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JIMMY HOFFA RETURNS–ON NETFLIX: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 17, 2019 at 12:23 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa.

Having “helped” Kennedy (Cotter Smith) to oust corrupt Teamsters President Dave Beck, Hoffa (Robert Blake) believes that Kennedy should now be satisfied: “He’s got his scalp.  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.  

Robert Blake as James R Hoffa

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 112,000 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 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.

Meanwhile, 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.  

“Take the stone out of my shoe!” he shouted, echoing a Sicilian curse. “Don’t you worry about that little Bobby sonofabitch. He’s going to be taken care of!”

[When one of his colleagues warned that murdering RFK would trigger the wrath of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, Marcello replied: “In Sicily they say if you want to kill a dog you don’t cut off the tail. You go for the head.”

[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. 

JIMMY HOFFA RETURNS–ON NETFLIX: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 16, 2019 at 12:10 am

James Riddle Hoffa, the onetime president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union, vanished 44 years ago—on July 30, 1975.

Elected President of the Teamsters in 1957, Hoffa was convicted of jury tampering in 1964 and began serving an eight-year prison sentence in 1967. Before doing so, he named Frank Fitzsimmons, whom he thought a totally loyal ally, to serve as a caretaker president.

Pardoned by President Richard M. Nixon in December, 1971, Hoffa immediately began campaigning to regain the presidency of the union in 1976. But Fitzsommons had come to enjoy the IBT presidency—and wanted to keep it. 

More importantly, the Mafia wanted him to keep it. Under Hoffa, the Teamsters had bankrolled various Mafia real estate schemes—such as building casinos in Las Vegas.

But Hoffa had kept a tight hold on Teamster monies. Fitzsimmons, by contrast, had allowed the Mafia a free hand—at the expense of the Teamster pension fund meant for retiring members.

Warned by his onetime Mafia allies to drop his campaign for re-election, Hoffa charged ahead anyway.

On July 30, 1975, he expected to meet with three major Mafia bosses at a restaurant in Detroit: Anthony Giacalone, Russell Buffalino and Anthony Provenzano. With their backing, he expected a guaranteed victory.

Instead, he disappeared. 

The FBI assigned 200 agents to investigate his disappearance. But Hoffa’s body was never found, and even the way he died remained a mystery.

Then, in 2004, former prosecutor-turned-author Charles Brandt published a non-fiction book: I Heard You Paint Houses. Based on tape recorded interviews with former Mafia hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, it revealed the events that led up to Hoffa’s execution. 

And it was none other than Sheeran—to whom Hoffa had presented a gold, diamond-encrusted watch in October, 1974—who carried out the execution. 

Image result for Images of I Heard You Paint Houses

This November, Sheeran’s life will be depicted in a new movie: The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese. Sheeran will be portrayed by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci will portray Mafia boss Russell Buffalino and Al Pacino will play Hoffa.

The Irishman will receive a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, followed by digital streaming on November 27 by Netflix.

This is not the first movie made about the life and death of Jimmy Hoffa. Sylvester Stallone played Johnny Kovak, a Hoffa-like labor leader, in 1978’s F.I.S.T. And Jack Nicholson played Hoffa in a 1992 movie.

But the most lengthy and detailed portrayal of Hoffa’s stormy life came 36 years ago on TV.

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

In 1957, as a young, idealistic attorney, Kennedy had declared war on Hoffa, the president of the Mafia-dominated International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.

As chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, Kennedy was appalled at the corruption he discovered among high-ranking Teamster officials. As he saw it, under Hoffa’s leadership, the union was nothing less than “a conspiracy of evil.”

Robert Francis Kennedy as Chief Counsel, Senate Labor Rackets Committee

Hoffa, in turn, held an equally unflattering view of Kennedy. “A rich punk,” said Hoffa, who didn’t know or care about “the average workingman.”

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 Teamsters posed such a threat.

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

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

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.”

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.

Having “helped” Kennedy to oust Beck, Hoffa believes that Kennedy should now be satisfied: “He’s got his scalp.  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.” 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. 

FORGET ABOUT AFGHANISTAN—THE TALIBAN IS RIGHT HERE

In History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 13, 2019 at 12:05 am

On April 15, 2015, CBS News broke a truly sensational and disturbing story:

Agents from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were investigating the online leak of home addresses of senior and former officials of the FBI, DHS and other Federal law enforcement agencies.

Even worse: Rather than Islamic terrorists being the culprits, the suspects were believed to be members of an American Right-wing extremist group.

The message was entitled: DHS-CIA-FBI TRAITORS HOME ADDRESSES.

It read: “LET THESE EVIL NWO SATANISTS KNOW THAT THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY FOR THEIR 911 TREASON, AND THEIR FUTURE FEMA CAMP PLANNED PUBLIC CRACKDOWN TREASON ALSO

“JESUS IS LORD, AND THE PUBLIC IS IN CHARGE, NOT THESE SATANIC NWO STOOGES”

“NWO” could be an acronym for “New World Order,” a term used by conspiracy theorists to refer to a totalitarian world government.

