Archive for October, 2015|Monthly archive page


In Bureaucracy, Business, Social commentary on October 30, 2015 at 12:01 am

Halloween isn’t just for kids anymore.

This year, about 70% of Americans will participate in Halloween, and will spend $7.4 billion. Yes, that’s with a “b”.

This huge avalanche of funds will go on such items as candy, costumes and decorations.

Halloween candy alone has run up a $2 billion tab every Halloween for the past three years.

And $350 million will go for pet Halloween costumes.

Spending on Halloween has risen by more than 55% since 2005.

Here’s how those expenses break down:

Costumes – 38%

Cards – 5%

Decorations – 27%

Candy – 27%

Click here: Wait, Americans Spend How Much on Halloween? – The Atlantic

Those putting out this avalanche of money will, of course, be adults.  And a lot of those costumes will be worn by adults at parties across the nation.

This will be especially true in San Francisco.

In 1979, Halloween in its Castro District shifted from being a children’s event to a celebration among homosexuals.

The massive crowds quickly overwhelmed the streets, mass transit and due to the Castro’s location along two major transport corridors, disrupting traffic flow well outside the neighborhood.

In 2002, 500,000 people celebrated Halloween in the Castro and four people were stabbed.

It continued to grow into a massive annual street party until 2006, when a shooting wounded nine people and prompted the city to call off the event.

In 2007, 600 police were deployed in the Castro on Halloween.  By 2010, San Francisco had banned the event in the Castro, directing celebrants to various balls and parties elsewhere.

But there’s another force working to suppress Halloween joy among its participants: Political Correctness.

A recent article in Anaswers.com offers Politically Correct advice on how to enjoy Halloween–without hurting the Politically Correct sensitivities of almost every group imaginable.

Click here: Top 15 Major Halloween No-No’s – Answers.com

For example:

Adolf Hitler:  “There should be no need to explain why a Hitler costume is wrong. It’s offensive and upsetting to many people, especially those who survived the Holocaust and those who lost family members to it.”

Homeless Persons:  “Dressing kids up as hobos used to be cute, but now it is a no-no. It is rude to the growing homeless population in America, which includes people of all walks of life and all economic profiles.”

Illegal Alien: “Making light of the issues America faces with the constant deluge of illegal immigrants crossing the borders is not politically correct, and it’s disrespectful to the people attempting to cross the borders, or even those who immigrated legally.”

Terrorist: “With terrorism hitting the news 24/7, it is never okay to dress as a terrorist. Even worse, some parents allow their kids to dress this way.”

Others on the list of groups that Answers.com believes it’s Politically Incorrect to dress up as include:

  • Blacks (if you’re white)
  • Plane crash victims
  • Michael Brown (the thug whose shooting by a Ferguson, Missouri cop has touched off race riots)
  • “Dirty Mexicans” (features a picture of a woman wearing a mariachi outfit and a man sporting a sombrero, serape and drooping moustache)
  • Dead Steve Irwin (the publicity-hungry “Crocodile Hunter” who died when he got too close to a manta ray and it put a stinger through his chest)
  • Christopher Reeve (the “Superman” actor who was paralyzed from a horse fall, wearing a large white neck brace)
  • Pimp (“Glamorizing this type of person is offensive to all the women who get stuck in that vicious world”)
  • Naughty Priest/Nun (“It is offensive to anyone stuck in the middle of all the church scandals that became big news in the ’90s and 2000s”)

If you follow the guidelines of this article, you might as well skip Halloween altogether.

So, if you subtract all the costumes that Politically Correct mavens say you shouldn’t wear, here’s what you end up with:


  • Hobos, because it will hurt the feelings of bums who won’t be attending Halloween parties anyway.
  • Adolf Hitler, because you’ll offend anyone who survived the Holocaust.  (The same could be said for any actor who portrays Hitler in a movie, such as Downfall or The Bunker.)
  • Terrorists, because you might upset Islamics, who make up the vast majority of the world’s terrorists.
  • Illegal aliens, because it’s not nice to spotlight people who constantly violate the immigration laws of the United States.
  • Naughty priests, because it’s offensive to mock religious hypocrites who violate the bodies of children.

