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THE PRICE OF HUBRIS

In History, Military, Politics on August 1, 2016 at 1:13 am

Donald Trump has changed Presidential campaigning–perhaps forever.

First, He has made angry and brutal attacks on a wide range of persons and organizations–including his fellow Republicans, journalists, news organizations, other countries and even celebrities who have nothing to do with politics.

Among those groups–and the insults Trump has leveled at them:

  • Mexicans
  • Prisoners-of-War
  • Blacks

Donald Trump

  • Muslims
  • Women
  • Asians

Second, he has weaponized social media. He has made Twitter an essential arm of his campaign, swiftly insulting his opponents and keeping them constantly off-balance. He has proved himself a master at the tabloid news culture and thoroughly in tune with his target audience.

Third, since announcing his candidacy on June 16, 2015, he has gotten a year’s worth of free media publicity.  This has nothing to do with a networks’ conspiracy to favor Trump.

Instead, it owes to the media’s lust for sensational copy. And scenes of conflict–such as making brutal attacks on others–generate huge viewership.

This has been most apparent in debates, during which he belittled his Republican opponents with insulting nicknames.

  • “Little Marco” – Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio 
  • “Goofy” – Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren 
  • “Lyin’ Ted” – Texas U.S. Senator Rafael Eduardo “Ted” Cruz

And looking beyond the Republican primary cycle, he created one for his future Democratic antagonist: “Crooked Hillary”–Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York and Secretary of State.  

Political pundits have marveled at Trump’s ability to cast aside the long-held niceties of political discourse and not have to pay an electoral price for it.  But that time may be coming to an end.

On July 22, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Cyber-security experts believe the hackers originated from Russia–and that Russian President Vladimir Putin may well have authorized it.

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The emails revealed the DNC’s bias for Clinton for President. And they showed clear animosity toward her lone challenger, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sanders’ supporters had long charged that the DNC and its chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, were plotting to undercut his campaign. Now thousands of them were descending on the Democratic nominating convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as furious protesters.

Five days later, on July 27, Trump held a press conference in Doral, Florida. Always ready to pounce on any perceived sign of weakness, he aimed yet another attack on Clinton:

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Trump hoped to score points on Hillary Clinton’s using a private email server as Secretary of State. Instead, he ignited criticism–of himself–on both Left and Right.

“This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” said Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s chief foreign policy adviser. “This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”

Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was equally quick to react: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug,” said Brendan Buck, Ryan’s spokesman. “Putin should stay out of this election.”

“If he is talking about the State Department emails on her server, he is inviting a foreign intelligence service to steal sensitive American government information,” said Michael Hayden, head of the CIA under President George W. Bush.

“In addition to its implications for national security today,” wrote Benjy Sarlin, political reporter for MSNBC, “the incident raised disturbing questions about how Trump would govern as president. If a leader is willing to turn to ask foreign spy agencies to target a political opponent, what would he ask of his own spy agencies?”

The avalanche of criticism has led Trump to claim: “I was only being sarcastic.”  

Only his most hardcore followers seem to believe it.  

Since the end of World War II, the Republican party has taken an intensely anti-Communist stance. Now its nominee for President has not only exchanged compliments with an ex-KGB agent but has even invited him to target his Democratic opponent.

For at least one normally conservative newspaper, that’s simply too much. In a July 27 editorial, The Dallas Morning News declared:

“Words have meaning.  The world is listening. And what the world is hearing is a man demonstrating that he is unfit to sit in the Oval Office.”

The ancient Greeks believed hubris–overweening pride–to be the greatest of sins. And, they warned, it was usually punished by divine wrath.

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In his book, The World of Herodotus, Aubrey de Selincourt writes that the Greek historian filled his book, The Histories, with “stories of the perils of pride–pride of wealth, pride of power, pride of success, and, deadliest of all, the pride which leads a man to forget that he is a nothing in the sight of the gods.”  

Trump has long boasted of his wealth, power and success. Perhaps his time of reckoning has finally arrived.

NRA: “IF EVERYONE WENT ARMED, WE’D BE SAFE”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 11, 2016 at 12:14 am

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a white high school dropout, gunned down three black men and six black women at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Dylann Roof

On June 18–one day after the church slaughter–Charles L. Cotton took insulting the dead to a whole new level. 

Cotton is a National Rifle Association (NRA) board member who also runs TexasCHLForum.com, an online discussion forum about guns and gun owners’ rights in Texas and beyond.

