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REPUBLICANS: SLANDERING THE HEROES OF 9/11

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on February 27, 2015 at 1:53 am

With their newfound majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans are holding the budget of the Department of Homeland Security–and the safety of their fellow Americans–hostage.

Amidst all this turmoil, it’s easy to forget another Republican outrage that happened five years ago: The slander they cast on the patriotism of the tens of thousands of police, firefighters, construction workers and others who risked their lives to save their fellow Americans on 9/11.

The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

This “gift” was sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and eagerly supported by other Republicans in the House and Senate.

Rep. Cliff Stearns

The responders were informed that their names must be run through the FBI’s database of suspected terrorists. Otherwise, they would be denied treatment for their numerous, worsening ailments.

In 2010–nine years after the worst terrorist attack in American history–Congress passed the Democratically-sponsored James Zadroga 9/11 Health And Compensation Act.

The law was named for a New York City detective who died of a respiratory disease in 2006 after his contact with toxic chemicals at Ground Zero.

The law authorized $1.8 billion to be spent over five years to treat injuries of police, firefighters, emergency workers, construction and cleanup crews caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.

From the outset, Republicans bitterly opposed the legislation.  They argued that providing healthcare for ailing September 11 heroes would bankrupt the nation.

Of course, they hadn’t voiced such concerns when President George W. Bush needlessly launched the nation into a $1 trillion war against Iraq in 2003.

For Republicans, the heroes of 9/11 had become “welfare-seeking bums.”  If they couldn’t afford their own medical care, so what?

Republicans slandered the proposal as a new “entitlement program,” like Medicare.  They demanded that the responders return to Congress every year to make their case, claiming this would prevent fraud and waste.

“If this issue is so credible based on the results of September 11, we shouldn’t be afraid of going through the (budget) authorization process and fight for the spending bill,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

Republicans forced Democrats to accept an amendment that deliberately cast a slur on the men and women who answered their country’s call in its supreme moment of agony. Only then was the legislation passed.

The amendment read: “No individual who is on the terrorist watch list maintained by the Department of Homeland Security shall qualify as a screening-eligible WTC survivor or a certified-eligible WTC survivor.

“Before determining any individual to be a screening-eligible WTC survivor…or certifying any individual as a certified eligible survivor….the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine whether the individual is on such list.”

The amendment provoked outrage among non-politicians, Democrats and even some Republicans.  Among these:

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)  whose district encompassed Ground Zero, said it was “absurd” to consider that any of the 9/11 heroes would be terrorists.  He added that the screenings were a “waste of money.”
  • Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called the exercise “shameful” and “a waste of time,” adding: “It put a cloud over extraordinarily good people for no reason.”
  • “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart noted that the federal government didn’t run background checks on any other group of people receiving financial benefits. These included Social Security recipients, Medicare patients and even Wall Street bankers bailed out during the recession.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, advised doctors and hospital administrators to begin letting patients know before the new program took effect in July, 2011.

Specifically, patients seeking help under 9/11 treatment and monitoring programs were told that their

  • names
  • birthplaces
  • addresses
  • government ID numbers
  • and other personal data

would be provided to the FBI to prove they were not terrorists.

Firefighters rescuing victims at the World Trade Center

Howard’s instructions to medical providers included a sample letter to responders designed to minimize alarm:

“Although neither we nor [the Centers for Disease Control]/NIOSH anticipate the name of any individual in the current Programs will be on the list, CDC/NIOSH is expressly required by law to implement this particular requirement of the Act.

“Thank you for your understanding. We look forward to working with you and ensuring that you continue to receive uninterrupted services under the new WTC Health Program,” it concluded.

By August, 2011, the FBI had screened some 60,000 emergency responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center and had not uncovered any suspected terrorists. To date, no matchups have occurred between known terrorists and those seeking treatment.

Glen Kline, a former NYPD emergency services officer, best summed up the disgrace of these background checks: “This is absurd. It’s silly. It’s stupid. It’s asinine.  I mean, who are we even talking about–the undocumented workers who cleaned the office buildings?

“We know who all the cops, firefighters and construction workers were. They’re all documented.  Is the idea that a terrorist stayed to help clean up? And then stayed all these years to try and get benefits?”

Thus, self-righteous Right-wing legislators–who never lifted a beam from a trapped 9/11 survivor or inhaled toxic fumes that spewed from the crater that was once the World Trade Center–now stood in judgment over those who did.

ILLEGAL ALIENS = UNRELIABLE ALLIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 26, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Some Republicans–like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah–want their new majorities in the House and Senate to make “producing legislation” a top priority.

But others will soon make the impeachment of President Barack Obama their top priority.

Here’s how it will happen.

“We now have the votes and we have the ability to call the agenda, so stop name-calling and let’s actually produce some legislation that helps jobs and the economy and moves our country forward,” Chaffetz said in an interview after Republicans captured the U.S. Senate on November 4, 2014.

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Rep. Jason Chaffetz

“I think the country has figured that out, and they’ve given us the mandate to do it, and we better produce, or they’ll kick us out too.”