This list is potentially endless.

Yet no one objects to

  • Children–or adults–dressing up as pirates like Blackbeard, who once terrorized the oceans as modern-day terrorists menace the world;
  • Those who dress up like skeletons–when almost everyone has lost a friend or family member to death;
  • Those who dress up as witches, who have been associated with evil for hundreds of years;
  • Those who dress up as Satan–the literal personification of evil for millions of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The whole idea of Halloween is to momentarily step into a character that’s utterly different from you.

So if you are a terrorist, try dressing up at Halloween as Dr. Albert Schweitzer or Florence Nightingale.


In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on October 29, 2015 at 12:04 am

Want to report a crime to the FBI?  First you’ll have to prove you deserve to even see an FBI agent.

Step 1: Visit a Federal building where the FBI has a field office.  To enter, you must show a driver’s license or State ID card.

If your name is on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list, you won’t show it at all (let alone visit any FBI office).

And if you aren’t a notorious criminal or terrorist, handing over a driver’s license or State ID card with the name “John Smith” isn’t going to tell the security guard anything relevant about you.

It’s simply an invasion of your privacy in the name of security theater.

Step 2: You must remove

  • Your belt;
  • Your shoes;
  • Your watch;
  • Your wallet;
  • All other objects from your pants pockets;
  • Any jacket you’re wearing;
  • Any cell phone you’re carrying.

All of these must be placed in one or more large plastic containers, which are run through an x-ray scanner.

Step 3: Assuming you avoid setting off any alarm system, you’re allowed to enter.

Step 4: Take an elevator to the floor where the Bureau has its office and walk into a large room filled with several comfortable chairs that sit close to the floor.

Step 5: Approach a window such as you find in a bank–made of thick, presumably bulletproof glass.

A secretary on the opposite side greets you, and asks why you’ve come.

Step 6: State your reason for wanting to speak with an agent. If the secretary thinks it’s legitimate, she requires you to show her your driver’s license or State ID card.

Step 7: Slide this through a slot in the glass window.  Then she makes a xerox of this and hands the card back.

Step 8: Then you must fill out a single-page card, which requires you to provide your:

  • Name;
  • Address;
  • Phone number;
  • Social Security Number;
  • The reason you want to speak to an agent.

Of course, you can refuse to fill out the card. But then the secretary will refuse to let you meet with an agent.

So the FBI has no qualms about requiring others to give up their privacy.  But its director, James B. Comey, believes the public actions of police should be hidden from citizens’ scrutiny.

Addressing a forum at the University of Chicago Law School on October 23, Comey offered a series of possible reasons for the recent surge in crime rates in America.

Click here: FBI — Law Enforcement and the Communities We Serve: Bending the Lines Toward Safety and Justice 

“Maybe it’s the return of violent offenders after serving jail terms.  Maybe it’s cheap heroin or synthetic drugs.  Maybe after we busted up the large gangs, smaller groups are now fighting for turf.

“Maybe it’s a change in the justice system’s approach to bail or charging or sentencing. Maybe something has changed with respect to the availability of guns….”

Then Comey offered what he thought was the real villain behind the rise in crime: Cellphones aimed at police.


FBI Director James B. Comey

“In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?

“I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, ‘We feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.’

“I’ve been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.

“So the suggestion, the question that has been asked of me, is whether these kinds of things are changing police behavior all over the country.

“And the answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.”

The FBI has

  • Lobbied Congress for an electronic “key” that would allow it to enter a cyber “back door” to eavesdrop on even those emails protected by encryption systems;
  • Monitored electronic bugs and wiretapped phones–as well as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter;
  • Treated law-abiding citizens like criminal suspects before they can even seek help from an agent; and
  • Repeatedly preached to Americans that if they have nothing to hide, they should have nothing to fear from police surveillance.

