats.

TSA screeners confiscate over 2,000 small folding knives a day from passengers.

The proposal would have permitted folding knives with blades that are 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) or less in length and are less than 1/2 inch (1 centimeter) wide.

The aim was to allow passengers to carry pen knives, corkscrews with small blades and other knives.

Passengers also would also have been allowed to bring onboard novelty-sized baseball bats less than 24 inches long, toy plastic bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and two golf clubs.

The United States has gradually eased airline security measures that took effect after 9/11.

In 2005, TSA said it would let passengers carry on small scissors, knitting needles, tweezers, nail clippers and up to four books of matches.

The agency began focusing on keeping explosives off planes, because intelligence officials believed that was the greatest threat to commercial aviation.

With regard to the use of edged weapons as terrorist tools:

  • The terrorists who highjacked four jetliners and turned them into flying bombs on September 11, 2001, used only boxcutters to cut the throats of stewards and stewardesses; and
  • They then either forced their way into the cockpits and overpowered and murdered the pilots, or lured the pilots to leave the cabins and murdered them.

And for all the publicity given the TSA’s “Air Marshal” program, it’s been airline passengers who have repeatedly been the ones to subdue unruly fliers.

Consider the following incidents:

  • On August 11, 2000, Jonathan Burton, a passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight tried to break into the cockpit was killed by other passengers who restrained him.
  • On May 9, 2011, crew members and passengers wrestled a 28-year-old man to the cabin floor after he began pounding on the cockpit door of a plane approaching San Francisco.
  • On February 21, 2012, passengers aboard a Continental Airlines flight from Portland to Houston rushed to aid a flight attendant subdue a Middle Eastern man who began shouting, “Allah is great!”
  • On March 27, 2012, a JetBlue flight from new York to Las Vegas was forced to land in Texas after the pilot started shouting about bombs and al-Qaeda and had to be subdued by passengers.
  • On January 9, 2013, passengers on board an international flight from Reykjavik to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport subdued an unruly passenger by tying him to his seat with duct tape and zip ties after he began screaming and hitting other passengers.
  • On May 27, 2013, a passenger aboard an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Portland, Oregon, tried to open an airplane door in-flight and was subdued by passengers and crew members until the plane landed in Portland.

In every one of these incidents, it’s been passengers–not the vaunted Air Marshals–who have been the first and major line of defense against mentally unstable or terroristically inclined passengers.

In opposing TSA’s proposal to loosen security restrictions, skeptical lawmakers, airlines, labor unions and law enforcement groups argued that knives and other items could be used to injure or kill passengers and crew.

Such weapons would have increased the dangers posed by the above-cited passengers (and a pilot) who erupted in frightening behavior.

Prior to 9/11, commercial airline pilots and passengers were warned: If someone tries to highjack the plane, just stay calm and do what he says.

So many airplanes were directed by highjackers to land in Fidel Castro’s Cuba that these incidents became joke fodder for stand-up comedians.

And, up to 9/11, the advice to cooperate fully with highjackers and land the planes where they wanted worked.  No planes and no lives were lost.

But during 9/11, passengers and crew–with one exception–cooperated fully with the highjackers’ demands.

And all of them died horiffically when three of those jetliners were deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

World Trade Center under airplane attack

Only on United Flight 93 did the passengers and crew fight back. In doing so, they accomplished what security guards, soldiers, military pilots, the CIA and FBI could not.

They thwarted the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives and preventing the fourth plane from destroying the White House or the Capital Building.

Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93

Since every airline passenger must now become his or her own Air Marshal, it seems only appropriate that the criminals they face be rendered as harmless as possible.

PAULA DEEN’S REAL LAGACY: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Social commentary on April 16, 2014 at 12:38 am

In 2012, Celebrity Chef Paula Deen was sued by a former employee for sexual/racial harassment.

For Deen, the deposition she filed in May, 2013, proved to be the worst mistake of her life.

Interrogated by Matthew C. Billips, the attorney for the plaintiff, Lisa Jackson, Deen responded as follows:

Q.  Are you aware of [your brother, Earl "Bubba" Hiers] admitting that he engaged in racially and sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace?

