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MAKING ENEMIES INSTEAD OF FRIENDS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 12, 2017 at 12:09 am

As a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him.

Donald Trump

The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

Among his targets:

  • Hillary Clinton
  • President Barack Obama
  • Actress Meryl Streep
  • Singer Neil Young
  • Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Comedian John Oliver
  • News organizations
  • The State of New Jersey
  • Beauty pageant contestants

Others he clearly delighted in insulting during the campaign included:

  • Women
  • Blacks
  • Hispanics
  • Asians
  • Muslims
  • The disabled
  • Prisoners-of-war

As President, he has continued to insult virtually everyone, verbally and on Twitter. His targets have included Democrats, Republicans, the media, foreign leaders (most notably North Korea’s “Little Rocket Man” Kim Jong Un) and even members of his Cabinet.  For example:

  • His press secretary, Sean Spicer, quit on July 21. The reason: He believed—correctly—hat his loyalty to Trump had become a one-way street. Trump kept him in the dark about events Spicer needed to know—such as an interview that Trump arranged with the New York Times—and which ended disastrously.
  • Trump has waged a Twitter-laced feud against Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General. Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from any decisions involving investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign. 
  • Trump has publicly said that if he had known Sessions would recuse himself—because of his past contacts with Russian officials—he would have picked someone else for Attorney General.
  • Trump fired FBI Director James Comey without warning on May 9. Comey’s “crimes”: Refusing to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump, thus turning the FBI into Trump’s secret police; and refusing to drop the Bureau’s investigation into Russia’s efforts during the 2016 election to elect Trump.
  • Trump repeatedly humiliated his then-chief of staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, Priebus resigned.  
  • In October, 2016, as a Presidential candidate, Trump attacked Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, who had gained notoriety by kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.  
  • As President, he told a rally of his faithful in Alabama in September that players should be fired if they knelt during the anthem. He also encouraged people to leave the stadium if players knelt.
  • On October 9, at Trump’s instigation, Vice President Mike Pence staged a walk-out during a match between the San Francisco 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts. 
  • The Trump/Pence stunt cost taxpayers about $242,500 in air fare for Air Force Two, advance personnel and Secret Service protection.
  • After NBC News reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” Tillerson publicly refused to deny it. Trump then told Forbes magazine: “I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”  
  • Asked by reporters if he was undercutting Tillerson with the remark, Trump replied: “I didn’t undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people.”  

As Americans have watched Trump’s behavior with morbid fascination, many of them have asked:  “What makes him do the things he does?”

It’s a question asked—and answered—in the 1993 Western, Tombstone. And the answer given in that movie may be just hold the answer to the question so many Americans are now asking about Trump.

Tombstone recounts the legendary blood feud between the Ike Clanton outlaw gang and the Earp brothers—Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil—in  the famous gold-mining town in 1880s Arizona. 

 

Wyatt Earp has been challenged to a gunfight by quick-trigger gunman Johnny Ringo. Although he impulsively accepted the challenge, Wyatt now realizes he’s certain to be killed. Thus follows this exchange with his longtime friend, the pistol-packing dentist, John H. “Doc” Holliday: 

WYATT EARP:  What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?

JOHN H. “DOC” HOLLIDAY: A man like Ringo….got a great empty hole right through the middle of him. He can never kill enough or steal enough….or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.

EARP:  What does he need?

HOLLIDAY:  Revenge.

EARP:  For what?

HOLLIDAY: Bein’ born. 

Donald Trump was born into a world of wealth and privilege.  He has claimed to be worth a billion dollars.

He has been linked to some of the most beautiful women in the world. He has literally stamped his name on hundreds of buildings. And now he holds the Presidency of the United States, the most powerful office in the Western world. 

Yet he remains filled with a poisonous hatred that encompasses almost everyone.

Since taking office, he has offered nothing positive in his agenda. Instead, he has focused on what rights he can take from others. At the top of his list: The Affordable Care Act, providing access to medical care for millions who previously could not obtain it. 

As first-mate Starbuck says of Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick: “He is a champion of darkness.”

MAKING ENEMIES INSTEAD OF FRIENDS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 11, 2017 at 1:08 am

“He appeared to need enemies the way other men need friends, and his conduct assured that he would always have plenty of them.” 

So wrote William Manchester about General Douglas MacArthur in his monumental 1978 biography, American Caesar. But he could have written just as accurately about Donald Trump, both as Presidential candidate and President.  

Donald Trump

What some pundits have called “the worst week in Presidential campaigning history” started–or Trump—on September 26. That was when he finally squared off against Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the first of three debates.

Through a series of bare-knuckled debates, Trump had bullied his way to the Republican nomination. He had mocked his opponents (“Little Marco” Rubio, “Lyin Ted” Cruz) and attacked former Texas Governor Jeb Bush as the brother of the President he blamed for 9/11.

