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Posts Tagged ‘CATHOLIC CHURCH’

WHEN TYRANTS FACE RETRIBUTION: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 22, 2022 at 12:12 am

The United States Marshals Service is now charged with protecting the nine Justices who comprise the Supreme Court of the United States.

Deputy U.S. marshals have had decades of experience in protecting Federal judges, members of Congress and organized crime witnesses

As protectors, they are probably best-known as the operators of the Justice Department’s Witness Security Program. Launched as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, they have successfully protected and relocated thousands of endangered organized crime witnesses.

But there are significant differences between the security provided for Mafia witnesses and that being provided for Supreme Court Justices.

While a witness is testifying, s/he receives 24-hour protection from five to a score of marshals. Since visits to courthouses are especially dangerous, marshals often use deception as a vital weapon in keeping their charges alive.

A caravan of marshals cars, with sirens blaring, will pull up to the front of a courthouse, with a deputy playing the role of the witness. While all eyes (including those of mob assassins) are focused on this, a postal truck will enter the building through an underground passage. Inside: The witness and one or two guards dressed as mailmen.

U.S. Marshals Service, Career Opportunities, Duties

A witness security detail

Helicopters and speedboats have also been used to transport witnesses to and from court.

In at least one case, marshals installed Joseph “The Animal” Barboza, the most-feared Mafia hitman in New England, in a fortified room inside the courthouse. When it came time to testify, he would be brought into the courtroom through the judges’ elevator. 

But once testifying is completed, the marshals no longer offer 24-hour protection. Instead, they provide witnesses (and their wives and children, if there are any) with new names, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and other records supporting their new identities. 

Then they are shipped off to a new state where—hopefully—they can start their lives over on the right side of the law and safe from their enemies.

Thus, round-the-clock protection by the marshals isn’t intended to be permanent. 

But in the case of at least six Supreme Court Justices this may well prove different. These are the ones who are preparing to strike down Roe v. Wade and re-criminalize abortion for millions of women.

To prevent attacks on the Justices at the Supreme Court, an eight-foot, “non-scalable” fence now surrounds the building.

Fencing Goes Up Around US Supreme Court - YouTube

Once a long-held fundamental right is revoked, anger toward those responsible becomes the natural reaction. And for some people, that anger can easily flare into violence.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s January 22, 1973 Roe decision, abortion has been legal throughout the United States for 49 years. Those who have been born since can’t recall a time when it was a criminal offense.

On June 8, Nicholas John Roske, 26, of Simi Valley, California, was arrested by deputy U.S. marshals near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house in Maryland after threatening to kill the Justice. He was armed with a Glock 17 pistol, ammunition, a knife, zip ties, pepper spray and duct tape.

In this case, the marshals had been alerted by Roske’s threat. But the truly dangerous assassin is one who doesn’t announce his intentions and simply acts on them.

Knowing you are so hated that people want to murder you creates huge psychological pressures on those threatened. Some people become prisoners of their own bodyguard, venturing out only when absolutely necessary. 

Others adopt a “Live it up, because tomorrow I may die” attitude. They chafe at the security regimen imposed on them, sometimes even trying to elude their protectors.

Security specialists for the Marshals Service have warned countless witnesses: “You’ve got to realize that your life’s in danger.  Keep your eyes open. Use your head.  Don’t lie to us. Stay close to us. 

“Keep us apprised of everything that’s going on.  Suppose you’re sitting out on your balcony and you see something flash. What could it be?  A pair of binoculars?  A rifle-scope?  Be aware of your position, and help us protect you.” 

Presidents have been protected by the United States Secret Service since 1901, when Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became the first Chief Executive to be assigned agents.

Logo of the United States Secret Service.svg

Before this, three Presidents had been assassinated—Abraham Lincoln (1865); James A. Garfield (1881) and William McKinley, Roosevelt’s predecessor (1901).

In 1963, John F. Kennedy would become the fourth.