In a statement, DHS said:

“The safety of our workforce is always a primary concern. DHS has notified employees who were identified in the posting and encouraged them to be vigilant. DHS will adjust security measures, as appropriate, to protect our employees.”

CBS did not say where the information was posted. 

Click here: Right-Wing Group Blamed In Leak Of U.S. Officials’ Home Addresses: Report

Four years later, a check of Google stories about this crime shows no updates released by the government. So presumably the investigation is continuing.

Americans shouldn’t be shocked to find that a Right-wing group betrayed the safety of its fellow Americans.

The goals of both the American Right and Islamic terrorist groups such as the Taliban actually share much in common:

  • Women should have fewer rights than men.
  • Abortion should be illegal.
  • There should be no separation between church and state.
  • Religion should be taught in school.
  • Religious doctrine trumps science.
  • Government should be based on religious doctrine.
  • Homosexuality should be outlawed.

A 2010 book, American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right, vividly documents the similarities between these two groups.

Its author is Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, an American political blog that publishes news and opinions from a liberal viewpoint.

American Taliban opens with this provocative statement:

“Yes, the Republican party, and the entire modern conservative movement is, in fact, very much like the Taliban.

“In their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.

“The American Taliban—whether in their militaristic zeal, their brute faith in masculinity, their disdain for women’s rights, their outright hatred of gays, their aversion to science and modernity or their staunch anti-intellectualism—share a litany of mores, values, and tactics with Islamic extremists….

“Let’s be honest, the freedoms that jihadists hate are the very same freedoms that our own homegrown repressive ideologues hate: freedom of thought, of inquiry, of lifestyle.”

Its subsequent chapters document the all-consuming rage of the American Right to brutally control the lives of their fellow citizens.

Ironically, Moulitsas’ thesis is—unintentionally—supported by no less an authority than Right-wing author Dinesh D’Souza.

Among the bestsellers D’Souza has written: Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, and Obama’s America: Unmaking the American Dream.

The title of his 2008 bestseller sums up D’Souza’s take on liberalism: The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11.

From the book’s dust jacket:

“Muslims and other traditional people around the world allege that secular American values are being imposed on their societies and that these values undermine religious belief, weaken the traditional family, and corrupt the innocence of children.

“But it is not ‘America’ that is doing this to them, it is the American cultural left. What traditional societies consider repulsive and immoral, the cultural left considers progressive and liberating….

“D’Souza argues that the war on terror is really a war for the hearts and minds of traditional Muslims—and traditional peoples everywhere. The only way to win the struggle with radical Islam is to convince traditional Muslims that America is on their side.”  

In short: America needs to adopt the values of the Taliban.

* * * * *

On March 19, 1945, facing certain defeat, Adolf Hitler ordered a massive “scorched-earth” campaign throughout Germany.

All German agriculture, industry, ships, communications, roads, food stuffs, mines, bridges, stores and utility plants were to be destroyed.

If implemented, it would deprive the entire German population of even the barest necessities after the war.

Adolf Hitler addressing boy soldiers as the Third Reich crumbles

“If the war is lost,” Hitler told Albert Speer, his former architect and now Minister of Armaments, “the nation will also perish.

“This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis which the people will need to continue even a most primitive existence.

“On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves, because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation.

“Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have all been killed.”

Hitler’s view was: “If I can’t rule Germany, there won’t be a Germany.”

Apparently, some members of the American Right have reached the same decision about the United States. 

UP IN SMOKE: YOUR HEALTH

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 12, 2019 at 12:07 am

Earlier this year, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Supervisor Shamann Walton co-authored a measure to ban the sale of e-cigarettes in the city until their safety had been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

No e-cigarettes on the market have gone through such a review.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the measure in June—making San Francisco the first city in the country to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes. 

It’s slated to go into effect in January, 2020. 

Now vaping company Juul Labs, Inc., is sponsoring Proposition C to overturn the ban.  

This would allow e-cigarettes to be sold in San Francisco with new regulations, which would

  • Cap the number of e-cigarette devices and nicotine cartridges a customer could buy in a single transaction; and
  • Require online sellers that ship to San Francisco residents to apply for a new permit.

The measure was written by The Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation—which is financed by Juul.

So far, Juul has spent $4.3 million to promote the measure—more than has been spent on any other ballot measure this year.

Flyers promoting “Yes on C” have been plastered on apartment doors and taped to telephone poles. The airwaves are filled with similar ads promoting vaping as a “healthier alternative” to tobacco.

Aerosol (vapor) exhaled by an e-cigarette user using a nicotine-free e-cigarette.

Alexander Russy [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

In San Francisco, 15.4% of its inhabitants identify as LGBT. So Juul is promoting vaping as a healthier alternative for a population with higher-than-average smoking rates.

