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Archive for February, 2016|Monthly archive page

PRE-EMPTING DISASTER: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 29, 2016 at 10:31 am

“When Fascism comes to America, it will be called anti-Fascism.”
–Huey Long, Louisiana Governor/Senator

In the “Twilight Zone” episode, “No Time Like the Past,” Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews), a scientist in early 1960s America, uses a time machine to visit Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II. 

He’s rented a motel room overlooking the balcony from where the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler will soon make a speech. And he’s eager to watch that speech–through the lens of a telescopic-sighted rifle.  

Just as he’s about to pull the trigger, there’s a knock at his door–by the maid. Driscoll hustles her out as soon as possible, then once again picks up his rifle. He–and viewers–can once again see Hitler through the cross-hairs of his weapon.  

Paul Driscoll prepares to shoot Adolf Hitler

But instead of the anticipated shot, there’s another knock at his door–this time by the black-uniformed secret police, the SS. Driscoll knows the game is over, and disappears into the present just as the thugs break down his door.  

And the audience is left to ponder how different the world would have been if Driscoll–or someone in Nazi Germany–had succeeded in assassinating the man whose wars would wipe out the lives of 50 million men, women and children around the globe.  

At least one Republican candidate for President has dared to invoke the past of Nazi Germany in warning of the dangers of a Donald Trump Presidency. And to argue that Americans have a chance to prevent that past from returning.  

In November, 2015, John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, was peddling a message of creating jobs, balancing the Federal budget and disdain for Washington, D.C.  

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John Kasich

But he remained far behind in the polls, dropping 50% in support in just one month–from September to October. Meanwhile, Trump, the New York billionaire developer, was being backed by 25% of Republican primary voters.  

So, with nothing to lose, Kasich decided to take off the gloves. He invoked the “N” word for Republicans: Nazi.  

He authorized the creation of a TV ad that opened with ominous music–and the face of a snarling Donald Trump.

“I would like anyone who is listening to consider some thoughts that I’ve paraphrased from the words of German pastor Martin Niemoeller.” 

The voice belonged to Tom Moe, a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force–and a former Vietnam prisoner-of-war.

“You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with the government, because you’re not one,” continued Moe. 

“And you might not care if Donald Trump says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you’re not one. 

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Donald Trump

“And you might not care if Donald Trump says it’s OK to rough up black protesters, because you’re not one. 

“And you might not care of Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists, because you’re not one.

“But think about this: 

“If he keeps going, and he actually becomes President, he might just get around to you. And you’d better hope that there’s someone left to help you.”  

Martin Niemoeller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who had commanded a U-boat during World War 1. He became a bitter public foe of Adolf Hitler.

A staunch anti-Communist, he had initially supported the Nazis as Germany’s only hope of salvation against the Soviet Union.

But when the Nazis made the church subordinate to State authority, Niemoeller created the Pastors’ Emergency League to defend religious freedom. 

For his opposition to the Third Reich,  Niemoeller spent seven years in concentration camps.

With the collapse of the Reich in 1945, he was freed–and elected President of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau in 1947. During the 1960s, he was a president of the World Council of Churches.

He is best remembered for his powerful condemnation of the failure of Germans to protest the increasing oppression of the Nazis:

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Socialists, but I was not a Socialist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out.

And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

Neither “Adolf Hitler” nor “Nazi Party” was mentioned during the one-minute Kassich video. But a furious Trump threatened to sue Kasich if he could find find anything “not truthful” within the ad.

So said the man who has called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and accused President Barack Obama of being a Muslim and an illegal alien.

The Kasich ad is by far the darkest attack so far made against Trump by any candidate–Republican or Democrat. And it raises a disturbing question:

If Donald Trump is America’s Adolf Hitler, who will be its Claus von Stauffenberg? 

Colonel Claus Schenk von Stuaffenberg was the German army officer who, on July 20, 1944, tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. 

COPS AND DRUGS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on February 26, 2016 at 12:05 am

It’s a movie that appeared in 1981–making it, for those born in 2000, an oldie. 

And it wasn’t a blockbuster, being yanked out of theaters almost as soon as it arrived. 

Yet “Prince of the City” remains that rarity–a movie about big-city police that:

  • Tells a dramatic (and true) story; and
  • Offers serious truths about how police and prosecutors really operate. 

It’s based on the real-life case of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film). 

Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in “Prince of the City”)

A member of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Ciello (played by Treat Williams) volunteers to work undercover against rampant corruption among narcotics agents, attorneys and bail bondsmen. 