A.  I guess.

Q.  Okay.

A.  If I was sitting here I would have heard it.

Mistake #13:  She admits once again to having been apprised of her brother’s offensive behavior.

Earl “Bubba” Hiers

 Q.  Okay.  Well, have you done anything about what you heard him admit to doing?

A.  My brother and I have had conversations.  My brother is not a bad person.  Do humans behave inappropriately?  At times, yes.  I don’t know one person that has not. 

My brother is a good man.  Have we told jokes?  Have we said things that we should not have said, that–yes, we all have.  We all have done that, every one of us.

Mistake #14:  She admitted to having talked with her brother about his offensive behavior–but she did not say she did anything to stop it or punish him for it.

Q.  You said you have had such conversations with [your brother]. When did you do so?

A.  When Karl told me he was stealing, I addressed that with Bubba.

Q.  And as a result of Mr. Hiers stealing, he received a pay increase and the money he had taken was recharacterized as wages, is that correct?

A.  I don’t know how it was settled.  I know that Karl was paying Lisa Jackson more than my brother was being paid, so if there was a salary increase, it would have been long overdue.

Mistake #15:  She admitted that even though she learned that one of her employees was stealing from her, she had nevertheless retained him. 

Speaking of her employee, Karl Schumacher, Deen said:

A.  Karl is the most judgmental person I know.  And out of every team member on our team, he is certainly the most prejudice.

Mistake #16:  She admitted that she had retained an employee who was openly prejudiced toward a wide range of people.

MackWorks, a business consulting firm, conducted an investigation of Uncle Bubba’s, which was owned by her brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers.

A.  I didn’t read the report.

Q.  Okay.  And what, if any, investigation have you done to determine if it is your brother who is lying, as opposed to Miss Jackson and Mr. Schumacher and the people at MackWorks?

A.  I know my brother.  I know his character.  If I ask him something, he would not lie to me, nor would I to him.  There was nothing to investigate.

Mistake #18:  After an independent consulting firm gives her a scathing report about her brother’s restaurant, she didn’t read it.  

Mistake #19:  She admitted she didn’t read it.

Mistake #20:  She admitted she took no action to discover the truth for herself: “There was nothing to investigate.”

* * * * *

The media has focused its attention on Deen’s admission to having used the “N-word.”  But clearly she was running a dysfunctional operation–replete with alcoholism, racial prejudice, sexual harassment and theft.

Much has been made of Deen’s serving as an ambassador of Southern culture and cooking.  But if only some of the accusations made against her hold up, she must also serve as an ambassador of a South decent Americans want to forget–and forever put behind them.

That was definitely an era when blacks knew their place–which was as slaves in the kitchens or fields of the Southern planter class who owned them.

According to Jackson, those are the days Deen would love to return to.

Deen has given lip service to knowing that the days of Southern racism are past.  But according to the complaint filed against her by her former employee, Lisa Jackson, that past remained very much alive:

  • Requiring black employees to use separate bathrooms and entrances from whites.
  • Holding black employees to “different, more stringent standards” than whites.
  • Allowing her brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers, to regularly made offensive racial remarks.
  • Allowing Hiers to make inappropriate sexual comments.
  • Allowing Hiers to force the plaintiff, Lisa Jackson, to look at pornography with him.
  • Allowing Hiers to often violently shake employees.
  • Allowing Hiersto come to work in “an almost constant state of intoxication.”
  • Enabling Hiers’ behavior by ignoring Jackson’s efforts to discuss his behavior.
  • Holding “racist views herself.”

Many of Deen’s supporters have claimed she is the victim of anti-Southern prejudice.

But the truth appears that only in the South could she have run so gigantic and lucrative an empire for so long in such prejucial and dysfunctional fashion.

The wonder is not that the Food Network refused to renew her contract after June, 2013.  The wonder is that she has managed to stay in business this long.

PAULA DEEN’S REAL LAGACY: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Social commentary on April 15, 2014 at 12:07 am

There are many lessons to be learned from the deposition Paula Deen gave in May, 2012, during a lawsuit filed against her for sexual/racial harassment lawsuit.