In a discussion thread on the Forum, a board member noted that Clementa C. Pinckney, one of the nine people slain, was a pastor and a state legislator in South Carolina.

Cotton responded: “And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

#NRA boardmember Charles L. Cotton: #Charleston tragedy could've been avoided if guns allowed in Churches.

That discussion thread was quickly deleted.

During a subsequent phone interview, Cotton emphasized that he had been speaking as a private citizen–and not as an NRA board member:

“It was a discussion we were having about so called gun-free zones. It’s my opinion that there should not be any gun-free zones in schools or churches or anywhere else. If we look at mass shootings that occur, most happen in gun-free zones.”

If private citizens were allowed to carry guns everywhere, Cotton said, there will be fewer mass shootings because “if armed citizens are in there, they have a chance to defend themselves and other citizens.”

Cotton’s position–“there should not be any gun-free zones”–is exactly that of the NRA itself.

Under such circumstances, America will become a nation where anyplace, anytime, can be turned into the O.K. Corral.

Another point that Cotton didn’t mention: Dylann Roof did believe in concealed-carry–and it cost not his life but the lives of nine innocent men and women.

Finally, there is this: Even highly-trained shooters–such as those assigned to the United States Secret Service–don’t always respond as expected.

On May 15, 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace was campaigning for President in Laurel, Maryland. He gave a speech behind a bulletproof podium at the Laurel Shopping Center. Then he moved from it to mingle with the crowd.

Since the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, all those campaigning for President have been assigned Secret Service bodyguards. And Wallace was surrounded by them as he shook hands with his eager supporters.

Suddenly, Arthur Bremer, a fame-seeking failure in life and romance, pushed his way forward, aimed a .38 revolver at Wallace’s abdomen and opened fire. Before the Secret Service could subdue him, he hit Wallace four times, leaving him paralyzed for the rest of his life. 

Arthur Bremer shoots George Wallace

Nor was he Bremer’s only victim. Three other people present were wounded unintentionally: 

  • Alabama State Trooper Captain E C Dothard, Wallace’s personal bodyguard, who was shot in the stomach;
  • Dora Thompson, a campaign volunteer, who was shot in the leg; and 
  • Nick Zarvos, a Secret Service agent, who was shot in the neck, severely impairing his speech.

None of Wallace’s bodyguards got off a shot at Bremer–before or after he pulled the trigger.

On October 6, 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was reviewing a military parade in Cairo when a truck apparently broke down directly across from where he was seated. 

Anwar Sadat, moments before his assassination

Suddenly, soldiers bolted from the rear of the vehicle, throwing hand grenades and firing assault rifles. They rushed straight at Sadat–who died instantly under a hail of bullets.

Meanwhile, Sadat’s bodyguards–who had been trained by the CIA–panicked and fled.

Sadat had been assassinated by army officers who believed he had betrayed Islam by making peace with Israel in 1977.  

Most recently, the NRA mantra, “If every citizen went armed…” was put to the test in Dallas, Texas. It flunked.

On July 7, five Dallas police officers were shot and killed by a disgruntled ex-Army Reserve Afghan War veteran named Michah Xavier Johnson. Another seven officers and two civilians were wounded before the carnage ended.

The shootings erupted during a Black Lives Matter protest march in downtown Dallas.  

Texas has long been an “open carry” state for those who want to brandish rifles without fear of arrest. And about 20 people wearing “ammo gear and protective equipment [had] rifles slung over their shoulder,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.  

“When the shooting started, at different angles, [the armed protesters] started running,” Rawlings said, adding that open carry only brings confusion to a shooting scene. “What I would do [if I were a police officer] is look for the people with guns,” he said.  

“There were a number of armed demonstrators taking part,” said Max Geron, a Dallas police major. “There was confusion on the radio about the description of the suspects and whether or not one or more was in custody.”

The ultimate test of the NRA’s mantra that “there should not be any gun-free zones…anywhere” will come only when one or more heavily-armed gunmen target an NRA convention.

It will then be interesting to see if the surviving NRA members are as quick to blame themselves for being victims as they are to blame the victims of other mass slaughters.

TESTING THE THEORY OF “GUN-PACKING ZONES”

In History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 14, 2016 at 12:06 am

“You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I’m pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas–hitting what you aim at.

“My wife, Heidi, who is a petite, 5’2 California blonde, she was standing at the tripod unloading the full machine gun with a pink baseball cap that said ‘armed and fabulous.’”

Yes, it was United States Senator Rafael Cruz (R-Texas) on the prowl for laughs–and votes–at a town hall meeting in Iowa. Normally, Cruz would do his vote-hunting in Texas.