Two attempts were made on Gerald Ford (1975) and, in 1981, Ronald Reagan was seriously wounded.

As a result, it’s unthinkable that a President would not be guarded round-the-clock. 

But no Supreme Court Justice has ever been assassinated.

Justices have been able to come and go as they please, without even being recognized by the vast majority of citizens they affect with their rulings.

That will soon change—at least for those who intend to strike down Roe. They will become familiar faces—for those who hate them. Already, their home addresses have been splashed across the Internet.

At least 13 states will automatically ban abortion in the first and second trimesters if Roe is overturned. This will create legions of new enemies for the Justices. And there will be no end-date to this hatred.

Which means the Justices will likely live in fear—and under heavy armed guard—for the rest of their lives.

WHEN TYRANTS FACE RETRIBUTION: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 21, 2022 at 12:13 am

Tyrants know they lack legitimate authority–and so they must live behind armed guards and high fences. They constantly fear being overthrown–or killed.

“It was only years later, when I was imprisoned at Spandau, that I really understood what it must be like to live each day under such intense psychological pressure,” Albert Speer, architect and Minister of Armaments to Adolf Hitler, told Playboy during a 1971 interview.

“Looking back on Hitler’s physical environment in his military bunkers in Berlin and Rastenburg, I realized how similar the atmosphere was to a prison—immense concrete walls and ceilings, harsh electric light instead of daylight, iron doors and iron grilles over the few windows.  

“Even Hitler’s brief strolls through the barbed wire perimeters, surrounded by armed guards and police dogs, resembled a convict’s exercise in the jail yard. Hitler had turned all of Europe into a prison, but he had become its leading prisoner.”

Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler 

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-V00555-3 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

At least six Justices of the United States Supreme Court have joined Adolf Hitler as prisoners of their own bodyguard.

In the past, Justices came and went as ordinary citizens did. Occasionally they made a controversial decision, but then the uproar died down and everything stayed the same.

It took the alleged gutting of Roe v. Wade to change all that.

On May 2, Politico published a leaked draft of the Supreme Court majority decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that would explicitly overturn Roe v. Wade.

In doing so, it would end the Court’s 49-year-old decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. 

Reaction was swift—and devastatingly angry. 

Threats of violence against the Justices have poured in—especially the six Right-wing ones behind the decision:

  • Amy Coney Barrett
  • Brett M. Kavanaugh
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Samuel A. Alito
  • Neil M. Gorsuch and 
  • John J. Roberts. 

Supreme Court defies critics with wave of unanimous decisions - ABC News

Justices of the Supreme Court

As a result, all nine Justices have been given extra security through the U.S. Marshals Service.

The marshals have had decades of experience in protecting Federal organized crime witnesses, members of Congress and Federal judges. So the odds are that the Justices will remain safe from violent attack. 

The question that remains to be answered: How well will they hold up under the intense pressures of facing potential violence—and having to live under constant guard? 

Almost immediately after Politico published its article on the Justices’ decision to overturn Roe, an eight-foot steel fence went up around the Supreme Court building. All entry points were blocked to vehicles and police patrols were beefed up.

United States Marshals Service - Wikiwand

As if that were not claustrophobic enough, the Justices’ home addresses were quickly shared online.

Justices have received threatening phone calls at their homes.

The group, “Ruth Sent Us”—named in honor of deceased Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—planned a protest at what it called “the homes of the six extremist justices.”

“ANNOUNCING: Walk-by Wednesday, May 11, 2022! At the homes of the six extremist justices, three in Virginia and three in Maryland. If you’d like to join or lead a peaceful protest, let us know,” the website stated. 

“Our 6-3 extremist Supreme Court routinely issues rulings that hurt women, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ and immigrant rights. We must rise up to force accountability using a diversity of tactics.” 

The group even published a Google Maps graphic pinpointing homes “where the six Christian fundamentalist Justices issue their shadow docket rulings from.