Obama has vowed to act unilaterally before year’s end to reduce the number of deportations and grant work permits to millions of illegal aliens living in the United States.

After promising to take executive action on immigration by the end of the summer of 2014, Obama delayed his plans until after the elections.  Democrats–especially Senators from conservative states–had warned him that such administrative moves could threaten their reelection.

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Illegal aliens crossing American borders by the millions

But on November 4, most of those Democrats lost anyway, leaving immigration advocates–and their millions of illegal alien constituents–feeling that the delay was needless.

“What I’m not going to do is just wait,” the president said as immigration legislation that the Senate passed in June 2013 remained stalled in the House.

Kentucky’s U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell–who became Senate Majority Leader in January–warned that this would be an in-your-face affront to the new majority GOP:

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Mitch McConnell

“I think the president choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration would be a big mistake,” McConnell said. “It’s an issue that most of my members want to address legislatively and it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own.’ …

“I hope he won’t do that because I do think it poisons the well for the opportunity to address a very important domestic issue.”

To which Obama responded: “I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take.

“Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill.”

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://a.abcnews.com/images/Politics/abc_obama_specreport_121114_wg.jpg&imgrefurl=http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/transcript-obama-press-conference/story?id=17719993&docid=aHyTmgZZkmFu3M&tbnid=d6eKt5qgtY_TPM:&w=640&h=360&ei=ANJbVLDlGIG2oQTWpoGABQ&ved=0CAIQxiAwAA&iact=c

Barack Obama

Republicans could use spending bills to restrict or stop such executive action, by cutting appropriations to those agencies that would be tasked with carrying out Obama’s directives on immigration.

Several Republicans hold the deep-seated view that Obama already has been abusing his constitutional authority.

“Abuse of power” is an impeachable offense under the United States Constitution.  So making this assertion would provide Republicans with the weapon they’ve long sought to drive Obama from the White House.

Republicans, in fact, have a tainted history of using impeachment to remove a President who dared to thwart their agenda.

After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, Republican President Andrew Johnson tried to carry out Lincoln’s humane policies to reunify the nation after the Civil War.

He issued a series of proclamations directing the former Confederate states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. In response, Southern states returned many of their old leaders, and passed Black Codes to deprive freed slaves of many civil liberties.

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Andrew Johnson

Congress refused to seat legislators from those states and advanced legislation to overrule the Southern actions.  Johnson vetoed their bills, and Congress overrode him, setting a pattern until he left the White House in 1869.

As the conflict grew between the executive and legislative branches of government, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson in firing Cabinet officials.  Johnson then tried to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton–with whom he had an antagonistic relationship.

An enraged Congress impeached Johnson in the House of Representatives.  He avoided conviction and removal from office in the Senate–by one vote.

If President Obama tries to end-run Congress on immigration policy, history will likely repeat itself with another round of impeachment hearings.

It was Mitch McConnell who infamously vowed–immediately after Obama’s election in 2008–to make him “a one-term President.”

Moreover, there is actually no reason for Obama to risk his Presidency by granting the privileges of American citizenship to millions of illegal aliens.

Democrats–and especially Obama–had counted on millions of illegal aliens to retain Democratic control of the Senate.  But those masses of Hispanic voters never showed up at the polls, thus giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress.

If Obama practiced ruthless “Chicago politics” as charged by his enemies, his response would be: “You [illegal aliens] didn’t live up to your end.  Therefore, I have no further responsibility to you.”

Unfortunately for the President, he seems unable to break with his past of backing unpopular causes for little in return.

THE HIGH COST OF GOOD DEEDS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on February 25, 2015 at 12:01 am

On the September 28, 2014 edition of 60 Minutes, President Barack Obama spoke about his recent decision to commit American troops to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“When trouble comes up anywhere in the world,” said Obama, “they don’t call Beijing.  They don’t call Moscow.  They call us.”

And, according to former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, that’s the problem: America can’t learn to mind its own business.

Scheuer is a 20-year CIA veteran–as well as an author, historian, foreign policy critic and political analyst.

Michael Scheuer

From 1996 to 1999 he headed Alec Station, the CIA’s unit assigned to track Osama bin Laden at the agency’s Counterterrorism Center.

He is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies.

He’s also the author of two seminal works on America’s fight against terrorism:Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror  (2003) and Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam after Iraq (2008).

Scheuer says that Islamics don’t hate Americans because of “our way of life”–with its freedoms of speech and worship and its highly secular, commercialized culture.

Instead, Islamic hatred toward the United States stems from America’s six longstanding policies in the Middle East:

  • U.S. support for apostate, corrupt, and tyrannical Muslim governments
  • U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian Peninsula
  • U.S. support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in the Israelis’ thrall
  • U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low
  • U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • U.S. support for Russia, India, and China against their Muslim militants

Scheuer contends that no amount of American propaganda will win “the hearts and minds” of Islamics who can “see, hear, experience, and hate” these policies firsthand.

But there is another danger facing America, says Scheuer, one that threatens “the core of our social and civil institutions.”

And in Marching Toward Hell he bluntly indicts that threat: The “profound and willful ignorance” of America’s “bipartisan governing elite.”