The company’s website boasts: “JUUL Labs was founded by former smokers, James and Adam, with the goal of improving the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes.

“We envision a world where fewer people use cigarettes, and where people who smoke cigarettes have the tools to reduce or eliminate their consumption entirely, should they so desire.”

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

  • Introduced in 2015, Juul e-cigarettes have skyrocketed in popularity among youth across the United States.
  • Public health officials have labeled their use “a youth e-cigarette epidemic.”
  • In 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students rose by 78%.
  • More than 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes—an increase of 1.5 million students in one year.

VaporVanity.com [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the reasons for the popularity of Juul’s e-cigarettes include:

  • They’re “sleek, high tech and easy to hide.”
  • They look like USB flash drives and can be charged in the USB port of a computer.
  • They come in flavors that appeal to youth—such as fruit, creme, mint, mango, menthol and cucumber.
  • They deliver nicotine more effectively and at higher doses than other e-cigarettes.
  • Although Juul claims that each “pod” (cartridge of nicotine liquid) contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, many teens don’t know they’re using a tobacco product.

Juul sales have grown dramatically and now comprise over 70% of the U.S. e-cigarette market.

But Juul faces a potentially devastating crisis: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention warned on September 6 that Americans should not smoke e-cigarettes.

The reason: Hundreds of people have become sick and at least six people have died from lung disease related to vaping.

Serious adverse effects of vaping include corneoscleral lacerations or ocular burns or death after e-cigarette explosion. Less serious adverse effects of vaping include eye irritation, blurry vision, dizziness, headache, throat irritation, coughing, increased airway resistance, chest pain, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

According to a news story on the September 6 edition of the PBS Newshour:

“As many as 450 people, including 215 cases formally reported to the CDC, in 33 states have reported possible pulmonary disease after using e-cigarette devices, liquids, refill pods and cartridges.”  

“Symptoms of this pulmonary disease include shortness of breath, fatigue, fever and nausea or vomiting.” 

“While this investigation is ongoing, people should not use e-cigarette products,” said Dana Meaney-Delman, who oversees the CDC investigation. 

The Annals of Internal Medicine report that at least 10.8 million adults are estimated to use e-cigarette products in the United States.

Of those, 15% said they had never smoked cigarettes. 

Many chemicals and additives are present in e-cigarettes. And medical professionals don’t know what chemicals, or combinations of chemicals, could lead people to sicken and/or die.

The office of the U.S. Surgeon General warns: Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain such harmful ingredients as:

  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs;
  • Volatile organic compounds;
  • Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead;
  • Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.

And while Juul touts its product as a safe alternative for those who want to quit smoking, the advice offered by the CDC is totally different: “Adult smokers who are attempting to quit should use evidence-based smoking cessation treatments, including counseling and FDA-approved medications.”

Many critics of the San Francisco moratorium have argued: “Even if people can’t get e-cigarettes legally, they’ll get them illegally. Or they’ll buy them in bay Area cities that don’t ban them.”

And that is true.

As with any banned product for which there is big demand, legions of suppliers—legal or illegal—will happily keep them supplied.

At best, cities, states and the Federal Government will pass laws regulating where e-cigarettes can be smoked.

Meanwhile, those who want to risk their health inhaling—and exhaling—poisonous vapors will do so. They cannot be stopped—except when their bodies give out.

Which, for legions of e-cigarette smokers, is now starting to happen.

OBAMA AND TRUMP: DUELING LEGACIES IN FICTION

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 10, 2019 at 12:08 am

Presidential legacies live on in unexpected ways.  

Right now, the legacies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump are vying for the attention of—fiction readers.

In Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery, author Andrew Shaffer has fashioned a novel that is half-mystery, half-bromance.   

Vice President Joe Biden has just left the Obama White House and doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Then Finn Donnelly, his favorite railroad conductor, dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues.

To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” calls on the skills of his former boss: The 44th President of the United States. Together they scour biker bars, cheap motels and other memorable haunts throughout Delaware.Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries)

Then Biden unearths a disturbing truth about his longtime—and now dead—friend. This, in turn, leads Biden and Obama to uncover the sinister forces behind America’s opioid epidemic.

The book is pure fantasy fun, as evidenced from this review by Alexandra Alter in The New York Times

“[Hope Never Dies is] a roughly 300-page work of political fanfiction, an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes. But it’s also at times a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances.”

A reader named Casey, reviewing the novel for Goodreads, writes: “While Shaffer could have leaned into nostalgia alone, he’s written a solid mystery with the characters fleshed out as more than just cliches.

“The reader really feels Biden’s longing to be helpful and his anguish over seeing 44’s legacy undone so quickly by an individual who shall remain nameless. (The presidential zings in this book are incredible, truly.)

“The tension between the two rings as true as it did when they were in office….By all means, this book shouldn’t work as well as it does. For a few hours, I got to enjoy the company of politicians who behaved like adults (mostly). It sure was nice.”