“We intend to stop the corruption of our Supreme Court, and stop the spread of fascist laws,” the group said. “Instead of waiting for the extremist Court to strip our rights further, we must rise up now.”

In Virginia, where three of the six justices live, protesting outside a private home is illegal.

Justice Samuel Alito, author of the draft majority opinion, canceled a scheduled appearance in Nashville, and the other justices are also cutting back on public events. 

Meanwhile, the Court has been thrown into a frenzy of self-investigation to discover who leaked the upcoming decision.

Far more attention has been paid to this by the Justices than to the enormous implications for millions of American women if abortion once becomes a criminal act. Chief Justice John Roberts publicly said: “To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed.” 

Not all protests were aimed at the Justices. 

Ruth Sent Us also planned to target Catholic churches on Mother’s Day—telling followers to protest “that six extremist Catholics set out to overturn Roe.” It published a video of churchgoers trying to kick out protesters who interrupted a service, chanting, “Without this basic right, women can’t be free — abortion on demand and without apology.”

The Catholic group, CatholicVote, demanded that President Joe Biden condemn Ruth Sent Us for targeting Catholic churches and disrupting Mass on Mother’s Day. 

Joe Biden presidential portrait.jpg

Joseph Biden

Biden, a lifelong Catholic, strongly favors abortion rights.  

The U.S. Marshals Service has operated the Witness Security Program for threatened organized crime witnesses since 1970. Of its approximately 19,100 participants, none have been killed who followed its guidelines.

But there are serious differences between the security afforded Mafia witnesses—and that being accorded Supreme Court Justices.

THE #1 RULE OF BUREAUCRACIES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 7, 2016 at 12:04 am

After spending years of his life sexually abusing boys entrusted into his care, Jerry Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his life as a prison inmate.

On October 9, 2012, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach to at least 30 years in prison.  And he may spend as many as 60 years behind bars.

Following his conviction on June 22, 2012, he had faced a maximum of 400 years’ imprisonment for his sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Jerry Sandusky (middle) in police custody

After the sentencing decision was announced, Penn State University President Rodney Erickson released a statement:

“Our thoughts today, as they have been for the last year, go out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse.

“While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events and help them continue down the road to recovery.”

No doubt Erickson–and the rest of Penn State–waned to move on from this shameful page in the university’s history. And the university desperately tried to sweep the sordid scandal out of sight of the ticket-paying public–-and of history.

Among the steps it took:

  • Firing Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach who had led Penn State to a staggering 112 victories;
  • Ousting Graham Spanier, the university’s longtime president; and
  • Removing the iconic statue of Paterno–long held in worshipful esteem by almost everyone at the football-obsessed institution.

So what remains to be learned from this sordid affair?

A great deal, it turns out.

To begin at the beginning:

In 2002, assistant coach Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, walked in on Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy. The next day, McQueary reported the incident to head coach Paterno.

“You did what you had to do,” said Paterno. “It is my job now to figure out what we want to do.”

Paterno’s idea of “what we want to do” consisted of reporting the incident to three other top Penn State officials:

Their idea of “what we want to do” was to close ranks around Sandusky and engage in a diabolical “code of silence.”

As former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh summed up in an internal investigative report compiled at the request of Penn State and released on July 12, 2012:

“Four of the most powerful people at the Pennsylvania State University–-President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno–-failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.

“These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the board of trustees, the university community and authorities.

Louis Freeh

Louis J. Freeh

“They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.

“… In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University….repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.

“The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.”

If there is a fundamental truth to be learned from this sordid affair, it is this:

The first rule of any and every bureaucracy is: Above all else, the reputation of the institution must be protected.

And this holds true at:

  • The level of local / state / Federal government;
  • For-profit organizations;
  • Non-profit organizations; or
  • Religious institutions

During the 48-year reign of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, agents had their own version of this: Do not embarrass the Bureau.