But now Cruz had a bigger prize on his mind than simply being re-elected a United States Senator. Cruz wanted to be President in 2016.

U.S. Senator Rafael Cruz

Cruz’ jokes about gun control came on June 19, 2015, only two days after Dylann Roof, a white high school dropout, gunned down three black men and six black women at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Dylann Roof

Following his remarks, Cruz headed to a shooting range, where he fired off rounds on a semiautomatic .223-caliber Smith and Wesson M&P 15.

Cruz’ remarks no doubt appeared insensitive to the latest victims of gun violence and those who now mourned for them. But the comments of Charles L. Cotton took insulting the dead to a whole new level. 

Cotton is a National Rifle Association (NRA) board member who also runs TexasCHLForum.com, an online discussion forum about guns and gun owners’ rights in Texas and beyond.

In a discussion thread on June 18, 2015–one day after the church slaughter–a board member noted that Clementa C. Pinckney, one of the nine people slain, was a pastor and a state legislator in South Carolina.

Cotton responded: “And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

#NRA boardmember Charles L. Cotton: #Charleston tragedy could've been avoided if guns allowed in Churches.

That discussion thread was quickly deleted.

During a subsequent phone interview, Cotton emphasized that he had been speaking as a private citizen–and not as an NRA board member:

“It was a discussion we were having about so called gun-free zones. It’s my opinion that there should not be any gun-free zones in schools or churches or anywhere else. If we look at mass shootings that occur, most happen in gun-free zones.”

If private citizens were allowed to carry guns everywhere, Cotton said, there will be fewer mass shootings because “if armed citizens are in there, they have a chance to defend themselves and other citizens.”

Cotton’s position–“there should not be any gun-free zones”–is exactly that of the NRA itself.

Under such circumstances, America will become a nation where anyplace, anytime, can be turned into the O.K. Corral.

Another point that Cotton didn’t mention: Dylann Roof did believe in concealed-carry–and it cost not his life but the lives of nine innocent men and women.

Finally, there is this: Even highly-trained shooters–such as those assigned to the United States Secret Service–don’t always respond as expected.

On May 15, 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace was campaigning for President in Laurel, Maryland. He gave a speech behind a bulletproof podium at the Laurel Shopping Center. Then he moved from it to mingle with the crowd.

Since the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, all those campaigning for President have been assigned Secret Service bodyguards. And Wallace was surrounded by them as he shook hands with his eager supporters.

Suddenly, Arthur Bremer, a fame-seeking failure in life and romance, pushed his way forward, aimed a .38 revolver at Wallace’s abdomen and opened fire. Before the Secret Service could subdue him, he hit Wallace four times, leaving him paralyzed for the rest of his life. 

Arthur Bremer shoots George Wallace

Nor was he Bremer’s only victim. Three other people present were wounded unintentionally: 

  • Alabama State Trooper Captain E C Dothard, Wallace’s personal bodyguard, who was shot in the stomach;
  • Dora Thompson, a campaign volunteer, who was shot in the leg; and 
  • Nick Zarvos, a Secret Service agent, who was shot in the neck, severely impairing his speech.

None of Wallace’s bodyguards got off a shot at Bremer–before or after he pulled the trigger.

On October 6, 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was reviewing a military parade in Cairo when a truck apparently broke down directly across from where he was seated. 

Anwar Sadat, moments before his assassination

Suddenly, soldiers bolted from the rear of the vehicle, throwing hand grenades and firing assault rifles. They rushed straight at Sadat–who died instantly under a hail of bullets.

Meanwhile, Sadat’s bodyguards–who had been trained by the CIA–panicked and fled.

Sadat had been assassinated by army officers who believed he had betrayed Islam by making peace with Israel in 1977.

The ultimate test of the NRA’s mantra that “there should not be any gun-free zones…anywhere” will come only when one or more heavily-armed gunmen target an NRA convention.

It will then be interesting to see if the surviving NRA members are as quick to blame themselves for being victims as they are the victims of other mass slaughters.

A CLASH OF TITANS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 25, 2016 at 12:10 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Robert F. Kennedy (Cotter Smith) and James R. Hoffa (Robert Blake), president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.  

With Kennedy as Attorney General and facing relentless pressure from the Justice Department, the Mafia despairs of a solution. At a swanky restaurant, several high-ranking Mafiosi agree that “something” must be done.

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

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible.