Contrasting with the relatively lighthearted fictional image of Barack Obama is the immensely darker one of Donald Trump.

Don Winslow offers Trump an extended cameo appearance in The Border, his massive, 736-page novel about America’s war on drugs—and the horrific violence it has spawned in Mexico. It’s the third of a trilogy of novels vividly portraying the violent costs of an unwinnable conflict. 

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog Book 3)

Art Keller is a dedicated agent of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For over 40 years, he has waged all-out war on Adán Barrera, the godfather of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Appointed director of the DEA, Keller now faces a series of deadly enemies:

  • A heroin epidemic surging across America; 
  • Hitmen who want to kill him;
  • Politicians who want to sabotage his agenda; and
  • An incoming administration that’s allied with the very drug traffickers he’s trying to destroy.

And heading this administration is John Dennison—Donald Trump in all but name—who:

  • Gratuitously insults people on Twitter;
  • Fires a Special Counsel;
  • Gets blackmailed by a woman he once bedded; and
  • Colludes with drug traffickers for a multi-million dollar loan to finance his Presidential campaign.

Whereas the reviews for Hope Never Dies were as upbeat as the book itself, those of The Border reflect the novel’s mercilessly grim take on a war that can’t be won. 

Los Angeles Times:The Border is intricate, mean and swift, a sprawling canvass of characters including narco kingpins, a Guatemalan stowaway, a Staten Island heroin addict, a kinky hit woman, a barely veiled Donald Trump and DEA agent Art Keller, who….has been noble and merciless, a conflicted wanderer who makes America face the transgressions committed in its name.”

Rolling Stone: “Clocking in at over 700 pages, it is his most overtly political installment yet. He takes on the Trump administration directly, creating a fictional candidate, then president, who stokes racist fears of Mexicans, campaigns on ‘building the wall’ and, along with his venal son-in-law, gets caught up in a shady real estate deal involving Cartel money.”

NPR:The Border becomes a book for our times. Like Shakespeare, it makes a three-act drama of our modern moment. Like Shakespeare’s plays, it shows us a world that is our own, a history that is our own, a burden that is our own, rendered out into the rhythm of scenes and arcs, chapters and parts.”

The signature slogan of Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign was: “Yes, We Can!” The slogan of Trump’s 2016 effort could have been: “No, You Can’t.” 

Obama concentrated the full force of his attention on reforming American healthcare—by making it available to millions whose insurance refused to provide coverage.

Trump’s top priority is to separate the United States from Mexico with an impenetrable wall—and he has even diverted $3.6 billion from Pentagon funding to pay for it. 

Like John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama will likely be positively remembered as much for what he tried to do as what he succeeded at doing.

Like Richard M. Nixon, Donald Trump will likely be remembered as a menacing stain on American history. 

FORGET MARY POPPINS: IN SAN FRANCISCO, BUMS ARE IN, BIRDS ARE OUT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 3, 2019 at 12:04 am

If you visit San Francisco, forget what Julie Andrews told you in Mary Poppins: Don’t “Feed the Birds.”  

Getting caught doing so can net you a fine from $25 to $1,000.

City officials launched the campaign in 2004, fining people who fed pigeons in the Tenderloin area.

Within a month, they extended the crackdown to Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and the cable car turnaround in downtown.

Feeding birds “damages property, and it’s not good for the bird population,” said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the Public Works Department at the time of the ban.

“We have a whole education campaign letting people know it’s against the law,” said Falvey.

This includes posters erected by the Department of Public Works, which read:

“Please do not feed the pigeons. There are dozens of reasons why, but mainly: Feeding pigeons harms our neighborhoods and also harms the birds.

“Large population of pigeons is a health hazard. Our huge feral pigeon population is a health hazard and creates many problems in the city.

“Pigeon droppings dirty public spaces, do costly damage to buildings, and can spread life-threatening diseases, especially to the elderly and immune-deficient. Their nesting materials block drains and harbor parasites like bird mites. Pigeon food makes a mess and attracts rats.

“Feeding pigeons promotes over-breeding. Pigeon feeding produces over-breeding.

“Pigeons normally breed two or three times a year, producing two eggs per brood. Overfed city pigeons can breed up to eight times a year.

“Pigeons are harmed when fed. When you feed pigeons, you are not doing them a favor. They lose their natural ability to scavenge and survive on their own.

“Pigeon over population leads to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and produces sick and injured birds. A smaller flock is healthier and does less damage.

“It is illegal. It’s against the law to feed pigeons on the streets or sidewalks of San Francisco (Sec. 486. M.P.C). Violators may be cited and fined.

“You can help keep your neighborhood safe and clean and the pigeon population under control by not feeding pigeons. Keep edible garbage away from pigeons by discarding it in a securely covered garbage can.

“And don’t feed pets outside. You may report pigeon feeders to the San Francisco Police Department at 415-553-0123, or by calling 3-1-1. 

“Please join in on the efforts to keep San Francisco clean and beautiful by NOT feeding the pigeons.”

