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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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.

PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on April 10, 2014 at 12:01 am

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
–Proverbs 16:18

People often talk about the role sex plays in motivating behavior.  But the power of ego to determine history is often more profound.

Consider the role that ego played in igniting the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, it wasn’t the cause of “states’ rights” that led 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1960-61.

It was their demand for “respect,” which, in reality, translates into “e-g-o.”

“The respect Southerners demanded did not consist simply of the states’ sovereignty or of the equal rights of Northern and Southern citizens, including slaveholders’ right to take their chattels into Northern territory.

“It entailed, too, respect for their assertion of the moral superiority of slaveholding society over free society,” writes Royster.

It was not enough for Southerners to claim equal standing with Northerners; Northerners must acknowledge it.

But this was something that the North was less and less willing to do.  Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

Lincoln and his new Republican party damned slavery–and slaveholders–as morally evil, obsolete and ultimately doomed.

And they were determined to prevent slavery from spreading any further throughout the country.

Southerners found all of this intolerable.

The British author, Anthony Trollope, explained to his readers:

“It is no light thing to be told daily, by our fellow citizens…that you are guilty of the one damning sin that cannot be forgiven.

“All this [Southerners] could partly moderate, partly rebuke and partly bear as long as political power remained in their hands.

“But they have gradually felt that this was going, and were prepared to cut the rope and run as soon as it was gone.”

Only 10% of Southerners owned slaves.  The other 90% of the population “had no dog in this fight,” as Southerners liked to say.

Yet they so admired and aspired to be like their “gentleman betters” that they threw in their lot with them.

There were some Southerners who could see what was coming–and vainly warned their fellow citizens.

One of these was Sam Houston, the man who had won Texas independence at the 1836 battle of San Jacinto and later served as that state’s governor.

Sam Houston

On April 19, 1860, addressing a crowd in Galveston, he said:

“Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you.

“But I doubt it.

“I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states’ rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates.

“But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

Four years later, on April 9, 1865, Houston’s warning became history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Huge sections of the South had been laid waste by Union troops and more than 258,000 Southerners had been killed.

The South had paid an expensive price for its fixation on ego.

Even more proved at risk a century later, when President John F. Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

In April, Kennedy had been humiliated at the Bay of Pigs when a CIA-sponsored invasion failed to overthrow the Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

So he was already on the defensive when he and Khrushchev met in Vienna.

Khrushchev pressed his advantage, threatening Kennedy with nuclear war unless the Americans abandoned their protection of West Berlin.

That August, faced with the embarrassment of East Berliners fleeing by the thousands into West Germany, the Soviet leader backed off from his threat.

In its place, he erected the infamous Berlin Wall, sealing off East and West Berlin.

Kennedy’s reaction: “That son of a bitch won’t pay any attention to words. He has to see you move.”

Then, most ominously: “If Khrushchev wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it’s all over.”

In short: Kennedy was prepared to incinerate the planet if he felt his almighty ego was about to get smacked.

Nuclear missile in silo

What has proved true for states and nations proves equally true for those leading every other type of institution.

Although most people like to believe they are guided by rationality and morality, all-too-often, what truly decides the course of events is their ego.

For pre-Civil War Southerners, it meant demanding that “Yankees” show respect for slave-owning society.  Otherwise, they would leave the Union.

For Kennedy, it meant playing a game of “chicken,” backed up with nuclear missiles, to show Khrushchev who Numero Uno really was.

It is well to keep these lessons from history in mind when making our own major decisions.

“A TEAM PLAYER”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 9, 2014 at 12:01 am

In 1959,, J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI, declared war on the Mafia.

He set up a Top Hoodlum Program and encouraged his agents to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance (“bugging”) to make up for lost time and Intelligence.

But Hoover also imposed a series of restrictions that could destroy an agent’s professional and personal life.

William E. Roemer, Jr., assigned to the FBI’s Chicago field office, was one of the first agents to volunteer for such duty.

