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PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED AND THE IGNORED: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 28, 2021 at 12:13 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 virtuous—and that their goodness is rewarded by the love of their subjects.

Second, it’s universally recognized that a leader who’s beloved has greater clout than one who isn’t. 

PERCEIVED WEAKNESS INVITES CONTEMPT

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

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling.

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 justified 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.)

USING TOO MUCH FEAR CAN BACKFIRE

But Presidents—like Donald Trump—who seek to rule primarily by fear can encounter their own limitations. 

During a 2016 interview, he told legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward: “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.”

As both a Presidential candidate and President, 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.

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Donald Trump

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

As President, he aimed outright hatred at President Obama. He spent much of his Presidency trying to destroy Obama’s signature legislative achievement: The Affordable Care Act, which provides access to medical care to millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

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

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

  • 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.
  • Repeatedly humiliated Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, 2017, Priebus resigned.
  • Tongue-lashed Priebus’ replacement, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. Trump was reportedly angered by Kelly’s efforts to limit the number of advisers who had 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.

If Trump ever read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, he had 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.”

On that point alone, Trump proved an absolute failure. He not only committed outrages, he boasted about them. He aroused both fear and 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.”

Trump nevertheless tried—and paid the price for it. On November 3, 2020, 81,255,933 fed-up voters evicted him for former Vice President Joe Biden.

And despite committing a series of illegal actions to remain in office, he stayed evicted.

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED AND THE IGNORED: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 27, 2021 at 12:05 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 (1961-63). Even his political foe, 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 and the IRS 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—a German citizen—deported immediately.

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?”

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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.”

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 such actions can inspire more fear 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 (1981-1989).

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 passed its zenith. My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.”

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.

PERCEIVED WEAKNESS INVITES CONTEMPT

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 greater clout than one who isn’t. 

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

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED AND THE IGNORED: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 26, 2021 at 12:25 am

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, wrote his infamous book, The Prince. This may well be its most-quoted part:

“From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

“For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours….when the necessity is remote, but when it approaches, they revolt.

“And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined. For the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service. 

“And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared. For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose. But fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

So—which is better: To be feared or loved?

In the 1993 film, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) poses that question to his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri).

“That’s a good question,” Sonny replies. “It’s nice to be both, but it’s very difficult. But if I had my choice, I would rather be feared.

“Fear lasts longer than love. Friendships that are bought with money mean nothing. You see how it is around here. I make a joke, everybody laughs. I know I’m funny, but I’m not that funny. It’s fear that keeps them loyal to me.”

Presidents face the same dilemma as Mafia capos—and resolve it in their own ways.

LOVE ME BECAUSE I NEED TO BE LOVED

Bill Clinton (1993-2001) believed that he could win over his self-appointed Republican enemies through his sheer charm.

Part of this lay in self-confidence: He had won the 1992 and 1996 elections by convincing voters that “I feel your pain.”

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Bill Clinton

And part of it lay in his need to be loved. He once said that if he were in a room with 100 people and 99 of them liked him but one didn’t, he would spend all his time with that one person, trying to win him over.

But while he could charm voters, he could not bring himself to retaliate against his sworn Republican enemies.

On April 19, 1995, Right-wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh drove a truck–packed with 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and nitromethane–to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The explosion killed 168 people, including 19 children in the day care center on the second floor, and injured 684 others.

Suddenly, Republicans were frightened. Since the end of World War II, they had vilified the very Federal Government they belonged to. They had deliberately courted the Right-wing militia groups responsible for the bombing.

So Republicans feared Clinton would now turn their decades of hate against them.

They need not have worried. On April 23, Clinton presided over a memorial service for the victims of the bombing. He gave a moving eulogy—without condemning the hate-filled Republican rhetoric that had at least indirectly led to the slaughter.

Clinton further sought to endear himself to Republicans by:

  • Adopting NAFTA—the Republican-sponsored North American Free Trade Act, which later proved so devastating to American workers;
  • Siding with Republicans against poor Americans on welfare; and
  • Championing the gutting of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, which barred investment banks from commercial banking activities.

The result: Republicans believed Clinton was weak—and could be rolled.

In 1998, House Republicans moved to impeach him over a sex scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But his Presidency survived when the Senate refused to convict.

LOVE ME BECAUSE I’LL HURT YOU IF YOU DON’T

Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969) wanted desperately to be loved.

Once, he complained to Dean Acheson, the former Secretary of State under Harry S. Truman, about the ingratitude of American voters. He had passed far more legislation than his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, and yet Kennedy remained beloved, while he, Johnson, was not.