Interrogated by Matthew C. Billips, the attorney for the plaintiff, Lisa Jackson, Deen responded as follows:

Q.  Now, does [your brother's] sense of humor include telling jokes about matters of a sexual nature?

A.  We have all told off-colored jokes.

Q.  Okay.  Does his sense of humor include telling jokes of a racial nature?

A.  I’m sure those kind of jokes have been told.  Every man I’ve ever come in contact with has one.

Mistake #3:  Deen acknowledged that off-color jokes were told in her workplace, and that she was clearly aware of it.

Mistake #4:  Deen made light of the telling of jokes that the vast majority of employers would not tolerate in their workplaces.

Q.  Okay.  Miss Deen, have you told racial jokes?

A.  No, not racial.

Q.  Okay, have you ever used the N-word yourself?

A.  Yes, of course.

Mistake #5:  She knew that the charge of racial discrimination stood at the very heart of the lawsuit facing her. 

Yet, when asked if she had ever used the “N-word,” she replied, “Yes, of course,” as if this were the most natural thing in the world.

Q.  Okay.  In what context?

A.  Well, it was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.

Q. Okay, and what did you say?

A.  Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple.  I didn’t…feel real favorable towards him.

Q.  Okay.  Well, did you use the N-word to him as he pointed a gun in your head at your face?

A.  Absolutely not.

Q.  Well, then, when did you use it?

A.  Probably in telling my husband.

Mistake #6:  What is discussed between husband and wife is protected legally as marital privilege.  Her attorney should have objected and told her not to answer the question. 

If she had not admitted to using it privately with her husband, she might not have been asked if she had used it since then.

Q, Okay.  Have you used it [the "N-word"] since then?

A.  I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.

Mistake #7:  Having admitted she used it in the past, she compounds her mistake by admitting she had used it since. 

Mistake #8:   There is an entirely legal way to avoid incriminating oneself–and being prosecuted for perjury.  It’s contained in the words: “Not that I can recall.”

Q. Can you remember the context in which you have used the N-word?

A.  No.

Q.  Has it occurred with sufficient frequency that you cannot recall all of the various context in which you’ve used it?

A.  No.

Q.  Well, then tell me the other context in which you’ve used the N-word.

A.  I don’t know, maybe in repeating something that was said to me.

Q.  Like a joke?

No, probably a conversation between blacks.  I don’t–I don’t know.

Mistake #9:  The vast majority of restaurant kitchens are staffed by blacks or Hispanics, whose exchanges are often obscene and homophobic. 

If Deen had said she had quoted such a conversation between employees, she could have legitimately claimed she did so entirely for the sake of accuracy. 

She could have blamed them for using the N”-word,” and cast herself strictly in the role of reporter.

Q.  Okay.

A.  But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on.  Things have changed since the 60s in the South.  And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior.

Q.  Okay.

A.  As well as I do.

Q.  Are you aware that your brother has admitted to using that word at work?

A.  I don’t know about that.

Mistake #10:  She had previously admitted to attending her brother’s deposition, where he admitted to, among other offenses, using the N-word in the workplace. 

So this is a direct contradiction of her earlier admission.

Q  Okay.  Now, if you had learned of Mr. Hiers engaging in racially or sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace, what, if any, actions would you have taken?

A.  I certainly would have addressed it.

Mistake #11:  Previously she had been asked: “Did any of the things that your brother admitted to doing, including…using the N-word in the workplace, did any of that conduct cause you to have any concerns about him continuing to operate the business?” 

And she had replied: “No.”  So this amounts to yet another contradiction.

Q.  Have you ever addressed Mr. Hiers’ racially or sexually inappropriate conduct?

A. No.

Mistake #12:  She admitted to having learned about her brother’s use of the “N-word” in the workplace–and then admitted to having never addressed it.

Q.  And you are aware of his admitting to engaging in racially and sexually inappropriate  behavior in the workplace in his deposition in this case?

A.   No.

Mistake #12:  This directly contradicts her previous admission that she had learned of his engaging in such behavior during his deposition.

PAULA DEEN’S REAL LAGACY: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Social commentary on April 14, 2014 at 12:00 am

The purpose of this blog is to highlight the ways public and private bureaucracies actually operate–as opposed to how they usually want others to believe they operate.

Occasionally, a case comes along that is so filled with blatant violations of law and common sense that it offers a road map of what others should do to avoid similar disaster.