In his memoirs, Man Against the Mob, published in 1989, Roemer laid out the dangers that went with such work:

  1. If confronted by police or mobsters, agents were to try to escape without being identified.
  2. If caught by police, agents were not to identify themselves as FBI employees.
  3. They were to carry no badges, credentials or guns–or anything else connecting themselves with the FBI.
  4. If they were arrested by police and the truth emerged about their FBI employment, the Bureau would claim they were “rogue agents” acting on their own.
  5. Such agents were not to refute the FBI’s portrayal of them as “rogues.”

If he had been arrested by the Chicago Police Department and identified as an FBI agent, Roemer would have:

  1. Definitely been fired from his position as an FBI agent.
  2. Almost certainly been convicted for at least breaking and entering.
  3. Disbarred from the legal profession (Roemer was an attorney).
  4. Perhaps served a prison sentence.
  5. Been disgraced as a convicted felon.
  6. Been unable to serve in his chosen profession of law enforcement.

Given the huge risks involved, many agents, unsurprisingly, wanted nothing to do with “black bag jobs.”

The agents who took them on were so committed to penetrating the Mob that they willingly accepted Hoover’s dictates.

In 1989, Roemer speculated that former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North had fallen victim to such a “Mission: Impossible” scenario: “The secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions….”

In 1986, Ronald Reagan’s “arms-for-hostages” deal known as Iran-Contra had been exposed.

To retrieve seven Americans taken hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, Reagan had secretly agreed to sell some of America’s most sophisticated missiles to Iran.

During this operation, several Reagan officials–including North–diverted proceeds from the sale of those missiles to fund Reagan’s illegal war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

In Roemer’s view: North had followed orders from his superiors without question.  But when the time came for those superiors to step forward and protect him, they didn’t.

They let him take the fall.

Roemer speculated that North had been led to believe he would be rescued from criminal prosecution.  Instead, in 1989, he was convicted for

  • accepting an illegal gratuity;
  • aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry; and
  • ordering the destruction of documents via his secretary, Fawn Hall.

That is how many employers expect their employees to act: To carry out whatever assignments they are given and take the blame if anything goes wrong.

Take the case of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the world’s biggest retailer.

In March, 2005, Wal-Mart escaped criminal charges when it agreed to pay $11 million to end a federal probe into its use of illegal aliens as janitors.

Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided 60 Wal-Mart stores across 21 states in October, 2003.  The raids led to the arrest of 245 illegal aliens.

Federal authorities had uncovered the cases of an estimated 345 illegal aliens contracted as janitors at Wal-Mart stores.

Many of the workers worked seven days or nights a week without overtime pay or injury compensation. Those who worked nights were often locked in the store until the morning.

According to Federal officials, court-authorized wiretaps revealed that Wal-Mart executives knew their subcontractors hired illegal aliens.

Once the raids began, Federal agents invaded the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., seizing boxes of records from the office of a mid-level executive.

Click here: Wal-Mart Settles Illegal Immigrant Case for $11M | Fox News

Of course, Wal-Mart admitted no wrongdoing in the case.  Instead, it blamed its subcontractors for hiring illegal aliens and claiming that Wal-Mart hadn’t been aware of this.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

Just as the FBI would have had no compunctions about letting its agents take the fall for following orders right from the pen of J. Edgar Hoover, Wal-Mart meant to sacrifice its subcontractors for doing precisely what the company’s executives wanted them to do.

The only reason Wal-Mart couldn’t make this work: The Feds had, for once, treated corporate executives like Mafia leaders and had tapped their phones.

Click here: Wal-Mart to review workers – Business – EVTNow

Which holds a lesson for how Federal law enforcement agencies should treat future corporate executives when their companies are found violating the law.

Instead of seeing CEOs as “captains of industry,” a far more realistic approach would be giving this term a new meaning: Corrupt Egotistical Oligarchs.

A smart investigator/prosecutor should always remember:

Widespread illegal and corrupt behavior cannot happen among the employees of a major government agency or private corporation unless:

  1. Those at the top have ordered it and are profiting from it; or
  2. Those at the top don’t want to know about it and have taken no steps to prevent or punish it.

“A TEAM PLAYER”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 8, 2014 at 12:15 am

Recruiters for corporate America routinely claim they’re looking for “a team player.”