Why was that? Johnson demanded.

“You are not a very likable man,” said Acheson truthfully.

Image result for Images of Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson tried to force his subordinates love him. He would humiliate a man, then give him an expensive gift—such a Cadillac. It was his way of binding the man to him.

He was on a first-name basis with J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI. He didn’t hesitate to request—and get—raw FBI files on his political opponents.

On at least one occasion, he told members of his Cabinet: No one would dare walk out on his administration—because if they did, two men would follow their ass to the end of the earth: Mr. J. Edgar Hoover and the head of the Internal Revenue Service.

DE-REGULATION: LET PREDATORS BE PREDATORS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 21, 2021 at 12:09 am

This December 2 will mark the 20th anniversary of the death of a criminal empire. An empire that almost destroyed the Western United States.

The Enron Corporation.

Based in Houston, Texas, Enron had employed 22,000 staffers and was one of the world’s leading electricity, natural gas, communications and paper companies.

In 2000, it claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion. Fortune had named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years.

But then the truth emerged in 2001: Enron’s reported profitability was based not on brilliance and innovation but on systematic and creative accounting fraud.

And, on December 2, 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy  Code.

Enron’s $63.4 billion in assets made it the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history—until WorldCom’s bankruptcy in 2002.

The California electricity crisis (2000-2001) was caused by extortionate market manipulations and illegal shutdowns of pipelines by Texas energy companies.

California suffered from multiple large-scale blackouts. Pacific Gas & Electric, one of the state’s largest energy companies, collapsed, and the economic fall-out greatly harmed Governor Gray Davis’ standing.

The crisis was made possible by Governor Pete Wilson, who had forced the passage of partial de-regulation legislation in 1996. 

Enron seized its opportunity to inflate prices and manipulate energy output in California’s spot markets. The crisis cost the state $40 to $45 billion.

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The true scandal of Enron was not that it was eventually destroyed by its own greed.

The true scandal was that its leaders were never Federally prosecuted for almost driving California—and the entire Western United States—into bankruptcy.

Under the pro-oil company administration of George W. Bush, no such prosecutions ever occurred. But Americans had a right to expect such redress under “liberal” President Bill Clinton.

Once the news broke that Enron had filed for bankruptcy, commentators almost universally oozed compassion for its thousands of employees who would lose their salaries and pensions.

No one, however, condemned the “profits at any cost” dedication of those same employees for pushing California to the brink of ruin.

To put this in historical perspective:

  • Imagine a historian writing about the destruction of Adolf Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (Guard Detachment), or SS, as a human interest tragedy.
  • Imagine its Reichsfuehrer, Heinrich Himmler, being blamed for failing to prevent its collapse—as CEO Kenneth Lay was blamed for Enron’s demise.
  • Imagine that same historian completely ignoring the horrific role the SS had played throughout Nazi-occupied countries—and its primary role in slaughtering six million Jews in the Holocaust.  

Nor did anyone in the media or government declare that the solution to such extortionate activity lay within the United States Department of Justice via RICO—the Federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.

Seal of the United States Department of Justice.svg

Passed by Congress in 1970, this was originally aimed at the kingpins of the Mafia. Since the mid-1980s, however, RICO has been successfully applied against both terrorist groups and legitimate businesses engaged in criminal activity.

Under RICO, people financially injured by a pattern of criminal activity can bring a claim in State or Federal court, and obtain damages at three times the amount of their actual claim, plus reimbursement for their attorneys’ fees and costs.

Such prosecutions would have pitted energy-extortionists against the full investigative might of the FBI and the sweeping legal  authority of the Justice Department.

Consider this selection from the opening of the Act:

(1) “racketeering activity” means (A) any act or threat involving…extortion; (B) any act which is indictable under any of the following provisions of title 18, United States Code: sections 891-894 (relating to extortionate credit transactions), section 1343 (relating to wire fraud)Section 1344 (relating to financial institution fraud), section 1951 (relating to interference with commerce, robbery, or extortion), section 1952 (relating to racketeering)….

With the 20th anniversary of Enron’s demise coming up, the mantra of “de-regulation” should be ruthlessly turned against those who have most ardently championed it.

Republicans have ingeniously dubbed the estate tax—which affects only a tiny minority of ultra-rich—“the death tax.” This makes it appear to affect everyone.

With the 2022 midterm elections fast approaching, Democrats should recast de-regulation thus:

“Greed Relief” 

“Greed Protection” 

“Legalized Extortion” 

And here are some possible slogans: 

“The Energy Industry: Giving You the Best Congress Money Can Buy.” 