Scheuer defines this elite as “the inbred set of individuals who have influenced…drafted and conducted U.S. foreign policy” since 1973.

Within that group are:

  • politicians
  • journalists
  • academics
  • preachers
  • civil servants
  • military officers
  • philanthropists.

“Some are Republicans, others Democrats; some are evangelicals, others atheists; some are militarists, others pacifists; some are purveyors of Western civilization, others are multiculturalists,” writes Scheuer.

But for all their political and/or philosophical differences, the members of this governing elite share one belief in common.

According to Scheuer, that belief is “an unquenchable ardor to have the United States intervene abroad in all places, situations and times.”

And he warns that this “bipartisan governing elite” must radically change its policies–such as unconditional support for Israel and corrupt, tyrannical Muslim governments.

Otherwise, Americans will be locked in an endless “hot war” with the Islamic world.

During his September 28 appearance on 60 Minutes,  President Obama admitted that the mostly Sunni-Muslim Iraqi army had refused to combat the Sunni army of ISIS.

Then followed this exchange:

Steve Kroft: What happens if the Iraqis don’t fight or can’t fight?

President Obama: Well…

Steve Kroft: What’s the end game?

President Obama: I’m not going to speculate on failure at the moment. We’re just getting started. Let’s see how they do.

It was precisely such a mindset that led the United States, step by step, into the Vietnam quagmire.

As in the case of Vietnam, the United States lacks:

  • Real or worthwhile allies in Iraq or Syria;
  • A working knowledge of the peoples it wants to influence in either country;
  • Clearly-defined goals that it seeks to accomplish in that region.

America rushed to disaster in Vietnam because its foreign policy elite felt it had to “do something” to fight Communism anywhere in the world.

And it is continuing to rush toward disaster in the Middle East because its foreign policy elite once again feels is must “do something.”

During his interview with the “Today” show, Carl Mueller–the father of Kayla, who went to Syria to help Syrians caught up in their own civil war–said:

“How many mistakes have we all made in life that were naïve and didn’t get caught at? Kayla was just in a place that was more dangerous than most. And she couldn’t help herself. She had to go in there and had to help.”

But there were plenty of communities within the United States that could have used the help of a truly caring social activist.  And plenty of organizations–such as Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Relief Services–that would have been thrilled to have her services.

And she could have made lives better without constantly facing the dangers of kidnapping by Islamics determined to humiliate and slaughter Americans.

Michael Sheuer is right: The United States should learn to mind its own business and quit intervening in the affairs of Middle Eastern governments and peoples.

Kayla Mueller is proof of the rightness of that assertion.

THE HIGH COST OF GOOD DEEDS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on February 24, 2015 at 12:06 am

The father of Kayla Jean Mueller has a bone to pick with the United States Government.

“We understand the policy about not paying ransom but on the other hand…we tried and we asked.  But they put policy in front of American citizens’ lives,” Carl Mueller told NBC’s “Today” show.

Mueller was referring to the kidnapping and death of his daughter, Kayla, who began assisting Syrian refugees in Southern Turkey in December, 2012.

The United States has a policy of not paying ransom to terrorist groups in return for hostages.

Kayla Mueller

Although Turkey lies right on the border of Syria–where a brutal civil war has raged since March 15, 2011–Mueller insisted on putting herself at even greater risk.

In December, 2012, Mueller attended a two-day international conference in Aleppo, 70 miles inside Syria.  She survived that trip without incident, and returned to Turkey.

But as the fighting intensified and casualties mounted, she wanted to return to Syria to collect stories for her blog.  She begged her Syrian boyfriend to take her along during his trips there.

Her boyfriend relented in August, 2013, and she accompanied him on another trip to Aleppo during a 10-day break from her work. But as they were leaving, this time Mueller didn’t prove so lucky.

On August 4, 2013, as they drove to the bus station in Aleppo, gunmen ambushed them. Mueller’s boyfriend was beaten and released.

He was Syrian, so his life didn’t count for propaganda material.  But Mueller was an American–and her captors were members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to Catherine Herridge, an American reporter, the White House learned the location of Mueller in May, 2014. But no decision was made on a rescue mission for seven weeks.

By that time, the hostages had been dispersed. On February 6, 2015, ISIS released a statement claiming that a female American hostage–Kayla Mueller–they had been holding was killed by one of a dozen Jordanian airstrike in Raqqa, Syria.

These airstrikes had been triggered by ISIS’ release of a February 3 video showing the barbaric “execution” of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh.

Al-Kasaesbeh, locked in a steel cage like an animal, could only watch stoically as an ISIS member ignited a trail of flammable liquid leading directly to him.  The pilot stood upright throghout the ordeal until the flames at last consumed him.

Image result for Images of burning to death of Jordanian pilot

ISIS burning of captured Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh 

So the Jordanians bombed a series of ISIS targets in Syria.  And Kayla Mueller, who had thrust herself into a Syrian civil war, was apparently killed in one of those raids.

Which led to the interview with Kayla’s distraught parents.

“Any parents out there would understand that you want anything and everything done to bring your child home,” said Carl Mueller.  His wife, Marsha, sitting next to him, naturally agreed.