This sounds great–as though the corporation is seeking people who will get along with their colleagues and work to achieve a worthwhile objective.

And, at times, that is precisely what is being sought in a potential employee.

But, altogether too often, what the corporation means by “a team player” is what the Mafia means by “a real standup guy.”

That is: Someone willing to commit any crime for the organization–and take the fall for its leaders if anything goes wrong.

Consider this classic example from the files of America’s premier law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

On November 14, 1957, 70 top Mafia leaders from across the country gathered at the estate of a fellow gangster, Joseph Barbara, in Apalachin, a small village in upstate New York.

The presence of so many cars with out-of-state license plates converging on an isolated mansion caught the attention of Edgar Crosswell, a sergeant in the New York State Police.

Crosswell assembled as many troopers as he could find, set up roadblocks, and swooped down on the estate.

The mobsters, panicked, fled in all directions–many of them into the surrounding woods.  Even so, more than 60 underworld bosses were arrested and indicted following the raid.

Perhaps the most significant result of the raid was the effect it had on J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI.

J. Edgar Hoover

Up to that point, Hoover had vigorously and vocally denied the existence of a nationwide Mafia.  He had been happy to leave pursuit of international narcotics traffickers to his hated rival, Harry Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).

But he had been careful to keep his own agency well out of the war on organized crime.

Several theories have been advanced as to why.

  1. Hoover feared that his agents–long renowned for their incorruptibility–would fall prey to the bribes  of well-heeled mobsters.
  2. Hoover feared that his allegedly homosexual relationship with his longtime associate director, Clyde Tolson, would be exposed by the Mob.  Rumors still persist that mobster Meyer Lansky came into possession of a compromising photo of Hoover and Tolson engaged in flagrante delicto.
  3. Hoover knew of the ties between moneyed mobsters and their political allies in Congress.  Hoover feared losing the goodwill of Congress for future–and ever-larger–appropriations for the FBI.
  4. Hoover preferred flashy, easily-solved cases to those requiring huge investments of manpower and money.

Whatever the reason, Hoover had, from the time he assumed directorship of the FBI in 1924, kept his agents far from the frontlines of the war against organized crime.

Suddenly, however, that was no longer possible.

The arrests of more than 60 known members of the underworld–in what the news media called “a conclave of crime”–deeply embarrassed Hoover.

It was all the more embarrassing that while the FBI had virtually nothing in its files on the leading lights of the Mafia, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had opened its voluminous files to the Senate Labor Rackets Committee.

Heading that committee as chief legal counsel was Robert F. Kennedy–a fierce opponent of organized crime who, in 1961, would become Attorney General of the United States.

So Hoover created the Top Hoodlum Program (THP) to identify and target selected Mafiosi across the country.

Since the FBI had no networks of informants operating within the Mafia, Hoover fell back on a technique that had worked wonders against the Communist Party U.S.A.

He would wiretap the mobsters’ phones and plant electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their meeting places.

The information gained from these techniques would arm the Bureau with evidence that could be used to strongarm mobsters into “rolling over” on their colleagues in exchange for leniency.

Hoover believed he had authority to install wiretaps because more than one Attorney General had authorized their use.

But no Attorney General had given permission to install bugs–which involved breaking into the places where they were to be placed.  Such assignments were referred to within the Bureau as “black bag jobs.”

So, in making clear to his agent-force that he wanted an unprecedented war against organized crime, Hoover also made clear the following:

Before agents could install electronic surveillance (an ELSUR, in FBI-speak) devices in Mob hangouts, agents had to first request authority for a survey.  This would have to establish:

  1. That this was truly a strategic location;
  2. That the agents had a plan of attack that the Bureau could see was logical and potentially successful; and, most importantly of all
  3. That it could be done without any “embarrassment to the Bureau.”

According to former FBI agent William E. Roemer, Jr., who carried out many of these “black bag” assignments:

“The [last requirement] was always Mr. Hoover’s greatest concern: ‘Do the job, by God, but don’t ever let anything happen that might embarrass the Bureau.”

DEMOCRACY BECOMES A THUGOCRACY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on April 7, 2014 at 12:07 am

And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.