But according to the FBI, citizens who aim cameras at cops in public places present a clear and present danger. This holds true even if they don’t interfere with the ability of police to make arrests.

They make heavily armed police feel so threatened that many officers are refusing to carry out their sworn duties.


In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on October 28, 2015 at 1:27 am

For decades, Americans have been told by police at local and Federal levels: If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t worry about giving up your privacy.

The FBI, for example, has lobbied Congress for an electronic “key” that would allow it to enter a cyber “back door” to eavesdrop on even those emails protected by encryption systems.

Of course, the FBI has long found ways to circumvent the efforts of criminals to remain anonymous.

Decades ago, Mafiosi learned to assume their phones were being wiretapped and their rooms bugged with hidden microphones by agents of the FBI or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

And law-abiding Americans have grown used to being under camera surveillance every time they enter a bank, a State or Federal agency, a drugstore or supermarket.  Or even walking down a street.

Related image

So it must seem ironic–if not downright hypocritical–to such people when police complain that their privacy is being invaded.

And this “invasion” isn’t happening with taps placed on cops’ phones or bugs planted in their police stations or private homes.

No, this “invasion” is happening openly in public–with video cameras and cellphones equipped with cameras.

And it’s happening in direct response to a series of controversial incidents involving the use of deadly force by police.

The most famous of these was the shooting, in August, 2014, of strong-arm grocery store robber Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  Ironically, this was not captured on video.

But a number of other incidents were. Among them:

  • The shooting of Walter Scott, a black motorist, on April 4, 2015.  Scott was stopped for a non-working third tail light.  When North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager returned to his patrol car, Scott exited his car and fled.  Slager gave chase, firing first a Taser and then his pistol.  He hit Scott five times–all from behind.  Slager later claimed he had “felt threatened.” Unluckily for him, the shooting was caught on a citizen’s cellphone camera. On June 6, a grand jury indicted Slager on a charge or murder.
  • On April 9, 2015, San Bernaradino sheriff’s deputies, after an exhaustive chase, kicked Francis Pusok twice–including a kick to the groin–as he lay facedown on the ground with his hands behind his back.  About five minutes after Pusok was handcuffed, hobbled and rolled onto his side, another deputy also kicked him. Three deputies have been charged with felony assault.  The footage of this came from an NBC News helicopter.
  • In February, 2015, Orlando police officer William Escobar was fired after cell phone footage emerged of him punching and kicking a handcuffed man.

Addressing a forum at the University of Chicago Law School on October 23, FBI Director James B. Comey spoke of rising crime rates in America.  And he offered a series of possible reasons for it.

Click here: FBI — Law Enforcement and the Communities We Serve: Bending the Lines Toward Safety and Justice 

“Maybe it’s the return of violent offenders after serving jail terms.  Maybe it’s cheap heroin or synthetic drugs.  Maybe after we busted up the large gangs, smaller groups are now fighting for turf.

“Maybe it’s a change in the justice system’s approach to bail or charging or sentencing. Maybe something has changed with respect to the availability of guns….”

Then Comey offered what he thought was the real villain behind the rise in crime: Cellphones aimed at police.


FBI Director James B. Comey

“But I’ve also heard another explanation, in conversations all over the country. Nobody says it on the record, nobody says it in public, but police and elected officials are quietly saying it to themselves. And they’re saying it to me, and I’m going to say it to you….

“In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?

“I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, ‘We feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.’

“I’ve been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.

“So the suggestion, the question that has been asked of me, is whether these kinds of things are changing police behavior all over the country.

“And the answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.”

Apparently, it’s OK for police to aim cameras–openly or concealed–at citizens, whether law-abiding or law-breaking. But if citizens aim cameras at cops–even without interfering with their making arrests–police feel threatened, to the point of refusing to carry out their duties.