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

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

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U.S. Department of Justice

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

[In March, 1964, Kennedy met with Hoffa on an airfield at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. He was accompanied by two Secret Service agents from the detail assigned to ex-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

[FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, no longer afraid to cross RFK, had withdrawn the agents previously assigned to guard Kennedy.

[Accompanying Hoffa were two muscular bodyguards–at least one of whom was packing two pistols in shoulder holsters.

[While the Secret Service agents watched from a respectful distance, Kennedy spoke quietly with Hoffa. The Attorney General showed a document to Hoffa, and the Teamsters leader at times nodded or shook his head.

[The agents drove Kennedy back to Washington. During the ride, he said nothing about the reason for the meeting.  

[David Talbot, in his book, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, speculates that it could have been to discuss Hoffa’s conviction for jury tampering.  

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

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

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

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy 

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

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

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

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

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Ernest Borgnine as J. Edgar Hoover

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Blood Feud, just before his assassination, RFK asks: “How will I ever really know if the Mob killed Jack because of my anti-Mob crusade?”

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

And the Mafia likes it that way.

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

Almost 41 years after the death of James R. Hoffa, and almost 48 years after that of Robert F. Kennedy:

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

A CLASH OF TITANS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 22, 2016 at 12:10 am

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

Having “helped” Kennedy (Cotter Smith) to oust corrupt Teamsters President Dave Beck, Hoffa (Robert Blake) believes that Kennedy should now be satisfied: “He’s got his scalp.  Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

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

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

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

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

For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos Marcello

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

[In September, 1962, during a meeting with several mob colleagues, he flew into a rage when someone mentioned Kennedy.  

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

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

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

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

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible. 

A CLASH OF TITANS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Today, America has four major candidates running for President: Donald Trump, Rafael Edward Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Trump is a billionaire businessman; Cruz is a U.S. Senator from Texas; Clinton is a former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State; and Sanders is a U.S. Senator from Vermont.  

Despite the great differences in their backgrounds, they all share one thing in common: Extremely high negatives among voters.

But 48 years ago, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy aroused passions of an altogether different sort.  

Kennedy had been a United States Attorney General (1961-1964) and Senator (1964-1968). But it was his connection to his beloved and assassinated brother, President John F. Kennedy, for which he was best known.

Robert F. Kennedy campaigning for President

Millions saw RFK as the only candidate who could make life better for America’s impoverished–while standing firmly against those who threatened the Nation’s safety.  

As television correspondent Charles Quinn observed: “I talked to a girl in Hawaii who was for [George] Wallace [the segregationist governor of Alabama]. And I said ‘Really?’ [She said] ‘Yeah, but my real candidate is dead.’  

“You know what I think it was?  All these whites, all these blue collar people who supported Kennedy…all of these people felt that Kennedy would really do what he thought best for the black people, but, at the same time, would not tolerate lawlessness and violence.  

“They were willing to gamble…because they knew in their hearts that the country was not right. They were willing to gamble on this man who would try to keep things within reasonable order; and at the same time do some of the things they knew really should be done.”

Campaigning for the Presidency in 1968, RFK had just won the crucial California primary on June 4–when he was shot in the back of the head. His killer: Sirhan Sirhan, a young Palestinian furious at Kennedy’s support for Israel.  

On June 8, 1,200 men and women boarded a specially-reserved passenger train at New York’s Pennsylvania Station. They were accompanying Kennedy’s body to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.  

As the train slowly moved along 225 miles of track, throngs of men, women and children lined the rails to pay their final respects to a man they considered a genuine hero.

Little Leaguers clutched their baseball caps across their chests. Uniformed firemen and policemen saluted. Burly men in shirtsleeves held hardhats over their hearts. Black men in overalls waved small American flags.  Women from all levels of society stood and cried.

A nation says goodbye to Robert Kennedy

Commenting on RFK’s legacy, historian William L. O’Neil wrote in Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960′s:  

“…He aimed so high that he must be judged for what he meant to do, and, through error and tragic accident, failed at….He will also be remembered as an extraordinary human being who, though hated by some, was perhaps more deeply loved by his countrymen than any man of his time. 

“That too must be entered into the final account, and it is no small thing.  With his death something precious disappeared from public life.”

Eleven years earlier, as a young, idealistic attorney, Kennedy had declared war on James Riddle Hoffa, the president of the Mafia-dominated International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.

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

Robert Francis Kennedy as Chief Counsel, Senate Labor Rackets Committee

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

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

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

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

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

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

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

Robert Blake as James R. Hoffa

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

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

DOES TORTURE WORK?: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 5, 2016 at 12:11 am

Donald Trump has made a return to waterboarding terrorism suspects a prime issue in his campaign for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination.  