“De-regulation: Let Criminals Be Criminals.”

The coal industry has pumped millions into TV ads touting the non-existent wonders of “clean coal.” And Chevron has spent millions assuring us that all its profits go strictly toward making the world a better place for others. (Presumably not a penny is left for its altruistic executives.)

When faced with such outright lying by the most vested of financial interests, it’s well to recall the warning given by Niccolo Machiavelli more than 500 years ago:

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it.  

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself. But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.

THE PORNOGRAPNY OF PRESIDENTIAL PERKS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 29, 2021 at 12:14 am

Once Presidents leave office, they usually lead quiet—and highly prosperous–lives.

It’s become commonplace for Presidents to write—or ghostwrite—their memoirs. These usually fetch them a hefty advance, even if sales prove disappointing.

Then there’s the speaker’s circuit, where fees per speech usually run into tens of thousands of dollars.

These are activities that leave the average ex-President an extremely wealthy man—but don’t impact the public purse. 

But there are other perks—such as lifetime Secret Service protection for themselves and their spouses, as well as taxpayer-funded office expenses—that put a serious strain on the national budget.

us-presidential-seal - Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

George W. Bush, unlike his father, got two full terms (2001 – 2009).

Bush made money in the oil industry and owned the Texas Rangers professional baseball team  before he became Governor of Texas and then President. He’s made tens of millions through a book deal and speaking fees.

His net worth has been estimated at $40 million. 

Barack Hussein Obama served two terms (2009 – 2017). 

Obama has greatly profited from paid speeches and production deal with Netflix worth an estimated $50 million. He also gets a government pension of $161,000 a year. Michelle Obama got a reported $65 million advance for her memoir “Becoming.”

Obama’s net worth has been estimated from $40 to $135 million. 

Donald Trump served one term (2017 – 2021). 

Before he entered politics, Trump reportedly got $200 million from his father to enter the real estate business. He made millions as a New York City real estate mogul. Many of his other businesses have failed, but Trump’s vast property holdings make him by far the wealthiest president of all time. He has also profited from his show “The Apprentice,” which ran from 2004 to 2017.

His net worth is estimated at $3.2 billion.

 * * * * * * * * * *

It’s long past time for the re-evaluation of Presidential welfare.

By all means, Presidents deserve a pension, but it should be on a par with the time they served in office. This currently amounts to $219,200 per year for life.

Most police officers must serve 20 years before they can collect their full pension. And they are required to put their lives on the line almost every day. No police officer is allowed to retire on a fulltime pension after serving eight—or even just four—years.

Then there’s the matter of funding by the General Service Administration (GSA) to staff, set up and furnish an official office anywhere in the country. Ex-Presidents and their staffers can receive up to $1 million annually in reimbursements for costs.

Seal of the General Services Administration.svg

Ex-Presidents use these monies to propagandize their accomplishments—or what they claim were their accomplishments—while in office. This usually takes the form of self-serving autobiographies—which, in many cases, are ghostwritten efforts.

Former Presidents certainly have the right to publish their memoirs. But they should not receive public monies for doing so.

Moreover: Presidents aren’t required to submit their manuscripts to what amounts to a censorship committee to guarantee they don’t spill national security secrets.

Agents of the CIA are—and can have royalties from their books seized if they don’t allow their manuscripts to be so screened.

As for lifetime Secret Service protection: In 1965, Congress authorized the Secret Service (Public Law 89-186) to protect a former president and his/her spouse during their lifetime, unless they decline protection.  

Secret Service in action: Did 2 agents get into a drunk driving accident at the White House? - YouTube

Secret Service agents guarding Barack Obama

In 1994, as a cost-saving measure, Congress acted to limit protection for future former presidents and spouses to ten years after they left office. 

But on January 12, 2013, President Barack Obama signed a new law authorizing lifetime protection of all former Presidents and First Ladies. In addition, children of former Presidents will receive protection until they are 16 years old.

This was clearly in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center—and America’s entry into a global war on terrorism. 

Still, this is hardly necessary. There has not been one recorded case of an attack on a former President since the Secret Service began protecting the Chief Executive in 1901.

From a national security viewpoint, it is also unnecessary. Once a President leaves office, he is essentially out of the loop of daily government business.

The protection of organized crime witnesses by the Justice Department’s Witness Security Program offers a useful remedy.

While awaiting trial, witnesses are given 24-hour protection by deputy U.S. marshals. But once the trials are over and they have received their new identities and relocation to a safe area, that protection is withdrawn. If they are once again threatened, they can request it from the Marshals Service.

And if such protection is deemed necessary for a former President, then a financial means test should be applied.