His motive appears simple: To redeem himself and the NYPD from the corruption he sees everywhere: “These people we take from own us.” 

His only condition: “I will never betray cops who’ve been my partners.” 

And Assistant US Attorney Rick Cappalino assures Ciello: “We’ll never make you do something you can’t live with.” 

As the almost three-hour movie unfolds, Ciello finds–to his growing dismay–that there are a great many things he will have to learn to live with. 

Treat Williams as “Danny Ciello”

Although he doesn’t have a hand in it, he’s appalled to learn that Gino Moscone, a former buddy, is going to be arrested for taking bribes from drug dealers. 

Confronted by a high-ranking agent for the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Moscone refuses to “rat out” his buddies. Instead, he puts his service revolver to his head and blows out his brains.  

Ciello is devastated, but the investigation–and film–must go on. 

Along the way, he’s suspected by a corrupt cop and bail bondsman of being a “rat” and threatened with death. 

He’s about to be wasted in a back alley when his cousin–a Mafia member–suddenly intervenes. The Mafioso tells Ciello’s would-be killers: “You’d better be sure he’s a rat, because people like him.”

At which point, the grotesquely fat bail bondsman–who has been demanding Ciello’s execution–pats Danny on the arm and says, “No hard feelings.”

It is director Sidney Lumet’s way of graphically saying: “Sometimes the bad guys can be good guys–and the good guys can be bad guys.”

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Lumet makes it clear that police don’t always operate with the Godlike perfection of cops in TV and films. It’s precisely because his Federal backup agents lost him that Ciello almost became a casualty.  

In the end, Ciello becomes a victim of the prosecutorial forces he has unleashed.  Although he’s vowed to never testify against his former partners, Ciello finds this is a promise he can’t keep.

Too many of the cops he’s responsible for indicting have implicated him of similar–if not worse–behavior. He’s even suspected of being involved in the theft of 450 pounds of heroin (“the French Connection”) from the police property room.

A sympathetic prosecutor–Mario Vincente in the movie, Rudolph Giuliani in real-life–convinces Ciello that he must finally reveal everything he knows.

Ciello’s had originally claimed to have done “three things” as a corrupt narcotics agent. By the time his true confessions are over, he’s admitted to scores of felonies.

Ciello then tries to convince his longtime SIU partners to do the same. One of them commits suicide.  Another tells Ciello to screw himself:  “I’m not going to shoot myself and I’m not going to rat out my friends.”

To his surprise, Ciello finds himself admiring his corrupt former partner for being willing to stand up to the Federal case-agents and prosecutors demanding his head.

The movie ends with a double dose of irony.

First: Armed with Ciello’s confessions, an attorney whom Ciello had successfully testified against appeals his conviction. But the judge rules Ciello’s admitted misdeeds to be “collateral,” apart from the main evidence in the case, and affirms the conviction.

Second: Ciello is himself placed on trial–of a sort. A large group of assistant U.S. attorneys gathers to debate whether their prize “canary” should be indicted. If he is, his confessions will ensure his conviction.

Some prosecutors argue forcefully that Ciello is a corrupt law enforcement officer who has admitted to more than 40 cases of perjury–among other crimes. How can the government use him to convict others and not address the criminality in his own past?

Other prosecutors argue that Ciello voluntarily risked his life–physically and professionally–to expose rampant police corruption. He deserves a better deal than to be cast aside by those who have made so many cases through his testimony.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes his decision: “The government declines to prosecute Detective Daniel Ciello.”

It is Lumet’s way of showing that the decision to prosecute is not always an easy or objective one.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy. 

A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”  And he walks out.

Is Danny Ciello–again, Robert Leuci in real-life–a hero, a villain, or some combination of the two? It is with this ambiguity that the film ends–an ambiguity that each viewer must resolve for himself.

IGNORANCE IS VOTES

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 25, 2016 at 9:55 am

After winning the Republican Nevada primary with over 44% of the votes on February 23, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump gave the expected victory speech.  

But it came with an unexpected moment:  

“So we won the evangelicals.  We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated. We’re the smartest people, we’re the most loyal people.”  

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Donald Trump

“I love the poorly educated.”  

As well he might: Polls have consistently shown that Trump relies on less-educated adults for his support. 

Among Republicans, 71 percent of non-college graduates view Trump favorably, while 46 percent of college graduates support him.

In fact, appealing to the ignorant and uneducated has become a commonplace for politicians on the Right. 

President John F. Kennedy speed-read several newspapers every morning. He nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for altruistic reasons. 

These journalistic relationships gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspective on national and international issues. 

