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“BLOOD FEUD”: POWER—AND IDEALISM—CORRUPT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 16, 2019 at 12:15 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union.  

By 1963, the Mafia despairs of the increasing pressure of the Justice Department. At a swanky restaurant, several high-ranking members agree that “something” must be done.

[Although this scene is fictional, it’s clearly based on an infamous outburst of Carlos Marcello, the longtime Mafia boss of New Orleans. 

Carlos Marcello

[In 1961, Marcello was deported to his native Guatemala on orders by RFK. After illegally re-entering the country, he swore vengeance against the Attorney General.  

[In September, 1962, during a meeting with several mob colleagues, he flew into a rage when someone mentioned Kennedy: “Don’t you worry about that little Bobby sonofabitch. He’s going to be taken care of!”

[Marcello believed that the death of President Kennedy would render the Attorney General powerless. And he added that he planned to use a “nut” to do the job.]

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible. 

[The House Assassinations Committee investigated this possibility in 1978, and determined that Carlos Marcello, the Mafia boss of New Orleans, had the means, motive and opportunity to kill JFK. But it could not find any conclusive evidence of his involvement.]

Even with the President dead, RFK’s Justice Department continues to pursue Hoffa. In 1964, he is finally convicted of jury tampering and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.

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U.S. Department of Justice

Hoping to avoid prison, Hoffa offers future Teamsters support if RFK runs for President. To prove he can deliver, he tells Kennedy that the Teamsters have even penetrated the FBI.

[In March, 1964, Kennedy met with Hoffa on an airfield at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. 

[Kennedy spoke quietly with Hoffa. The Attorney General showed him a document, and Hoffa at times nodded or shook his head.

[Kennedy never revealed the reason for the meeting.  

[Gus Russo—author of Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK—writes that the reason might have been Dallas.  

[Perhaps, he speculates, RFK had wanted to look into Hoffa’s eyes while asking him: Did you have anything to do with the assassination? RFK had, in fact, done this with CIA Director John McCone almost immediately after his brother’s death.]

In Blood Feud, Kennedy confronts J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine) and accuses him of illegally planting wiretaps in Mob hangouts all over the country.

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy 

Hoover retorts that this had been the only way to obtain the prosecution-worthy intelligence Kennedy had demanded: “You loved that flow of information.  You didn’t want it to stop.”

Kennedy: Why did you keep the FBI out of the fight against the Mob for decades?

Hoover: “Every agency that came to grips with them got corrupted by their money.”

[So far as is known, Hoover never made any such confession. Historians continue to guess his reason for leaving the Mob alone for decades.]

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Ernest Borgnine as J. Edgar Hoover

RFK then mentions the CIA’s plots to employ the Mob to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro

[The agency had wanted to please President Kennedy, and the Mafia had wanted to regain its casinos lost to the Cuban Revolution. The role the Kennedy brothers played in the CIA’s assassination plots remains murky, and has been the subject of endless speculation.]

“The CIA, doing business with the Mob,” says Kennedy. “The FBI, leaking information to its enemies [the Teamsters].” Then, sadly: “I guess it’s true–everyone does business with everyone.”

[So far as is known, the FBI did not pass on secrets to the Teamsters. But during the 1970s, the Mafia  penetrated the Cleveland FBI office through bribes to a secretary. Several FBI Mob informants were “clipped” as a result.

In 1967, Hoffa goes to prison.  He stays there until, in 1971, President Richard Nixon commutes his sentence in hopes of gaining Teamsters’ support for his 1972 re-election.

Kennedy leaves the Justice Department in 1964 and is elected U.S. Senator from New York. In 1968 he runs for President. On June 5, after winning the California primary, he’s assassinated.  

Hoffa schemes to return to the presidency of the Teamsters–a post now held by his successor, Frank Fitzsimmons. He runs the union in a more relaxed style than Hoffa, thus giving the Mob greater control over its pension fund.

And the Mafia likes it that way.

On July 30, 1975, Hoffa disappears from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant near Detroit.  He had gone there to meet with two Mafia leaders.

Forty-three years after the death of James R. Hoffa, and 50 years after that of Robert F. Kennedy:

  • Labor unions are a shadow of their former power.
  • The threat they once represented to national prosperity has been replaced by that of predatory  corporations like Enron and AIG.
  • The war RFK began on the Mafia has continued, sending countless mobsters to prison.
  • Millions of Americans who once expected the Federal Government to protect them from crime now believe the Government is their biggest threat.
  • The idealism that fueled RFK’s life has virtually disappeared from politics.