Those who did were fired or shipped to Hoover’s version of Siberia: A posting in remote Butte, Montana.

Hoover-JEdgar-LOC.jpg

J. Edgar Hoover

Within the Catholic Church, countless Catholic priests who abused young boys entrusted to their protection were repeatedly protected by their high-ranking superiors.

In private industry, whistleblowers who report rampant safety violations in nuclear power plants are often ignored by the very regulatory agencies the public counts on to prevent catastrophic accidents.

Imperfect institutions staffed by perfect men obsessed with power, money and fame–-and fearful of losing one or all of these–-can never be expected to act otherwise.

And those who do expect ordinary mortals to behave like extraordinary saints will be forever disappointed.

So how can we at least minimize such outrages in the future?

“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” warned Thomas Jefferson.  And it remains as true today as it did more than 200 years ago.

Add to this the more recent adage: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

The more we know about how our institutions actually work–as opposed to how they want us to believe they work–the more chances we have to control their behavior.

And to check their abuses when they occur.

Which they will.

 

THE FIRST RULE OF BUREAUCRACIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 23, 2015 at 12:02 pm

After spending years of his life sexually abusing boys entrusted into his care, Jerry Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his life as a prison inmate.

On October 9, 2012, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach to at least 30 years in prison.  And he may spend as many as 60 years behind bars.

Following his conviction on June 22, 2012, he had faced a maximum of 400 years’ imprisonment for his sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Jerry Sandusky (middle) in police custody

After the sentencing decision was announced, Penn State University President Rodney Erickson released a statement:

“Our thoughts today, as they have been for the last year, go out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse.

“While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events and help them continue down the road to recovery.”

No doubt Erickson–and the rest of Penn State–waned to move on from this shameful page in the university’s history. And the university desperately tried to sweep the sordid scandal out of sight of the ticket-paying public–-and of history.

Among the steps it took:

  • Firing Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach who had led Penn State to a staggering 112 victories;
  • Ousting Graham Spanier, the university’s longtime president; and
  • Removing the iconic statue of Paterno–long held in worshipful esteem by almost everyone at the football-obsessed institution.

So what remains to be learned from this sordid affair?

A great deal, it turns out.

To begin at the beginning:

In 2002, assistant coach Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, walked in on Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy. The next day, McQueary reported the incident to head coach Joe Paterno.

“You did what you had to do,” said Paterno. “It is my job now to figure out what we want to do.”

Joe Paterno

Paterno’s idea of “what we want to do” consisted of reporting the incident to three other top Penn State officials:

Their idea of “what we want to do” was to close ranks around Sandusky and engage in a diabolical “code of silence.”

As former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh summed up in an internal investigative report compiled at the request of Penn State and released on July 12, 2012:

“Four of the most powerful people at the Pennsylvania State University–-President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno–-failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.

“These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the board of trustees, the university community and authorities.

Louis Freeh

Louis J. Freeh

“They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.

“… In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University….repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.

“The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.”

If there is a fundamental truth to be learned from this sordid affair, it is this:

The first rule of any and every bureaucracy is: Above all else, the institution must be protected.

And this holds true:

  • At the level of local / state / Federal government;
  • For-profit organizations;
  • Non-profit organizations; or
  • Religious institutions

During the 48-year reign of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, agents had their own version of this: Do not embarrass the Bureau.

Those who did were fired ot shipped to Hoover’s version of Siberia: A posting in remote Butte, Montana.

Within the Catholic Church, countless Catholic priests abusing young boys entrusted to their protection were repeatedly protected by their high-ranking superiors.

In private industry, whistleblowers who report rampant safety violations in nuclear power plants are often ignored by the very regulatory agencies the public counts on to prevent catastrophic accidents.

Imperfect institutions staffed by perfect men obsessed with power, money and fame–-and fearful of losing one or all of these–-can never be expected to act otherwise.