But in 2012, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both. 

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Herman Cain

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.” In doing so, he stole this line from the fictionalized “President Schwarzenegger” in The Simpsons Movie.

Thus he excused his ignorance of the reasons for President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya. 

Then-Texas Governor Rick Perry showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court: 

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you–I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Court judges. And, uh, ah– 

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….” 

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality. 

Then there was Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”: 

He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” 

In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything.  He was warning his fellow Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear. 

Republicans have attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.” 

And they resent his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. As if being a writer is somehow subversive. 

When President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, it was said that he left three great legacies to his country:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam War.  

But there was a fourth legacy–and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance. 

White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War. And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd: 

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. 

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.” 

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems. 

On November 21, 2011, the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat. 

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, on the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences.

Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake-–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it. 

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline and collapse lie just around the corner.

ABORTING ZIKA

In Bureaucracy, DOCTORS, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 24, 2016 at 1:06 pm

A battle of truly cosmic proportions is about to rage.

In one corner is the dreaded Zika virus, which prevents the brain of a fetus from developing properly–and for which there is no vaccine.

And in the other corner are the self-appointed male “guardians of morality” who refuse to provide abortion services–even in cases of rape and incest.

For the moment, Columbia will be the epicenter of this conflict.  But it is certain to expand to other nations, as the virus–carried by mosquitoes–continues to spread across the globe.  

Mosquito 

On February 7, Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that 25,645 people are infected with Zika in Colombia–of which  3,177 are pregnant women.  

And Brazil is investigating the potential link between Zika infections and more than 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and a host of birth defects. 

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Zika virus victim (left)

Zika cases have been confirmed in 23 countries and territories in the Americas.

The barest facts about this epidemic are nightmarish–especially for any woman who is pregnant.  

  • An estimated 80 percent of those infected–male and female–show no symptoms, and those that do have a mild illness, with a fever, rash and red eyes.
  • Babies so affected are born with an abnormally small head resulting in developmental problems, such as retardation, blindness and deafness.
  • The virus can be transmitted directly by mosquitoes; by mothers to fetuses; by men to their sexual partners; by saliva during deep kissing; and by blood transfusions.  
  • There is no vaccine to prevent infection with the Zika virus–and no cure for it once you’ve been infected.  

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued the following guidelines for protection against the virus: 

  • The best way to prevent diseases spread by mosquitoes is to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Use insect repellents that are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for their effectiveness.
  • If using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.  
  • Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and can’t protect yourself from mosquito bites. 

But while mosquitoes are responsible for the first half of this nightmarish scenario, responsibility for the second half lies with Right-wing attitudes toward abortion.  

In Columbia, abortion became legal only in 2006–and only under the following circumstances:

  • The pregnancy poses a danger to the life or health of the mother.
  • The presence of life-threatening fetal malformations.
  • The pregnancy resulted from rape, incest or non-consensual artificial insemination.

Prior to 2006, abortion in Columbia was illegal without exception. 

Faced with the Zika epidemic, Columbia’s government has announced that pregnant women who carry the virus are eligible for abortion services.

Yet many Columbian women struggle to find abortion providers even when they meet strict legal requirements. The result: Illegal abortions are widespread.  

Meanwhile, in the United States, the CDC stated on February 9:

  • No local mosquito-born Zika virus disease cases have been reported within the United States, but there have been travel-associated cases among those who have visited other countries.
  • The number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase.  
  • Eighty percent of these cases will not be diagnosed.
  • These “imported cases” could spread the virus in “some areas” of the United States.  

And as the Zika toll inevitably rises within the United States, there will be increasing demands by women to obtain abortion services.

Meanwhile, the Republican party will increasingly strive to once again make abortion a criminal offense–as the following quotes attest: 

  • “Once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.”–Virginia U.S. Senator Steve Martin (2014).
  • “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”–Former Congressman Todd Akin (2012).  

Richard Mourdock

  • “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God.  And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”–Former Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Richard Mourdock (2012)
  • “Texas was in a long period of drought until Governor [Rick] Perry signed the fetal pain bill. It rained that night. Now God has his hold on California.”–California Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove.  (2015)  
  • “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”–Republican Party’s 2012 Platform

There are several reasons why Republicans virulently oppose access to abortion. Without doubt, the most important is that there is an energized constituency for politicians wanting to ban it.

Every major Republican Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan has tapped into this voting bloc. And each has found plenty of votes to be gotten from it.  

But as the toll from the Zika virus continues to rise, anti-abortionists will face pressure even from within their own ranks.  