In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 27, 2015 at 12:01 am

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

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

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

Bert2.png (300×232)

Bert the Turtle teaches schoolchildren to “Duck and Cover”

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

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

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

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

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

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

James B. Donovan

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

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

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

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

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

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

Now for the remaining truths revealed in this movie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth #5: Personal loyalty can supersede bureaucratic inventions.

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

    Glienicke Bridge, the “Bridge of Spies” 

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

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

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

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

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

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


In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 26, 2015 at 12:27 am

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

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

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 23, 2015 at 12:40 am

In 2005, Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, was placed on the United States Government’s No-Fly list, operated by the Terrorist Screening Center.

It wasn’t because she was a member of Al Qaeda.  It happened because of an FBI screw-up.

The mess started in January 2005, when Ibrahim and her 14-year-old daughter arrived at the San Francisco Airport.  Their destination: Hawaii, to attend a conference trip sponsored by Stanford.

Ibrahim, still recovering from a recent hysterectomy, was in a wheelchair.

When she approached the United Airlines counter to check in, she was seized, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a police car and taken to a holding cell.

There she was interrogated.  During this, paramedics had to be summoned because she hadn’t taken her surgery medication.

Then, to her surprise, she was released–and told that her name had been removed from the No-Fly list.  She boarded a flight to Hawaii and attended the conference.

But in March 2005, the situation suddenly changed.

Having returned to Malasia, she bought a ticket to fly back to California to meet with her Stanford thesis adviser. But at the airport, she was banned from the flight.

She was told that her student visa had been revoked, and that she would longer be let into the United States.  When she asked why, authorities refused to give a reason.

She would not learn the answer for another eight years.

An FBI agent in San Jose, California, had conducted a background check on Ibrahim.  He hadn’t meant to place her on theNo-Fly list.

FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

He had simply checked the wrong boxes on a form.  He didn’t even realize the mistake until nearly a decade later, during his deposition in 2013.

In fact, he filled out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions provided on the form. He did so even though the form stated, “It is recommended that the subject NOT be entered into the following selected terrorist screening databases.”

Thus, Ibrahim was placed on the No-Fly list.

That was bad enough–but at least understandable. FBI agents are human, and can and do err like anyone else.

What is not understandable or tolerable is this:

After Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the United States Government in 2006, the Justice Department ordered a coverup–to prevent word from leaking that one of its agents had made a mistake.

Moreover, Ibrahim was ordered by the Justice Department to not divulge to anyone that she was suing the United States Government–or the reason for the lawsuit.

Ibrahim is currently the dean of architecture at University Putra Malaysia.

Because the Justice Department refused to admit its mistake, attorneys working pro bono for Ibrahim incurred a reported $3.8 million in legal fees, as well as $300,000 in litigation costs.

In his recent decision on the case, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, based in San Francisco, called the agent’s error “conceded, proven, undeniable and serious.

Once derogatory information is posted to the Terrorist  Screening Database, it can propagate extensively through the  government’s interlocking complex of databases, like a bad credit  report that will never go away,” he wrote.

If only the Justice Department had readily admitted the mistake and quickly moved to correct it.  But the egos of Federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors effectively ruled out this option.

Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2006-2011) had a completely different approach to dealing with mistakes.

In his 2014 autobiography, Duty, he writes of his determination to promote good relations between the Pentagon and the reporters who covered it.

In his commencement address at the Anapolis Naval Academy on May 25, 2007, he said:

“…the press, in my view [is] a critically important guarantor of our freedom.

“When it identifies a problem, the response of senior leaders should be to find out if the allegations are true.  And if so, say so, and then act to remedy the problem.

“If [the allegations are] untrue, then be able to document that fact.”

Millions of Americans not only distrust the Federal Government–they believe it is aggressively conspiring against them.

But the vast majority of Federal employees do not come to work intent on destroying the lives of their fellow Americans.