And those who do expect ordinary mortals to behave like extraordinary saints will be forever disappointed.

So how can we at least minimize such outrages in the future?

“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” warned Thomas Jefferson.  And it remains as true today as it did more than 200 years ago.

Add to this the more recent adage: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

The more we know about how our institutions actually work–-as opposed to how they want us to believe they work–-the more chance we have to control their behavior.

And to check their abuses when they occur.

Which they will.

THE FIRST RULE OF BUREAUCRACIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 10, 2015 at 1:18 am

After spending years of his life sexually abusing boys entrusted into his care, Jerry Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his life as a prison inmate.

On October 9, 2012, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach  to at least 30 years in prison.  And he may spend as many as 60 years behind bars.

Following his conviction on June 22, 2012, he had faced a maximum of 400 years’ imprisonment for his sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Jerry Sandusky (middle) in police custody

After the sentencing decision was announced, Penn State University President Rodney Erickson released a statement:

“Our thoughts today, as they have been for the last year, go out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse.

“While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events and help them continue down the road to recovery.”

No doubt Erickson–and the rest of Penn State–wants to move on from this shameful page in the university’s history.  And the university has desperately tried to sweep the sordid scandal out of sight of the ticket-paying public–and of history:

  • It fired Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach who had led Penn State to a staggering 112 victories.
  • It ousted Graham Spanier, the university’s longtime president.
  • And it removed the iconic statue of Paterno–long held in worshipful esteem by almost everyone at the football-obsessed institution.

So what remains to be learned from this sordid affair?

A great deal, it turns out.

To begin at the beginning:

In 2002, assistant coach Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, walked in on Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy.  The next day, McQueary reported the incident to head coach Paterno.

“You did what you had to do,” said Paterno.  “It is my job now to figure out what we want to do.”

Paterno’s idea of “what we want to do” consisted of reporting the incident to three other top Penn State officials:

Their idea of “what we want to do” was to close ranks around Sandusky and engage in a diabolical “code of silence.”

As former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh summed up in an internal investigative report compiled at the request of Penn State and released on July 12:

“Four of the most powerful people at the Pennsylvania State University–President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno–failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.

“These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the board of trustees, the university community and authorities.

Louis Freeh

Louis J. Freeh

“They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.

“… In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University….repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.

“The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.”

If there is a fundamental truth to be learned from this sordid affair, it is this: The first rule of any and every bureaucracy is: Above all else, the institution must be protected.

And this holds true:

  • At the level of local / state / Federal government;
  • For-profit organizations;
  • Non-profit organizations; or
  • Religious institutions

During the 48-year reign of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, agents had their own version of this: Do not embarrass the Bureau.

So Hoover could order agents to bug Mafia hangouts–with the understanding that if they were caught, they would be disavowed as rogue agents, fired from the Bureau, and almost certainly prosecuted for criminal trespass.

J. Edgar Hoover

Thus we have seen countless Catholic priests abusing young boys entrusted to their protection–only to be repeatedly protected by high-ranking authorities within the Catholic Church.

We have seen whistleblowers who report rampant safety violations in nuclear power plants ignored by the very regulatory agencies the public counts on to prevent catastrophic accidents.

Imperfect institutions staffed by imperfect men obsessed with power, money and fame–and fearful of losing one or all of these–can never be expected to act otherwise.

And those who do expect ordinary mortals to behave like extraordinary saints will be forever disappointed.

So how can we at least minimize such outrages in the future?

“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” warned Thomas Jefferson.  And it remains as true today as it did more than 200 years ago.

Add to this the more recent adage: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

The more we know about how our institutions actually work–as opposed to how they want us to believe they work–the more chance we have to control their behavior.  And to check their abuses when they occur.

Which they will.

PLAGUE AS PROPHECY

In Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary on October 16, 2014 at 12:32 am

“It was virulent beyond anything in anyone’s memory, and the most terrifying effect of this mysterious virulence was not only that it killed so many people but that it turned them against one another.”