So it was widely expected that he would run over Clinton like a tank going over a rabbit.  

Events proved otherwise.

Moderator Lester Holt—who anchors the weekday edition of NBC Nightly News—gave Trump more airtime than Clinton. But Clinton showed a greater command of foreign and domestic issues.  

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Hillary Clinton

Trump repeatedly sniffled throughout the debate, causing some viewers to wonder if he had a cocaine problem.  And he often reached for his water glass, causing other viewers to mock him on Twitter (“Does anyone remember how badly Trump made fun of Marco Rubio for drinking water? Hmm..”).  

For Trump—who had attacked Clinton’s health after she fainted on September 11 at a New York 9/11 commemoration ceremony—it was a disaster. Clinton seemed to be in better shape than he was.  

When Clinton charged that he paid “nothing in Federal taxes,” Trump in effect admitted it: “That makes me smart.”  

Clinton then cornered him on his claim that he had opposed the 2003 Iraq war. Trump replied that he had told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he opposed it. He asked the media to contact Hannity.

Clinton then attacked Trump as “a man who has called women pigs, slobs, and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers.”  

From there she segued into his attacks on former Miss Universe Alicia Machado: “And he called this woman Miss Piggy. Then he called her Miss Housekeeping because she was Latina.”  

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Alicia Machado as Miss Universe

This may have proved the worst part of the debate for Trump, because he later felt he had to respond to it—on TV and Twitter.  

By the end of the debate, 62% of CNN viewers voted Clinton as the winner, with only 27% voting it was Trump.  

The next day—September 27—Trump felt the need to renew his attack on Machado, courtesy of a telephone interview he gave to Fox News: “She was the worst [Miss Universe contestant] we ever had. The absolute worst.  She was impossible….  

“She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight, and we had a real problem. Not only that, her attitude, and we had a real problem with her.”  

On September 28, Trump appeared on Fox News‘ “The O’Reilly Factor.” There he continued his attack on Machado: “It is a beauty contest. They know what they are getting into.”  

He claimed that “I saved her job” because the pageant wanted “to fire her” for gaining so much weight.   

On September 29, Trump added one more enemy to the list: The FBI.  

Addressing a crowd in Bedford, New Hampshire, Trump falsely accused the agency of giving “immunity” to Hillary Clinton:  

“They [the FBI] gave so much immunity there was nobody left to talk to. There was nobody left–except Hillary. They probably gave her immunity, too. Do you think Hillary got immunity? Yeah, she had the immunity.”  

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FBI headquarters

Also on September 29, Trump once again attacked a longtime target: President Barack Obama.

Thirteen days earlier, Trump had renounced “birtherism”—the slander that Obama was not an American citizen. It was a slander that Trump himself had created and vigorously promoted since 2011.  

The reason for his renouncing it: His dismal standing among blacks in political polls.

At a press conference on September 16 to promote his new upscale hotel in Washington, D.C., Trump said: “Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.  

“I finished it.  I finished it.  You know what I mean. 

“President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.”  

After falsely blaming Clinton for starting the birther lie, Trump seemed content to finally drop the slander campaign.

But on September 29—a mere 13 days later—Trump told a New Hampshire reporter that he was “very proud” of his “birther” campaign:

“I’m the one who got him to put up his birth certificate”—which clearly proved that Obama had been born in Hawaii, not Kenya, as Trump had claimed.  

“[Hillary Clinton] tried [to get Obama to release his birth certificate] and she was unable to do it and I tried and I was able to do it so I’m very proud of that.”  

Thus, the goodwill of black voters he sought on September 16 he cast aside on the 29th.

COWARDS AS HEROES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 10, 2017 at 3:25 pm

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

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

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

Joseph Stalin

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

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

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

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

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

Among his crimes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph R. McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast-forward to October 9, 2017—and the current blood-feud between President Donald Trump and Tennessee’s United States Senator, Bob Corker.  

During Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign, Corker—a highly-respected figure within the Republican establishment—threw his support behind Trump. Even more importantly, he did so when few other Republican establishment figures were willing to do so.  

Bob Corker

As a result, when Trump won the election, he was reported to be considering Corker for Secretary of State.  

But then Corker committed the unthinkable sin against Trump: He actually criticized him.

“They are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Corker told reporters in May, amid a series of administration scandals.  

And, on August 17, Corker said: “The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Then, on September 27, 2017, Corker announced he was considering retiring from the Senate—to which he had been elected in 2006.  

On October 4, Corker told reporters: “I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos, and I support them very much.”

Trump then attacked Corker via Twitter: “Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without…”

To which Corker—also via Twitter—responded: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

According to widespread news reports, many other Republicans share Corker’s low opinion of Trump. And they fear—like Corker—that Trump—through his repeated insults to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un—is catapulting America toward World War III.