And a recent Reuters/lpsos poll shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the use of torture can be justified to force suspected terrorists to talk.  

A growing fear by Americans of Islamic terrorism has been ignited by a series of deadly Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States. 

Humiliating a prisoner in Iraq

In fact, however, torture, generally, and waterboarding in particular, have proven worthless at obtaining reliable information.  

Victims will say anything they think their captors want to hear to stop the agony.   

Yoshia Chee, a Special Forces veteran of Vietnam, recalled his use of torture against suspected Vietcong:

“One of the favorite things was popping one of their eyeballs out with a spoon….

“If I had one of my eyeballs hanging out, I’d say I killed Kennedy.  I’d agree to anything in the whole world.  

“We would do that, and they still wouldn’t talk….You rarely got anything out of them. Just more hatred. More reason to fight back.” 

Click here: Strange Ground: An Oral History Of Americans In Vietnam, 1945-1975: Harry Maurer: 9780306808395: Amazon.com: Books 

During the George W. Bush Presidency, the CIA relied on harsh physical punishments–beatings, humiliations and waterboarding–to convince suspects to talk. These were euphemistically referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  

Upon assuming the Presidency in 2009, Barack Obama ordered an immediate halt to such methods. Since then, Republicans generally and their Presidential aspirants in particular have harshly criticized Obama’s decision.  

Like Trump, they claim that Obama has endangered American security in the name of Political Correctness. In turn, Obama has argued that the use of torture produces unreliable information and inflames Muslim hatred of America.

Meanwhile, the FBI has applied its traditional “kill them with kindness” approach to interrogation. And agents found this yielded far greater results.

For one thing, most Al Qaeda members relished appearing before grand juries.

Unlike organized crime members, they were talkative–and even tried to proselytize to the jury members. They were proud of what they had done–and wanted to talk.

“This is what the FBI does,” said Mike Rolince, an FBI expert  on counter-terrorism. “Nearly 100% of the terrorists we’ve taken into custody have confessed. The CIA wasn’t trained. They don’t do interrogations.”

According to The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror (2011) jihadists had been taught to expect severe torture at tha hands of American interrogators. 

Writes Author  Garrett M. Graff:

“Often, in the FBI’s experience, their best cooperation came when detainees realized they weren’t going to get tortured, that the United States wasn’t the Great Satan. Interrogators were figuring out…that not playing into Al Qaeda’s propaganda could produce victories.”

And the FBI isn’t alone in believing that acts of simple humanity can turn even sworn enemies into allies.

No less an authority on “real-politick” than Niccolo Machiavelli reached the same conclusion more than 500 years ago.

In his small and notorious book, The Prince, he writes about the methods a ruler must use to gain power. But in his larger and lesser-known work, The Discourses, he outlines the ways that liberty can be maintained in a republic.

Niccolo Machiavelli

For Machiavelli, only a well-protected state can hope for peace and prosperity.  Toward that end, he wrote at length about the best ways to succeed militarily.  And in war, humanity can prevail at least as often as severity.

Consider the following example from The Discourses:

Camillus [a Roman general] was besieging the city of the Faliscians, and had surrounded it….A teacher charged with the education of the children of some of the noblest families of that city [to ingratiate himself] with Camillus and the Romans, led these children…into the Roman camp. 

And presenting them to Camillus [the teacher] said to him, “By means of these children as hostages, you will be able to compel the city to surrender.”         

Camillus not only declined the offer but had the teacher stripped and his hands tied behind his back….[Then Camillus] had a rod put into the hands of each of the children…[and] directed them to whip [the teacher] all the way back to the city. 

Upon learning this fact, the citizens of Faliscia were so much touched by the humanity and integrity of Camillus, that they surrendered the place to him without any further defense.  

This example shows that an act of humanity and benevolence will at all times have more influence over the minds of men than violence and ferocity.

It also proves that provinces and cities which no armies…could conquer, have yielded to an act of humanity, benevolence, chastity or generosity.

This truth should be kept firmly in mind whenever Right-wingers start bragging about their own patriotism and willingness to get “down and dirty” with America’s enemies.

Many–like Newt Gingrich,  Rudolph Giuliani, Rick Santorum, Eduardo “Ted” Cruz and Donald Trump–did their heroic best to avoid military service. These “chickenhawks” talk tough and are always ready to send others into battle–but keep themselves well out of harm’s way.