“BLOOD FEUD”: POWER–AND IDEALISM–CORRUPT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 15, 2019 at 12:08 am

In 1983, Blood Feud, a two-part TV mini-series, depicted the 11-year struggle between Robert F. Kennedy and James Riddle Hoffa. Although it took some dramatic liberties, its portrayal of the major events of that period remains essentially accurate.

Today, labor unions are a rapidly-vanishing species, commanding far less political influence than they did 50 years ago. As a result, young viewers of this series may find it hard to believe that labor ever held such sway, or that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union posed such a threat.

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

And in an age when millions see “Big Government” as the enemy, they may feel strong reservations about the all-out war that Kennedy waged against Hoffa. 

Blood Feud opens in 1957, when Hoffa (Robert Blake) is a rising figure within the Teamsters. Kennedy (Cotter Smith) is chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. 

At first, Hoffa tries to ingratiate himself with Kennedy, telling him: “I know everybody who can help me and anybody who can hurt me.”

Robert Blake as James R. Hoffa

A wily Hoffa decides to parley Kennedy’s anti-corruption zeal into a path to power for himself. Via his attorney, Eddie Cheyfitz, he feeds Kennedy incriminating evidence against Dave Beck, president of the Teamsters. 

Confronted with a Senate subpoena, Beck flees the country—paving the way for Hoffa to assume the top position in the union. Hoffa believes he has solved two problems at once. 

“He’s got his scalp,” Hoffa tells an associate. “Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.” 

But Hoffa has guessed wrong—with fatal results. Realizing that he’s been “played” by Hoffa, a furious Kennedy strikes back.  

He orders increased surveillance of Hoffa and his topmost associates. He subpoenas union records and members of both the Teamsters and the Mafia to appear before his committee in public hearings.  

And he tries to enlist the aid of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine). But Hoover wants no part of a war against organized crime, whose existence he refuses to admit.

Meanwhile, Kennedy’s confrontations with Hoffa grow increasingly fierce. In open hearings, Kennedy accuses Hoffa of receiving kickbacks in the name of his wife. Hoffa damns him for “dirtying my wife’s name.” 

Kennedy secures an indictment against Hoffa for hiring a spy to infiltrate the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. He’s so certain of a conviction that he tells the press he’ll “jump off the Capitol building” if Hoffa beats the rap.

But Hoffa’s lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams (Jose Ferrer) puts Kennedy himself on the witness stand. There he portrays Kennedy as a spoiled rich man who’s waging a vendetta against Hoffa.

Hoffa beats the rap, and offers to send Kennedy a parachute. But he jokingly warns reporters: “Hey, Bobby, you better have it checked. I don’t trust myself!”

By 1959, Robert Kennedy’s work as chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee is over. But not his determination to send Teamsters President James Hoffa to prison.

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

Throughout 1960, he manages the Presidential campaign for his brother, John F. Kennedy (Sam Groom). By a margin of only 100,000 votes, JFK wins the election.

Hoffa thinks that his troubles are over, that “Bobby” will move on to other pursuits and forget about the Teamsters.

Hoffa is partly right: Kennedy moves on to another job. But it’s the office of United States Attorney General.  

JFK, needing someone in the Cabinet he can trust completely, browbeats Robert into becoming the the nation’s top cop.

For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

As Attorney General, Kennedy no longer has to beg J. Edgar Hoover to attack organized crime. He can—and does—order him to do so.

Throughout the country, the Mafia feels a new heat as FBI agents plant illegal electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their innermost sanctums. Agents openly tail mobsters—and send them to prison in large numbers.

And Kennedy sets up a special unit, composed of topflight prosecutors and investigators, to go after just one man: James Riddle Hoffa. The press comes to call it the “Get Hoffa” squad.

Hoffa continues to beat federal prosecutors in court. But he believes he’s under constant surveillance by the FBI, and his nerves are starting to crack. 

Convinced that the FBI has bugged his office, he literally tears apart the room, hoping to find the bug. But he fails to do so.

What he doesn’t know is he’s facing a more personal danger—from one of his closest associates. 

He tells a trusted colleague, Edward Grady Partin (Brian Dennehy) how easy it would be to assassinate Kennedy with a rifle or bomb.

Later, Partin gets into a legal jam—and is abandoned by the Teamsters. Hoping to cut a deal, he relays word to the Justice Department of Hoffa’s threats against the Attorney General.

Now working for the Justice Department, Partin sends in reports on Hoffa’s juror-bribing efforts in yet another trial. Hoffa again beats the rap—but now Kennedy has the insider’s proof he needs to put him away for years.  

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 7, 2019 at 12:02 am

On November 8, 2016, millions of racist, hate-filled Americans took “revenge” on the nation’s first black President—by deliberately voting a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator into the White House. 

