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FINDING THE COURAGE TO SAY “NO”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 18, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Long before Donald Trump was accused of being sexually compromised by the Russians, Americans knew enough about him to decide: “You are unfit for the Oval Office.”

Almost immediately after entering the Presidential race on June 16, 2015, he began attacking one group of Americans after another:

  • Mexicans: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He’s also promised to “build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
  • Blacks: Trump retweeted an image of a masked, dark-skinned man with a handgun and a series of alleged crime statistics, including: “Blacks killed by whites – 2%”; “Whites killed by blacks – 81%.” The image cites the “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco”–an agency that doesn’t exist.
  • Muslims: Trump has boasted he would ban them from entering the United States–and revive waterboarding of terrorist suspects. He would require Muslims to register with the Federal Government. And he would close “some mosques” if he felt they were being used by Islamic terrorists.
  • POWs: Speaking of Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

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Donald Trump

The number of people, places and things Trump has insulted is so extensive The New York Times compiled a list of 273 of them.

  • One of those persons was Tarla Makaeff, who spent more than $60,000 on Trump University classes.  In 2010, she filed a fraud lawsuit against (now-defunct) Trump University.
  • Trump retaliated by filing a defamation suit against her. The case was dismissed by a judge.
  • But Trump continued to attack her during his Presidential candidacy. During a campaign rally he assailed her as a “horrible, horrible witness,” and then posted on Twitter that she was “Disgraceful!”
  • Makaeff ultimately persuaded the judge presiding over the Trump University case to let her remove her name as a plaintiff.

As an authoritarian who demands the right to craft his own image. Trump furiously denies others the right to dissent from it:

  • Counter-suits, threats and personal insults against outsiders; and
  • Stringent confidentiality agreements against employees, business partners, his former spouses and now his campaign staffers.
  • In February, 2016, Trump said that he was “gonna open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”

Two of Trump’s most vicious threats were aimed at Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

  • The first occurred on October 9, during their second Presidential debate: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation–there has never been so many lies and so much deception.”
  • The second occurred on October 10, three days after The Washington Post leaked a video of Donald Trump making sexually predatory comments about women (“I don’t even wait. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”).
  • Rather than accept responsibility for his actions, Trump blamed the Clintons–who had nothing to do with the release.Speaking before a rally in Pennsylvania on October 10, Trump threatened: “If they wanna release more tapes saying inappropriate things, we’ll continue to talk about Bill and Hillary Clinton doing inappropriate things.  There are so many of them, folks.”

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Hillary Clinton

Trump’s rampant egomania is literally stamped on his properties. Of the 515 entities he owns, 268 of them–52%–bear his last name. He often refers to his properties as “the swankiest,” “the most beautiful.”

Among the references he’s made to himself:

  • “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”
  • “I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”
  • “My Twitter has become so powerful that I can actually make my enemies tell the truth.”
  • “My IQ is one of the highest–and you all know it.”

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Trump publicly admitted that his egomania would play a major role in his approach to consulting advisers:

  • Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he consults about foreign policy, he replied: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

Trump has never been charged with incest, but he’s repeatedly made disturbing, sexually inappropriate comments about his daughter, Ivanka:

  • When asked how he would react if Ivanka, a former teen model, posed for Playboy, Trump replied: “I don’t think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.

On October 7, The Washington Post leaked a video of Donald Trump making sexually predatory comments about women (“You can grab them by the pussy”).

  • Within a week, no fewer than 12 had come forward to accuse him of sexually inappropriate behavior.
  • Although he threatened to sue the New York Times if it reported the women’s claims, he has so far refused to do so.

* * * * *

Those Americans who voted for Donald Trump knew the character of the man they were supporting.

They enthusiastically followed him because he gave voice to their hatreds and prejudices.  And because they believed he would humiliate and destroy those they wanted to see humiliated and destroyed.

The next four years will unveil how many of their wishes are fulfilled.

FINDING THE COURAGE TO SAY “NO”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 17, 2017 at 12:01 am

“What did the President know and when did he know it?”

It was the famous question asked by Tennessee U.S. Senator Howard Baker during the 1973 Watergate hearings.

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Howard Baker

The question cut to the core of President Richard Nixon’s litany of crimes.  And the fact that it was posed by a Republican gave it added power.

More than a year later, Americans learned its answers:

  • Nixon had learned that his own White House “Plumbers” had carried out the Watergate Hotel burglary; and
  • Only days afterward, he ordered a cover-up.

With those revelations, his Presidency was finished.

America now stands only days away from swearing in Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

And, once again, Howard Baker’s slightly altered question resonates with force: “What did the American people know, and when did they know it?”

And the subject of that question is not Richard Nixon but President-elect Donald Trump.

Since January 10, Americans have been obsessed with the unproven allegation that, during a visit to Russia several years ago, Trump paid prostitutes to urinate on a bed once slept in by the Obamas at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton.

The charge was published by Buzzfeed, and given weight by reports that both Trump and President Barack Obama had been briefed by Intelligence officials about the alleged incident.