They spend most of their time carrying out routine, often mind-numbing tasks–such as filling out what seem like an endless series of forms.

But even where no malice is involved, their actions can have devastating consequences for innocent men and women.

Especially in cases where “national security” can be invoked to hide error, stupidity, or even criminality.

The refusal of the Justice Department to quickly admit the honest mistake of one of its agents prevented Ibrahim from boarding a commercial flight for seven years.

Federal agencies should follow the advice given by Robert Gates:  Admit your mistakes and act quickly to correct them. 

Unless this happens, the poisonous atmosphere of distrust between the Government and its citizens will only worsen.


In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 22, 2015 at 12:04 am

Argo was selected as Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards.  But it is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln that will be cherished far longer.

Among the reasons for this:

  • Daniel Day-Lewis’ brilliant portrayal as Abraham Lincoln; and
  • Its timely depiction of a truth that has long been obscured by past and current Southern lies.

And that truth: From first to last, the cause of the Civil War was slavery.

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, arguments over “states’ rights” or economic conflict between North and South didn’t lead 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1860-61.

It was their demand for “respect” of their “peculiar institution”–i.e., slavery.

“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 increasingly unwilling to do. Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln as President 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.”  [Italics added]

It is to Spielberg’s credit that he forces his audience to look directly at the real cause of the bloodiest conflict on the North American continent.

At the heart of Spielberg’s film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  An amendment that will forever ban slavery.

But, almost four years into the war, slavery still has powerful friends–in both the North and South.

Many of those friends belong to the House of Representatives, which must ratify the amendment for it to become law.

Other members–white men all–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.”

To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women. Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks–or women–the right to vote.

After the amendment wins ratification, Lincoln agrees to meet with a “peace delegation” from the Confederate States of America.

At the top of their list of concerns: If they persuade the seceded states to return to the Union, will those states be allowed to nullify the amendment?

No, says Lincoln.  He’s willing to make peace with the South, and on highly generous terms.  But not at the cost of allowing slavery to live on.

Too many men–North and South–have died in a conflict whose root cause is slavery.  Those lives must count for more than simply reuniting the Union.

For the Southern “peace commissioners,” this is totally unacceptable.

The South has lost thousands of men (260,000 is the generally accepted figure for its total casualties) and the war is clearly lost.  But for its die-hard leaders, parting with slavery is simply unthinkable.

Like Nazi Germany 80 years into the future, the high command of the South won’t surrender until their armies are too beaten down to fight any more.

The major difference between the defeated South of 1865 and the defeated Germany of 1945 is this: The South was allowed to build a beautiful myth of a glorious “Lost Cause,” epitomized by the Margaret Mitchell novel, Gone With the Wind.

In that telling, dutiful slaves are well-treated by kindly masters. Southern aristocrats wear white suits and their slender-waisted ladies wear long dresses, carry parisols and say “fiddle-dee-dee” to young, handsome suitors.

One million people attended the premier of the movie version in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.

The celebration featured stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, false antebellum fronts on stores and homes, and a costume ball.

In keeping with Southern racial tradition, Hattie McDaniel and the other black actors from the film were barred from attending the premiere. Upon learning this, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event. McDaniel convinced him to attend.

When today’s Southerners fly Confederate flags and speak of “preserving our traditions,” they are actually celebrating their long-banned peculiar” institution.”

By contrast, post-World War II Germany outlawed symbols from the Nazi-era, such as the swastika and the “Heil Hitler” salute, and made Holocaust denial punishable by imprisonment.

America has refused to confront its own shameful past so directly.  But Americans can be grateful that Steven Spielberg has had the courage to serve up a long-overdue and much needed lesson in past–and still current–history.


In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 21, 2015 at 1:12 am

Argo won for Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony. But, in the long run, it will be Lincoln who is deservingly remembered–and loved.