Every living ex-President is a millionaire—including even Jimmy Carter, whose wealth is estimated by USA Today at $8.2 million. 

Millionaires are not considered eligible for local, state or Federal welfare programs—unless they are former Presidents.

Thus, millionaire ex-Presidents who believe they need/deserve lifetime Secret Service protection should be required to pay for it out of pocket—or hire private security. 

Treating former Presidents as gods is not only an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ monies. It is an affront to the ideals of a democratic nation. 

THE PORNOGRAPNY OF PRESIDENTIAL PERKS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 28, 2021 at 12:25 am

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

George Orwell’s famous novella, Animal Farm, was a brutal, symbolic attack on the Soviet Union and its brand of Communism. But it applies just as accurately to the different ways poor and rich Americans are treated.

Let’s start with the poor.

According to the Social Security website: “Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and It provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter….

“One of our highest priorities is to help people with disabilities achieve independence by helping them take advantage of employment opportunities. Work incentive employment supports help disabled and blind SSI recipients go to work by minimizing the risk of losing their SSI or Medicaid benefits….

“We do not count the first $65 of earned income plus one–half of the amount over $65. Therefore, we reduce your SSI benefit only $1 for every $2 you earn over $65.”

Social Security Administration Asks for Comments on Info Collection Request

Wow! An SSI recipient can earn up to $65 dollars before that begins to affect his SSI. 

In 1960, $65 was equal to $575.88 in 2021 dollars.

That would have been great in 1960. But 1960 is now 61 years ago. 

According to Intuit, an American business that specializes in financial software: “The average cost of food per month for one person ranges from $150 to $300, depending on age. However, these national averages vary based on where you live and the quality of your food purchases.”

And according to Statista, a German company specializing in market and consumer data: In February 2021, the average monthly rent for an apartment in the United States was $1,124.

So being able to earn $65 before the Social Security Administration starts reducing your SSI monthly payment shouldn’t be considered a “work incentive.”

For despicable contrast, consider how America’s former Presidents are treated.

us-presidential-seal - Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

The Former Presidents Act of 1958 provides several benefits and perks that are available to Presidents after they leave office. Their biggest perk is an annual pension equal to the pay for a Cabinet Secretary, which is $221,400 in 2021. 

Widows of former Presidents are eligible for a $20,000 yearly pension. In addition, former Presidents and their spouses can opt to receive lifetime Secret Service protection.

According to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, ex-Presidents are provided with:

  • Funding by the General Service Administration (GSA) to staff, set up and furnish an official office anywhere in the country.
  • Reimbursement for themselves and their staff up to $1 million annually for costs.
  • $500,000 a year for their spouses for official travel and security.
  • The guarantee of a funeral with full honors and burial, if they or their spouse wants it, at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Let’s go back 41 years–to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, who served from 1981 to 1989.

  • Reagan believed that government should not help the impoverished.  Those who lacked wealth to buy such necessities as housing and medical insurance were written off as unimportant.
  • He claimed to be a “fiscal conservative.” But he drastically shrank the tax-base, bloated the defense budget and destroyed programs to benefit the poor and middle-class.
  • As a result, Reagan produced a $1 trillion deficit—which only the Clinton Administration eliminated.
  • Before his Presidency ended, 18 wealthy Californians contributed $156,000 apiece to buy him a 7,200 square-foot mansion overlooking Beverly Hills.
  • Reagan signed a multi-million dollar deal to write his Presidential memoirs and publish a collection of his speeches.
  • He signed an exclusive contract with a Washington lecture bureau, which paid him $50,000 per speech given in the United States and $100,000 overseas. This made him the highest-paid speaker in the country.
  • These monies came in addition to his Presidential pension of $99,500 a year for life and his $30,000 annual pension as a former governor of California.
  • At a cost to the government of $10 million annually, Reagan continued to receive lifetime Secret Service protection from 40 fulltime agents.

Ronald Reagan's presidential portrait, 1981

Ronald Reagan

According to a November 5,2020 article in USA Today:

Reagan had made money as a movie and TV actor for more than 20 years. He owned several pieces of real estate, including a 688-acre property near Santa Barbara, California. He also profited from his post-Presidential autobiography. 

Reagan had a peak net worth of $14.3 million.

After Reagan came George H.W. Bush (1989 – 1993).

Bush made his initial fortune running an offshore oil drilling company and owned millions of dollars worth of property, including an estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, which around the time of his death in November 2018, was valued at $13.5 million. Like most ex-Presidents, he authored his autobiography: All the Best.

His peak net worth: $26.6 million.