–Plutarch, Life of Alexander

In 1994, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, shut down the Federal Government.

Officially, the reason was a budget impasse with President Bill Clinton.  Unofficially–and in reality–the reason was altogether different.

Clinton had forced him to sit in the back of Air Force One on a trip to Israel for the funeral of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabinl.

“This is petty,” Gingrich confessed to startled reporters. “I’m going to say up front it’s petty, But I think it’s human.

“When you land at Andrews [Air Force Base, in Washington, D.C.] and you’ve been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off by the back ramp….

“You just wonder, where is their sense of manners, where is their sense of courtesy?”

Gingrich’s childish verbal tirade was a public relations disaster for the Republicans. “Cry Baby,” screamed the New York Daily News, next to a picture of Gingrich in a diaper.

When House Democrats brought a poster-sized image of the cartoon onto the floor, the Republican majority forced them to remove it.

But the damage was done, and Republicans paid a fearful price for the shutdown and Gingrich’s candor about the reason for it.

Fast forward 19 years later, and, once again, the public–and, most especially, federal employees–faced the hardships of another Republican-led government shutdown.

The official reason given by Republicans was: They wanted to save the country from the dangers of providing healthcare insurance to all Americans, not simply the wealthiest 1%.

To hear Republicans tell it, Obamacare–actually, the Affordable Care Act–would “destroy the medical system as we know it.”

The Act aims to:

  • Increase the quality and affordability of health insurance;
  • Lower the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage;
  • Reduce the costs of healthcare for individuals and the government;
  • Forbid insurance companies the right to deny coverage for “pre-existing conditions”; and
  • Require employers with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance to their fulltime workers–or pay a large penalty.

Republicans also claimed that it would bankrupt the country–although the Congressional Budget Office stated that the ACA would lower future deficits and Medicare spending.

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

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

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

But their efforts achieved nothing, since the Democratic-led Senate refused to 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 employees, because they themselves would continue to draw hefty salaries while they were 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.

It was the my-way-or-else “negotiating” style of Adolf Hitler:  Do-as-I-say-or-I-will-destroy-you.

When Obama and Senate Democrats refused to knuckle under to yet another Republican extortion effort, House Republicans made good on their threat.

They shut down the government.

Republicans claimed that Obama and Senate Democrats were the ones who refused to see reason and negotiate.

By “negotiate,” they meant: Agree to Republican demands to de-fund “Obamacare.”

But then the unthinkable happened: A Republican 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.”

Marlin Stutzman

With Newt Gingrich, the real reason for the government shutdown was his petty ego.

A subsidiary reason was to bully President Clinton into gutting Republican-despised Federal programs to help the poor and middle-class.

Nineteen years later, Republicans–as admitted by Martlin Stutzman–were out to get “respect.”

And they were out to get it the same way a thuggish gang leader gets it: By demanding: “Do what I say or I’ll kill you.”

At the end of World War II, Americans tried to cleanse West Germany of its former Nazi leaders and their supporters.

Such thuggishness will continue unless, somehow, Americans cleanse their own government of those who “negotiate” Nazi-Republican style.

THE FIRST RULE OF BUREAUCRACIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 3, 2014 at 12:09 am

After spending years of his life sexually abusing boys entrusted into his care, Jerry Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his life as a prison inmate.

On October 9, 2012, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach  to at least 30 years in prison.  And he may spend as many as 60 years behind bars.

Following his conviction on June 22, 2012, he had faced a maximum of 400 years’ imprisonment for his sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Jerry Sandusky (middle) in police custody

After the sentencing decision was announced, Penn State University President Rodney Erickson released a statement:

“Our thoughts today, as they have been for the last year, go out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse.

“While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events and help them continue down the road to recovery.”

No doubt Erickson–and the rest of Penn State–wants to move on from this shameful page in the university’s history.  And the university has desperately tried to sweep the sordid scandal out of sight of the ticket-paying public–and of history:

  • It fired Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach who had led Penn State to a staggering 112 victories.
  • It ousted Graham Spanier, the university’s longtime president.
  • And it removed the iconic statue of Paterno–long held in worshipful esteem by almost everyone at the football-obsessed institution.