Perhaps even worse for Trump, it’s made him the butt of countless “golden shower” jokes. Saturday Night Live featured a skit with Vladimir Putin appearing at a press conference to blackmail Trump (Alec Baldwin) with a video tape labeled: “PEE PEE TAPE.”

Trump has denied the charge as “fake news.”

But long before this disturbing claim, Americans had more than enough knowledge about Donald Trump to judge him unfit for the Oval Office.

  • He unknowingly admitted to being a sexual predator of women: “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful–I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Donald Trump

  • He refused to release his tax returns–unlike every other Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1980.
  • He said he was prepared to withdraw from NATO, the American-European alliance that held the Soviet Union at bay for a half-century.
  • He often and publicly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, the absolute dictator of a foreign power hostile to the United States.
  • He publicly invited “Russia”–i.e., Putin–to interfere directly in an American Presidential election: “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

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Vladimir Putin

  • He surrounded himself with men who have close ties to Putin. One of these is Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager. His longstanding ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine lead directly to Putin.  
  • Another–his pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson–is the CEO of ExxonMobil, which has worked on major oil projects with Russia. In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, one of the highest honors the nation bestows on foreign citizens.  
  • Yet another Trump advisor, Roger Ailes, is a known sexual predator.  Hired to prepare Trump for the fall debates with Clinton, he was fired in July as CEO of Fox News on multiple charges of sexual harassment.
  • During the 2016 campaign, Trump received the enthusiastic support of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. 

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Ku Klux Klan enblem

  • Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates.
  • After Bondi dropped the Trump University case against Trump, he wrote her a check $25,000 for her re-election campaign. The money came from the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
  • On November 18, Trump–rather than face trial–settled the case out of court for $25 million. “Today’s $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, “and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.
  • Throughout the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly used threats of violence to intimidate his Republican and Democratic opponents. On March 16, he warned Republicans that if he didn’t win the GOP nomination in July, his supporters would literally riot: “I think you’d have riots. I think you would see problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen. I really do. I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.
  • On August 9,  Trump issued a veiled solicitation for the assassination of Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton: “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. If she gets to pick her [Supreme Court] judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”  
  • After slandering President Barack Obama for five years as “the President from Kenya,” he blatantly lied: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.  I finished it.”

WHY TRUMP WON: WHAT DIDN’T HAPPEN: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 4, 2017 at 12:15 am

Future historians may one day write that it’s what didn’t happen that played at least as great a role in electing Donald Trump President as what actually did.

There were at least four instances where intervention by Federal law enforcement authorities could have utterly changed the outcome of the 2016 election.

Two of these dealt with purely domestic issues–the Trump University scandal and Trump’s repeated threats of violence against Republican and Democratic opponents.

The third and fourth ones dealt with events directly affecting the security of the United States.

It is unprecedented for an American Presidential candidate to repeatedly bestow fulsome praise on the leader of a foreign power hostile to the United States. And to receive equally fawning compliments in return from that leader.

Yet that is precisely what has happened between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Thus Putin on Trump: “He is a bright personality, a talented person, no doubt about it. It is not up to us to appraise his positive sides, it is up to the U.S. voters. but, as we can see, he is an absolute leader in the presidential race.”

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Vladimir Putin

And Trump on Putin: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.  He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country”–a clear attack on President Barack Obama.

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Donald Trump

Case #3: The Justice Department did not invalidate the results of the 2016 election, despite overwhelming evidence that Russia intervened to elect Trump as Vladimir Putin’s chosen candidate.

  • Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and US Cyber Command, said in mid-November that Russia made “a conscious effort” to sway the results of the Presidential election by the hacking of 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee.
  • “There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind,” said Rogers. “This was not something that was done casually. This was not something that was done by chance. This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.”

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  • The Russians hacked the Democratic committee’s servers–but not those of the Republican National Committee.
  • On December 16, FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. agreed with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House. 

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Trump, however, has steadfastly denied any such role by Russia: “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it….No, I don’t believe it at all.”   

Case #4: The Justice Department did not prosecute Trump for treason, even though he solicited aid from Russia, a nation hostile to the United States. And no major official of the government–including President Obama–publicly condemned him as a traitor.     

At a news conference in Doral, Florida on July 27, Trump publicly invited “Russia”–i.e., Vladimir Putin–to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails: “I will tell you this, 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.”

This was essentially treason–calling on a hostile foreign power to interfere directly in an American Presidential election. And it was seen as such by both Democrats and even Republicans.

  • “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,” Hillary for America policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “That’s not hyperbole, those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”
  • “I find those kinds of statements to be totally outrageous because you’ve got now a presidential candidate who is, in fact, asking the Russians to engage in American politics,” said former CIA Director Leon Panetta, a Clinton surrogate. “I just think that’s beyond the pale.”
  • Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, said: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”
  • Even Trump’s Vice Presidential running mate, Mike Pence, said: “If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences.”