Such men are not merely contemptible; they are dangerous.

DOES TORTURE WORK?: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 4, 2016 at 12:09 am

Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the use of torture can be justified to force suspected terrorists to talk, according to a March 30 Reuters/lpsos poll. 

A growing fear by Americans of Islamic terrorism has been ignited by a series of deadly Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States.

  • On November 13, 2015 in Paris, France, terrorists belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) killed more than 100 people.  
  • On December 2, a married Islamic couple shot and killed 14 people at the Department of Public Health in San Bernardino, California.  
  • And on  March 22, a series of ISIS attacks struck Brussels, Belgium. Two explosions at the city’s main international airport and a third in a subway station killed 31 persons and injured 270 more.

Click here: Most Americans Say Torturing Suspected Terrorists Is Justifiable 

And the chief beneficiary of this growing fear among Americans is likely to be Donald Trump.

Donald Trump August 19, 2015 (cropped).jpg

Donald Trump

Since declaring his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination for President in June, 2015, Trump has made the use of torture a major campaign issue. He has promised to end the waterboarding ban that President Barack Obama declared at the start of his term in 2009. 

During a campaign event at Arizona’s Sun City retirement community, Trump said he would reinstate waterboarding and techniques that are “so much worse” and “much stronger.”  

“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work–torture works,” Trump said. “Okay, folks? Torture–you know, half these guys [say]: ‘torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works. Okay?”  

And in a February 15 Op-Ed piece for USA Today, Trump declared: “I will do whatever it takes.

“I have made it clear in my campaign that I would support and endorse the use of enhanced interrogation techniques if the use of these methods would enhance the protection and safety of the nation,” he wrote.

“Though the effectiveness of many of these methods may be in dispute, nothing should be taken off the table when American lives are at stake.

“The enemy is cutting off the heads of Christians and drowning them in cages, and yet we are too politically correct to respond in kind.”

The Reuters/lpsos online poll of 1,976 Americans occurred between March 22 and 28.  Among its findings:

  • About 25% said that the use of torture can “often” be justified against suspected terrorists. 
  • Another 38% said such tactics were “sometimes” appropriate in order to obtain information. 
  • Only 15% opposed torture under all circumstances.

Past surveys found Americans less comfortable with the controversial tactic. 

In 2014, a poll by Amnesty International revealed that about 45% of Americans supported the use of torture against terrorism suspects.

Unfortunately for Americans, the truth about torture generally–and waterboarding in particular–is that it doesn’t work.

Victims will say anything they think their captors want to hear to stop the agony.  And, in fact, subsequent investigations have shown that just that happened with Al Qaeda suspects.

Waterboarding a captive

Shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001, hundreds of Al Qaeda members started falling into American hands.  And so did a great many others who were simply accused by rival warlords of being Al Qaeda members.

The only way to learn if Al Qaeda was planning any more 9/11-style attacks on the United States was to interrogate those suspected captives.  The question was: How?

The CIA and the Pentagon quickly took the “gloves off” approach.  Their methods included such “stress techniques” as playing loud music and flashing strobe lights to keep detainees awake.

Some were “softened up” prior to interrogation by “third-degree” beatings.  And still others were waterboarded.

In 2003, an FBI agent observing a CIA “interrogation” at Guantanamo was stunned to see a detainee sitting on the floor, wrapped in an Israeli flag.  Nearby, music blared and strobe slights flashed.

In Osama bin Laden’s 1998 declaration of war against America, he had accused the country of being controlled by the Jews, saying the United States “served the Jews’ petty state.”

Draping an Islamic captive with an Israeli flag could only confirm such propaganda.

The FBI, on the other hand, followed its traditional “kill them with kindness” approach to interrogation.

Pat D’Amuro, a veteran FBI agent who had led the Bureau’s investigation into the 1998 bombing of the American embasy in Nairobi, Kenya, warned FBI Director Robert Mueller III:

The FBI should not be a party in the use of “enhanced intrrogation techniques.” They wouldn’t work and wouldn’t produce the dramatic results the CIA hoped for.

But there was a bigger danger, D’Amuro warned: “We’ll be handing every future defense attorney Giglio material.”

The Supreme Court had ruled in Giglio vs. the United States (1972) that the personal credibility of a government official was admissible in court.

Any FBI agent who made use of extra-legal interrogation techniques could potentially have that issue raised every time he testified in court on any other matter.

It was a defense attorney’s dream-come-true recipe for impeaching an agent’s credibility–and thus ruin his investigative career.