Referring to the United States’ policy of refusing to pay ransom for hostages, Mueller said:

“And we tried. And we asked. But they put–they put policy in front of American citizens’ lives. And it didn’t get changed. So, that’s something they’re going to work on. I’m sure that’s in the works.”

Asked if his daughter hadn’t put herself in peril by jumping into the middle of a Syrian civil war, Mueller replied:

“Well, yeah, it was overenthusiastic youth and, of course, being naive.  But who wasn’t, you know?  How many mistakes have we all made in life that were naive and didn’t get caught at?

“Kayla was just in a place that was more dangerous than most.  And she couldnt’ help herself.  She had to go there and had to help.”

But did she have to go there?

On the September 28, 2014 edition of 60 Minutes, President Barack Obama spoke about his recent decision to commit American troops to fighting ISIS.

Steve Kroft: I think everybody applauds the efforts that you’ve made and the size of the coalition that has been assembled.

But most of them are contributing money or training or policing the borders, not getting particularly close to the contact. It looks like once again we are leading the operation. We are carrying…

President Obama: Steve, that’s always the case. That’s always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world.

And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing. They don’t call Moscow. They call us. That’s the deal.

President Obama

Steve Kroft: I mean, it looks like we are doing 90 percent.

President Obama: Steve, there is not an as issue … when there’s a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who’s helping the Philippines deal with that situation. When there’s an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who’s leading the charge making sure Haiti can rebuild. That’s how we roll. And that’s what makes this America.

President Obama is right: “When trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing.  They don’t call Moscow.  They call us.”

And, according to former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, that’s the problem: America can’t learn to mind its own business.

REPUBLICANS: “DO AS WE SAY OR WE’LL DESTROY AMERICA”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics on February 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

On December 13, 2014, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund almost the entire government through the September 30 end of the fiscal year.

But one Federal agency was pointedly exempted from full funding: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its funding will expire on February 27.

With their newfound majorities in both houses of Congress, Republicans intend to hold the security of the United States as a hostage.

Their goal: To force Obama to rescind the changes he has made in American immigration policy.

With more than 240,000 employees, the DHS is the third largest Cabinet department, after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The Defense Department is charged with military actions abroad.  DHS is responsible for protecting the United States inside and outside its borders. Its goal is to prepare for, prevent and–if prevention fails–respond to man-made accidents, natural disasters and terrorism.

Among the agencies now operating under its mandate:

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA)
  • U.S. Secret Service
  • Science and Technology Directorate
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office
  • Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  • Office of Operations Coordination and Planning

Click here: Department Components | Homeland Security

Yet each of these agencies has a vital role to play in protecting the nation.  A nation whose security Republicans are willing to threaten to get their way on a matter of domestic policy.

Right-wing Republicans argue that even if DHS’s funding were stopped, most of its employees would stay on the job. That’s because they perform work considered necessary to protect human life and property.

But while those employees were safeguarding the country, they wouldn’t be paid until the shutdown ended. It’s hard to give your full attention to protecting the lives of others when you have to worry about paying a mortgage or feeding your family.

Of course, the Republicans responsible for this shutdown would continue to receivetheir hefty paychecks.

And there is something else to consider. DHS is best-known for its mission to prevent terrorist attacks on America.  And America may well be in the crosshairs of North Korean terrorism at this very moment.

On November 14, 2014, Sony Pictures came under relentless attack by cyberterrorists, who the FBI has linked to North Korea.

The reasoon?  Sony’s production of “The Interview,” a comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Calling themselves “Guardians of Peace,” or GOP, they shut down the company’s computer system and revealed employees’ personal information such as salaries, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

(Ironically, “Guardians of Peace” appropriated the same abbreviation–GOP–used by the Republicans for “Grand Old Party.”)

Warning issued by “Guardians of Peace” (GOP)

On December 17, 2014, Sony Pictures cancelled the Christmas Day premier of “The Interview” after the nation’s five largest movie chains refused to show the movie, following a terror threat posted online.

And then on February 5, 2015, Anthem Insurance announced that its database had been hacked–and sensitive medical information on up to 80 million customers and employees accessed.

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

* * * * *

As the Third Reich came to its fiery end, Adolf Hitler sought to punish the German people for being “unworthy” of his “genius” and losing the war he had started. His attitude was: “If I can’t rule Germany, then there won’t be a Germany.”

In his infamous “Nero Order,” he decreed the destruction of everything still remaining–industries, ships, harbors, communications, roads, mines, bridges, stores, utility plants, food stuffs.

Fortunately for Germany, one man–Albert Speer, the Minister of Armaments–finally broke ranks with his Fuhrer.

Albert Speer

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

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

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

Their avowed goal–as stated openly by Kentucky’s U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell–was “to make Barack Obama a one-term President.”  

Literally during his first Inauguration, Republicans, in a secret meeting, agreed to block every effort he made to repair the economy. Acting as extortionists, they have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they didn’t get their way in legislative matters.

And just as repeatedly, they have blocked legislation that would have helped the poor, unemployed, women, elderly, disabled or middle-class.  At the center of their fury has been the Affordable Care Act, providing medical care to all citizens.