Argo focuses on a humiliating episode that most Americans would like to forget.  On November 4, 1979, at the climax of the Iranian revolution, militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage.

But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans managed to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it was only a matter of time before the six were found and likely killed, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist offered a risky–and ultimately successful–plan to smuggle them out of the country.

While Argo wrings cheers from American audiences for the winning of this small victory, it cannot erase the blunt truth of the Iranian hostage crisis: For more than 14 months, American diplomats waited helplessly for release–while America proved unable to effect it.

By contrast, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln celebrates a far greater victory: the final defeat of human slavery in the United States.

And it teaches lessons about the past that remain equally valide today–such as that racism and repression are not confined to any one period or political party.

At the heart of the film: Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) wants to win ratification of what will be the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. An amendment that will forever ban slavery.

True, Lincoln, in 1862, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This-–in theory-–freed slaves held in the Confederate states that were in rebellion against the United States Government.

But Lincoln regards this as a temporary wartime measure.

He fears that, once the war is over, the Supreme Court may rule the Proclamation unconstitutional. This might allow Southerners to continue practicing slavery, even after losing the war.

To prevent this, Congress must pass an anti-slavery amendment.

But winning Congressional passage of such an amendment won’t be easy.

The Senate had ratified its passage in 1864. But the amendment must secure approval from the House of Representatives to become law.

And the House is filled with men-–there are no women members during the 19th  century-–who seethe with hostility.

Some are hostile to Lincoln personally. One of them dubs him a dictator-–”Abraham Africanus.” Another accuses him of shifting his positions for the sake of expediency.

Other members–-white men all-–are hostile to the idea of “equality between the races.”

To them, ending slavery means opening the door to interracial marriage–especially marriage between black men and white women. Perhaps even worse, it means possibly giving blacks-–or women–-the right to vote.

Black soldiers in the Union Army

To understand the Congressional debate over the Thirteenth Amendment, it’s necessary to remember this: In Lincoln’s time, the Republicans were the party of progressives.

The party was founded on an anti-slavery platform.  Its members were thus reviled as “Black Republicans.”

And until the 1960s, the South was solidly DemocraticDemocrats were the ones defending the status quo–slavery–and opposing freed blacks in the South of Reconstruction and long afterward.

In short, in the 18th century, Democrats in the South acted as Republicans do now.

The South went Republican only after a Democratic President–Lyndon B. Johnson–rammed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress.

Watching this re-enactment of the 1865 debate in Lincoln is like watching a rerun of the 2012 Presidential campaign.  The same mentalities are at work:

  • Those (in this case, slave-owners) who already have a great deal want to gain even more at the expense of others.
  • Those (slaves and freed blacks) who have little strive to gain more or at least hang onto what they still have.
  • Those who defend the privileged wealthy refuse to allow their “social inferiors” to enjoy similar privileges (such as the right to vote).

During the 2012 Presidential race, the Republicans tried to bar those likely to vote for President Barack Obama from getting into the voting booth.  But their bogus “voter ID” restrictions were struck down in courts across the nation.

In the end, however, it is Abraham Lincoln who has the final word.  Through diplomacy and backroom dealings (trading political offices for votes) he wins passage of the anti-slavery amendment.

The movie closes with a historically-correct tribute to Lincoln’s generosity toward those who opposed him–in Congress and on the battlefield.

It occurs during Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all….To bind up the nation’s wounds.  To care for him who shall have bourne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan….”

Listening to those words, one is reminded of Mitt Romney’s infamous comments about the “47%: “

Well, there are 47% of the people who…are dependent upon government, who believe that–-that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Watching Lincoln, you realize how incredibly lucky we were as a nation to have had such leadership when it was most needed.


In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 20, 2015 at 12:01 am

September 11, 2015, marked the 14th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on United States soil.

Inevitably, this was a time to remember those 3,000 Americans whose lives were so cruelly snuffed out.