* * * * *

At the same time that city officials are telling residents, “Please don’t feed the pigeons,” they aren’t telling them, “Please don’t feed the bums.”

Because of its mild climate and social programs that give cash payments to just-arrived vagrants, San Francisco is often considered the homelessness capital of the United States.

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (1996–2004) actually proposed that the city create electronic cards for transients that residents could swipe with their credit cards, thus transferring money from their accounts to that of the recipient.

Brown dropped the idea when faced with the brutal truth that not many citizens—especially women—would be willing to whip out their credit card when confronted by a smelly, unshaved and possibly psychotic transient.

San Francisco spends spends more than $40,000 per homeless person each year.  In 2018, the city spent $305 million on what are now euphemistically called “the homeless.” That’s because city officials don’t want to use words that accurately describe who makes up the overwhelming majority of this population: 

  • Druggies
  • Drunks
  • Mental cases
  • Bums

Eight city departments oversee at least 400 contracts to 76 private organizations, most of them nonprofits, that are charged with eliminating this pestilence.

Estimates of this population range from 7,000 to 10,000 people, of which approximately 3,000 to 5,000 refuse shelter.

A similar public crackdown on “bum-feeders” could go like this:

“Please do not feed the bums. There are dozens of reasons why, but mainly: Feeding bums harms our neighborhoods and also harms the bums.

“Our huge feral bum population is a health hazard and creates many problems in the city. Bum droppings dirty public spaces, do costly damage to buildings, and can spread life-threatening diseases, especially to the elderly and immune-deficient.

“Their stolen shopping carts and filthy possessions block sidewalks and harbor parasites like bedbugs and lice. Bum food makes a mess and attracts rats.

“Feeding bums promotes overbreeding.  Bums normally travel alone, foraging for drugs and/or alcohol. Pampered city bums flock to liquor stores and drug dens where they can indulge their vices, thus taxing city medical services to the limit.

“When you feed bums, you are not doing them a favor. They lose their natural ability to find work and support themselves and their families.

“Bum over population leads to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and produces sick and injured bums. A smaller horde is healthier and does less damage.

“It’s against the law to feed bums on the streets or sidewalks of San Francisco. Violators may be cited and fined.

“You can help keep your neighborhood safe and clean and the bum population under control by not feeding bums.

“Keep edible garbage away from bums by discarding it in a securely covered garbage can. And don’t feed bums outside.

“It is Illegal.  You may report bum feeders to the San Francisco Police Department at 415-553-0123, or by calling 3-1-1.

“Please join in on the efforts to keep San Francisco clean and beautiful by NOT feeding the bums.”

A MORALITY LESSON FOR LABOR DAY

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 2, 2019 at 12:13 am

Every Christmas, TV audiences find comfort and triumph in the rerunning of a black-and-white 1946 movie: It’s a Wonderful Life.

But in its depiction of the endless struggle between management and labor, it could just as well be shown on Labor Day.

It’s the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a decent husband and father who hovers on the brink of suicide—until his guardian angel, Clarence, suddenly intervenes.

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Clarence reveals to George what his home town, Bedford Falls, New York, would be like if he had never been born. George finds himself shocked to learn:

  • With no counterweight to the schemes of rapacious slumlord Henry F. Potter, Bedford Falls becomes Potterville, filled with pawn shops and sleazy nightclubs.
  • With no George Bailey to save his younger brother, Harry, from drowning in a frozen pond, Harry drowns.
  • With no Harry to live to become a Naval fighter pilot in World War II, he’s not on hand to shoot down two Japanese planes targeting an American troopship.
  • As a result, the troopship and its crew are destroyed.

George is forced to face the significant role he has played in the lives of so many others.

Armed with this new knowledge, he once again embraces life, running through the snow-covered streets of Bedford Falls and shouting “Merry Christmas!” to everyone he meets.

Audiences have hailed George Bailey as an Everyman hero—and the film as a life-affirming testament to the unique importance of each individual.

But there is another aspect of this movie that has not been so closely studied: The legacy of its villain, Henry F. Potter, who, as  played by Lionel Barrymore, bears a striking resemblance to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

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Henry F. Potter

It is Potter—the richest man in Bedford Falls—whose insatiable greed threatens to destroy it. And it is Potter whose criminality drives George Bailey to the brink of suicide.

George dreams of leaving Bedford Falls and building skyscrapers. Meanwhile, he works at the Bailey Building and Loan Association, which plays a vital role in the life of the community.

Potter, a member of the Building and Loan Association board, tries to persuade the board of directors to dissolve the firm. He objects to their providing home loans for the working poor.

George persuades them to reject Potter’s proposal, but they agree only on condition that George run the Building and Loan. Reluctantly, George agrees.

Potter tries to lure George away from the Building and Loan, offering him a $20,000 salary and the chance to visit Europe. George is briefly tempted.

But then he realizes that Potter intends to close down the Building and Loan and deny financial help to those who most need it. Angrily, he turns down Potter’s offer: “In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider.”