Even after Congress passed it and the Supreme Court affirmed it, House Republicans shut down the government in October, 2013. 

By doing so, they hoped to pressure Obama into killing his signature piece of legislation. The effort failed.

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

It remains to be seen whether a Republican Albert Speer will step forward to save America from the self-destructive excesses of this Nation’s own fanatics.

SECRET SERVICE: REFORMS URGENTLY NEEDED – PART TWO (END)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on February 20, 2015 at 12:46 am

The United States Secret Service is an agency in trouble.

  • On September 16, 2014, while on a trip to Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Barack Obama was inside an elevator with a private security contractor who was armed with a pistol.  The Secret Service did not know he was armed until his supervisor, who fired him on the spot, requested his weapon.  A national database check revealed the contractor  had a criminal record with three convictions for assault and battery.
  • On September 27, 2014, an unidentified man posing as a member of Congress made his way into a secure area backstage at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards dinner in Washington, D.C. where Obama was attending.

Asked for Obama’s reaction to a series of Secret Service foulups, White House spokesman Frank Benenati gave this boilerplate reply: “The president has full confidence in the Secret Service and is grateful to the men and women who day in and day out protect himself, his family and the White House.”

But by October 1, then-Director Julia Pierson was forced out of the agency and replaced by an interim director: Joseph Clancy, formerly head of the presidential protection detail.

But the blunt truth is that many of the problems now plaguing the U.S. Secret Service were on full display as early as 2009. That was when well-known investigative reporter Ronald Kessler published his latest book, In the President’s Secret Service.

Kessler had previously pubilshed books outlining the inner workings of the White House, the CIA and the FBI. Kessler praised the courage and integrity of Secret Service agents as a whole.

But he warned that the agency was risking the safety of many of its protectees, including President Obama. He was particularly critical of SS management for such practices as:

  • Shutting off weapon-scanning magnetometers at rallies for Presidential candidates–and even for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. 
  • During a speech Bush gave at Tbilisi, Georgia in 2005, an assailant threw a live hand grenade–which failed to explode–at him.  
  • Despite 9/11, Secret Service agents are still being trained to expect an attempt by a lone gunman—rather than a professional squad of terrorist assassins.
  • The Service’s Counter Assault Teams (CATs) have generally been cut back from five or six agents to two, rendering them useless if a real attack occurred.
  • Salaries paid to SS agents have not kept pace with reality. Veteran SS men and women are now being offered up to four times their salary for moving to the private sector, and many are leavleaving the agency for that reason.

Secret Service agents protecting President Barack Obama

  • While Congress has greatly expanded the duties of this agency, Secret Service management has not asked for equivalent increases in funding and agents.
  • Many agents are leaving out of frustration that it takes “juice” or connections with top management to advance one’s career.
  • SS agents are being trained with weapons that are outdated (such as the MP5, developed in the 1960s) compared to those used by other law enforcement agencies and the potential assassins they face (such as the M4–with greater range and armor-piercing capabilities).
  • The Service refuses to ask for help from other agencies to meet its manpower needs. Thus, a visiting head of state at the U.N. General Assembly will usually be assigned only three agents as protection.
  • The agency tells agents to grade themselves on their physical training test forms. 
  • Agents are supposed to be evaluated on their marksmanship skills every three months.  But some agents have gone more than a year without being tested.
  • Some agents are so overweight they can’t meet the rigorous demands of the job.  As a result, they pose a danger to the people they’re supposed to be protecting.
  • The Secret Service inflates its own arrest statistics by claiming credit for arrests made by local police.
  • Congressional members who visit the agency’s James Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Maryland, are treated to rehearsed scenarios of how the agency would deal with attacks.  If agents were allowed to perform these exercises without rehearsals, Congress members would see they can and do make mistakes like everyone else.

Kessler closes his book with the warning: “Without….changes, an assassination of Barack Obama or a future president is likely.

“If that happens, a new Warren Commission will be appointed to study the tragedy. It will find that the Secret Service was shockingly derelict in its duty to the American people and to its own elite corps of brave and dedicated agents.”

And the effects will be not only momentary but long-term.  As Kessler writes: “By definition, an assassination threatens democracy.

“If Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, Andrew Johnson, his successor, would not have been able to undermine Lincoln’s efforts to reunite the nation and give more rights to blacks during the Reconstruction period.

“If John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated, Lyndon Johnson likely never would have become President.  If Robert F. Kennedy had not been killed and had won the presidency, Richard Nixon might never have been elected.”

SECRET SERVICE: REFORMS URGENTLY NEEDED – PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on February 19, 2015 at 2:21 am

The White House has made it official: President Barack Obama has chosen the man he wants to run the agency responsible for protecting him.

It’s Joseph Clancy, the former special agent who Obama asked in October, 2014, to temporarily run the troubled Secret Service.

Clancy is the former head of the service’s presidential protective division.  He was quickly appointed on an interim basis in a hurry after then-Director Julia Pierson was forced to resign on October 1 after a series of highly embarrassing security breaches.