By doing so, they set in motion events that would lead Robert S. Mueller to assume the consequences—and burdens—of their brutal, Fascistic desires.

On April 27, 2018, the House Intelligence Committee, after a sham “investigation,” concluded there had been “no collusion” between Russian Intelligence agents and members of the Trump Presidential campaign.

Among the evidence ignored: The now-infamous meeting at Trump Tower, in June, 2016, between Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, with Russian Intelligence agents.

The reason for the meeting: The Russians claimed to have dirt to offer on Hillary Clinton.

The “no collusion” verdict was inevitable, since the committee was chaired by California’s Republican Representative Devin Nunes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Trump. Nunes had even improperly shared “secret” committee documents with the President. 

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Devin Nunes

The Senate Intelligence Committee, on the other hand, agreed with the conclusions previously reached by the American Intelligence community (CIA, FBI, National Security Agency): The Russians had worked to subvert the American political process and elect Trump over Clinton.

March 17, 2018, marked one year since Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation to uncover “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

By October, 2018, Mueller had:

  • Indicted 31 people—including 26 Russian nationals and four former Trump campaign advisers.
  • Indicted three Russian companies. 
  • Obtained six guilty pleas.
  • Unveiled Russians’ determination to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton.
  • Revealed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing sanctions against Russia with then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period. 
  • Discovered that Trump associates knew about Russian outreach efforts during the campaign.

By contrast:

  • Republicans spent four years investigating the 2012 attack on the United States embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Their goal: To derail the presumed 2016 Presidential candidacy of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But no indictments followed.
  • Republicans spent two years investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State. Again, no indictments followed.

* * * * *

It’s past time for Republicans to remember the lesson taught by High Noon, the classic 1952 Western starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.

Town marshal Will Kane (Cooper) has just married Amy Fowler (Kelly) a Quaker. It should be the happiest day of his life. But shortly after the ceremony, word comes that Frank Miller—a notorious murderer Kane once sent to prison—has been released. 

High Noon poster.jpg

Even worse, Miller—joined by three other killers—is coming into town on the noon train to kill Kane.

Kane’s first instinct is to flee: He and his wife get into a buggy and dash out of town. But then his sense of duty takes over. He returns to town, intending to recruit a posse.

But this proves impossible—everyone is scared to death of Miller and his gang. And everyone Kane approaches has a reason for not backing him up.

Even Amy—a fervent believer in non-violence—threatens to leave him if he stands up to Miller. She will be on the noon train leaving town—with or without him.

When the clock strikes noon, the train arrives, and Kane—alone—faces his enemies. He shoots and kills two of them.

Then, as he’s pinned down by the third, he gets some unexpected help—from his wife: Amy shoots the would-be killer in the back—only to be taken hostage by Miller himself.

Miller tells Kane to leave his concealed position or he’ll kill Amy. Kane steps into the open—and Amy claws at Miller’s face, buying Kane the time he needs to shoot Miller down.

The townspeople rush to embrace Kane and congratulate him. But he’s disgusted with their cowardice and holds them in total contempt.

Saying nothing, he drops the marshal’s star into the dirt. He and Amy then get into a buggy and leave town.

Fred Zinnemann, the film’s director, intended the movie as an attack on those frightened into silence by Joseph McCarthy, the infamous Red-baiting Senator from Wisconsin.

Will Kane fought to protect himself and his town from a gang of murderous outlaws.

Robert Mueller is fighting to discover the truth behind Russian subversion of the American political system.

The difference between these two conflicts is this: We know how Kane’s fight ended—with a good man defeating evil men.

We do not know if Mueller will ultimately triumph over his—and America’s—mortal enemies. 

Robert Mueller—as a soldier, prosecutor, FBI director and now Special Counsel—took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” 

So did Donald Trump when he was inaugurated President. And so did every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

The difference between Robert Mueller, and the overwhelming majority of Republican Congressional members who continue to support Trump, is this: Mueller, like a compass pointing True North, has always stayed faithful to that oath. 

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 4, 2019 at 12:06 am

Altogether, four Russian oligarchs—Len Blavatnik, Alexander Shustorovich, Andrew  Intrater and Simon Kukes––contributed $10.4 million from the start of the 2015-16 election cycle through September 2017. Of this, 99% went to Republicans.   

As Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky United States Senator Mitch McConnell participated in high-level intelligence briefings in 2016. From agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the code-cracking National Security Agency, he learned that the Russians were trying to subvert the electoral process.

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In October, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a joint statement: The Russian government had directed the effort to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.

Two weeks later, McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik.