So opens “The Black Death,” the third chapter of Otto Friedrich’s brilliant 1986 book, The End of the World: A History.

The narrative examines “the monumental, often inexplicable catastrophes that have at various times swept over humankind–moments when, for numerous people, the world did come to an end.”

Among the catastrophes vividly depicted by Friedrich:

  • The Sack of Rome
  • The Birth of the [Spanish] Inquisition
  • The Black Death
  • The Coming of [the Russian] Revolution
  • The Kingdom of Auschwitz

As America comes face-to-face with the terrors of Ebola, the pages Friedrich devotes to the original plague may turn out to be as much prophecy as history.

Bubonic plague originated in Central Asia, killing 25 million people.  Upon reaching Constantinople in 1347, it spread to Naples and Venice.  Trade ships from these ports spread the plague to southern France and Italy.

It reached Paris in June, 1348, and London several months later.  By 1350, all Europe was ravaged by the plague.

Within four years it destroyed a quarter to half of the population of Europe.

The plague was caused by the bacillus Pasteurella pestis, which lives in rats and other rodents.  The fleas living in these animals transmitted the plague to people by biting them.  Within five days, the victims had died.

By the time the plague had run its course, it had killed 75 to 200 million people.

The signs of infection became unmistakable: Growths in the thighs, about the size of apples, then dark blotches and bruises on the thighs, arms and other parts of the body.

As a result of these dark blotches, the plague quickly became known as the Black Death.

“O happy posterity,” wrote the Italian poet Petrarch, “who will look upon our testimony as a fable.  Will posterity believe that there was a time when, with no deluge from heaven, no worldwide conflagration, no wars or other visible devastation…but almost the whole earth was depopulated?”

The plague destroyed not only the lives of its victims but the fragile bonds that hold society together.

“As the number of deaths increased in Messina,” wrote the Franciscan monk Michael, “many desired to confess their sins to the priests and to draw up their last will and testament.  But priests and lawyers refused to enter the houses of the deceased….

“Soon men hated each other so much that, if a son was attacked by the disease, his father would not tend him.  If, in spite of all, he dared to approach him, he was immediately infected….

“Soon the corpses were lying forsaken in the houses.  No priest, no son, no father and no relation dared to enter, but they paid hired servants with high wages to bury the dead.  Soon there was a shortage of servants and finally none at all.”

Bones of plague victims stacked by a monk at the Sedlec Ossuary.

No one knew what caused it.  Many–especially members of the Catholic clergy–believed the plague was God’s judgment on a sinful world.

Philip VI, the king of France, fearing this might be true, issued a proclamation against blasphemy. For a first offense, a blasphemer’s lip would be cut off; for a second, the other lip.  And for a third offense, the tongue.

Medical professors at the University of Paris believed that a disturbance in the skies had caused the sun to overheat the oceans near India.  As a result, the waters were giving off toxic vapors.

Guy de Chauliac, the physician to Pope Clement VI, believed that the plague had been caused by a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, in the sign of Aquarius.  This, he believed, had corrupted the earth’s atmosphere.

Just as no one knew what had caused the plague, no one knew how to protect oneself against it.

Among the remedies prescribed: Bleeding, purging, bathing in vinegar to purify the body and the burning of odiferous wood to purify the air.

Others trusted to faith, praying for deliverance.  Some went on pilgrimages or subjected themselves to self-flagellation to expiate their sins.  The Brotherhood of the Flagellants appeared in Dresden, Hamburg and Magdeburg, then spread throughout Europe.

For others, debauchery seemed to be the road to salvation–or at least temporary happiness while they waited for the plague to claim them.

“People behaved as if their days were numbered,” wrote Giovanni Boccaccio, “and treated their belongings and their own persons with equal abandon.  Hence most houses had become common property and any passing stranger could make himself at home.”