William Jefferson Clinton served from 1993 to 2001. 

Since leaving office, Clinton has made millions from his 2005 book My Life. But his wife, Hillary, provides most of his wealth. She reportedly received a $14 million advance for her 2014 memoir Hard Choices. She also made millions from paid speeches.

His peak net worth: $76.8 million. 

BRING THE WAR ON TERROR HOME: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 4, 2021 at 12:08 am

According to American political scientist George Michael: “Right-wing terrorism and violence has a long history in America.”

The Supreme Court’s decision, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), striking down segregated facilities, unleashed a wave of Ku Klux Klan violence against blacks, civil rights activists and Jews. Between 1956 and 1963, an estimated 130 bombings ravaged the South. 

File:KKK-Flag.svg - Wikimedia Commons

Ku Klux Klan flag

During the 1980s, more than 75 Right-wing extremists were prosecuted in the United States for acts of terrorism, carrying out six attacks.

The April 19, 1995 attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people. It was the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States until 9/11.

By 2020, Right-wing terrorism accounted for the majority of terrorist attacks and plots in the United States. A 2017 Government Accountability Office report stated that Right-wing extremist groups were responsible for 73% of violent extremist incidents resulting in deaths since September 12, 2001.

Right-wing violence rose sharply during the Barack Obama administration and especially during the Presidency of Donald Trump. His remark after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that there were “some very fine people on both sides” convinced white supremacists that he favored their goals, if not their methods.

On January 6, 2021, thousands of Right-wing Trump supporters—many of them armed—stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Congress Under Attack, Trump Supporters Enter Capitol Building - YouTube

Their goal: To stop members of Congress from counting Electoral Votes cast in the 2020 Presidential election, from which former Vice President Joseph R. Biden was expected to emerge the winner. 

After overwhelming the Capitol Police force, they damaged and occupied parts of the building for several hours. Legislators huddled fearfully while National Guard units from several states finally evicted the insurrectionists.  

The Capitol attack marked the first time in American history when a defeated Presidential candidate violently sought to remain in office.

It may also mark a desperately-needed change in the priorities of American law enforcement, which has traditionally focused on Left-wingers—and especially blacks—as the country’s mortal enemies. 

Numerous commentators have noted the contrast between the tepid police response to the Capitol attack by white Right-wingers and the brutal crackdown on peaceful liberal blacks protesting the murder of George Floyd in Washington D.C. on June 1, 2020.

U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops used tear gas, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades, horses, shields and batons to clear protesters from Lafayette Square—so Trump could stage a photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church. 

After 9/11, American law enforcement and Intelligence agencies initiated major reforms to focus on Islamic terrorism.

A similar reform effort, focusing on Right-wing terrorism, could include the following:

  • The FBI’s designating Right-wing political and terrorist groups as the Nation’s #1 enemy.
  • Turning the Bureau’s powerful arsenal—bugs, wiretaps, informants, SWAT teams—on them.
  • Prosecuting militia groups for violating Federal firearms laws. 
  • Using Federal anti-terrorist laws to arrest, prosecute and imprison Right-wingers who openly carry firearms and threaten violence, even if states allow such display of firearms. 

FBI SWAT Team Training - YouTube

FBI SWAT member

  • Creating tip hotlines for reporting illegal Right-wing activities—and offering rewards for information that leads to arrests.
  • Treating calls for the murder of members of Congress—as Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has done—as felonies punishable by lengthy imprisonment.
  • Prosecuting Right-wing leaders involved in the treasonous attempt to overthrow the United States in the Capitol Building attack.
  • Prosecuting as “accessories to treason” all those Republican members of Congress who stoked Right-wing anger by lying that the 2020 Presidential election had been stolen from Donald Trump, although every objective news source proved he had lost.
  • Directing the Treasury Department’s Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) at fundamentalist Christian churches that finance Right-wing terrorism—just as it halts the financing of Islamic terrorist groups by Islamic organizations.

Related image

  • Using drones, planes and/or helicopters to provide security against similar Right-wing terror demonstrations—especially in Washington, D.C.
  • Using the Federal Communications Commission to ban Fox News—the Nation’s #1 Right-wing propaganda network—from representing itself as a legitimate news network, and requiring that its stories carry labels warning viewers: “This is Right-wing propaganda, NOT news.”
  • Encouraging victims of Right-wing hate-speech—such as the parents of murdered children at Sandy Hook Elementary School—to file libel/slander lawsuits against their abusers.
  • Seizing the assets of individuals and organizations found guilty of Right-wing terrorism offenses. 