On March 30, 2017, McConnell’s PAC accepted another $1 million from Blavatnik. This was just 10 days after then-FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 election.

Billionaires don’t give huge sums to politicians without expecting to get something in return. And this is especially true—and frightening—when the contributors are linked to a former KGB agent like Vladimir Putin, whose aggressive intentions are increasingly on display.

So Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing increased hostility from Republicans who no doubt fear their own ownership by Moscow will become a focus of his investigation.

But there is another powerful reason why so many Republicans have closed ranks with Trump against him: 

#2: Republicans fear enraging Trump’s fanatical base.

On August 30, 2017, an article in Salon sought to explain why President Donald Trump was so popular among his supporters.

Its headline ran: “Most Americans Strongly Dislike Trump, But the Angry Minority That Adores Him Controls Our Politics.”

It described these voters as representing about one-third of the Republican party:

“These are older and more conservative white people, for the most part, who believe he should not listen to other Republicans and should follow his own instincts….

“They like Trump’s coarse personality, and approve of the fact that he treats women like his personal playthings. They enjoy it when he expresses sympathy for neo-Nazis and neo-Confederate white supremacists.

“They cheer when he declares his love for torture, tells the police to rough up suspects and vows to mandate the death penalty for certain crimes. (Which of course the president cannot do.)

“…This cohort of the Republican party didn’t vote for Trump because of his supposed policies on trade or his threat to withdraw from NATO. They voted for him because he said out loud what they were thinking. A petty, sophomoric, crude bully is apparently what they want as a leader.”

And keeping that cohort constantly stirred up is the Right-wing Fox News Network. This is not a source of legitimate news but the propaganda arm of the Fascistic Right and the Republican party.

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Donald Trump

On May 18, 2018, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks offered this political commentary on The PBS Newshour: “I would just say, I observe politically, I do think if Trump fired Mueller tomorrow, the Republican Party would back him. 

“Because I think FOX News has created a predicate. They have done thousands of surveys and investigations about Mueller as a political operative.” 

And Brooks’ fellow political commentator, liberal syndicated columnist Mark Shields, echoed those sentiments: “At the same time, I think what we learned is that the defense of Donald Trump, led by himself and [his attorney] Rudy Giuliani, is to savage and torment, denigrate, vilify and libel Bob Mueller.

“Bob Mueller happens to be an American who turned down an eight-figure income to be a major corporate lawyer, instead became a public servant. He’s a man who volunteered and carries the wounds of battle from having been a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam.

“He is a public servant. He has not said a word. He has not given an interview. He has not leaked to anybody. And he stands vilified by Trump and Giuliani and their cohorts and their outriders. It is indefensible.

“And they are trying to exact the same damage upon the Justice Department of the country, the FBI and this country that Joe McCarthy did on the State Department, which has never fully recovered from his libelous attacks.”

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

According to a Pew Research Center survey, that one-third of Republicans who fanatically support Trump comprise only 16% of the population. That leaves 65% of Republicans who are revolted by Trump’s personality and behavior.

But that 65% of Republicans are being advised by GOP political consultants to vigorously support him.

“Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country,” one anonymous consultant told the Salon reporter. “Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is.”

It’s precisely these hard-core Fascists who come out in mid-term elections—and they’re scaring the remaining 65% who make up the GOP establishment.  

The highest priority of that establishment, after all, is to hold onto their privileged positions in the House and Senate. And anything that might jeopardize that—including what’s best for the country—can go hang.  

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 3, 2019 at 12:01 am

On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice. 

Rosenstein charged Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” 

Since then, Trump, his shills in Congress and Right-wing Fox News have relentlessly attacked Mueller’s integrity and investigative methods. 

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From the outset of that investigation, there have been widespread fears that Trump would fire Mueller, just as he did FBI Director James Comey. Those fears increased over the weekend of March 17-18, 2018, when Trump spewed a series of angry tweets on Twitter: 

  • “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” 
  • “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
  • “A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”

In High Noon, Marshal Will Kane faced death at the hands of four cold-blooded killers. 

For Mueller, the threat is different. Every day he conducts his investigation under the shadow of being fired by a President who has: 

  • Already fired an FBI director for investigating proven links between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents;
  • Repeatedly praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin; and
  • Who has “joked” about how great it would be if the United States, like China, had a “President-for-Life.”

Mueller faces another distressing possibility: Even if he’s allowed to complete his investigation, his final report might be suppressed by Trump under a claim of “executive privilege.”

And, on October 30, 2018, details emerged about a Right-wing plot to discredit the probe by falsely accusing Mueller of sexually abusing or harassing women. 

The Special Counsel’s office issued the following statement: “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.” 