But they haven’t been willing to share those views publicly—because they fear that Trump—and his legions of fanatical voters—will turn on them.

As the Russian poet Yevgeney Yevtushenko put it: Our descendants will be ashamed to recall a time when simple honesty was labeled courage.

WHAT AMERICA OWES THE NRA: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 6, 2017 at 12:08 am

In peace, sons bury fathers, but in war fathers bury sons.
—Herodotus

Among the major accomplishments of the National Rifle Association:

  • The NRA has steadfastly defended the right to own Teflon-coated “cop killer” bullets,” whose only purpose is to penetrate bullet-resistant vests worn by law enforcement officers or those under protection.

  • The NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, is responsible for the “stand-your-ground” ordinances now in effect in more than half the states. These allow for the use of deadly force in self-defense, without any obligation to attempt to retreat first.
  • In 2012, the NRA rushed to the defense of accused murderer George Zimmerman, the self-appointed “community watchman” who ignored police orders to stop following 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and ended up shooting him.
  • Police did not initially charge Zimmerman because of Florida’s “Stand-Your-Ground” law, which the NRA had rammed through the legislature.

George Zimmerman

  • On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman shot unarmed Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a “hoodie.” In March, the NRA issued its own version of a “hoodie”—the Concealed Carry Hooded Sweatshirt, designed to hide firearms. Selling on the NRA’s website for $60 to $65, it is advertised thusly:
  • “Inside the sweatshirt you’ll find left and right concealment pockets. The included Velcro®-backed holster and double mag pouch can be repositioned inside the pockets for optimum draw. Ideal for carrying your favorite compact to mid-size pistol, the NRA Concealed Carry Hooded Sweatshirt gives you an extra tactical edge, because its unstructured, casual design appears incapable of concealing a heavy firearm – but it does so with ease!”     http://www.nrastore.com/nrastore/ProductDetail.aspx?c=11&p=CO+635&ct=e

  • Anyone—including convicted criminals—can buy these “hide-a-gun” sweatshirts, putting both the public and law enforcers at deadly risk.
  • The NRA often claims that millions of  law-abiding citizens defend themselves with guns  every year. But the FBI has determined that, of the approximately 11,000 gun homicides every year, fewer than 300 are justifiable self-defense killings.
  • The NRA supports loopholes that allow criminals to buy guns without background checks and allow terrorists to buy all the AK-47s they desire.
  • The NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, tried to defeat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Yet the President had meekly signed legislation allowing guns to be brought into national parks and onto Amtrak trains. Since becoming Chief Executive, he made no effort to curb gun violence.

  • High-capacity magazines were prohibited under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. It expired in 2004. The NRA—aided by the George W. Bush administration and Republicans generally—easily overcame efforts to renew the ban.
  • Political scientist Robert Spitzer, author of the book The Politics of Gun Control, notes that since the passage of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the assault weapons ban in 1994, state and national laws have been drifting toward more open gun access:
  • “In 1988, there were about 18 states that had state laws that made it pretty easy for civilians to carry concealed hand guns around in society. By 2011, that number [was] up to 39 or 40 states having liberalized laws, depending on how you count it, and the NRA has worked very diligently at the state level to win political victories there, and they’ve really been quite successful.”
  • On January 8, 2011, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents outside a Tucson, Arizona,  grocery store. Also killed was Arizona’s chief U.S. District judge, John Roll, who had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after celebrating Mass. The total number of victims: six dead, 13 wounded. Severely brain-damaged, Giffords was forced to resign her Congressional seat.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after being shot

  • “The NRA’s response to the Tucson shootings has been to say as little as possible and to keep its head down,” said Spitzer. “And their approach even more has been to say as little as possible and to simply issue a statement of condolence to the families of those who were injured or killed and to wait for the political storm to pass over and then to pick up politics as usual.” 
  • This has, in fact, been the NRA’s response to every subsequent mass shooting—including the October 1 massacre of 59 concertgoers and the wounding of more than 500 others.
  • In the spring of 2012, the House Oversight Committee prepared to vote on whether to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for allegedly refusing to provide documents related to “Fast and Furious.” This was an undercover operation launched by the Bush administration to track firearms being sold to Mexican drug cartels.
  • The NRA notified Congressional members that how they voted would reflect how the NRA rated them in “candidate evaluations” for the November elections. This amounted to blatant extortion—a crime under Federal law—since the NRA had long accused Holder of having an “anti-gun” agenda.

Ultimately, the aim of the NRA is an America where any place, anytime, can be turned into the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral – October 26, 1881

And that is precisely what the United States is fast becoming.

Except, so far, the vast majority of victims have not been armed gunfighters but unarmed innocents. And it’s been the “gun rights” types whom the NRA supports who have done the killing.