So what remains to be learned from this sordid affair?

A great deal, it turns out.

To begin at the beginning:

In 2002, assistant coach Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, walked in on Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy.  The next day, McQueary reported the incident to head coach Paterno.

“You did what you had to do,” said Paterno.  “It is my job now to figure out what we want to do.”

Paterno’s idea of “what we want to do” consisted of reporting the incident to three other top Penn State officials:

Their idea of “what we want to do” was to close ranks around Sandusky and engage in a diabolical “code of silence.”

As former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh summed up in an internal investigative report compiled at the request of Penn State and released on July 12:

“Four of the most powerful people at the Pennsylvania State University–President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno–failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.

“These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the board of trustees, the university community and authorities.

Louis Freeh

Louis J. Freeh

“They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.

“… In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University….repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.

“The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.”

If there is a fundamental truth to be learned from this sordid affair, it is this: The first rule of any and every bureaucracy is:

ABOVE ALL ELSE, THE INSTITUTION MUST BE PROTECTED.

And this holds true:

  • At the level of local / state / Federal government;
  • For-profit organizations;
  • Non-profit organizations; or
  • Religious institutions

During the 48-year reign of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, agents had their own version of this: Do not embarrass the Bureau.

Thus we have seen countless Catholic priests abusing young boys entrusted to their protection–only to be repeatedly protected by high-ranking authorities within the Catholic Church.

We have seen whistleblowers who report rampant safety violations in nuclear power plants ignored by the very regulatory agencies the public counts on to prevent catastrophic accidents.

Imperfect institutions staffed by perfect men obsessed with power, money and fame–and fearful of losing one or all of these–can never be expected to act otherwise.

And those who do expect ordinary mortals to behave like extraordinary saints will be forever disappointed.

So how can we at least minimize such outrages in the future?

“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” warned Thomas Jefferson.  And it remains as true today as it did more than 200 years ago.

Add to this the more recent adage: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

The more we know about how our institutions actually work–as opposed to how they want us to believe they work–the more chance we have to control their behavior.  And to check their abuses when they occur.

Which they will.

GRIZZLIES AND AMERICANS

In Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 31, 2014 at 12:00 am

There is a poignant scene in the middle of John Milius’ classic 1975 adventure film, “The Wind and the Lion,” that Americans would do well to remember.

The movie is set in 1904 America and Morocco.  An American woman, Eden Pedicaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children have been kidnapped while vacationing in Tangier.

The kidnapper is a Berber brigand named Mulai Ahmed Raisuli (Sean Connery, trying–successfully–to shed his James Bond image).

To Raisuli, the Sultan and his uncle, the Pasha of Tangier, are corrupt and beholden to the European powers struggling to ontrol Morocco.

Raisuli then issues an outrageous ransom demand to provoke an international incident, embarrass the Sultan and start a civil war.

In the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is running for re-election.  He sees the crisis as a way to score campaign points and demonstrate America’s military strength as a new power.

So he issues a demand of his own: “Pedicarus alive–or Raisuli dead!”

While events rapidly spiral out of control in the Middle East, Roosevelt decides to vacation in Yellowstone National Park.

One night, a grizzly bear attacks the camp and is shot by Roosevelt and several other campers.  The next morning, Roosevelt holds an imprumptu press conference for the reporters who have accompanied him.

Brian Keith as Theodore Roosevelt

REPORTER:  Did you take part in killing the grizzly, Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  Yes, unfortunately.

REPORTER:  Why do you say, ‘unfortunately,’ Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  The American grizzly is a symbol of the American character: strength, intelligence, ferocity. Maybe a little blind and reckless at times, but courageous beyond all doubt. 

And one other trait that goes with all previous.

REPORTER:  And that, Mr. President?

ROOSEVELT:  Loneliness. The American grizzly lives out his life alone. Indomitable, unconquered–but always alone. He has no real allies, only enemies, but none of them as great as he.

REPORTER:  And you feel this might be an American trait?

ROOSEVELT:  Certainly. The world will never love us. They respect us–they might even grow to fear us.  But they will never love us, for we have too much audacity! 