Momentarily defeated, Potter bides his time for revenge.

On Christmas Eve morning, the town prepares a hero’s welcome for George’s brother, Harry. George’s scatter-brained Uncle Billy visits Potter’s bank to deposit $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash funds.

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He taunts Potter by reading the newspaper headlines announcing the coming tribute. Potter snatches the paper, and Billy unthinkingly allows the money to be snatched with it.

When Billy leaves, Potter opens the paper and sees the money. He keeps it, knowing that misplacement of bank money will bankrupt the Building and Loan and bring criminal charges against George.

It’s at this point that George almost commits suicide—only to be saved by Clarence, his guardian angel.

Then, word of George’s plight suddenly reaches his wide range of grateful friends. A flood of townspeople arrive with more than enough donations to save George and the Building and Loan.

The movie ends on a triumphant note, with George basking in the glow of love from his family and friends.

But no critic seems to have noticed that Henry Potter’s theft has gone unnoticed.  (Uncle Billy can’t recall how he lost the money.) Potter is richer by $8,000. And ready to go on taking advantage of others.

Perhaps it’s time to see Potter’s actions in a new light—that of America’s richest 1%, ever ready to prey upon the weaknesses of others.

Justice never catches up with Potter in the movie. But the joke-writers at Saturday Night Live later conjured up a satisfactory punishment for his avarice.

In this version, Uncle Billy suddenly remembers that he left the money with Potter. Enraged, George Bailey (Dana Carvey) leads his crowd of avenging friends to Potter’s office.

Potter realizes the jig is up and offers to return the money. But George wants more than that—and he and his friends proceed to stomp and beat Potter to death.

The skit ends with with George and his friends singing “Auld Lang Syne”—as they do in the movie—as they finish off Potter with clubs.

America is rapidly a divided nation—one where the richest 1% lord it over an increasingly impoverished 99%.

The time may be coming when many Americans are ready to embrace the SNL approach to economic justice.

TRUMP’S INSANITY IS AMERICA’S REALITY: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 30, 2019 at 12:08 am

“Drawing Present-Day Lessons: Is Donald Trump the Modern Caligula?”

That’s the question raised in the last chapter of the new biography: Caligula: The Mad Emperor of Rome, by Stephen Dando-Collins 

Dando-Collins is the award-winning author of 43 books—nine of which focus on ancient Rome. Among these: Mark Antony’s Heroes and The Ides: Caesar’s Murder and the War for Rome.

Among the similarities he finds between Caligula and Trump:

  • Caligula ruled the largest military and economic power of his age.
  • Trump rules the largest military/economic power of the 21st century.
  • Caligula emptied the Roman treasury through extravagant spending.
  • Trump’s combination of massive tax cuts for the rich and equally massive Federal spending has ballooned the national debt to $22.5 trillion.
  • Neither Caligula nor Trump served in the military.
  • Neither Caligula nor Trump had governing experience before ascending to power.
  • Both had multiple wives—Caligula had four; Trump has three
  • Once in power, Caligula rid himself of advisers who tried to restrain his worst impulses or refused to act on them.
  • So has Trump.

Gaius Caligula

  • After an unsuccessful attempt to conquer Britain, Caligula declared war on Neptune, the god of the sea. He ordered his soldiers to whip the waves and gather seashells to bring home as “spoils.” He then sent messengers to Rome claiming victory.
  • Trump has multiple times seriously suggested using nuclear bombs to stop hurricanes from hitting the United States, 
  • Caligula boasted: “Bear in mind that I can treat anyone exactly as I please.”
  • Trump has similarly boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. 
  • Caligula thought himself a military genius—stealing the breastplate from the corpse of Alexander the Great and wearing it. 
  • Trump has boasted:  “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.” 
  • Caligula delighted in humiliating adversaries. According to his biographer, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus: “He forced parents to attend the executions of their sons, sending a litter for one man who pleaded ill health, and inviting another to dinner immediately after witnessing the death, and trying to rouse him to gaiety and jesting by a great show of affability.” 
  • Trump similarly relishes humiliating both adversaries and former allies in press conferences and on Twitter, giving them derogatory nicknames such as “Crooked Hillary” Clinton, “Little Adam Schitt” (Schiff), “Little Marco” Rubio, “Rocket Man” Kim Jong-Un.

Donald Trump

  • Caligula never forgot a slight and relished exacting vengeance, even years afterward. His infamous order for torturing victims: “Strike so that he may feel that he is dying.” 
  • Trump has famously said: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”  
  • Caligula reveled in self-worship, calling himself: “Pious,” “Child of the Camp,” “Father of the Armies,” and “Greatest and Best of Caesars.”
  • Trump has similarly declared himself “so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!”  
  • Flattered by sycophants, Caligula began to believe himself a god. He appeared at the temple of Castor and Pollux to be worshiped as Jupiter Latiaris. He also set up a special temple to his own godhead.
  • Similarly, during a press conference, Trump reached heavenward for legitimacy. Defending his potentially disastrous trade war with China, he proclaimed: “Somebody had to do it. I am the Chosen One.” 
  • He also quoted Right-wing conspiracist Wayne Allyn Root as saying: “The Jewish people in Israel love him [Trump] like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God.”
  • Caligula lived in incest with his three sisters. He violated Drusilla when he was still a minor.
  • Trump has boasted: “I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” 

The trait that finally destroyed Caligula was his joy in humiliating others.