But it also marked a time to remember those who made this atrocity inevitable–by refusing to acknowledge and address the impending threat from Al-Qaeda.

For Republicans, it’s taboo to hold President George W. Bush accountable for this atrocity. That’s why Donald Trump’s daring to note that it happened on Bush’s watch was greeted with a Right-wing outcry.

And Democrats have been too cowardly to state this truth–a major reason for their losing the 2004 Presidential election.

But British historian Nigel Hamilton has chronicled the arrogance and indifference of those officials in his 2010 biography: American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush.

Hamilton noted that during the first eight months of the Bush Presidency, Richard Clarke, the national security advisor on terrorism, was forbidden to brief President Bush, despite the mounting evidence that al-Qaeda was planning to strike.

Richard Clarke

Even more vexing for Clarke: During his first eight months as President before September 11, Bush was on vacation 42% of the time, according to the Washington Post.

Clarke was certain that Osama bin Laden had arranged the USS Cole bombing in Aden on October 12, 2000.

For months, Clarke tried to convince others in the Bush Administration that Bin Laden was plotting another attack against the United States–either abroad or at home.

But Clarke could not prevail against the know-it-all arrogance of such higher-ranking Bush officials as Vice President Dick Cheney; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

Rice initially refused to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject.  Then she insisted the matter be handled only by a more junior Deputy Principals meeting in April, 2001, writes Hamilton.

Wolfowitz, the number-two man at the Department of Defense, said: “I don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden.”

Even after Clarke outlined the threat posed by Al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz–whose real target was Saddam Hussein–said: “You give bin Laden too much credit.”

Wolfowitz insisted that bin Laden couldn’t carry out his terrorist acts without the aid of a state sponsor–namely, Iraq.

Wolfowitz, in fact, blamed Iraq for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.  Clarke was stunned, since there was absolutely no evidence of Iraqi involvement in this.

“Al-Qaeda plans major acts of terrorism against the United States,” Clarke warned his colleagues.  He pointed out that, like Adolf Hitler, bin Laden had actually published his plans for future destruction.

Related image

Osama bin Laden

And he added: “Sometimes, as with Hitler in Mein Kampf, you have to believe that these people will actually do what they say they will do.”

Wolfowitz heatedly traded on his Jewish heritage to bring Clarke’s unwelcome arguments to a halt: “I resent any comparison between the Holocaust and this little terrorist in Afghanistan.”

Writing in outraged fury, Hamilton sums up Clarke’s agonizing frustrations:

  • Bush’s senior advisors treated their colleagues who had served in the Clinton administration with contempt.
  • President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz seemed content to ignore the danger signals of an impending al-Qaeda attack.
  • This left only Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Richard Armitage, Richard Clarke and a skeptical Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, to wage “a lonely battle to waken a seemingly deranged new administration.”

Clarke alerted Federal Intelligence agencies that “Al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us.” He asked the FBI and CIA to report to his office all they could learn about suspicious persons or activities at home and abroad.

Finally, at a meeting with Condoleeza Rice on September 4, 2001, Clarke challenged her to “picture yourself at a moment when in the very near future Al-Qaeda has killed hundreds of Americans, and imagine asking yourself what you wish then that you had already done.”

Apparently Rice couldn’t imagine such a scenario, because she took no action to prevent it. Nor did she urge anyone else to do so.

Seven days later, Al-Qaeda struck, and 3,000 Americans died horrifically–and needlessly.

Neither Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld nor Wolowitz ever admitted their negligence. Nor would any of them be brought to account.

Disgustingly, these were the same officials who, afterward, posed as the Nation’s saviors–and branded anyone who disagreed with them as a traitor, practices the Right continues to exploit to this day.

Only Richard Clarke–who had vainly argued for stepped-up security precautions and taking the fight to Al-Qaeda–gave that apology.

On March 24, 2004, Clarke testified at the public 9/11 Commission hearings. Addressing relatives of victims in the audience, he said: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you.”