And, we’re a bit blind and reckless at times, too.

REPORTER:  Are you perhaps referring to the situation in Morocco and the Panama Canal.

ROOSEVELT:  If you say so. The American grizzly embodies the spirit of America. He should be our symbol! Not that ridiculous eagle–he’s nothing more than a dandified vulture.

When the Pasha of Tangier refuses to negotiate with Raisuli to secure the return of Pedecaris, the American Consul to Tangier, Samuel Gummere, decides on action.

He confers with Admiral Chadwick, commanding the South Atlantic Squadron, and a Marine captain named Jerome.

Gummere then orders a company of Marines, supported by a small detachment of sailors, to seize the Pasha.  But privately he admits to the riskiness of the decision:

GUMMERE:  You realize, of course, that if we fail in even the slightest way, we’ll all be killed.

CHADWICK:  Yes, and the whole world will probably go to war.

JEROME: Gentlemen, if we fail and are killed, I certainly hope the world does go to war. 

CHADWICK:  A world ar war!

GUMMERE:  A world war.  Now that would be something to go out on.

In just ten years, they will get their hearts’ desire when World War 1 erupts.

The Marines quickly overwhelm the Pasha’s palace guard, take the Pasha hostage and force him to negotiate.

The film ends with a confident Theodore Roosevelt expecting (accurately) to be re-elected–and telling reporters  that “the fate of Morocco will be decided tomorrow by me.”

“The Wind and the Lion” is set in an era when

  • nuclear weapons did not exist;
  • Russia and China were militarily insignificant nations;
  • England was the world’s superpower;
  • America, Germany and Japan were on the rise;
  • Israel was still a distant dream in the eyes of European Jews;
  • the “Great Powers”–Germany, France and Great Britain–were struggling to carve up the Middle East to exploit its massive oli reserves; and
  • Americans did not feel threatened by Islamic radicals.

That era–for all its faults–is long vanished.  As complex and dangerous as it often seemed to those living in it, that era has been succeeded by one even more complex and dangerous.

In this new and even more lethal era, it is well to remember Theodore Roosevelt’s warning that “we’re a bit blind and reckless at times, too.”

HONEST VS. POLITICALLY INCORRECT

In Politics, History, Social commentary, Business, Entertainment on March 28, 2014 at 12:05 am

The 1992 military courtroom drama, “A Few Good Men,” climaxes with a brutal exchange that has since become famous.

Jack Nicolson vs. Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men”

The legal combatants are Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

COLONEL JESSUP: You want answers?

KAFFEE: I want the truth!

COLONEL JESSUP: You can’t handle the truth!

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audiences.

[WARNING: This column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]

On February 18, 2012, editor Anthony Federico posted this headline on ESPN’s mobile website: “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-Snapping Loss to Hornets.”

The headline was posted at 2:30 a.m. and quickly removed when someone realized that it might be seen as offensive. By Sunday afternoon, Federico had been fired from ESPN.

Jeremy Lin

It’s true that “Chink” is seen by Asians as a derogatory word. It’s equally true that ESPN has the right to discipline its employees when they violate its journalistic standards.

But ESPN should not have the right to treat its audience like so many school children who must be protected, at all costs, from life’s unpleasantness.

Consider ESPN’s apology:

“Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET.  The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET.

“We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

Note the words “posted an offensive headline.” If you didn’t already know what the headline had said, ESPN wasn’t going to enlighten you.

And other news networks–such as ABC and NBC–have acted similarly, referring to the “c-word” without telling viewers just what was actually posted.

Since the “c-word” is often used as a euphemism for “cunt,” it’s easy to see how many viewers could imagine the writer had used a very different expression.

The official reason given for refraining from actually saying the word that lies at the center of the story is to offending some members of the audience.

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said–and let the audience decide for itself.

The evening news is–supposedly–aimed at voting-age adults.  And adults need–and deserve–the hard truth about the world they live in.  Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Examples of such censorship are legion.  For instance:

In 1976, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates?

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby.  When his comments became public, Butz was forced to resign.

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism.

Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print.  Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information.

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain.

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination.

Nor is there any guarantee that such censorship will not occur again.