Such an overhaul would almost certainly include the Justice Department indicting and prosecuting Donald Trump for inciting the treasonous attack on the Capitol Building on January 6.

The 75,000,000 Americans who voted to give him a second term still look to him for leadership. As do the majority of Republicans in the House and Senate. 

It is a certainty that Senate Republicans will refuse to convict him in his second impeachment trial—just as they refused in the first. They have already offered their excuse: “It’s unconstitutional to impeach a former President.”

But as a former President, he can still be prosecuted for crimes he committed while in office—just as a former Senator or Supreme Court Justice can. 

Whatever the outcome, this would send an unmistakable message to Right-wing terrorists: Your days of immunity are over—and you will be held accountable for your terrorist acts, just as Islamic terrorist groups are. 

BRING THE WAR ON TERROR HOME: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 3, 2021 at 12:10 am

Before 9/11, the United States did not attack Islamic terrorism in a coordinated basis.

In the October 4, 2001 episode of the PBS investigative series, “Frontline,” legendary journalist Bob Woodward described the results that followed:

“These terrorist incidents—they used the tools that were available, but it was never in a coherent way. I know from talking to those people at the time, it was always, ‘Oh, we’ve got this crisis. We’re dealing with the Achille Lauro now,’ or ‘We’re dealing with Quaddafi,’ or ‘We’re dealing with Libyan hit squads,’ or ‘We’re dealing with Beirut.’

“And it never—they never got in a position where they said, ‘You know, this is a real serious threat,’ not just episodically, but it’s going to be a threat to this country throughout the administration, future administrations.

“We need to organize to fight it. It can’t be a back-bench operation for the FBI and the CIA. It’s got to be somebody’s issue, so it’s on their desk every day. What do we know? What’s being planned? What are the threats out there?”

Bob Woodward (@realBobWoodward) | Twitter

Bob Woodward

The 1993 attack on the World Trade Center well illustrates what Woodward was talking about. 

On February 26, 1993, a truck bomb detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The 1,336 pound urea nitrate-hydrogen device was supposed to topple the North Tower into the South Tower, bringing down both towers and killing tens of thousands of people.

It failed to do so, but killed six people, and injured over 1,000. 

The attack was planned by a group of Islamic terrorists including Ramzi Yousef, Mohammed Salameh, Abdul Rachman Yasin, Mahmud Abouhalima, Ahmed Ajaj and Nidal A. Ayyad.

They received financing from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who later became the principal financier of the 9/11 attacks.

Instead of treating this as a declaration of Islamic war upon the United States, the newly-installed Bill Clinton administration chose to consider it a purely criminal matter.

In March 1994, four men were convicted of carrying out the bombing: Abouhalima, Ajaj, Ayyad, and Salameh. The charges included conspiracy, explosive destruction of property, and interstate transportation of explosives.

In November 1997, two more were convicted: Yousef, the organizer behind the bombings, and Eyad Ismoil, who drove the truck carrying the bomb.

On September 11, 2001, 19 Islamic terrorists snuffed out the lives of 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. 

They did so by turning four commercial jetliners into fuel-bombs—and crashing them into, respectively, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City; the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C.; and—unintentionally—a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

(The fourth airliner had been aimed at the White House or the Capitol Building. But its passengers, alerted by radio broadcasts of the doom awaiting them, resolved to take over the plane instead. The hijackers slammed the jet into the ground to avoid capture.)

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 had of Al-Qaeda who had masterminded the attacks.

By December, 2001, the power of the Taliban was broken—and bin Laden was driven into hiding in Pakistan.

For more than 16 years, the United States—through its global military and espionage networks—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.

And today—almost 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States continues to wage war against Islamic terrorists. 

One by one, the leading figures of Taliban, Haqqani and Al-Qaeda have been identified, located with help from coerced or paid-off informants, and targeted for drone strikes. Taking a leadership position in any of these—or other—Islamic terrorist groups has become virtually a death-sentence.

An MQ-9 Reaper drone operated by the US military fires a Hellfire missile. Being there so you don't have to. | Military drone, Drone, Unmanned aerial vehicle

A Predator drone

Nor is the Pentagon the only agency targeting Islamic terrorism. After 9/11, the Treasury Department initiated the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) to identify, track, and pursue terrorists and their networks.

The program tracks terrorist money flows, assists in uncovering terrorist cells and mapping terrorist networks within the United States and abroad. 

Yet another result of 9/11 was increased cooperation between the FBI and the CIA.

The CIA’s mandate, prior to the September 11 attacks, had been to target foreign enemies. The FBI’s mandate had been to target domestic ones. 