Many of their own wives and daughters (and, in some cases, mistresses) carrying Zika-infected fetuses will demand the right to terminate such pregnancies.

And then the battle over abortion rights will enter an entirely new dimension.

WHO IS REMEMBERED–AND WHO IS FORGOTTEN?

In Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 23, 2016 at 10:58 am

March 6, 2016, will mark the 180th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, a crumbling former Spanish mission in the heart of San Antonio, Texas.

It’s one of those battles like Thermopylae that have passed from history into legend.

It’s been the subject of novels, movies, biographies, histories and TV dramas (most notably Walt Disney’s 1955 “Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier”).

The Alamo   

Perhaps the most extraordinary scene in any Alamo movie or book occurs in the 1993 novel, Crockett of Tennessee, by Cameron Judd. 

And it is no less affecting for its being–-so far as we know–-entirely fictional.  

It’s March 5, 1836–the last night of life for the Alamo garrison.  The night before the 2,000 men of the Mexican Army hurl themselves at the former mission and slaughter its 200 “Texian” defenders. 

The fort’s commander, William Barret Travis, has drawn his “line in the sand” and invited the garrison to choose: To surrender, to try to escape, or to stay and fight to the death.  

And the garrison–except for one man–chooses to stay and fight. 

For the garrison, immortality lies only hours away. Or does it?  

An hour after deciding to stand and die in the Alamo, wrapped in the gloom of night, Crockett is seized with paralyzing fear. 

“We’re going to die here,” he chokes out to his longtime friend, Persius Tarr. “You understand that, Persius?  We’re going to die!”  

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“I know, Davy.  But there ain’t no news in that,” says Tarr. “We’re born to die. Every one of us. Only difference between us and most everybody else is we know when and where it’s going to be.” 

“But I can’t be afraid–not me. I’m Crockett. I’m Canebrake Davy. I’m half-horse, half-alligator.” 

“I know you are, Davy,” says Tarr. “So do all these men here. That’s why you’re going to get past this. 

“You’re going to put that fear behind you and walk back out there and fight like the man you are. The fear’s come and now it’s gone. This is our time, Davy.” 

“The glory-time,” says Crockett. 

“That’s right, David.  The glory-time.” 

And then Tarr delivers a sentiment wholly alien to money-obsessed men like Mitt Romney and Donald Trump–who comprise the richest and most privileged 1% of today’s Americans. 

“There’s men out there with their eyes on you.  You’re the only thing keeping the fear away from them. You’re joking and grinning and fiddling-–it gives them courage they wouldn’t have had without you. 

Maybe that’s why you’re here, Davy–to make the little men and the scared men into big and brave men. You’ve always cared about the little men, Davy. Remember who you are. 

“You’re Crockett of Tennessee, and your glory-time has come.  Don’t you miss a bit of it.”

The next morning, the Mexicans assault the Alamo. Crockett embraces his glory-time-–and becomes a legend for all-time. 

David Crockett (center) at the fall of the Alamo

David Crockett (1786-1836) lived–and died–a poor man.  But this did not prevent him from trying to better the lives of his family and fellow citizens–and even his former enemies. 

David Crockett

During the war of 1812, he served as a scout under Andrew Jackson. His foes were the Creek Indians, who had massacred 500 settlers at Fort Mims, Alabama–and threatened to do the same to Crockett’s family and neighbors in Tennessee.

As a Congressman from Tennessee, he championed the rights of poor whites. And he opposed then-President Jackson’s efforts to force the same defeated Indians to depart the lands guaranteed them by treaty. 

To Crockett, a promise was sacred–whether given by a single man or the United States Government. 

And his presence during the 13-day siege of the Alamo did cheer the spirits of the vastly outnumbered defenders. It’s a matter of historical record that he and a Scotsman named MacGregor often staged musical “duels” to see who could make the most noise. 

It was MacGregor with his bagpipes against Crockett and his fiddle. 

Contrast this devotion of Crockett to the rights of “the little men,” as Persius Tarr called them, with the attitude of Donald Trump, the front runner for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination. 

Donald Trump

On June 16, while announcing his candidacy, Trump said: 

  • “…I don’t need anybody’s money. It’s nice. I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m using my own money. I’m not using lobbyists, I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.” 
  • “I did a lot of great deals and I did them early and young, and now I’m building all over the world….” 
  • “So I have a total net worth, and now with the increase, it’ll be well-over $10 billion.”  
  • “But here, a total net worth of–net worth, not assets, not–a net worth, after all debt, after all expenses, the greatest assets–Trump Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, Bank of America building in San Francisco, 40 Wall Street, sometimes referred to as the Trump building right opposite the New York–many other places all over the world. So the total is $8,737,540,000.” 