Yet none of the prescribed medical cures brought relief.  And no amount of religious devotion brought salvation.

As Friedrich notes: “One of the most baffling and terrifying aspects of the plague [was] its indiscriminate slaughter of the devout as well as the sinful.  If this was God’s anger, how could it be understood, much less appeased?”

The plague ravaged France, Germany, England, Spain, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Russia.  After devastating London in 1665 and Marseille in 1720, the disease mysteriously disappeared.

Some believe the common black rat was destroyed by the larger brown rat, which lived outdoors, away from people.  Others believe a milder, mutant form of the disease caused its victims to build up immunities.

No one knows for certain.

THE FIRST RULE OF BUREAUCRACIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 3, 2014 at 12:09 am

After spending years of his life sexually abusing boys entrusted into his care, Jerry Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his life as a prison inmate.

On October 9, 2012, a Pennsylvania judge sentenced the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach to at least 30 years in prison.  And he may spend as many as 60 years behind bars.

Following his conviction on June 22, 2012, he had faced a maximum of 400 years’ imprisonment for his sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period.

Jerry Sandusky (middle) in police custody

After the sentencing decision was announced, Penn State University President Rodney Erickson released a statement:

“Our thoughts today, as they have been for the last year, go out to the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s abuse.

“While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it will provide comfort to those affected by these horrible events and help them continue down the road to recovery.”

No doubt Erickson–and the rest of Penn State–waned to move on from this shameful page in the university’s history. And the university desperately tried to sweep the sordid scandal out of sight of the ticket-paying public–-and of history.

Among the steps it took:

  • Firing Joe Paterno, the legendary head football coach who had led Penn State to a staggering 112 victories;
  • Ousting Graham Spanier, the university’s longtime president; and
  • Removing the iconic statue of Paterno–long held in worshipful esteem by almost everyone at the football-obsessed institution.

So what remains to be learned from this sordid affair?

A great deal, it turns out.

To begin at the beginning:

In 2002, assistant coach Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, walked in on Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy. The next day, McQueary reported the incident to head coach Paterno.

“You did what you had to do,” said Paterno. “It is my job now to figure out what we want to do.”

Paterno’s idea of “what we want to do” consisted of reporting the incident to three other top Penn State officials:

Their idea of “what we want to do” was to close ranks around Sandusky and engage in a diabolical “code of silence.”

As former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh summed up in an internal investigative report compiled at the request of Penn State and released on July 12, 2012:

“Four of the most powerful people at the Pennsylvania State University–-President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno–-failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.

“These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the board of trustees, the university community and authorities.

Louis Freeh

Louis J. Freeh

“They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.

“… In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University….repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.

“The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.”

If there is a fundamental truth to be learned from this sordid affair, it is this:

The first rule of any and every bureaucracy is: Above all else, the institution must be protected.

And this holds true:

  • At the level of local / state / Federal government;
  • For-profit organizations;
  • Non-profit organizations; or
  • Religious institutions

During the 48-year reign of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, agents had their own version of this: Do not embarrass the Bureau.

Those who did were fired ot shipped to Hoover’s version of Siberia: A posting in remote Butte, Montana.

Within the Catholic Church, countless Catholic priests abusing young boys entrusted to their protection were repeatedly protected by their high-ranking superiors.

In private industry, whistleblowers who report rampant safety violations in nuclear power plants are often ignored by the very regulatory agencies the public counts on to prevent catastrophic accidents.

Imperfect institutions staffed by perfect men obsessed with power, money and fame–-and fearful of losing one or all of these–-can never be expected to act otherwise.

And those who do expect ordinary mortals to behave like extraordinary saints will be forever disappointed.

So how can we at least minimize such outrages in the future?

“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” warned Thomas Jefferson.  And it remains as true today as it did more than 200 years ago.

Add to this the more recent adage: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

The more we know about how our institutions actually work–-as opposed to how they want us to believe they work–-the more chance we have to control their behavior.