WHAT AMERICA OWES THE NRA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 5, 2017 at 12:20 am

On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists snuffed out the lives of 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

World Trade Center – September 11, 2001

But within less than a month, American warplanes began carpet-bombing Afghanistan, whose rogue Islamic “government” refused to surrender Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the attacks.

By December, the power of the Taliban was broken—and bin Laden was driven into hiding in Pakistan.

For more than ten years, the United States—through its global military and espionage networks—has relentlessly hunted down most of those responsible for that September carnage.

On May 1, 2011, U.S. Navy SEALS invaded bin Laden’s fortified mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan—and shot him dead.

U.S. Navy SEALs

Now, consider these statistics of death, supplied by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

  • Every day, 315 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention.
  • Every day, 46 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings and police interventions.
  • Every day, 222 people are shot and survive.
  • U.S. firearm homicide rates are 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.
  • A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
  • More than one in five U.S. teenagers (ages 14 to 17) report having witnessed a shooting.
  • An average of eight children and teens under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.
  • American children die by guns 11 times as often as children in other high-income countries.
  • Youth (ages 0 to 19) in the most rural U.S. counties are as likely to die from a gunshot as those living in the most urban counties.
  • Rural children die of more gun suicides and unintentional shooting deaths.
  • Urban children die more often of gun homicides.
  • Firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death (after motor vehicle crashes) for young people ages 1-19 in the U.S.
  • In 2007, more pre-school-aged children (85) were killed by guns than police officers were killed in the line of duty.
  • Medical treatment, criminal justice proceedings, new security precautions, and reductions in quality of life are estimated to cost U.S. citizens $100 billion annually.
  • The lifetime medical cost for all gun violence victims in the United States is estimated at $2.3 billion, with almost half the costs borne by taxpayers.

In short, in one year on average:

  • On average, 33,880 Americans die from gun violence every year.
  • More than 114,994 Americans are shot in murders, assault, suicides, suicide attempts, accidents or by police intervention.
  • 11,564 are murdered.
  • 21,037 die from suicide.
  • 544 people are killed accidentally.
  • 468 are killed by police intervention.
  • 267 die but intent is not known.
  • 81,114 people survive gun injuries.

(These statistics are based on death certificates and estimates from emergency room admissions.)

And who, more than anyone (including the actual killers themselves) has made all this carnage possible?

The National Rifle Association (NRA), of course.

But unlike the leadership of Al Qaeda, that of the NRA is not simply known, but celebrated.

Its director, Wayne LaPierre, is courted as a rock star by both Democrats and Republicans seeking NRA political endorsements—and campaign contributions.

Wayne LaPierre

He frequently appears as an honored guest at testimonial dinners and political conventions.

The largest of the 13 national pro-gun groups, the NRA has nearly four million members, who focus most of their time lobbying Congress for unlimited “gun rights.”

The NRA claims that its mission is to “protect” the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

NRA members conveniently ignore the first half of that sentence: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State….”

For the NRA, the Second Amendment is the Constitution, and the rest of the document is a mere appendage.

At the time Congress ratified the Constitution in 1788, the United States was not a world power.

A mere 26 years later, the British seized and burned Washington, D.C., after repeatedly defeating American armies. On the frontier, settlers had to defend themselves against hostile Indians and marauding bandits.

Only after World War II did the country maintain a powerful standing army during peacetime.

But World War II ended 72 years ago, and today the United States is a far different country than it was in 1788:

  • It boasts a nuclear arsenal that can turn any country into thermonuclear ash–anytime an American President decides to do so.
  • It boasts an Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps that can target any enemy, anywhere in the world.
  • Its Special Forces—Green Berets, Delta Force and Navy SEALS—are rightly feared by international terrorists.
  • And waging war on criminals generally, state and local law enforcement agencies employ more than 1.1 million personnel, including about 765,980 full-time sworn  law enforcement officers. 
  • If a criminal flees or conducts business across state lines, powerful Federal law enforcement agencies—such as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration—can put him out of business. These agencies employee about 120,000 sworn law enforcement officers.

But apparently the NRA hasn’t gotten the word.

DONALD TRUMP’S ULTIMATE STRATEGY

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on September 27, 2017 at 12:28 am

Since taking office as the Nation’s 45th President, Donald Trump has attacked or undermined one public or private institution after another.