“BRIDGE OF SPIES” TELLS UGLY TRUTHS ABOUT GOVERNMENT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 18, 2016 at 12:01 am

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “Bridge of Spies,” is that rarity among films: An intelligent mixture of history and drama, stripped of gratuitous sex and violence.

It’s also a film that accurately reveals unsettling truths about how government intelligence agencies really operate.

Truth #1: Appearance counts for more than reality.

The movie opens with the FBI’s arrest of KGB spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance). The evidence against him is overwhelming. This–plus the “Red Scare” climate of 1957–will guarantee his conviction.

But the Eisenhower administration doesn’t want the upcoming trial to be seen as a hangman’s court. It must have the appearance of a fair proceeding.

So the Justice Department (through the Brooklyn Bar Association) asks a New York insurance attorney named James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) to take on Abel’s defense. He’s expected to make a reasonably competent effort but not go all out on behalf of his client.

Truth #2: Individual conscience can wreck the best-laid plans of government.

Donovan has never handled a spy case before. And he has no delusions that Abel isn’t the spy he’s charged with being. But he’s determined to give Abel the same committed defense he would give to any other client.

Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) and James Donovan (Tom Hanks) in court

This comes as a shock to the prosecutors, the judge, his law firm and even his family.

A CIA agent approaches Donovan in a nearly deserted restaurant and asks him to reveal any secrets that might help win Abel’s conviction.

Donovan replies: “This conversation isn’t happening.”

“No, of course not,” replies the CIA agent, assuming Donovan is agreeing to keep the overture secret.

“No, I mean this conversation isn’t happening,” angrily says Donovan, who leaves the agent fuming.

Donovan becomes a pariah; his mailbox is stuffed with hate mail and one night a would-be drive-by killer riddles his house with bullets.

Abel is convicted and sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment. But Donovan–again shocking everyone he knows–pursues an appeal up to the Supreme Court.

He argues that the evidence against Abel is tainted by an invalid search warrant. No American citizen could be convicted under such circumstances. And the Constitutional protections that hold true for Americans should hold equally true for non-Americans charged with crimes in American courts.

Donovan’s arguments will be heard a half-century later, when al-Qaeda suspects are hauled before American courts.

He puts on an impressive case on Abel’s behalf, but loses 5-4 at the Supreme Court.

That seems to be the end of Donovan’s relationship with Abel. But events soon dictate otherwise.

Before the judge could pronounce a death sentence on Abel, Donovan had argued that this might be a mistake. The day might come, he told the judge, when an American spy might fall into Soviet hands.

And then the United States would need to swap Abel to secure the release of its own agent.

The judge, moved by that argument, had given Abel a lengthy prison term instead.  

That day comes sooner than anyone in the Pentagon expects.

On May 1, 1960, Francis Gary Powers, a former Air Force pilot, is flying a high-altitude U-2 plane above the Soviet Union for the CIA. The plane is equipped with state-of-the-art cameras, and Powers intends to photograph military sites and other important complexes.

Suddenly, a surface-to-air missile slams into the plane. Powers ejects before it crashes, but fails to commit suicide with a poison pin concealed in a phony silver dollar. He’s captured by the KGB and brutally interrogated, but maintains his silence.

At about the same time, Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student living in West Germany, visits his German girlfriend living in Soviet-dominated East Germany.

The Soviets are starting to build their infamous Berlin Wall, which will stop the flow of refugees from East to West. Pryor tries to bring his girlfriend and her father into West Berlin, but he’s stopped and arrested by agents of Stasi, the East German police, who accuse him of being a spy.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union wants its spy, Abel, returned, before he can spell its secrets. In turn, the new Kennedy administration wants Powers returned, before he can be made to spill American secrets.

Truth #3: High-ranking government officials will ask citizens to take risks they themselves refuse to take.

In 1961, Donovan is once again sought out by the American government–this time by no less than CIA Director Allen Dulles.

And he’s asked to go where no official American representative can go–East Germany. His new assignment: Negotiate the exchange of Powers for Abel.

The CIA wants its spy back. And it’s willing to send Donovan into East Germany to negotiate his release. But it’s not willing to back him up if he’s arrested by Stasi, the notorious East German secret police.  

The fiction must be maintained that Donovan is acting strictly on his own behalf, not that of the United States.

In such a case, Donovan could spend the rest of his life in a Communist prison cell.