Such a case is that of celebrity chef Paula Deen.

On April 3, Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House closed without warning.

The Savannah, Georgia, restaurant lay at the center of the infamous Paula Deen lawsuit.

And, in keeping with the mistreatment she had long tolerated against her employees, Deen closed Uncle Bubba’s without a trace of class.

Yes, Paula Deen thought so little of her employees that she didn’t even tell them beforehand.  She let them show up to work, only to find kitchen appliances being removed from the restaurant.

Employees collected their severance checks in the parking lot.

Insead, the restaurant posted the following announcement on its Facebook page:

“Since its opening in 2004, Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House has been a destination for residents and tourists in Savannah, offering the region’s freshest seafood and oysters.

“However, the restaurant’s owner and operator, Bubba Heirs, has made the decision to close the restaurant in order to explore development options for the waterfront property on which the restaurant is located.

“At this point, no specific plans have been announced and a range of uses are under consideration in order realize the highest and best use for the property.

“The closing is effective today, Thursday, April 3, 2014. Employees will be provided with severance based on position and tenure with the restaurant.

“All effort will be made to find employees comparable employment with other Savannah restaurant organizations.” 

In 2013, Deen became the subject of nationwide controversey when Lisa Jackson, a former employee of Uncle Bubba’s, filed a sexual/racial harassment lawsuit against her.

In a deposition, Deen was asked if she had used the word “nigger” and she replied: “Of course.”

Suddenly, she lost her cooking show on the Food Network.  Several of his business partners–including Sears, JC Penney and Kmart–also gave hr the heave-ho.

The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but, by then, the damage was done.

Commentators focused obsessively on Deen’s admission that she used the word “nigger.”  Entirely ignored was the longtime mistreatment she had allowed to be dished out to her employees.

Paula Deen

Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers, her company, and the corporations that operated a pair of restaurants she owns in Savannah, Georgia, were sued by former employee Lisa Jackson.

A complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in November, 2012, claimed that Jackson was subjected to “violent, sexist, and racist behavior” during her five years’ employment by Deen.

It was for that reason that she left Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, which was run by Hiers, in August, 2010.

Jackson’s complaint alleged that:

  • Black employees were required to use separate bathrooms and entrances from whites.
  • Black employees were held to “different, more stringent standards” than whites.
  • Hiers regularly made offensive racial remarks.
  • Hiers made inappropriate sexual comments.
  • Hiers forced Jackson to look at pornography with him.
  • Hiers often violently shook employees.
  • Hiers came to work in “an almost constant state of intoxication.”
  • Dean enabled Hiers’ behavior by ignoring Jackson’s efforts to discuss his behavior.
  • Deen “holds racist views herself.”

The allegation that black employees were ordered to use separate bathrooms and entrances harkens back to the ugly days of the pre-civil rights South.

That was an era where most blacks knew their place–or were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.

In May, 2013, Deen gave her own deposition in the case.

She denied many of the allegations against Hiers-–but ended up admitting that she was aware of his offensive behaviors:

Q.  Okay.  Are you aware–-you were here during your brother’s deposition, right?

A.  Yes.

Q.  So you are aware of the things that he’s admitted to?

A.  Absolutely.

Q.  Did any of the things that your brother admitted to doing, including reviewing–-reviewing pornography in the workplace, using the N-word in the workplace, did any of that conduct cause you to have any concerns about him continuing to operate the business?

A.  No.  My brother and I, 25 years ago…each started a business and we each had $200 to start that business. 

My brother built the most successful long-service business in Albany, Georgia, with his $200.  My brother is completely capable unless he’s being sabotaged.

Mistake #1:  Deen acknowledged that, if she hadn’t known about her brother’s behavior prior to his deposition, she was present during this and thus learned about it then.

Mistake #2:  Deen acknowledged that even after she officially became aware of his behavior, she did not feel there was any reason to sever him from the company.

WHAT THE MAJOR HAS TO TELL US

In Entertainment, History, Military, Social commentary on April 11, 2014 at 12:10 am

Major Dundee is a 1965 Sam Peckinpah Western focusing on a Union cavalry officer (Charlton Heston) who leads a motley troop of soldiers into Mexico to rescue three children kidnapped by Apaches.