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Donald Trump

Among these:

  • American Intelligence and military agencies: A Trump executive order allows the Director of National Intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to attend the Principals’ Committee only when it pertains to their “responsibilities and expertise.”
  • In February, Trump approved and ordered a Special Forces raid in Yemen on an Al Qaeda stronghold. The assault resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens.
  • Disavowing any responsibility for the failure, Trump said: ““This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they wanted to do. They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do–the generals–who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”
  • Medicare: During the 2016 campaign, Trump said he would allow Medicare to negotiate down the price of prescription drugs. At his January 10 press conference he charged that pharmaceutical companies were “getting away with murder.”
  • But after meeting with pharmaceutical lobbyists on January 31, Trump said: “I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market. That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare.”
  • The press: On February 17, Trump tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
  • And, appearing before the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 24, Trump said: “I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake….I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there.”
  • The Secret Service: Trump has kept his longtime private security force, and combined its members with those of the elite federal agency. By marginalizing the Secret Service, he has clearly sent the message: You’re not good enough, and I don’t trust you.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Trump believes that climate change is a hoax. He didn’t offer any proof for this. Instead, he appointed an EPA director–Scott Pruitt–who claimed that climate change wasn’t caused by human activity.
     

Congressional Budget Office logo.png

Seal of the CBO

  • President Barack Obama: For five years, Trump, more than anyone else, popularized the slander that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya–and was therefore not an American citizen.
  • On March 23, 2011, Trump said: “I want him to show his birth certificate. I want him to show his birth certificate. …There’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like.” 
  • Even after Obama released the long-form version of his birth certificate–on April 27, 2011–Trump tweeted, on August 6, 2012: “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama‘s birth certificate is a fraud.”
  • On November 23, 2014, he tweeted this: “@futureicon@pinksugar61 Obama also fabricated his own birth certificate after being pressured to produce one by @realDonaldTrump“.
  • Then, in June, 2015, Trump declared himself a candidate for President. By September, 2016, he found his popularity steadily dropping among black voters. Even the managers of Trump’s campaign urged him to put the “birther” issue behind him. 
  • On September 16, 2016—10 days before his scheduled first debate with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton—Trump made his version of a reversal: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. “I finished it.  I finished it. You know what I mean. President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.”

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Barack Obama

  • On March 4, 2017, in a series of unhinged tweets, Trump accused former President Obama of tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”  
  • “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” 
  • “I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” 
  • “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”  

Thus, without offering a shred of evidence to back it up, Trump accused his predecessor of committing an impeachable offense.

* * * * *

Donald Trump isn’t crazy, as many of his critics charge.  He knows what he’s doing—and why.

He intends to strip every potential challenger to his authority—or his version of reality–of legitimacy with the public.  If he succeeds, there will be:

  • No independent press to reveal his failures and crimes.
  • No independent law enforcement agencies to investigate his abuses of office.
  • No independent judiciary to hold him accountable.
  • No independent military to dissent as he recklessly hurtles toward a nuclear disaster.
  • No candidate—Democrat or Republican—to challenge  him for re-election in 2020.
  • No candidate—Democrat or Republican—to challenge his remaining in office as “President-for-Life.”

PURGE-TIME IN STALIN’S RUSSIA AND TRUMP’S AMERICA: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 26, 2017 at 12:29 am

One summer night in 1923, during a booze-fueled dinner, Joseph Stalin opened his hear to his two fellow diners.

One of these was Felix Dzerzhinsky, then  the chief of the Cheka, the dreaded Soviet secret police (and precursor to the KGB).  The other was Lev Kamenev, a member of the powerful Central Committee of the Communist party. 

Kamenev asked his companions: “What is your greatest pleasure?” 

And Stalin is reported to have said: “To choose one’s victim, to prepare one’s plans minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance and then to go to bed.  There is nothing sweeter in the world.”  

Thirteen years later, in August, 1936, Kamenev would be forced to confess to forming a terrorist organization.  Its alleged purpose: To assassinate Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet government. 

On August 25, 1936, Kamenev was executed in the notorious Lubyanka prison.

Donald Trump may not have read Stalin’s notorious quote about finding pleasure in vengeance. But he has given his own variation of it.

While addressing the National Achievers Conference in Sidney, Australia, in 2011, he offered this advice on how to achieve success: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”

Throughout his business career, Trump strictly practiced what he preached—becoming a plaintiff or a defendant in no fewer than 3,500 lawsuits. 

Since January 20, he has carried this “get even” philosophy into the Presidency.