His fatally taunted Cassius Chaerea, a member of his own bodyguard. Caligula considered Chaerea effeminate because of a weak voice and mocked him with nicknames like “Priapus” and “Venus.”

On January 22 41 A.D. Chaerea and several other bodyguards hacked Caligula to death with swords before other guards could save him.

Trump has repeatedly outraged members of the American Intelligence community—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—by siding with Vladimir Putin against them. He has in effect accused them of lying about Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

On December 22, 2018, Trump shut down the Federal Government, forcing Secret Service agents to work for more than a month without pay because Democrats refused to fund his senseless “wall” against Mexico.

Now Trump—through the  US Citizenship and Immigration Services—has decreed that children born to American military members outside the United States will no longer be automatically considered citizens.

Many members of all of these agencies—FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Secret Service, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines—come in contact with him almost daily. And many of them are armed. (Secret Service agents are always armed.) 

As Niccolo Machiavelli warns in The Discourses: “When a prince becomes universally hated, it is likely that he’s harmed some individuals—who thus seek revenge. This desire is increased by seeing that the prince is widely loathed.”

TRUMP’S INSANITY IS AMERICA’S REALITY: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 29, 2019 at 12:37 am

Donald Trump’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (C-PAC) on March 2, 2019, was an occasion for rejoicing among his supporters.

But for those who prize rationality and decency in a President, it was a dismaying and frightening experience.

For two hours, Trump gave free reign to his anger and egomania.  

Among his unhinged commentaries:

“He called me up. He said, ‘You’re a great President. You’re doing a great job.’ He said, ‘I just want to tell you you’re a great President and you’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.'”

Trump attributed these remarks to California’s liberal governor, Gavin Newsom. On February 11, 2019, Newsom announced the withdrawal of several hundred National Guardsmen from the state’s southern border with Mexico—defying Trump’s request for support from border states.

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Donald Trump at CPAC

“You know if you remember my first major speech—you know the dishonest media they’ll say, ‘He didn’t get a standing ovation.’ You know why? Because everybody stood and nobody sat. They are the worst. They leave that out.”

Once again, he’s the persecuted victim of an unfair and totally unappreciative news media.

“And I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me. Nobody. I mean, who use its more than I do? But the First Amendment gives all of us—it gives it to me, it gives it to you, it gives it to all Americans, the right to speak our minds freely. It gives you the right and me the right to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.”

Trump has repeatedly called the nation’s free press “the enemy of the people”—a slander popularized by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. And while Trump brags about his usage of the First Amendment, he’s used Non-Disclosure Agreements and threats of lawsuits to deny that right to others.

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“For too long, we’ve traded away our jobs to other countries. So terrible.”

While this remark—like virtually every remark Trump made at CPAC—got rousing applause, he failed to mention that his own products are made overseas:

  • Ties: Made in China 
  • Suits: Made in Indonesia 
  • Trump Vodka: Made in the Netherlands, and later in Germany
  • Crystal glasses, decanters: Made in Slovenia 
  • And the clothing and accessories line of his daughter, Ivanka, is produced entirely in factories in Bangladesh, Indonesia and China.

“By the way, you folks are in here—this place is packed, there are lines that go back six blocks and I tell you that because you won’t read about it, OK.”

He’s obsessed with fear that the media won’t make him look popular.

“So we’re all part of this very historic movement, a movement the likes of which, actually, the world has never seen before. There’s never been anything like this. There’s been some movements, but there’s never been anything like this.”

Actually, the world has seen a movement like this—in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Trump sees himself as the single greatest figure in history. So anything he’s involved with must be unprecedented.

“But I always say, Obamacare doesn’t work. And these same people two years ago and a year ago were complaining about Obamacare.”

In 2010, 48 million Americans lacked health insurance. By 2016, that number had been reduced to 28.6 million. So 20 million Americans now have access to medical care they previously couldn’t get.

“But we’re taking a firm, bold and decisive measure, we have to, to turn things around. The era of empty talk is over, it’s over.” 

Trump has boasted that he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un “fell in love.” Then he met with Kim in Vietnam—and got stiffed on a deal for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

On July 16, 2018, Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There he blamed American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—instead of Putin for Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

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“I’ll tell you what they [agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement] do, they came and endorsed me, ICE came and endorsed me. They never endorsed a presidential candidate before, they might not even be allowed to.” 

Trump can’t stop boasting about how popular he is.