Those who give their lives for others are rightly loved and remembered as heroes. Those who dedicate their lives solely to their wallets and egos are rightly soon forgotten.

TRUMP: THE LORD OR THE DEVIL?

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 22, 2016 at 9:48 am

Ironically, Right-wingers, who support many of the same policies of Adolf Hitler, often attack liberals as Nazis–especially President Barack Obama.  

But now a genuine authority on Fascism has come forward to assess the front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination.

“If Donald Trump become[s] the next president of the US it would be a complete disaster. I think he is acting like another Hitler by inciting racism.”  

So says Eva Schloss, the stepsister of Holocaust victim Anne Frank. As a survivor of Auschwitz, Schloss should know something about Nazis.

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Eva Schloss

Now 86, Schloss met Anne in Amsterdam as a fellow refugee.  Both their families had taken refuge there after fleeing Nazi Germany.

Anne Frank spent four years hiding in an attic and keeping a diary. But in 1944 she was discovered by the Nazis and sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  

She was 15 when she died there of typhus in March 1945. After the war, Eva Schloss’ mother, Fritzi, married Otto Frank, Anne’s father.

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Anne Frank

Eva was detained at the same time as Anne and sent to Auschwitz. She survived when the camp was liberated on January 27,1945.

In a January 27th essay for Newsweek, Schloss warned of dire consequences if Donald Trump became President.

“During his U.S. presidential campaign he has suggested the ‘total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,’ as well as pledging to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out.”  

She was 11 when her family immigrated to Belgium after Hitler forcibly Annexed Austria in 1938.  

“We were treated as if we had come from the moon. I felt as if I wasn’t wanted and that I was different to everybody. It is even harder for today’s Syrian refugees who have a very different culture….

“I am very upset that today again so many countries are closing their borders,” said Schloss, who lives in London. “Fewer people would have died in the Holocaust if the world had accepted more Jewish refugees.”  

And on February 18, Pope Francis also waded into the 2016 Presidential race with his own assessment of Trump.  

The comment came in answer to a question by one of several reporters who were accompanying the Pope to Rome from a six-day trip to Mexico.  

What, a reporter asked the Pontiff, did he think of Trump’s campaign pledge to build a wall along the entire length of the U.S.-Mexican border and expel millions of illegal aliens now living in the United States?

“A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they are, and not in building bridges, is not Christian,” replied the Pope. “This is not the gospel.” 

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Pope Francis

Francis said he would “give the benefit of the doubt” to Trump because he had not heard Trump’s border plans independently.

But he added: “I say only that this man is not a Christian if he has said things like that.”

Trump, a Presbyterian, responded minutes later: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”

Trump has repeatedly accused President Barack Obama–a self-described Christian–as a secret Muslim.

Donald Trump

On February 21, for example, he tweeted: “I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of [Supreme Court] Justice [Antonin] Scalia if it were held in a mosque.”  

Obama had paid tribute to Scalia at the Supreme Court on the day prior to the funeral. He declined to attend the service because his heavy security detail might disrupt the ceremony.

“I am proud to be a Christian,” added Trump, “and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened.”  

Nor did he stop there: “If and when the Vatican is attacked by the ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.  

“ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.”

Trump thus implied that the Pope’s future security depended on the United States generally–and on Donald Trump in particular.  

And he clearly ignored the fact that, since September, 2014, the United States Air Force has been bombing ISIS convoys in Iraq and Syria.

Trump has long been critical of the Pope’s stand on immigration.

As the Pope undertook his trip to Mexico, Trump told Fox Business Network that he didn’t think Francis understood “the danger of the open border we have with Mexico.

“I think Mexico got him to do it because they want to keep the border just the way it is,” he said. “They’re making a fortune, and we’re losing.” 

A Vatican spokesman replied: “The pope always talks about migration problems all around the world, of the duties we have to solve these problems in a humane manner, of hosting those who come from other countries in search of a life of dignity and peace.”  

For millions of Jews and Catholics, the election of 2016 may turn on how they answer the question: Am I serving the Lord–or the devil?

HOW AMERICA BECAME “DEATH, THE SHATTERER OF WORLDS”

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 19, 2016 at 12:01 am

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

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

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

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

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

It’s believed, after all, that German scientists are furiously pursuing work on such a weapon. The full horror of the extermination camps has not yet been revealed. 