The result has been unprecedented White House infighting, turmoil—and departures.  Among the casualties:

  • Steve Bannon – Chief strategist and senior counselor:  On August 17, 2016, Bannon was appointed chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign.  On August 18, 211 days into his tenure, he was fired.  A major reason: Trump was angered by the news media’s—and even many comedians’—depiction of Bannon as the real power in the White House.
  • Anthony Scaramucci – White House communications director: To celebrate his new job, he gave an insult-ridden interview to The New Yorker.  Among his targets: Then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (“a fucking paranoid schizophrenic”) and Steve Bannon (““I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock”).  Scaramucci’s career ended in just six days—on July 31.
  • Reince Priebus – White House Chief of Staff:  After repeatedly being humiliated by Trump—who at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about—Priebus resigned on July 28, 190 days into his tenure.
  • Jeff Sessions – Attorney General: Trump made him the target of a Twitter-laced feud.  Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from any decisions involving investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign. Trump publicly said that if he had known Sessions would recuse himself—because of his own past contacts with Russian officials—he would have picked someone else for Attorney General.
  • Sean Spicer – Press Secretary:  Resigned on July 21, 183 days into his tenure. The reason: Trump kept him in the dark about events Spicer needed to know—such as an interview that Trump arranged with the New York Times—and which ended disastrously for Trump.
  • James Comey – FBI Director:  Comey did not work for the Trump Presidential campaign.  But many political analysts believe he played perhaps the decisive role in electing the reality TV mogul. Comey’s announcement—11 days before Election Day—that he was re-opening the Hillary Clinton email server case convinced millions of voters that she had committed a crime. If, as some believed, Comey did so to curry favor with Trump, he proved mistaken.  Trump summoned Comey to the White House and, in a private meeting, demanded a pledge of personal loyalty.  Comey refused to give this—or to drop the FBI’s investigation into collaboration between Russian Intelligence agents and Trump campaign officials. On May 9, Trump sent his longtime private bodyguard and chief henchman, Keith Schiller, to the FBI with a letter announcing Comey’s firing. (FBI directors do not have Civil Service protection and can be fired at any time by the President.)
  • Mike Flynn – National Security Advisor: After resigning from the Defense Intelligence Agency, he vigorously supported Trump at rallies and events—including at the Republican National Convention.  As a reward, he was appointed National Security Advisor.  But he was forced to resign just 25 days into his tenure. The reason: The media revealed that he hadmisled Vice President Mike Pence about his multiple meetings with Sergey Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to the United States, before Trump’s inauguration.

As if such turmoil wasn’t enough, even worse may be to come. According to PoliticoMany White House staffers are starting to look for the exits, even though the one-year mark of Trump’s first term is still months away.

“There is no joy in Trumpworld right now,” one source told Politico. “Working in the White House is supposed to be the peak of your career, but everyone is unhappy, and everyone is fighting everyone else.”

A mass exodus would cause even greater difficulties for the Trump administration, which has not filled hundreds of  available positions because many people don’t want to join. 

The Trump administration is hiring at a slower pace than the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—including nominations and confirmations.

Fewer positions filled means less effective enforcement of the Trump agenda. For those who oppose it, this is something to celebrate.

PURGE-TIME IN STALIN’S RUSSIA AND TRUMP’S AMERICA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 25, 2017 at 2:06 am

Donald Trump—as both Presidential candidate and President—has often been compared to Adolf Hitler.

Yet, in at least one sense, this comparison is inaccurate.  As Germany’s Fuhrer (1933-1945) Hitler kept on the members of his Cabinet for no less than 12 years.

Adolf Hitler

Among these:

  • Hermann Goering had repeatedly shown himself as the incompetent Reichsmarshall of the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Yet Hitler kept him on because Goering had been one of the “Old Fighters” who had supported Hitler long before the Nazis came to power.  Only in April, 1945, when Hitler falsely believed that Goering was trying to supplant him as Fuhrer, did he expel him from the party and order his arrest.
  • Rudolf Hess joined the Nazi party in 1920, and served as Deputy Fuhrer to Hitler from 1933 to 1941. That was when he flew to Scotland on a self-assigned mission to make peace with England. The British, believing him mad, locked him in the Tower of London until 1945.  Afterward, he was convicted at Nuremberg for war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop had been a champagne salesman before Hitler appointed him Foreign Minister in 1938, and held that post until the Reich’s defeat in 1945.  Although his arrogance and incompetence made him universally disliked by other high-ranking Nazi officials, Hitler never considered firing him.
  • Heinrich Himmler, appointed Reichsfuhrer-SS in 1929, held that position throughout the 12 years (1933-1945) the Third Reich lasted. It was to Himmler that Hitler entrusted the most important project of his life: The destruction of European Jewry. Only after learning—in the final days of the Reich—that Himmler had sought to make peace with the Allies did Hitler expel him from the party and order his arrest.

Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union (1928-1953) serves as a far better comparison figure for Trump.