 

COMING SOON: THE NEXT NRA/REPUBLICAN-APPROVED GUN MASSACRE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 11, 2016 at 12:24 am

“You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I’m pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas–hitting what you aim at.

“My wife, Heidi, who is a petite, 5’2 California blonde, she was standing at the tripod unloading the full machine gun with a pink baseball cap that said ‘armed and fabulous.’”

Yes, it was United States Senator Rafael Cruz (R-Texas) on the prowl for laughs–and votes–at a town hall meeting in Iowa. Normally, Cruz would do his vote-hunting in Texas.

But now Cruz has a bigger prize on his mind than simply being re-elected a United States Senator. Cruz wants to be President in 2016.

U.S. Senator Rafael Cruz

And Iowa held its precinct causes on February 1-2, 2016.

Cruz’ jokes about gun control came on June 19, 2015, only two days after Dylann Roof, a white high school dropout, gunned down three black men and six black women at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Dylann Roof

Following his remarks, Cruz headed to a shooting range, where he fired off rounds on a semiautomatic .223-caliber Smith and Wesson M&P 15.

Cruz’ remarks no doubt appeared insensitive to the latest victims of gun violence and those who now mourned for them. But the comments of Charles L. Cotton took insulting the dead to a whole new level. 

Cotton is a National Rifle Association (NRA) board member who also runs TexasCHLForum.com, an online discussion forum about guns and gun owners’ rights in Texas and beyond.

In a discussion thread on June 18, 2015–one day after the church slaughter–a board member noted that Clementa C. Pinckney, one of the nine people slain, was a pastor and a state legislator in South Carolina.

Cotton responded: “And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

#NRA boardmember Charles L. Cotton: #Charleston tragedy could've been avoided if guns allowed in Churches.

That discussion thread has since been deleted.

During a subsequent phone interview, Cotton emphasized that he had been speaking as a private citizen–and not as an NRA board member:

“It was a discussion we were having about so called gun-free zones. It’s my opinion that there should not be any gun-free zones in schools or churches or anywhere else. If we look at mass shootings that occur, most happen in gun-free zones.”

If private citizens were allowed to carry guns everywhere, Cotton says, there will be fewer mass shootings because “if armed citizens are in there, they have a chance to defend themselves and other citizens.”

Cotton’s position–“there should not be any gun-free zones”–is exactly that of the NRA itself.

Under such circumstances, America will become a nation where anyplace, anytime, can be turned into the O.K. Corral.

Another point that Cotton didn’t mention: Dylann Roof did believe in concealed-carry–and it cost the lives of nine innocent men and women.

Finally, there is this: Even highly-trained shooters–such as those assigned to the United States Secret Service–don’t always respond as expected.

On May 15, 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace was campaigning for President in Laurel, Maryland. He gave a speech behind a bulletproof podium at the Laurel Shopping Center. Then he moved from it to mingle with the crowd.

Since the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, all those campaigning for President have been assigned Secret Service bodyguards. And Wallace was surrounded by them as he shook hands with his eager supporters.

Suddenly, Arthur Bremer, a fame-seeking failure in life and romance, pushed his way forward, aimed a .38 revolver at Wallace’s abdomen and opened fire. Before he could be subdued, he hit Wallace four times, leaving him paralyzed for the rest of his life. 

Arthur Bremer shoots George Wallace

Nor was he Bremer’s only victim. Three other people present were wounded unintentionally: 

  • Alabama State Trooper Captain E C Dothard, Wallace’s personal bodyguard, who was shot in the stomach;
  • Dora Thompson, a campaign volunteer, who was shot in the leg; and 
  • Nick Zarvos, a Secret Service agent, who was shot in the neck, severely impairing his speech.

None of Wallace’s bodyguards got off a shot at Bremer–before or after he pulled the trigger.

On October 6, 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was reviewing a military parade in Cairo when a truck apparently broke down directly across from where he was seated. 

Anwar Sadat, moments before his assassination

Suddenly, soldiers bolted from the rear of the vehicle, throwing hand grenades and firing assault rifles.  They rushed straight at Sadat–who died instantly under a hail of bullets.

Meanwhile, Sadat’s bodyguards–who had been trained by the CIA– panicked and fled.

Sadat had been assassinated by army officers who believed he had betrayed Islam by making peace with Israel in 1977.

The ultimate test of the NRA’s mantra that “there should not be any gun-free zones…anywhere” will come only when one or more heavily-armed gunmen target an NRA convention.

It will then be interesting to see if the surviving NRA members are as quick to blame themselves for being victims as they are the victims of other mass slaughters.

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