On October 29, Jacob Wohl, a Fox News contributor and Trump supporter, tweeted: “Several media sources tell me that a scandalous story about Mueller is breaking tomorrow. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!” 

Then, on October 30, Jennifer Taub, a law professor at Vermont Law School, told The Atlantic that a man working for Surefire Intelligence, a private investigative agency, had offered to pay her if she could provide dirt on Mueller.

She didn’t respond and forwarded the information to the Special Counsel’s office.

Jennifer Taub - VERMONT LAW SCHOOL

Jennifer Taub

Nor can Mueller, a lifelong Republican, count on protection from Republicans in the House and Senate.

Almost universally, they have refused to speak out against threats by Trump to fire him or deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  

Or, more importantly, to take action to prevent or punish him for doing so.

On April 17, 2018, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not allow legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s independent investigation into Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election to reach the Senate floor.  

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Mitch McConnell

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as majority leader. We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview on Fox News.                

Earlier that day, another Republican, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, claimed that legislation to protect Mueller was “unnecessary.”

“It would not be in the President’s interest to [fire Mueller] and I think he knows that,” said the Wisconsin Congressman.

Why have so few Republicans dared to stand against Trump?  

Two major reasons:

#1: Because many House and Senate Republicans received millions of dollars in “campaign contributions” from Russian oligarchs who are answerable to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

In short: Bribe monies

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The Kremlin

The following data comes from the Federal Elections Commission.

One major Russian contributor is Len Blavatnik. During the 2015-16 election cycle, he proved one of the largest donors to GOP Political Action Committees (PACs).

Blavatnik’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion. In 2016, he gave $6.35 million to GOP PACs.

In 2017, he gave millions of dollars to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina). Specifically, Blavatnik contributed:

  • A total of $1.5 million to PACs associated with Rubio. 
  • $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.
  • $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.
  • $3.5 million to a PAC associated with McConnell. 
  • $1.1 million to Unintimidated PAC, associated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 
  • $200,000 to the Arizona Grassroots Action PAC, associated with Arizona Senator John McCain. 
  • $250,000 to New Day for America PAC, associated with Ohio Governor John Kasich.
  • $800,000 went to the Security is Strength PAC, associated with Senator Lindsey Graham.

Another Russian oligarch, Alexander Shustorovich, contributed $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee

A third oligarch, Andrew Intrater, contributed $250,000 to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.

And a fourth, Simon Kukes, contributed a total of $283,000, much of it to the Trump Victory Fund.

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 2, 2019 at 12:05 am

“O, what a fall was there, my countrymen! Then I, and you, and all of us fell down whilst bloody treason flourished over us!”

So Mark Antony mourns the assassination of his friend and mentor, Julius Caesar, in the classic play of the same name by William Shakespeare.

Millions of Americans now feel the same anguish over the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States on November 8, 2016.

And for the same reason.

True, Trump continues to wail there was “no collusion” between himself and Russian Intelligence agents to win the Presidency.

Yet an increasing onslaught of revelations spotlight the links among Trump and members of his campaign and/or Cabinet with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

And, for this, the United States owes thanks  to a 74-year-old man who has assumed the burdens created when millions of racist, hate-filled Americans deliberately sent a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator to the White House.

That man is Robert Swan Mueller III.

Like Will Kane, the embattled marshal played by Gary Cooper in High Noon, he is not a young man—born on August 7, 1944. And, like Cooper’s Will Kane, he is tall, gray-haired and tight-lipped.

But while Cooper never saw military service, Mueller did. A 1966 graduate of Princeton University, he served as a Marine Corps infantry platoon commander during the Vietnam War.

Wounded in combat, among the military awards he received were:

  • The Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for heroism (for saving a wounded Marine while under enemy fire).
  • The Purple Heart Medal (awarded for wounds in combat).
  • Two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat “V”.
  • Combat Action Ribbon.
  • National Defense Service Medal.

Having given three years of his life (1968-1971) to the Marines, Mueller devoted the rest of his life to law enforcement.

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Robert Mueller

A 1973 graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, Mueller served as:

  • United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts (1986-1987);
  • United States Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division (1990-1993);
  • United States Attorney for the Northern District of California (1998-2001);
  • United States Deputy Attorney General (January 20, 2001– May 10, 2001).

On September 4, 2001—seven days before Al Qaeda’s monstrous 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York—President George W. Bush appointed him director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Widely praised for his integrity and effectiveness, he served his full 10-year term—the legal maximum. 

But when President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he asked Mueller—a lifelong Republican—to stay on for an additional two years until a suitable replacement could be found.