On February 16, 2012, Foster Friess, offered his views about the importance of legalized birth control.  Friess was the wealthy investor bankrolling a super PAC for GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Foster Friess

“This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such inexpensive,” said Friess. “Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

It’s understandable that women would be highly offended by this remark.

But shielding them from the women-hating mindset of those who support right-wing candidates like Santorum would ill serve their interests.

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships.  It has no place in a democracy–no matter how well-intentioned the motives of those doing the censoring.

Some words will always be hateful–to blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, women, men.  In short, everybody.  Refusing to acknowledge their use will not cause them to vanish.

The truth is the truth. If you can’t handle it, that’s your problem.

But those of us who can deserve the opportunity to learn it.  And, when necessary, to act on it.

HEROES–ONCE IT’S SAFE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 27, 2014 at 12:00 am

“One man with courage,” said frontier general Andrew Jackson, “makes a majority.”

Yet it’s amazing how many “heroes” come out of the woodwork only after the danger is safely past.

Joseph Stalin dominated the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953.  He held absolute power twice as long as Adolf Hitler–whose Third Reich lasted only 12 years.

Joseph Stalin

Above all, he was responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000,000 men, women and children:

  • At the hands of the executioners of the NKVD (later named the KGB).
  • In exile–usually in Siberia–in Soviet penal camps.
  • Of man-made starvation brought on by Stalin’s forced “collective-farm” policies.

Then, the unthinkable happened–Stalin finally died on March 5, 1953.

Almost three years later–on February 25, 1956–Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, shocked the 20th Party Congress of the Soviet Union with a bombshell announcement:

Stalin–the “Wise Leader and Teacher”–had been a murderous despot.

Among his crimes:

  • He had created a regime based on “suspicion, fear and terror.”
  • His massive purges of the officer corps had almost destroyed the Red Army–thus inviting Hitler’s 1941 invasion, which killed at least 20 million Soviet citizens.
  • He had allied himself with Hitler in 1939 and ignored repeated warnings of the coming Nazi invasion.

Naturally, Khrushchev didn’t advertise the role he had played as one of Stalin’s most trusted and brutal henchmen.

Over the ensuing years, many of the statues and portraits of Stalin that had dotted the Soviet Union like smallpox scars were quietly taken down.  The city of Stalingrad–which Stalin had renamed from its original name of Tsaritsyn–became Volgograd.

Then, in 1961, Stalin’s corpse was removed from its prominent spot in the Lenin mausoleum and reburied in a place for lesser heroes of the Russian Revolution.

The young poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko, noted the occasion in his famous poem, “The Heirs of Stalin.”  Its gist: Stalin the tyrant was dead, but his followers still walked the earth–and lusted for a return to power.

Something similar happened in the United States around the same time.

From 1950 to 1954, Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy terrorized the nation, accusing anyone who disagreed with him of being a Communist–and leaving ruined lives in his wake.

Joseph R. McCarthy

Among those civilians and government officials he slandered as Communists were:

  • President Harry S. Truman
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow
  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall
  • Columnist Drew Pearson

Finally, in 1954, McCarthy overreached himself and accused the U.S. Army of being a hotbed of Communist traitors.  Joseph Welch, counsel for the Army, destroyed McCarthy’s credability in a now-famous retort:

“Senator, may we not drop this?….You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Later that year, the Senate censured McCarthy, and he rapidly declined in power and health.

Senatorial colleagues who had once courted his support now avoided him.

They left the Senate when he rose to speak.  Reporters who had once fawned on him for his latest sensational slander now ignored him.

Eisenhower–who had sought McCarthy’s support during his 1952 race for President–joked that “McCarthyism” was now “McCarthywasm.”

Fast-forward to July 12, 2012–and the release of former FBI Director Louie Freeh’s report on serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky.  As the assistant football coach at Penn State University (PSU), he had used the football facilities to sexually attack numerous young boys.

Jerry Sandusky

But Sandusky was regarded as more than a second-banana.  He received Assistant Coach of the Year awards in 1986 and 1999, and authored several books about his coaching experiences.

In 1977, Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a non-profit charity serving underprivileged, at-risk youth.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh stated.