Joseph Clancy

On October 10, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security created a four-member panel to conduct an independent review of the Secret Service.  Its results were presented in December.

Among the panel’s recommendations: The next Secret Service director should be an outsider:

“The next director will have to make difficult choices, identifying clear priorities for the organization and holding management accountable for any failure to achieve those priorities.

“Only a director from outside the (Secret) Service, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require.”

Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said it was “disappointing” that Obama decided not to follow the panel’s recommendations.

If Clancy is serious about reforming the agency, he has a lot of work to do.

Consider:

On September 11, 2001, Secret Service agents literally grabbed Vice President Dick Cheney and hauled him from the White House to a secure facility beneath the Executive Mansion.

As for everyone else who worked in the White House, agents simply threw open the White House doors and ordered: “Run!”

“Women, take off your shoes!” agents shouted–so they could run faster. Frightened Presidential aides were told to remove their White House badges–just in case snipers were lurking nearby.

That was it.

A Secret Service agent posted outside the White House on September 11, 2001

Not knowing what to do, some aides walked home in a daze.

Click here: Amazon.com: Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (9780385525190): Peter Baker: Books

(President George W. Bush was not in the White House at the time.  He was reading The Pet Goat to a group of children at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida.)

Three days later, on September 14, Andy Card, Bush’s chief of staff, addressed White House staffers in Room 450 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the West Wing.

Card said he understood that “this is not what any of you signed up for when you joined the White House staff.”  And he offered them the chance to resign without anyone–himself or the President–thinking any less of them.

When no one offered to leave, Card let a Secret Service agent offer security advice:

  • Vary your routines to and from work.
  • Watch out for any cars that might be following you.
  • Go to different restaurants for lunch.

At least one member of the audience, Bradford Berenson, an associate White House counsel, knew he wouldn’t be taking that advice.

Like most of the others at the meeting, his name was listed in the local phone book.  A terrorist wanting to kill him need only lurk outside Berenson’s home and open fire when he appeared.

Click here: 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars: Kurt Eichenwald: 9781451669398: Amazon.com: Books

And that was it, as far as the Secret Service was concerned.

No offers of even temporary escorts by Secret Service agents.  No offers to install “panic buttons” in their homes in case of emergency.

In essence: “We’re really glad you’ve decided to serve your country.  But don’t expect us to protect you.  You’re on your own.”

Fast forward 13 years later.

On the night of September 19, 2014, an Iraq war veteran, Omar Gonzales, jumped the White House fence, ran more than 70 yards across the north lawn, and sprinted just past the north portico White House doors.

Gonzalez appeared unarmed as he ran across the lawn–which may be why Secret Service agents didn’t shoot him or release their service dogs to detain him. But he had a small folding knife with a three-and-one-half-inch serrated blade when he was apprehended.

And he could have been wearing a suicide vest under his shirt.

At least one Secret Service agent was on his cellphone at the time of the intrusion and thus missed the alarm.

According to a criminal complaint, when he was arrested he told Secret Service agents he was “concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing” and needed to contact the President “so he could get word out to the people.”

Even more disturbing: At the time of his arrest, Gonzalez had a machete, two hachets and 800 rounds of ammunition in his car.

In late August, Gonzalez had been stopped while walking along the White House fence. He was carrying a hatchet and allowed police to search his car, where they found camping gear and two dogs.  He was not arrested then.

Then, less than 24 hours after Gonzalez’s arrest, a second man was apprehended after he drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave.  This triggered a search of his vehicle by bomb technicians in full gear.  Other agents shut down nearby streets.  No bombs were found.

GETTING HELP FROM YOUR ENEMIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on February 18, 2015 at 2:58 am

Sometimes your worst enemies aid you in ways you could never help yourself.

From July 10 to October 31, 1940, hundreds of badly-outnumbered pilots of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) fought off relentless attacks by Germany’s feared Luftwaffe.

But Adolf Hitler wasn’t prepared to give up.  He believed he could so terrorize Britons that they would demand that their government submit to German surrender demands.

From September 7, 1940 to May 21, 1941, the Luftwaffe subjected England–and especially London–to a ruthless bombing campaign that became known as The Blitz.

The undamaged St. Paul’s Cathredal, December, 1940

More than 100 tons of high explosives were dropped on 16 British cities.  During 267 days (almost 37 weeks):

  • London was attacked 71 times;
  • Birmingham, Plymouth and Liverpool were attacked eight times;
  • Bristol was attacked six times; Glasgow, five; Southampton four; and
  • There was also at least one large raid on another eight cities.

Between 40,000 and 43,000 British civilians were killed.  About 139,000 others were wounded.

Clearly, what Great Britain desperately needed most was a miracle.

Exactly that happened on June 22, 1941.

With 134 Divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more divisions for deployment behind the front, the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

German tank commander

Joseph Stalin, the longtime Soviet dictator, was stunned.  The invasion had come less than two years after Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

Now they were locked in a fight to the death.

People in England were also surprised–but also suddenly hopeful.   Britain now had an ally whose resources might tip the balance against Hitler.

Fast-forward to 2015.