This often brought the two agencies into bureaucratic conflict when confronting foreign-based or -financed terrorists. Neither agency was certain where its jurisdiction ended and the other one’s began.

The 9/11 attacks forced the FBI and CIA—and, even more importantly, Congress—to recognize the need for sharing information.  

Almost 20 years after the devastating attacks of September 11, no Islamic terrorist group has mounted a similar one in the United States.  

But on January 6, thousands of Right-wing supporters of President Donald J. Trump—many of them armed—stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Inside, members of Congress were counting Electoral Votes cast in the 2020 Presidential election. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden was expected to emerge the winner.  

For Trump—who had often “joked” about becoming “President-for-Life”—this was intolerable. And it must be prevented by any means—legal or otherwise.

WHY REPUBLICANS WIN MOST ELECTIONS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on November 13, 2020 at 12:05 am

There’s a reason why Republicans win so many elections—especially at the Presidential level.

Republicans learned long ago that most voters aren’t moved by appeals to their rationality. Instead, what counts with them is emotions.

And Republicans long ago became experts at appealing to these—especially the baser ones.

For Republicans, the Big Three are:

Hatred

Greed

Fear  

Hatred: There is no better example of a candidate who played successfully on the hatred of American voters than Donald Trump. If Barack Obama was the 2008 candidate of “Hope and Change,” then Trump was the 2016 candidate of “Hate and Fear.” 

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
  • The New York Times 
  • President Barack Obama
  • CNN
  • Actress Meryl Streep
  • The Washington Post
  • Singer Neil Young
  • Democrats
  • Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Republicans
  • Comedian John Oliver
  • 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

Greed: On August 23, 2018, Trump, as President, offered an unprecedented reason why he shouldn’t be impeached: “I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.” 

[On July 25, Trump had tried to force the president of Ukraine to frame Joe Biden, Trump’s expected Democratic opponent in 2020. On August 12, an unnamed CIA whistleblower had filed a complaint with the Inspector General of the Intelligence community about extortion attempt. Trump undoubtedly knew of this filing.]

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubtless spoke for millions of Trump supporters when she said, on June 4, 2018:

“Since taking office, the President has strengthened American leadership, security, prosperity, and accountability. And as we saw from Friday’s jobs report, our economy is stronger, Americans are optimistic, and business is booming.”

Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA TODAY, summed up the popularity of the “Greed Appeal” to voters on the March 13 edition of “Washington Week in Review”:

USA Today has conducted a poll about the economic concerns that are out there….And Congress—you’re seeing fear in this country about the economy.

“In fact, when we did this poll this week about how Americans’ lives have been affected by the Coronavirus, people expressed more concern about the economic and financial effect than they did about the health effect. And you know, that goes to why this matters so much to President Trump.

“How many voters have you talked to who said, you know, ‘I don’t really like President Trump’s tweets, but I like what I see happening in my 401(k)’?”

Fear: From the end of World War II in 1945 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Enemy of Choice for Republicans was the Communists.

Millions of Americans were so pathologically frightened by “The Red Menace” that any Democratic politician libeled as a “Communist,” “Comsymp,”  “fellow traveler” was considered at least a potential traitor, if not an actual one.

Among the Republican politicians who rode to victory on a wave of Red hysteria: Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy 

Even as late as 1992, President George H.W. Bush and the Republican establishment charged that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton might be a KGB plant. Their evidence: During his tenure at Oxford University in 1969-70, Clinton had briefly visited Moscow—and thus might have been turned into a “Manchurian Candidate.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Right-wingers had to settle for attacking their opponents as “liberals” and “soft on crime.” But these charges didn’t carry the same weight as “Communists” and “traitors.”

Then, on September 11, 2001, Republicans—and their Right-wing supporters—at last found a suitable replacement for the Red Menace: The Maniacal Muslim.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

Led by President George W. Bush, Republicans used fear of Muslims to con and bully the nation into a needless, bloody, budget-busting war on Iraq. Seventeen years later, that war continues.

So how can Democrats counter such appeals?  By making equally ruthless use of them.

For example–Fear: Republicans rely heavily on support from rural America—where fundamentalist religious beliefs hold sway. Instead of ridiculing those beliefs, Democrats—even those who are atheists—should make use of them.

How?

  • By recognizing that fundamentalists believe that widespread plague is a sign of God’s displeasure; and
  • Repeatedly proclaiming that the Coronavirus is God’s judgment on a sinful nation for electing Donald Trump President.

Democrats must closely study the beliefs of their sworn enemies and make skillful use of them—as the Israelis have done. 