“These are hard-working, great, great Americans. These are unbelievable people who have not been treated fairly. Hillary called them deplorable. They’re not deplorable.”

On the contrary: “Deplorable” is exactly the word for those who vote their racism, ignorance, superstition and hatred of their fellow citizens.

A FINAL NOTE: Trump held himself up for adoration just three days after Michael Cohen, his longtime fixer:

  • Damned him as a racist, a conman and a cheat.
  • Revealed that Trump had cheated on his taxes and bought the silence of a porn “star” to prevent her revealing a 2006 tryst before the 2016 election.
  • Estimated he had stiffed, on Trump’s behalf, hundreds of workers Trump owed money to. 

And, only two days earlier, Trump had returned from a much-ballyhooed meeting in Vietnam with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. Trump hoped to get a Nobel Peace Prize by persuading Kim to give up his nuclear arsenal.

Instead, Trump got stiffed—and returned home empty-handed. 

TRUMP’S INSANITY IS AMERICA’S REALITY: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 28, 2019 at 12:14 am

On March 4, 2017, less than two months after taking office as President, Donald Trump—offering absolutely no evidence—accused former President Barack Obama of illegally tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election:

“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!” 

A subsequent investigation by the Justice Department turned up no evidence to substantiate Trump’s foray into Presidential libel.

And during his first two weeks as President, Trump attacked 22 people, places and things on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.  

Trump’s vindictiveness, his narcissism, his compulsive aggression, his complaints that his “enemies” in government and the press are trying to destroy him, have caused many to ask: Could the President of the United States be suffering from mental illness?

One who has dared to answer this question is John D. Gartner, a practicing psychotherapist. 

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John D. Gartner

Gartner graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received his Ph.D in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, and served as a part-time assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School for 28 years.

During an interview by U.S. News & World Report (published on January 27, 2017), Gartner said: “Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.”

Gartner said that Trump suffers from “malignant narcissism,” whose symptoms include:

  • anti-social behavior
  • sadism
  • aggressiveness
  • paranoia
  • and grandiosity. 

“We’ve seen enough public behavior by Donald Trump now that we can make this diagnosis indisputably,” said Gartner, who admitted he had not personally examined Trump. 

Completely agreeing with that estimate was Bandy X. Lee, an assistant clinical psychiatry professor at the Yale School of Medicine.

She is the editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. 

“It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to notice that our president is mentally compromised,” she and colleague Judith Lewis Herman asserted in the book’s prologue.

According to Dr. Craig Malkin, a Lecturer in Psychology for Harvard Medical School and a licensed psychologist, Trump is a pathological narcissist:

“Pathological narcissism begins,” Malkin wrote, “when people become so addicted to feeling special that, just like with any drug, they’ll do anything to get their ‘high,’ including lie, steal, cheat, betray and even hurt those closest to them.

“When they can’t let go of their need to be admired or recognized, they have to bend or invent a reality in which they remain special despite all messages to the contrary. In point of fact, they become dangerously psychotic. It’s just not always obvious until it’s too late.”

Lance Dodes, a retired psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, believes that Trump is a sociopath: “The failure of normal empathy is central to sociopathy, which is marked by an absence of guilt, intentional manipulation and controlling or even sadistically harming others for personal power or gratification.”

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More of that behavior was on full display on March 2, 2019 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland.  

For more than two hours, Trump delivered the longest speech (so far) of his Presidency to his fanatically Right-wing audience.

Facing a hostile Democratic House of Representatives and a potentially explosive report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump threw down the gauntlet.

“You know, I’m totally off script right now,” Trump said early on. “This is how I got elected, by being off script.” 

And from the moment he embraced an American flag as though he wanted to hump it, it was clear: He was “totally off script.” 

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“How many times did you hear, for months and months, ‘There is no way to 270?’ You know what that means, right? ‘There is no way to 270.'”

Once again, Trump reveals his obsession with his win in 2016—as if no one else had ever been elected President.

“If you tell a joke, if you’re sarcastic, if you’re having fun with the audience, if you’re on live television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena, and if you say something like, ‘Russia, please, if you can, get us Hillary Clinton’s emails. Please, Russia, please.'”

Here he’s trying to “spin” his infamous invitation to hackers in Vladimir Putin’s Russia to intervene in an American Presidential election by obtaining the emails of  his campaign rival. Which they did that same day.

“So now we’re waiting for a report, and we’ll find out whether or not, and who we’re dealing with. We’re waiting for a report by people that weren’t elected.”

It doesn’t matter to Trump that America’s foremost enemy—Russia—tried to influence a Presidential election. What matters to him is that the report may end his Presidency.

“Those red hats—and white ones. The key is in the color. The key is what it says. ‘Make America Great Again’ is what it says. Right? Right?”

Color matters.  Words, ideas don’t. 

“We have people in Congress that hate our country.” 

If you don’t agree 100% with Trump on everything, you’re a traitor. 

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