But “Oppie” and many other Jewish scientists working on the Manhattan Project can easily imagine the fate of Jews trapped within the borders of the Third Reich. 

Then something unforeseen happens.

On May 8, 1945, the Third Reich collapses and signs unconditional surrender terms. Almost at the same time, the U.S. military learns that although German physicists had tried to make an atomic bomb, they never even got close to producing one. 

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

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

What to do?

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

It will just be turned against the Japanese, who are even more hated by most Americans than the Germans. It doesn’t matter that: 

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

What matters is that Pearl Harbor is still fresh in the minds of Americans generally and of the American military in particular. And that now that the Japanese are being pushed back into their home islands, they are fighting ever more fanatically to hold off certain defeat. 

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

Oppenheimer, who has taught physics at the University of California at Berkeley, now finds himself being taught a lesson: That, once set in motion, bureaucracies–like objects–continue to move forward unless something intervenes to stop them. 

And, in this case, there is no one willing to say: Stop. 

So, on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb in history is detonated at Los Alamos, New Mexico. 

Atomic bomb test at Los Alamos: July 16, 1945

Then, on August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber drops “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. An estimated 80,000 people die instantly. 

By the end of the year, injury and radiation bring total casualties to 90,000-140,000. 

On August 9, it’s the turn of Nagasaki. Casualty estimates for the dropping of “Fat Man” range from 40,000 to 73,884, with another 74,909 injured, and another several hundred thousand diseased and dying due to fallout and other illness caused by radiation. 

For Oppenheimer, the three years he has devoted to creating an atomic bomb will prove the pivotal event of his life.

He will be praised and damned as an “American Prometheus,” who brought atomic fire to man. Countless Americans–especially those who would have been ordered to invade Japan–will revere him as the man who brought the war to a quick end.  

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

Witnessing the first successful atomic explosion, Oppenheimer had been stunned by the sheer magnitude of destructiveness he had helped unleash. Quoting the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita, he murmured: “Now I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds.” 

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

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

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

In a famous meeting with President Truman, Oppenheimer reportedly said, “Mr. President, I have blood on my hands.” Truman later claimed that he had offered Oppenheimer a handkerchief, saying, “Here, this will wash it off.” 

It didn’t. 

During the hysteria of the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts, Oppenheimer found himself accused of being a Communist traitor. In 1954, he was stripped of his government security clearance. 

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

TREATING ADULTS LIKE CHILDREN

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 18, 2016 at 12:15 am

In the 1992 courtroom drama, “A Few God Men,” Jack Nicholson, as Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup, utters a line that has since become famous. 

When his prosecutor, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) demands the truth about the murder of a fellow Marine, Jessup shouts: “You can’t handle the truth!”

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Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”

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

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

On February 9, businessman Donald Trump scored a new blow at his Rafael “Ted” Cruz, his closest rival for the Republican Presidential nomination.  

Speaking at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump attacked Cruz, the United States Senator from Texas, for being unwilling to support the widespread use of torture against America’s Islamic enemies.  

“He’s a pussy!” yelled a woman in the crowd.

Apparently a certain portion of the attendees didn’t hear–or misheard–the insult. So Trump–pretending to be shocked–repeated it for them: 

“She said–I never expect to hear that from you again!  She said: ‘He’s a pussy.’ That’s terrible.”  

“What kind of people do I have here?” joked Trump, clearly playing to the boisterous crowd.

Donald Trump

The incident went viral on social media. But all the major TV news outlets–for ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC–bleeped the word and/or coyly referred to it as “the P-word.”

It was as if they assumed their viewers would of course know what had been said despite the networks’ censorship of it. And if viewers didn’t already know what the woman–and Trump–had said, the networks weren’t going to enlighten them.

Of course, “the P-word” could just as easily have been “prick” or “pervert.” So it’s understandable that many viewers might have thought a very different word had been used.  

No doubt the networks hoped to avoid offending large numbers of viewers.  

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said. It should then be up to the audience to decide if the language was offensive–and, if so, if its user deserves condemnation.  

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

Those who wanted to learn–rather than guess–what Trump had repeated had to turn to the Internet or to a handful of news source such as Vox: Policy and Politics.

In their defense, the networks could argue that the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates radio and television, does not usually permit the word “pussy” to be aired between 6 am and 10 pm.  

On the other hand, immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks, all the major TV networks endlessly replayed the destruction of the World Trade Center, with the resulting deaths of hundreds of men and women.