On February 18, news reports surfaced that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have burned to death 45 people in the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi.

Al-Baghdadi lies just five miles from an air base stafffed by several hundred U.S. Marines.  The victims might have included members of the security forces that clashed with ISIS for control of the town.

This latest atrocity comes only days after ISIS released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.

And still earlier this month–on February 3–ISIS released a a video showing the barbaric “execution” of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh.

Al Kasaesbeh, locked in a steel cage like an animal, could only watch stoically as an ISIS member ignited a trail of flammable liquid leading directly to him.  The pilot stood upright throughout the ordeal until the flames at last consumed him.

In response to the beheadings of the 21 Egyptians, Egypt carried out a series of airstrikes against ISIS militants in Libya.

And two days after the murder of its pilot, Jordanian fighter jets launched airstrikes against ISIS training centers, arms and ammunition depots.

“This is just the beginning and you shall know who the Jordanians are,” the armed forces said in a statement on state TV.

Today–just as England was saved by the misjudgment of Nazi Germany in attacking the Soviet Union–  the United States faces just such an opportunity.

The Islamic world–which has been at war with the United States for 36 years–is now at war with itself.

In Syria, it’s Hezbollah (Party of God) vs. Al-Qaeda (The Base).

United Nations officials estimate that more than 191,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war since conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

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 is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “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 sectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

While Islamic nations wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources–and incentive–to launch attacks against the United States.

Every dead Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda member makes the United States that much safer. 

Every dead supporter of Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda makes the United States that much safer.

Every dead ISIS member makes the United States that much safer.  

And every ISIS victim stirs up greater hate against ISIS.

No American could instill such hatred against Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah or ISIS.  This is entirely a war of religious and sectarian hatred.  A war where each fighter is convinced that “Allah is on my side.”

These conflicts could easily become the Islamic equivalent of “the Hundred Years’ War” that raged from 1337 to 1453 between England and France.

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.”

As Congress and President Obama move ever closer to committing American forces to yet another Middle East conflict, it’s well to remember Truman’s words.

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

BARBARISM ISN’T GOOD P.R.

In History, Military, Politics on February 17, 2015 at 6:30 pm

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been in the news a great deal lately–and for reasons most organizations try to avoid.  Or at least cover up. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by

  • Russia
  • the United States
  • Canada
  • the European Union
  • Australia
  • Turkey
  • the United Nations
  • Indonesia
  • the United Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia
  • the United Arab Emerites
  • Egypt
  • India and
  • Malaysia

It been condemned by such well-known human rights organizations as Amnesty International.  And a major reason for this is the evidence of its brutalities that ISIS has proudly supplied. Among this evidence are its own Internet videos of

  • the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists, and aid workers;
  • the burning of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot;
  • demands for extortionate ransoms for kidnapped Japanese and American captives;
  • the wholesale shooting of captured Iraqi soldiers; and
  • the selling of captured children.

The release on February 3 of a video showing the barbaric “execution” of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh, underscored ISIS reputation for cruelty

Al Kasaesbeh, locked in a steel cage like an animal, could only watch stoically as an ISIS member ignited a trail of flammable liquid leading directly to him.  The pilot stood upright throughout the ordeal until the flames at last consumed him.

Image result for Images of burning to death of Jordanian pilot

ISIS burning of captured Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh 

Terrorism experts believe that the elaborately-staged video was meant to weaken the morale of Jordan and other Sunni Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

But it violated a fundamental rule of public relations: If you commit atrocities, do it secretly so you can deny it if the truth ever comes out.

That’s how the members of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s dreaded secret police–the N.K.V.D.–the predecsssors to the later-named KGB–operated throughout their brutal history.

In 1939, when the Soviet Union seized the eastern half of Poland, the N.K.V.D. executed 22,000 Polish army officers in the dense Katyn forest.

N.K.V.D. executioner

The government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the forest in 1943.  The Soviet Union furiously denied responsibility, claiming the victims had been executed by the Germans.

The Soviets continued to deny responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when the government finally admitted its guilt.

ISIS has turned out videos of its brutalities which film experts have declared are almost up to the quality of Hollywood spectaculars.  But ISIS leaders have apparently forgotten–if they ever knew–the truth of the saying: “You can make a throne of bayonets, but you can’t sit on it.”

Niccolo Machiavelli, in his classic work, The Discourses, offered a telling example of how magnanimity can triumph over brutality.

Camillus was besieging the city of the Faliscians, and had surrounded it….A teacher charged with the education of the children of some of the noblest families of that city [to ingratiate himself] with Camillus and the Romans, led these children…into the Roman camp.

And presenting them to Camillus [the teacher] said to him, “By means of these children as hostages, you will be able to compel the city to surrender.”

Camillus not only declined the offer but had the teacher stripped and his hands tied behind his back….[Then Camillus] had a rod put into the hands of each of the children…[and] directed them to whip [the teacher] all the way back to the city.

Upon learning this fact, the citizens of Faliscia were so much touched by the humanity and integrity of Camillus, that they surrendered the place to him without any further defense.