Mueller agreed—and was succeeded by a fellow Justice Department colleague named James Comey.

Retiring from the FBI in 2013 at age 69, Mueller’s 27-year career as a dedicated law enforcer seemed at last to be over. 

Then, on May 9, 2017, President Donald Trump fired Comey as FBI director. There were five reasons for this:

  • Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made the “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January.
  • Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief—as was the case in the former Soviet Union.
  • Trump had tried to coerce Comey into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand. 
  • Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into well-documented contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.
  • The goal of that collaboration: To elect Trump over Hillary Clinton, a longtime foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

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James Comey

On May 10—the day after firing Comey—Trump met in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

Kislyak is reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General, and fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. 

“I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” 

And on May 11, Trump, interviewed on NBC News by reporter Lester Holt, said: “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'”   

A national firestorm erupted—unprecedented since President Richard M. Nixon had fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox on October 20, 1973.

To squelch it, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein moved quickly.

On May 17, 2017, he appointed Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice. 

Rosenstein charged Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” 

Since then, Trump, his shills in Congress and Right-wing Fox News have relentlessly attacked Mueller’s integrity and investigative methods. 

MAJOR DUNDEE: A LESSON FOR OUR TIME

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 2, 2018 at 12:06 am

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

Along the way they liberate Mexican villagers and clash with French lancers trying to establish Mexico as a French colony under would-be emperor Archduke Maximilian 1.

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

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

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

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

,Major Dundee

Major Dundee (Charlton Heston)

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

The Wild Bunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sam Peckinpah

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

In this new version, we fully see how unsympathetic a character the martinet Dundee really is. Owing to Heston’s career of playing heroes—such as Moses and El Cid—it’s easy to overlook Dundee’s arrogance and lethal fanaticism and automatically view him as a hero.

If he is indeed that, he is a hero with serious flaws.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NUREMBERG COMES TO AMERICA

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 24, 2018 at 12:12 am

Those who have seen the classic 1960 movie, “Judgment at Nuremberg,” will remember its pivotal moment.

That’s when Burt Lancaster, as Ernst Janning, the once distinguished German judge, confesses his guilt and that of Nazi Germany in a controlled, yet emotional, outburst. 

Addressing the court—presided over by Chief Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy)—Janning explains the forces that led to the triumph of evil.

170592-Judgment-at-Nuremberg-Posters.jpg

It’s not hard to imagine, in the future, an equally conscience-stricken member of the Donald Trump administration, standing before the bar of justice, making a similar statement: 

“My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the ICE concentration camps. Not aware. Where were we?

“Where were we when Trump began shrieking his hate across the country? When Trump called our free press ‘the enemy of the people’?

“Where were we when Trump openly praised Vladimir Putin and attacked those in the FBI, CIA and other Intelligence agencies sworn to protect us?

“Where were we when the victims of Trump’s hatred cried out in the night to us? Were we deaf? Dumb? Blind?

“My counsel says we were not aware of Trump’s treasonous collusion with Vladimir Putin—and his intention to betray American freedoms in exchange for the Presidency. He would give you the excuse we were misled by the lying rhetoric coming out of the White House.

“Does that make us any the less guilty? Maybe we didn’t know the details, but if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.”

Consider Trump’s effect on:

Race relations:

  • Since Trump’s election, attacks on non-whites by Right-wing—and white—Trump supporters have increased. According to The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), there has been a rapid increase in youth bullying during and since the 2016 campaign: 
  • The bullying effects of the Trump presidency—dubbed the Trump effect—are devastating, particularly when it comes to bullying of minority groups, especially those who are easily identifiable and/or who are singled out by the president’s statements or actions.”   
  • On August 11-12, 2017, white supremacists from across the country gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a  “Unite the Right” rally.  On August 13, a Nazi sympathizer rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring 19 other demonstrators.
  • Refusing to condemn the Fascistic demonstrators, Trump said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

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Donald Trump

The rule of law:

  • On May 9, 2017, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was conducting an FBI investigation into well-documented contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.
  • Trump has repeatedly and publicly attacked his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the above-mentioned investigation. (Sessions did so because of his own documented ties with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.)
  • Trump has repeatedly attacked the integrity of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, who has continued the FBI’s probe into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.
  • Trump has called on Sessions to investigate “all of the corruption” of Trump’s critics and those investigating him, including Hillary Clinton, James Comey, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
  • In short: He wants to use the FBI as his private secret police against anyone who has ever criticized, investigated or run against him.
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Trump as liar:

  • From 2011 to 2016, Trump falsely accused Barack Obama as being born in Kenya, not—as evidence proves—Hawaii. This was an effort to de-legitimize Obama as President of the United States.
  • During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump falsely accused the father of his political rival, Texas United States Senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz, of being a party to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • After taking office Trump falsely accused former President Obama of illegally wiretapping him at Trump Tower.
  • By August 1, 2018, the Washington Post reported that Trump had made 4,229 false or misleading statements since taking office.