College football is a $2.6 billion-a-year business. And Penn State is one of its premiere brands, with revenue of $70 million in 2010.

PSU’s seven-month internal investigation, headed by Freeh, revealed:

  • Joe Paterno, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, was aware of a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky.
  • So was president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.
  • In 2001, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported to Paterno that he’d seen Sandusky attacking a boy in the shower.
  • Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz then conspired to cover up for Sandusky.
  • The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building–where Paterno had his office.
  • A janitor who had witnessed a rape in 2000 said he had feared losing his job if he told anyone about it. “It would be like going against the President of the United States,” Freeh said at a press conference.

In 2011, Sandusky was arrested and charged with sexually abusing young boys over a 15-year period.  On June 22, 2012, he was convicted on 45 of the 48 charges.  He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

On the day the Freeh report was released, Nike–a longtime sponsor for Penn State–announced that it would remove Paterno’s name from the child care center at its world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

GOOD NEWS IN THE TERROR WARS

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 26, 2014 at 12:25 am

On February 15, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released some encouraging newws for those fighting Islamic terrorism.

More than 140,000 people have been killed in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war.

Conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

According to the Observatory, which is based in Britain:

  • The death toll is now at 140,041.
  • More than 30,000 rebels have been killed and over 50,000 from pro-Assad forces.
  • The true toll on both sides was likely much higher–by perhaps more than 60,000.

And the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdelrahman, had a solution to offer to this constantly escalating violence:

“It is shameful that the international community has done nothing to show that it will defend human rights.  They are just looking on at this tragedy. The Syrian people dying are just statistics to them.”

If those dying in Syria are “just statistics,” then they are statistics of terrorists and potential terrorists who will never pose a threat to the United States.

Think of it:

  • In three years, 140,041 actual or potential enemies of Western Civilization have chosen to kill each other off.
  • Additional thousands are certain to follow their example.
  • And the United States cannot be held in any way responsible for it.

Here are seven excellent reasons why America should not send soldiers to bomb and/or invade Syria.

1. Intervening in Syria could produce unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more Islamic terrorism.

American bombs or missiles could land on one or more sites containing stockpiles of chemical weapons.  Imagine the international outrage that will result if the release of those weapons kills hundreds or thousands of Syrians.

Within the Islamic world, the United States will be seen as waging a war against Islam, and not simply another Islamic dictator.

Almost certainly, an American military strike on Syria would lead its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, to attack Israel–perhaps even with chemical weapons.

Assad could do this simply because he hates Jews–or to lure Israel into attacking Syria.

If that happened, the Islamic world–which lusts to destroy Israel more than anything else–would rally to Syria against the United States, Israel’s chief ally.

2.  Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.

Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hizbollah and Hamas. For years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support–only murderers who have long served a tyrant and other murderers who now wish to become the next tyrant.

3.  The United States doesn’t know what it wants to do in Syria, other than “send a message.”

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, wrote: “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.”  But President Barack Obama hasn’t stated what he intends gain by attacking Syria.

Obama has said he’s “not after regime-change.”  If true, that would leave Assad in power–and free to go on killing those who resist his rule.

4. The Assad regime is backed by–among others–the Iranian-supported terrorist group, Hezbollah (Party of God).  Its enemies include another terrorist group–Al Qaeda.

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It considers Shiite Muslims to be “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sthese ectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al Qaeda

When your enemies are intent on killing each other, it’s best to stand aside and let them do it.

5.  China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens. This reflects badly on them–not the United States.

6.  The United States could find itself in a shooting war with Russia and/or China.

The Russians have sent two warships to Syria, in direct response to President Obama’s threat to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons against unsurgents.

What happens if American and Russian warships start trading salvos?  Or if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack on Israel, in return for America’s attack on Russia’s ally, Syria?

It was exactly that scenario–Great Powers going to war over conflicts between their small-state allies–that triggered World War l.

7.  While Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources to launch attacks against the United States.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then-Senator Harry Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

That should be America’s view whenever its sworn enemies start killing themselves off.   Americans should welcome such self-slaughters, not become entrapped in them.

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