This example shows that an act of humanity and benevolence will at all times have more influence over the minds of men than violence and ferocity. It also proves that provinces and cities which no armies…could conquer, have yielded to an act of humanity, benevolence, chastity or generosity.

What Machiavelli doesn’t say–but what history offers plenty of examples to substantiate–is this: The brutality of aggressors will be met–and sometimes overcome–with brutality by their past or intended victims.

Nowhere was this better proved than during the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Without warning, three million German soldiers–backed up by overwhelming air and tank support–attacked their “ally” on June 22, 1941.

The Wehrmacht blitzed its way across Russia–to the gates of Moscow and as far south as Stalingrad on the Volga River. In its path it left devastated cities and at least 20 million dead Russians.

German soldiers moving into a burning Russian village

Russian women were gang-raped, then shot, or blown up with hand grenades. Tens of thousands of captured Russian soldiers were allowed to die of hunger, sickness and freezing cold behind barbed wire.  Other captured POWs were brutally beaten, tortured and/or shot.

But then the tide of war turned and the Russians launched their own offensives in 1943.  And they kept going–all the way to Berlin.

Russians raped tens of thousands of German women–and nailed others to barn doors.  Cossacks cut off the raised hands of Germans trying to surrender.  Tanks crushed retreating German soldiers and civilians unlucky enough to be in their path.

Thus do those who practice barbarism often find themselves being repaid with it–usually ten-fold.

MACHIAVELLI WAS RIGHT: DISTRUST THE RICH

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 16, 2015 at 2:04 am

As Americans vacation their way through yet another observance of Presidents’ Day, it’s well to remember the man whose name defines modern politics.

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman who has been called the father of modern political science, published his best-known work: The Prince.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Among the issues he confronted was how to preserve liberty within a republic.  And key to this was mediating the eternal struggle between the wealthy and the poor and middle class.

Machiavelli deeply distrusted the nobility because they stood above the law.  He saw them as a major source of corruption because they could buy influence through patronage, favors or nepotism.

Successful political leaders must attain the support of the nobility or general populace.  But since these groups have conflicting interests, the safest course is to choose the latter.

….He who becomes prince by help of the [wealthy] has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace.  He is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is thus unable to direct or command as he pleases. 

But one who is raised to leadership by popular favor finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him.   [And] it is impossible to satisfy the [wealthy] by fair dealing and without inflicting injury upon others, whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way. 

For the aim of the people is more honest than that of the [wealthy], the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid oppression.  [And] the prince can never insure himself against a hostile population on account of their numbers, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few.

The worst that a prince has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles he has to fear not only desertion but their active opposition.  And as they are more far seeing and more cunning, they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer. 

The prince is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without the same nobility, being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or deprive them of it as he pleases.

Unfortunately, political leaders throughout the world–including the United States–have ignored this sage advice.

The results of this wholesale favoring of the wealth and powerful have been brilliantly documented in a recent investigation of tax evasion by the world’s rich.

In 2012, Tax Justice Network, which campaigns to abolish tax havens, commissioned a study of their effect on the world’s economy.

The study was entitled, “The Price of Offshore Revisited: New Estimates for ‘Missing’ Global Private Wealth, Income, Inequality and Lost Taxes.”

http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_120722.pdf

The research was carried out by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.  Among its findings:

  • By 2010, at least $21 to $32 trillion of the world’s private financial wealth had been invested virtually tax-­free through more than 80 offshore secrecy jurisdictions.
  • Since the 1970s, with eager (and often aggressive and illegal) assistance from the international private banking industry, private elites in 139 countries had accumulated $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of unrecorded offshore wealth by 2010.
  • This happened while many of those countries’ public sectors were borrowing themselves into bankruptcy, suffering painful adjustment and low growth, and holding fire sales of public assets.
  • The assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments.
  • The offshore industry is protected by pivate bankers, lawyers and accountants, who get paid handsomely to hide their clients’ assets and identities.
  • Bank regulators and central banks of most countries allow the world’s top tax havens and banks to hide the origins and ownership of assets under their supervision.
  • Although multilateral institutions like the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and the World Bank are supposedly insulated from politics, they have been highly compromised by the collective interests of Wall Street.
  • These regulatory bodies have never required financial institutions to fully report their cross-­border customer liabilities, deposits, customer assets under management or under custody.
  • Less than 100,000 people, .001% of the world’s population, now control over 30% of the world’s financial wealth.
  • Assuming that global offshore financial wealth of $21 trillion earns a total return of just 3% a year, and would have been taxed an average of 30% in the home country, this unrecorded wealth might have generated tax revenues of $189 billion per year.

Summing up this situation, the report notes: “We are up against one of society’s most well-­entrenched interest groups. After all, there’s no interest group more rich and powerful than the rich and powerful.”

Fortunately, Machiavelli has supplied a timeless remedy to this increasingly dangerous situation:

  • Assume evil among men–and most especially among those who possess the greatest concentration of wealth and power.
  • Carefully monitor their activities–the way the FBI now regularly monitors those of the Mafia and major terrorist groups.
  • Ruthlessly prosecute the treasonous crimes of the rich and powerful–and, upon their conviction, impose severe punishment.
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