Joseph Stalin

In 1936, Stalin ordered the first of a series of purges—from high-ranking members of the Communist party to impoverished peasants.  Among the most prominent of his victims:

  • Grigory Zimoviev, former member of the Central Committee of the Communist party. He was arrested in 1934 on trumped-up charges of “moral complicity” in the assassination of Leniningrad party boss Sergei Kirov.  He was executed in 1936.
  • Leon Trotsky, onetime second-in-command only to Vladimir Lenin, clashed with Stalin before the November 7, 1917 Russian Revolution. They remained locked in combat until Lenin’s death of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1924. Stalin drove Trotsky out of the Communist party and even out of the Soviet Union. In 1940, on Stalin’s orders, he was assassinated while living under guard in Mexico.
  • Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda served as director of the NKVD secret police (the precursor of the KGB) from 1934 to 1936. He supervised the arrest, show trial and execution of former Central Committee members Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zimoviev. Arrested in 1937, he was falsely charged with treason and conspiracy against the Soviet government. Yagoda was shot soon after the trial. His wife Ida Averbakh was also executed in 1938.
  • Nikolai Yezhov became head of the NKVD secret police  in 1936.  He oversaw what historians have since named the Great Terror until 1939. Arrested in April, he was replaced by Lavrenty Beria. In 1940, Yezhov himself was executed by the executioners he had once commanded.

Like Joseph Stalin, Donald Trump has presided over a series of purges since reaching the White House.

Donald Trump

Like Stalin, Trump demands unconditional loyalty from those who serve in his administration. And, also like Stalin, he does not believe that loyalty is a two-way street.

Moreover, it doesn’t take much to offend Trump’s fragile ego. When “Saturday Night Live” started doing skits showcasing his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as a Rasputin-like figure who manipulated Trump, Bannon’s days were clearly numbered.

The same proved true for Anthony Scaramucci, who was to become White House communications director.  All that it took to secure his dismissal was an expletive-ridden phone interview with The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza. It didn’t help Scaramucci that he bragged about purging the entire White House communications staff and even siccing the FBI on leakers.

Others have left the White House owing to its increasingly paranoid atmosphere. Reports have surfaced of staffers being ordered to turn over their cell phones for inspection. The reason: To ensure they weren’t communicating with reporters by text message or through encrypted apps.

Then there is the very real—and justified—fear of being caught up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s ever-widening investigation into collusion between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

One of those who has reportedly hired top-notch legal talent is Hope Hicks, interim White House communications director. According to Politico, the 28-year-old has retained the services of veteran criminal defense lawyer Robert Trout, who once worked for the Justice Department.

Even if a White House staffer is not ultimately indicted and convicted, the costs of hiring top-flight legal talent can prove ruinous.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed a $9 billion fortune: “I’m really rich!”  But he has shown no willingness to spend any of it defending those officials he has hired.

And for an administration already plagued with a shortage of desperately-needed talent, even worse may soon be to come.

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 21, 2017 at 12:02 am

American Presidents—like politicians everywhere–strive to be loved. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, even the vilest dictators want to believe they are good people—and that their goodness is rewarded by the love of their subjects.

Second, it’s universally recognized that a leader who’s beloved has great clout than one who isn’t. In the United States, a Presidential candidate who wins by a landslide is presumed to have a mandate to pursue his agenda—at least, for the first two years of his administration.

But those—like Barack Obama—who strive to avoid conflict often get treated with contempt and hostility by their adversaries.

Image result for Images of Barack Obama giving a speech in the Oval Office

Barack Obama

In Renegade: The Making of a President, Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s successful 2008 bid for the White House. Among his revelations:

Obama, a believer in rationality and decency, felt more comfortable in responding to attacks on his character than in attacking the character of his enemies.

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama was one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.

Yet he failed to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science:

A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.  And therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.

This explains why Obama found most of his legislative agenda stymied by Republicans.

For example: In 2014, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sought to block David Barron, Obama’s nominee to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rand Paul

Paul objected to Barron’s authoring memos that justifyied the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011.

The target was Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric notorious on the Internet for encouraging Muslims to attack the United States.

Paul demanded that the Justice Department release the memos Barron crafted justifying the drone policy.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Imagine how Republicans would depict Paul—or any Democratic Senator—who did the same with a Republican President: “Rand Paul: A traitor who supports terrorists. He sides with America’s sworn enemies against its own lawfully elected President.”

But Obama did nothing of the kind.

(On May 22, 2014, the Senate voted 53–45 to confirm Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.)

But Presidents who seek to rule primarily by fear can encounter their own limitations. Which immediately brings to mind Donald Trump.

As both a Presidential candidate and President, Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him.

Donald Trump

The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

As a Presidential candidate and President, he has shown outright hatred for President Obama. For five years, he slandered Obama as a Kenyan-born alien who had no right to hold the Presidency. 

Then, on March 4, 2017, in a series of unhinged tweets, Trump falsely accused Obama of committing an impeachable offense: Tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election.

As President, Trump has refused to reach beyond the narrow base of white, racist, ignorant, hate-filled, largely rural voters who elected him.