Censorship, then, tends to center on two types of subject material:

  1. Sex, or “obscenity,” which is sex-related; and
  2. Race, meaning racial slurs that would offend some minority group. 

An example of race-related censorship occurred during the short-lived administration of President Gerald R. Ford.  

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

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

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Earl Butz

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

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism. Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print. Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information. 

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

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

Forty years later, TV news viewers were again prevented from reaching their own conclusions about Trump’s repetition of the slur aimed at his rival.  

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

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships. It has no place in a democracy–despite the motives of those doing the censoring. 

The ancient historian, Plutarch, sounded a warning that remains timely: 

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

In a democracy, citizens must be alert for those tell-tale expressions or jests. And this demands that the media, in turn, have the courage to bring those truths to their attention.

REWRITING HISTORY: IT’S NOT JUST FOR RUSSIANS ANYMORE

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on February 17, 2016 at 12:01 am

At one time, Americans believed that the wholesale rewriting of history happened only in the Soviet Union.

“The problem with writing about history in the Soviet Union,” went the joke, “is that you never know what’s going to happen yesterday.”  

A classic example of this occurred in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.  

Lavrenti Beria had been head of the NKVD, the dreaded secret police, from 1938 to 1953. In 1953, following the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, Beria was arrested and executed on orders of his fellow Communist Party leaders, who feared they were targets of a coming purge.  

Lavrenti Beria

But the Great Soviet Encyclopedia had just gone to press with a long article singing Beria’s praises.  

What to do?  

The editors of the Encyclopedia wrote an equally long article about “the Bering Straits,” which was to be pasted over the article about Beria, and sent this off to its subscribers. An unknown number of them decided it was safer to paste accordingly. 

Today, the Republican party is furiously rewriting history in a desperate attempt to win the 2016 Presidential election. 

Specifically, its members are now trying to convince Americans that:

  1. President George W. Bush “kept us safe” (excluding, of course, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, which snuffed out the lives of 3,000 Americans); and/or
  2. President Bush isn’t to blame for 9/11–it’s his predecessor, Bill Clinton (who left office more than a year and a half before 9/11). 

Joseph Stalin was depicted in Soviet “history” texts as the architect of Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany during World War II.  

No “historian” dared mention that Stalin’s wholesale purges of the Red Army in the 1930s had made the country vulnerable to the German attack in 1941. As had Stalin’s “nonaggression” pact with Germany in 1939, where he and Hitler aggressively divided Poland between them. 

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Joseph Stalin

Recently, Jeb Bush has entered the “Rewriting History for Americans” sweepstakes.

On October 16, 2015, during an interview on Bloomberg TV, Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for President in 2016, dared speak (for Republicans) the unspeakable:

“When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time. He was President, OK?  Blame him, or don’t blame him, but he was President. The World Trade Center came down during his reign.” 

Jeb Bush was quick to respond on Twitter: “How pathetic for @realdonaldtrump criticize the president for 9/11. We were attacked & my brother kept us safe.”   

Jeb Bush

Not one to let Bush–or anyone else–have the last word, Trump blasted more Tweets: 

“At the debate you said your brother kept us safe–I wanted to be nice & did not mention the WTC came down during his watch, 9/11.”

And: “No @JebBush, you’re pathetic for saying nothing happened during your brother’s term when the World Trade Center was attacked and came down.” 

Now another Republican Presidential candidate has taken to rewriting 9/11: Florida United States Senator Marco Rubio. 

This came during the Republican Presidential debate in Greenville, South Carolina, on February 13. 

According to Rubio: “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.” 

And on the following day, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he again made the charge: “If you’re going to ascribe blame, don’t blame George W. Bush, blame a decision that was made years earlier, not to take out bin Laden when the opportunity presented itself.”  

All of which ignores such embarrassing truths as: 

  • During the first eight months of the Bush Presidency, Richard Clarke, the counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council, was not permitted to brief President Bush, despite mounting evidence of plans for a new Al-Qaeda outrage.  
  • From January 20 to September 11, 2001, Bush was on vacation, according to the Washington Post, 42% of the time.
  • National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice initially refused to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject of terrorism. Then she insisted that the matter be handled only by a more junior Deputy Principals meeting.  
  • Paul 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.” 
  • Finally, at a meeting with 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.” 
  • Seven days later, Al-Qaeda struck, and 3,000 Americans died horrifically–and needlessly. 
  • Neither Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld nor Wolowitz ever admitted their negligence. Nor has any of them been brought to account.

People who say the Republicans are “batshit crazy” for denying responsibility for 9/11 clearly haven’t read–or understood–George Orwell’s novel, 1984.  