Suicide bombers’ attacks in Israel sharply decreased after Israelis started patrolling with bomb-sniffing dogs.

Why?

Because Islamics believe that dogs are defiling creatures—and that if their blood is mingled with that of a dog, they won’t go to Heaven to claim those 72 willing virgins.

To defeat your enemy, you must learn his weaknesses—and ruthlessly attack them.

AMERICA’S FUHRER AS “YOUR LAW AND ORDER PRESIDENT”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 9, 2020 at 12:03 am

Eighty-six years after Adolf Hitler declared himself “the Supreme Judge of the German people,” the United States faces the same fate under President Donald J. Trump.

On September 2, Trump sent a memo to Russell T. Vought, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Attorney General William P. Barr. Its message: Find ways to cut funding to several cities controlled by Democrats.

Trump singled out four cities for defunding: Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; Seattle, Washington; and New York City.

Trump gave his official reason for this move: “Anarchy has recently beset some of our states and cities. My administration will not allow federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones.”

He blames rising crime rates on Black Lives Matter protesters and blacks who have looted and burned stores during nationwide protests against police brutality. And he claims that only he can save America from a civil war ignited by such protesters.

Do Black Lives Matter | Racism | Police Brutality | USA

At the same time, he has totally ignored—or  defended—armed white militias who have faced off with Black Lives Matter protesters.

The memo seemed especially aimed at New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio and the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, have been highly critical of Trump’s failure to stem the Coronavirus pandemic.

On Twitter, Cuomo accused Trump of trying to strip funding that cities and states need to recover from Coronavirus: “He is not a king. He cannot ‘defund’ NYC. It’s an illegal stunt.” 

Andrew Cuomo 2017.jpg

Andrew Cuomo

Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for de Blasio, tweeted: “As much as Donald Trump wants New York City to drop dead, we will never let this stand. This has nothing to do with ‘law and order’. This is a racist campaign stunt out of the Oval Office to attack millions of people of color.”

Trump’s directive “intrudes on Congress’ power of the purse, would never stand up in court and is nothing more than a distraction from the fact that Americans are less safe under the Trump administration,” said Evan Hollander, a spokesman for the Democratic majority of the House Appropriations Committee.

“It seems the only place where there is no respect for the rule of law is the White House,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

She attacked Trump’s move as a tactic to further divide Americans when the Coronavirus pandemic demanded leadership and unity. 

Trump “continues to believe that disenfranchising people living in this country to advance his petty grudges is an effective political strategy,” tweeted Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.

On June 1, Trump declared: ”I am your President of law and order, and an ally of all peaceful protesters.” 

But on that same evening, Trump ordered police, Secret Service agents and National Guard troops to violently remove peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, which borders St. John’s Church near the White House.

They were protesting the murder of George Floyd, a black unemployed restaurant security guard, by a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25.

The purpose of the removal: To allow Trump to have a photo op outside the church.  

Why Violent Protests Work

Donald Trump at St. John’s Church

As for his claim of being “your President of law and order.”

Trump is only the third United States President—after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—to be impeached. Charged with obstruction of Congress and abuse of power by a Democratic House of Representatives, he was acquitted by the Republican-majority Senate on February 5.  

In addition, Trump has waged all-out war on the following legal institutions:

  • The FBI: When FBI Director James Comey dared to pursue a probe into Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election on Trump’s behalf, Trump fired him without warning on May 9, 2017. 
  • The Justice Department: Trump repeatedly attacked his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for not “protecting” him from agents pursuing the Russia investigation. On November 7, 2018, the day after Democrats won a majority of House seats, Trump fired Sessions.
  • The Special Counsel: He tried to fire Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, the man appointed to investigate the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election.
  • The Judiciary: On October 20, 2018, Trump attacked U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar as an “Obama judge.” Tigar had ruled that the administration must consider asylum claims no matter where migrants cross the U.S. border. 
  • The Electoral Process: On September 2, Trump urged residents in the critical political battleground of North Carolina to try to vote twice in the Nov. 3 election, once by mail and once in person—a totally illegal act..

On the private-sector front: 

  • On December 10, 2019, Trump paid $2 million to eight charities as part of a settlement where he admitted to misusing funds raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation. These had been used to promote his presidential bid and pay off business debts. He was forced to close the charity as a result.
  • Legal action also forced Trump to shut down his unaccredited Trump University, which the conservative magazine National Review described as a “massive scam.” Although he boasted that he never settled lawsuits, he settled this one in November, 2016, for a reported $25 million rather than go to trial. 

When Donald Trump calls himself a “law and order President,” he means: “My order is your law.”

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