And he has bullied and insulted even White House officials and his own handpicked Cabinet officers:

  • Trump has waged a Twitter-laced feud against Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General. Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • Trump repeatedly humiliated Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, Priebus resigned.
  • Trump similarly tongue-lashed Priebus’ replacement, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. Trump has reportedly been angered by Kelly’s efforts to limit the number of advisers who have unrestricted access to him. Kelly told colleagues he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of military service—and would not tolerate it again.
  • After Trump gave sensitive Israeli intelligence to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, denied this had happened. Trump then contradicted McMaster in a tweet: “As president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled WH meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

If Trump ever read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, he’s clearly forgotten this passage:

Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time….Whoever acts otherwise….is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him. 

And this one:

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred. 

Or, as Cambridge Professor of Divinity William Ralph Inge put it: “A man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he can’t sit on it.”

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 20, 2017 at 12:30 am

Is it better to be loved or feared?

That was the question Florentine statesman Niccolo Machiavelli raised more than 500 years ago.

Presidents have struggled to answer this question—and have come to different conclusions.

LOVE ME, FEAR MY BROTHER

Most people felt irresistibly drawn to John F. Kennedy—even his political foes. Henry Luce, the conservative publisher of Time, once said, “He makes me feel like a whore.”

But JFK could afford to bask in the love of others—because his younger brother, Robert, was the one who inspired fear.

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

He had done so as Chief Counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee (1957-59), grilling Mafia bosses and corrupt union officials–most notably Teamsters President James Hoffa.

Appointed Attorney General by JFK, he unleashed the FBI on the Mafia. When the steel companies colluded in an inflationary rise in the price of steel in 1962, Bobby sicced the FBI on them.

In 1963, JFK’s cavorting with Ellen Rometsh threatened to destroy his Presidency. Rometsch, a Washington, D.C. call girl, was suspected by the FBI of being an East German spy.

With Republican Senators preparing to investigate the rumors, Bobby ordered Rometsch deported immediately (to which, as a German citizen, she was subject).

He also ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to deliver a warning to the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate: The Bureau was fully aware of the extramarital trysts of most of its members. And an investigation into the President’s sex life could easily lead into revelations of Senatorial sleaze.

Plans for a Senatorial investigation were shelved.

BEING LOVED AND FEARED

In the 1993 movie, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) asks his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri): “Is it better to be loved or feared?”

Related image

Sonny gives advice to his adopted son, Calogero

Sonny says if he had to choose, he would rather be feared. But he adds a warning straight out of Machiavelli: “The trick is not being hated. That’s why I treat my men good, but not too good.

“I give too much, then they don’t need me. I give them just enough where they need me, but they don’t hate me.”

Machiavelli, writing in The Prince, went further:

“Still a Prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred, for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together. And [this] will always be attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women.”

Many who quote Machiavelli in defense of being feared overlook this vital point: It’s essential to avoid becoming hated.

To establish a fearful reputation, a leader must act decisively and ruthlessly when the interests of the organization are threatened. Punitive action must be taken promptly and confidently.

One or two harsh actions of this kind can make a leader more feared than a reign of terror.

In fact, it’s actually dangerous to constantly employ cruelties or punishments. Whoever does so, warns Machiavelli, “is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him.”

The 20th century President who came closest to realizing Machiavelli’s “loved and feared” prince in himself was Ronald Reagan.

Always smiling, quick with a one-liner (especially at press conferences), seemingly unflappable, he projected a constantly optimistic view of his country and its citizens.

Ronald Reagan

In his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention he declared: “[The Democrats] say that the United States has had its days in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.… My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.”

And Americans enthusiastically responded to that view, twice electing him President (1980 and 1984).

But there was a steely, ruthless side to Reagan that appeared when he felt crossed.

On August 3, 1981, nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers walked out after contract talks with the Federal Aviation Administration collapsed. As a result, some 7,000 flights across the country were canceled on that day at the peak of the summer travel season.

Reagan branded the strike illegal. He threatened to fire any controller who failed to return to work within 48 hours.

On August 5, Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who hadn’t returned to work. The mass firing slowed commercial air travel, but it did not cripple the system as the strikers had forecast.

Reagan’s action stunned the American labor movement. Reagan was the only American President to have belonged to a union, the Screen Actors Guild. He had even been president of this–from 1947 to 1954.

There were no more strikes by Federal workers during Reagan’s tenure in office.

Similarly, Libya’s dictator, Moammar Kadaffi, learned that Reagan was not a man to cross.

On April 5, 1986, Libyan agents bombed a nightclub in West Berlin, killing three people, one a U.S. serviceman. The United States quickly learned that Libyan agents in East Germany were behind the attack.

On April 15, acting on Reagan’s orders, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps bombers struck at several sites in Tripoli and Benghazi. Reportedly, Kaddafi himself narrowly missed becoming a casualty.

There were no more acts of Libyan terrorism against Americans for the rest of Reagan’s term.

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