The unnamed Party’s slogan is: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

The same holds true for Republicans: They hope to rewrite the past, as Joseph Stalin did, to wash away their crimes and errors–and pin these on their self-declared enemies.

And thus gain–and retain–absolute power over 300 million Americans.

A TALE OF TWO KILLINGS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on February 16, 2016 at 12:10 am

When Osama bin Laden died, two weapons were within easy reach–an AK-47 assault rifle and a Russian-made nine-millimeter Makarov pistol.

But according to his wife, Amal, he was shot by Navy SEALS before he could reach either one.

A SEAL flashed coded news of bin Laden’s death to the Pentagon and the White House Situation Room, where President Barack Obama and the topmost officials of his administration anxiously followed events via a closed-circuit television.

“Geronimo E-KIA” read the message: “Geronimo [bin Laden] E-KIA [Enemy Killed in Action].”    

The entire raid–including Intelligence sweeps of the compound–was over in less than 40 minutes. The SEALS moved quickly because they rightly feared that the Pakistani army would intervene to protect bin Laden.  

Bin Laden had been living undisturbed at a large compound in Abbottabad for at least five years, just a short distance from Pakistan’s version of West Point.

Furthermore, the ISI–Pakistan’s Intelligence agency–had long been riddled with Al-Qaeda sympathizers, if not agents.  

Within 24 hours of his death, Bin Laden’s body was transported to the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson for final rites and burial at sea. 

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U.S.S. Carl Vinson

President Obama and other U.S. officials feared that his grave site would become a memorial for members of Al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations.  

In the late evening of May 1, 2011, the White House surprised major television networks by informing them that the President had a major announcement to make.

At 11:35 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, the President appeared at a podium in the East Room of the White House.  

“Good evening. Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States had conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children….

“For over two decades, bin Laden has been Al-Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda.”  

He added that “no Americans were harmed” in the raid and that the SEALS had taken care to avoid civilian casualties.  

President Barack Obama announcing Osama bin Laden’s death

Like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, bin Laden had become a pale, largely irrelevant figure by the time of his death.

Knowing he was the world’s most wanted man, he imprisoned himself within a fortified compound–which he never left.  

Afraid to use a phone or the Internet, he relayed orders–which were often ignored–via the cumbersome use of couriers. All trash generated by the inhabitants of the compound was burned within its walls.

Ironically, the lack of Internet and phone lines to the compound–and the burning of its trash–had led CIA officials to suspect that Osama bin Laden might be hiding there.  

Pakistan was outraged. Officially an American ally, its territory had been secretly invaded by American military forces. Even more embarrassing: For years, Pakistani Intelligence had denied knowing bin Laden’s whereabouts.  

Meanwhile, leaders of Islamic expansionist groups rallied to praise the dead bin Laden. Among these was his son, Omar, who denounced his father’s killing as a “criminal” act, and his burial at sea as demeaning to the Islamic faith.  

In a letter published on the website of Islamic ideologue Abu Walid al-Masri, the younger bin Laden said the former Al-Qaeda leader’s children reserved the right to take legal action in the United States and internationally to “determine the true fate of our vanished father.” 

Bin Laden’s death drew protests from hundreds of people in the city of Quetta, in southwestern Pakistan, who burned American flags and paid homage to the late terrorist leader. 

On May 13, a pair of Taliban suicide bombers attacked paramilitary police recruits eagerly heading home for a break after months of training, killing 80 people. It was the first act of retaliation for the killing of bin Laden.

Americans reacted differently.  

Almost as Obama was addressing the nation, cheering crowds gathered outside the White House and in New York City’s Times Square. Many of them shouted “USA! USA! USA!” and waved American flags in celebration. 

Celebration also broke out at the site of the former World Trade Center, the primary victim of the September 11 attacks. 

For the next two weeks, Americans continued to rejoice. Much of their feelings were best expressed in grisly humor on websites and late night comedy shows such as “Tonight” and “Late Night With  David Letterman.”  

Killing Osama bin Laden removed Al-Qaeda’s most important member. But its treasury of secret materials–such as computer hard-drives, DVDs, notebooks, diaries–proved even more important to American military and Intelligence officials. 

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, many Vietnam protesters marched carrying blown-up photos of Ernesto “Che” Guevara or tacked them to the walls of their dormitory rooms. 

Most of these college students were members of the middle-class which Guevara had so despised.  

Going on five years since the death of bin Laden, his poster has been noticeably absent from American college campuses–and everywhere else in the United States. 

It remains to be seen whether, decades from now, Osama bin Laden will attain the iconic status of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

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