Trump as traitor: 

  • Trump has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, both during his Presidential candidacy and since taking office. In fact, Putin remains the only major public figure that Trump has never criticized. 
  • On July 22, 2016, Trump said at a press conference in Doral, Florida: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing [from Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computer]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” 
  • Hours later, the Main Intelligence Directorate in Moscow targeted Clinton’s personal office and hit more than 70 other Clinton campaign accounts. 
  • On July 16, 2018, President Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There he sided with Putin against American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—for Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election: 
  • “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server.” 

Since 1945, historians have brutally condemned the vicious and destructive reign of Adolf Hitler and those who supported him.

Future historians will condemn just as harshly the equally vicious and destructive reign of Donald Trump—and those who now support him.

HYPOCRISY ON BOTH SIDES OF THE STADIUM

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 1, 2018 at 12:35 am

A war is flaring in football stadiums across the country.

It’s a symbolic war—with football players literally “taking a knee” on one side and with President Donald Trump and his Right-wing minions symbolically waving the Stars and Stripes on the other.

And it’s fueled, on both sides, by a stadium-sized dose of hypocrisy.

For players, “taking a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem before the start of a football game means protesting against racial injustice and police brutality aimed at blacks.   

For the Right, refusing to stand for “The Star Spangled Banner” is unpatriotic, perhaps treasonous. They claim it’s insulting to the military—and especially those soldiers who have died in America’s wars.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee on August 14, 2016. 

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Colin Kaepernick 

During the 49ers’ first game of the pre-season, Kaepernick sat on the bench during the National Anthem both then and in their next game.  

On August 26, he did so again. The next day, he explained his reason for ,it: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” 

On August 29, Trump—still a Presidential candidate—thrust himself into the budding controversy: “I think it’s personally not a good thing. I think it’s a terrible thing. And, you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen.” 

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Donald Trump

One year later, on August 12, 2017, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch sat for the anthem during preseason, on his first game back post-retirement. 

The next day, Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett sat for the anthem. He gave as his reason the “Unite the Right” rally of white racists in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

On September 17, Trump—now President—told a rally in Alabama that refusing to sing the National Anthem showed “disrespect of our heritage. Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.'” 

On September 23, Trump, on Twitter, called for NFL players who “disrespect our great American flag” to be fired. Later on in the day, he called for a boycott of the NFL. 

On September 24, infuriated by Trump’s insults, NFL players across the country linked arms, took a knee, or stayed in the changing room during the National Anthem. Every game featured some form of demonstration.

Since then, the confrontation between players “taking a knee” and Trump and his Right-wing shills has mushroomed. 

Oakland Raiders Kneeling

By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

During 2017, there were 987 fatal police shootings; 223 blacks were shot and killed by police (23% of all fatal shootings), and 68 of the victims were unarmed. 

Yet these protests have not led one police department to change its “use-of-deadly-force” policies. No State legislature has offered reform legislation. Nor has Congress.

Blacks are still getting shot by trigger-happy police—often while they’re unarmed and unresisting   

So where does the hypocrisy come in? 

On the part of the players:

  • These protests have caused police shootings to be largely forgotten—while the kneeling players are claiming the media’s attention. 
  • The kneeling players consider themselves heroes—and are considered heroes by many within the black and white communities.
  • Yet there is nothing remotely heroic about kneeling for about a minute before you’re about to earn tens of thousands of dollars just for knocking a ball around a stadium. It’s a cheap and easy way to win applause while risking nothing.
  • These players’ celebrity could be put to far better use by appearing before legislative committees urging reforms in police “use-of-deadly-force” policies

On the part of the Right:

  • Donald Trump, for all his boasts of patriotism, was a five-deferment draft dodger during the Vietnam war. Four deferments cited academic reasons and the fifth cited bone spurs—which usually result in small pointed outgrowths of bone—in his heels.
  • Many of those attacking the patriotism of the kneeling players have similarly refused to enter military service.
  • Standing for the National Anthem is likewise a cheap and easy way to declare yourself a patriot.
  • It’s akin to taking forced loyalty oaths: You take the oath, “prove” your integrity—and can then betray national security secrets almost with impunity.

Finally, there is one truth takes precedence over all others: There is no reason to play “The Star Spangled Banner” at football games—or any other sports event  

The reasons:

  • There is nothing inherently patriotic about attending any sports game:
  • The country isn’t being threatened.
  • No one is risking anything in its defense.
  • There are no casualties (save those suffered by athletes earning kingly salaries).
  • No one’s life is made any better by watching the game—or the protests.