Along the way they liberate Mexican villagers and clash with French lancers trying to establish the Austrian Archduke Maximillian 1 as emperor of Mexico.

The Wild Bunch is universally recognized as Peckinpah’s greatest achievement.  It has certainly had a far greater impact on audiences and critics than Major Dundee.  According to Heston, this was really the movie Peckinpah wanted to make while making Dundee, but he couldn’t quite get his hands around it.

As a result, Dundee’s virtues have been tragically overlooked.  It has a larger cast of major characters than Bunch, and these are men you can truly like and identify with:

  • The charm of Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harrs), a Confederate lieutenant forced into Union service;
  • The steady courage of Sergeant Gomez;
  • The quiet dignity of Aesop (Brock Peters), a black soldier;
  • The quest for maturity in a young, untried bugler Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson, Jr.);
  • The on-the-job training experience of Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton); and
  • The stoic endurance of Indian scout Sam Potts (James Coburn).

These men are charged with a dangerous and dirty mission, and do it as well as they can, but you wouldn’t fear inviting them to meet your family.

,Major Dundee

Major Dundee (Charlton Heston)

That was definitely not the case with The Wild Bunch, four hardened killers prepared to rip off anyone, anytime, and leave a trail of bodies in their wake.  The only place where you would have felt safe seeing them, in real-life, was behind prison bars.

The Wild Bunch

Dundee is an odyssey movie, in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan.  Both films start with a battle, followed by the disappearance of characters who need to be searched for and brought back to safety.

Just as Dundee assembles a small force to go into Mexico, so, too, does Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) do the same, with his hunting ground being France.

Dundee’s men retrieve the kidnapped children and survive a near-fatal battle with Indians.  Miller’s men twice clash with the Germans before finding their quarry, James Ryan.

Before Dundee can return to the United States, he must face and defeat a corps of French soldiers.  Before Miller can haul Ryan back to safety, he must repulse a German assault.

Both groups of soldiers–Dundee’s and Miller’s–are transformed by their experiences in ways neither group could possibly articulate.  (Miller, being a highly literate schoolteacher, would surely do a better job of this than the tight-jawed Dundee.)

Dundee’s soldiers return to a United States that’s just ended its Civil War with a Union victory–and the death of slavery.  Miller’s soldiers return to a nation that is now a global superpower.

Of course, Ryan was fortunate in having Steven Spielberg as its director.  With his clout, there was no question that Ryan would emerge as the film he wanted.

Peckinpah lacked such clout.  And he fought with everyone, including the producer, Jerry Bressler, who ultimately held the power to destroy his film.  This guaranteed that his movie would emerge far differently than he had envisioned.

In 2005, an extended version of Dundee was released, featuring 12 minutes of restored footage.  (Much of the original footage was lost after severe cuts to the movie.)

In this, we fully see how unsympathetic a character the martinet Dundee really is.  Owing to Heston’s record of playing heroes, it’s easy to overlook Dundee’s arrogance and lethal fanaticism and automatically view him as a hero.  If he is indeed that, he is a hero with serious flaws.

And his self-imposed mission poses questions for us today:

  • Where is the line between professional duty and personal fanaticism?
  • How do we balance the success of a mission against its potential costs–especially if they prove appalling?
  • At what point–if any–does personal conscience override professional obligations?

Whether intentionally or not, in Major Dundee, Peckinpah laid out a microcosm of the American history that would immediately follow the Civil War.

Former Confederates and Unionists would forego their regional animosities and fight against a recognized mutual enemy—the Indians.  This would prove a dirty and drawn-out war, shorn of the glory and (later) treasured memories of the Civil War.

Just as Dundee’s final battle with French lancers ended with an American victory won at great cost, so, too, would America’s forays into the Spanish-American War and World Wars 1 and 11 prove the same.

Ben Tyreen’s commentary on the barbarism of French troops (“Never underestimate the value of a European education”) would be echoed by twentieth-century Americans uncovering the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald.

America would learn to project its formidable military power at great cost.  Toward the end of the movie, Teresa Santiago (Senta Berger), the ex-patriot Austrian widow, would ask Dundee: “But who do you answer to?

It is a question that still vividly expresses the view of the international community as this superpower colossus hurtles from one conflict to the next.

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