It’s an admission that no other Republican has been willing to make.

And it remains an indictment that no Democrat has the courage to assert.


In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 19, 2015 at 12:55 am

You don’t ever have to frame anybody, because the truth is always sufficient.
–Willie Stark, in All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren

When one politician wants to truly hurt another, the weapon of choice is not lies. It’s the truth.

And on October 16, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump used that weapon to take down his opponent, Jeb Bush.

Trump was being interviewed by Bloomberg TV’s Stephanie Ruhle when she asked: Would you be able to comfort the nation in the event of a mass tragedy like 9/11 or  the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut?

And Trump, who always claims to be smarter, tougher and richer than anyone else, had a ready response:  “I think I have a bigger heart than all of them. I think I’m much more competent then all of them.”

So far, so ordinarily Trump. Then: “I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time.”

“Hold on,” said Ruhle, “you can’t blame George Bush for that.”

“He was President, okay? Blame him or don’t blame him, but he was President,” Trump said. “The World Trade Center came down during his reign.”

Three thousand Americans died during the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

World Trade Center on 9/11/01

Holding Bush accountable for 9/11 has been taboo for Republicans–and has generally been avoided by cowardly Democrats.

Whereas Republicans have spent the last three years blaming President Barack Obama for the deaths of four Americans killed in the Libyan consulate attack.

Immediately after Trump’s remarks, the Right exploded.

Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, said that no one saw the 9/11 attacks coming and that blaming the former president was a cheap shot.

Speaking on Right-wing Fox Radio, King added: “I think Donald Trump is totally wrong there. That sounds like a Michael Moore talking point.”

And Jeb Bush rushed to his brother’s defense on Twitter: “How pathetic for @realdonaldtrump to criticize the president for 9/11. We were attacked & my brother kept us safe.”

Of course, Jeb didn’t account for those 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11.

Nor did he mention that, during his first eight months in office before September 11, George W. Bush was on vacation 42% of the time.

Fortunately, British historian Nigel Hamilton has dared to lay bare the facts of this disgrace. Hamilton is the author of several acclaimed political biographies, including JFK: Reckless Youth and Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency.

In 2007, he began research on his latest book: American Caesars: The Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush.

The inspiration for this came from a classic work of ancient biography: The Twelve Caesars, by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus–known as Suetonius.

Suetonius, a Roman citizen and historian, had chronicled the lives of the first twelve Caesars of imperial Rome: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.

Hamilton wanted to examine post-World War II United States history as Suetonius had examined that of ancient Rome: Through the lives of the 12 “emperors” who had held the power of life and death over their fellow citizens–and those of other nations.

For Hamilton, the “greatest of American emperors, the Caesar Augustus of his time,” was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led his country through the Great Depression and World War II.

His “”great successors” were Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy–who, in turn, contained the Soviet Union abroad and presided over sustained economic prosperity at home.

By contrast, “arguably the worst of all the American Caesars” was “George W. Bush, and his deputy, Dick Cheney, who willfully and recklessly destroyed so much of the moral basis of American leadership in the modern world.”

Among the most lethal of Bush’s offenses: The appointing of officials who refused to take seriously the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.

And this arrogance and indifference continued–right up to September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center and Pentagon became targets for destruction.

Among the few administration officials who did take Al-Qaeda seriously was Richard Clarke, the chief counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council.

Clarke had been thus appointed in 1998 by President Bill Clinton.  He continued in the same role under President Bush–but the position was no longer given cabinet-level access.

This put him at a severe disadvantage when dealing with other, higher-ranking Bush officials–such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

These turned out to be the very officials who refused to believe that Al-Qaeda posed a lethal threat to the United States.

“Indeed,” writes Hamilton, “in the entire first eight months of the Bush Presidency, Clarke was not permitted to brief President Bush a single time, despite mounting evidence of plans for a new al-Qaeda outrage.”  [Italics added]

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