Police brutality remains a serious matter.  But “taking a knee” and its opponents most definitely isn’t.

WHEN TYRANTS FALL OUT

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on August 14, 2018 at 12:09 am

Just as opposites can attract, so, too can similarities repel.

Take Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, for example.

Both:

  • Admired strength and despised weakness.
  • Built their careers by appealing to hatred—Hitler of Jews, Stalin of non-Communists.
  • Were colossal egotists—insisting that they be referred to as geniuses and saviors and ordering that their portraits and statues be displayed everywhere.
  • Ruled by terror—exterminating millions and imprisoning other millions in a network of concentration camps. 
  • Signed a non-aggression treaty, partly because each feared the other, and partly to gain half of Poland.

Joseph Stalin

Yet for all their similarities Hitler and Stalin inevitably became deadly enemies.

Hitler hated Communism and coveted “living space” for Germans within the Soviet Union. And Stalin hated Fascism and saw “Hitlerite” Germany as his most dangerous enemy. 

On June 22, 1941, Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union. Only after suffering at least 25 million casualties did Stalin see his armies repel the Nazi invaders and conquer Germany.

Adolf Hitler

Fast forward 73 years since the end of World War II in 1945.

Stalin and Hitler are dead—and so is the death-struggle they shared. In its place stands the conflict between President Donald Trump and his former White House assistant, Omarosa Manigault-Newman.

The relationship between these two dates to 2004, when she became a participant in the first season of The Apprentice, NBC’s “reality” TV series. Her rudeness and ruthlessness toward other contestants quickly made her “the woman America loved to hate,” according to Jet magazine.

She returned in the seventh season of The Apprentice as well.

TV Guide included her in its 2013 list of “The 60 Nastiest TV Villains of All Time.”

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Omarosa Manigault-Newman

(By Photography by Glenn Francis of PacificProDigital.com)

In 2008, she appeared on Celebrity Apprentice—where she was again fired after failing to sell more artwork than a rival team. 

During the 2016 Presidential race, she served as Trump’s Director of African-American Outreach, although she had absolutely no credible ties to the black community.

In February, 2016, she appeared on a segment on Maria Bartiromo’s Fox Business show. Fox panelist Tamara Holder said that she would like Trump more if he expressed support for Black Lives Matter or put forward a plan to improve inner cities.

Manigault argued that the topic of the discussion should be limited to Trump’s criticism of the Iraq war. In doing so, she mispronounced Holder’s first name.

Holder: “It’s Tamara.”

Manigault: “It’s the same difference, boo. You want to come on with big boobs, then you deal with the pronunciation of your name.”

“Wait a second,” Bartiromo interrupted. “Why are you bringing up Tamara’s boobs?”

Manigault: “Because she started going back talking about, ‘Oh, you were a Democrat and you supported Hillary Clinton.’ If you want to get personal, we can get personal.”

Manigault wasn’t bothered that blacks regarded Trump so poorly in polls: “My reality is that I’m surrounded by people who want to see Donald Trump as the next president of the United States who are African-American.”

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Donald Trump

And, in September, 2016, she famously predicted: “Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.”

Just as Hitler—for all the similarities he shared with Stalin—inevitably turned on him, so did Manigault turn on Trump.

When Trump moved into the White House on January 20, 2017, Manigault moved in with him as his director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison.

In June, 2017, she invited the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to visit the White House. And she signed the invitation: “The Honorable Omarosa Manigault.” 

This is not a title given to political aides. And it’s not used by those referring to themselves.

The arrogance offended some members of the Caucus, which declined the invitation.

In August, Manigault appeared at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans. She was a panelist on a discussion about losing loved ones to violence.

When the moderator, Ed Gordon, asked her about Trump’s policies and not her personal history with losing family members through violence, Manigault got into a shouting match with him.

On December 13, she was told that she would be leaving the White House on January 20, 2018—one year from the day she had arrived there. She reportedly asked Ivanka Trump to intervene on her behalf, but the request was denied.

Deciding to go right to the top, she headed for the Trump’s private quarters. There she tripped an alarm—which brought guards and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to the scene.

An enraged Kelly ordered her ejected from the White House. Multiple sources report that she was physically restrained and escorted—cursing and screaming—from the Executive Mansion.

Next day—December 14—Manigault appeared on “Good Morning America.”

The woman who had been Trump’s ambassador to blacks now sang a different tune: “I have seen things that made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people. And when I can tell my story, it is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear.”

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