And to check their abuses when they occur.

Which they will.

CHANGE AND CHURCHES

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on May 23, 2010 at 1:24 pm

On May 22, 2010, Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer whose findings were condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as heretical, was reburied by Polish priests as a hero, nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

The burial occurred at the cathedral where he once served as a church canon and doctor. And this, in turn, proves how far the church has come in making peace with the scientist it once condemned as a heretic.

It was Copernicus who taught that the Earth revolves around the Sun–and helped usher in the modern scientific age. For the church, this removed Earth and humanity from their central position in the universe.

Copernicus (1473-1543), died as a little-known astronomer working in what is now Poland, far from Europe’s centers of learning.

The reburial and celebration occurred 18 years after the Vatican rehabilitated the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted in the Inquisition for carrying the Copernican Revolution forward. In 1992, Pope John Paul II, said that the church was wrong in condemning Galileo’s work.

Religious institutions are by nature highly conservative–especially if they stretch far back into history. Even religions as radically different as Catholicism and Islam share the belief that there was once a “Golden Age” to which their followers must return if they are to find God’s favor.

Which is why most religions are unwilling to change their doctrines–and behavior of their members. Consider the following news story:

In November, 2009, a 27-year-old woman who was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. The pregnancy was causing severe health problems for the woman, who suffers from pulmonary hypertension.

Her doctors warned her that if she continued the pregnancy, she risked an almost 100% chance of death–and the fetus would die as well.

So the ethics board of the Catholic hospital deliberated with the woman and her doctors and decided this was an exception to the code of Catholic health care directives that govern hospital ethics and care. One of the members of the ethics board was Sister of Mercy Margaret McBride, a top administrator at the hospital.

The abortion was performed, and the woman survived.

But in May, 2010, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted learned of the hospital’s actions. Taking a “fetus first, mother last” stance, he decreed that Sister McBride–and every other Catholic involved in the decision–were automatically excommunicated. This included the patient.

Said Olmstead in a statement: “”We always must remember that when a difficult medical situation involves a pregnant woman, there are two patients in need of treatment and care, not merely one. The unborn child’s life is just as sacred as the mother’s life, and neither life can be preferred over the other.”

Olmsted does not have direct control of the hospital. But his decisions on matters of faith and morals can regulate whether the hospital and its employees maintain a Catholic status.

St. Joseph’s reassigned Sister McBride to a lower-ranking administrative post. But the hospital also defended the decision, saying the directives–which it adheres to–do not cover every possible situation.

In a letter to the The Arizona Republic on May 18, Dr. John Garvie, chief of gastroenterology at St. Joseph’s, called Sister Margaret “the moral conscience of the hospital” and said, “There is no finer defender of life at our hospital.

“What she did was something very few are asked to do, namely, to make a life-and-death decision with the full recognition that in order to save one life, another life must be sacrificed. People not involved in these situations should reflect and not criticize.”

In this case, as in the case of Nicolaus Copernicus, what we see is an “I-Am-the-Law” decision made at the highest levels of an organization by men (literally) who utterly lack scientific training and/or experience but whose power to make decisions remains absolute.

Nicolaus Copernicus was branded a heretic by men who knew-and cared–nothing about astronomy. What they did care about was the primacy of the Catholic Church over the lives of others–and their own privileged positions within it.

They feared that all of this would change if people started to believe that the Earth–and the Church–did not lie at the center of the universe. (And for people of that era, our own solar system meant the entire universe.)

Similarly, a Catholic bishop who cannot become pregnant or a parent, is allowed to make decisions governing the lives of women who can. A man who utterly lacks the medical training to save a life is authorized to punish experienced physicians who save lives daily.

In this we see the constant bureaucratic tension between those who are forced by cruel fate to make life-or-death decisions, and those who make decisions based on power and the arrogant belief that they–and they alone–speak for God.

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