FBI Director James Comey believed that Hillary Clinton’s emails on a private server were so dangerous to national security that he announced–11 days before the election–that he was re-opening an investigation he had closed.  

That announcement erased widespread outrage over Trump’s unintended admissions of predatory behavior toward women–“Grab them by the pussy”–and reversed Clinton’s growing lead in the polls.

Yet the Bureau has not issued any such statements about the continuing reports of close ties between Trump and Putin, and Trump’s possible investments in Russia.

To their shame, the federal agencies charged with safeguarding America failed to take action against these abuses. And, to their shame, the news media, to date, has failed to indict them for their negligence.

WHY TRUMP WON: WHAT DIDN’T HAPPEN: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 3, 2017 at 12:01 am

Threatening his Republican and Democratic opponents with violence played a major role in Donald Trump’s campaign for President.

No other candidate–Republican or Democrat–had ever made such repeated and brutal use of threats of physical assault in pursuing the Presidency.

  • Philip Klein, the managing editor of the Washington Examiner,  wrote on the eve of the Republican National Convention in July: “Political commentators now routinely talk about the riots that would break out in Cleveland if Trump were denied the nomination, about how his supporters have guns and all hell could break loose, that they would burn everything to the ground. It works to Trump’s advantage to not try too hard to dispel these notions.”
  • On August 9,  Trump told a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina: “Hillary [Clinton] wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. If she gets to pick her [Supreme Court] judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
  • “Don’t treat this as a political misstep,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, who has called for stiffer gun laws, wrote on Twitter. “It’s an assassination threat, seriously upping the possibility of a national tragedy & crisis.”
  • “Well, let me say if someone else said that outside of the hall, he’d be in the back of a police wagon now, with the Secret Service questioning him,” said Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA). 

Making threats against anyone under protection by the U.S. Secret Service is a felony. Yet Donald Trump was never held legally accountable by the Justice Department.

Threats of this type continued to be made by Trump supporters right up to the day of the election.

  • On July 29, Roger Stone, a notorious Right-wing political consultant acting as a Trump strategist, told Breitbart News: “The first thing Trump needs to do is begin talking about [voter fraud] constantly. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.”
  • At a town hall meeting where Trump’s Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence appeared, a woman named Rhonda said: “For me personally, if Hillary Clinton gets in, I myself am ready for a revolution.”
  • In Cincinnati, a Trump supporter threatened to forcibly remove Clinton from the White House if she won the race: “If she’s in office, I hope we can start a coup. She should be in prison or shot. That’s how I feel about it,” Dan Bowman, a 50-year-old contractor, said of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. “We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed. But that’s what it’s going to take….I would do whatever I can for my country.”

Even Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, expressed fear of what might happen if Trump lost the election:

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Fergus Cullen

“That’s really scary,” Cullen said, recounting the violence at Trump rallies around the country leading up to the Republican National Convention. “In this country, we’ve always had recriminations after one side loses. But we haven’t had riots. We haven’t had mobs that act out with violence against supporters of the other side.

“There’s no telling what his supporters would be willing to do at the slightest encouragement from their candidate,” he said.

Trump even began encouraging his mostly white supporters to sign up online to be “election observers” to stop “Crooked Hillary from rigging this election.” He urged them to act as poll watchers in “other” [non-white] communities to ensure that things are “on the up and up.”

Many of his supporters promised to do so.

“Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” said Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio.

“I’ll look for…well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American,” he said. “I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”

Knowing that large numbers of angry–and possibly armed–Right-wingers planned to descend on polling places could only have had a chilling effect on untold numbers of Democratic voters. And this would have been especially true in heavily conservative states.

Both the USA Patriot Act and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act have statutes dealing with making terrorist threats against government institutions to influence their members.

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President George W. Bush signing the USA Patriot Reauthorization Act of 2005

If Trump’s remarks did not violate one or both of those laws, certainly remarks made by his surrogates did.

Thus, the Justice Department could have cited the Patriot Act in indicting Trump and/or any number of his followers for “activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

The Justice Department could have also demanded that the results of the election be invalidated on the basis that widespread voter and candidate intimidation played a massive role in it.

But of course this did not happen.

WHY TRUMP WON: WHAT DIDN’T HAPPEN: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 2, 2017 at 12:12 am

On November 9, 1923, Nazi Party Fuhrer Adolf Hitler tried to overthrow the government in Munich, Bavaria.

About 2,000 Nazis marched to the center of Munich, where they confronted heavily-armed police. A shootout erupted, killing 16 Nazis and four policemen. 

Hitler was injured during the clash, but managed to escape. Two days later, he was arrested and charged with treason.

Put on trial, he found himself treated as a celebrity by a judge sympathetic to Right-wing groups. He was allowed to brutally cross-examine witnesses and even make inflammatory speeches.

At the end of the trial, he was convicted of treason and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

Serving time in Landsberg Prison, in Bavaria. he was given a huge cell, allowed to receive unlimited visitors and gifts, and treated with deference by guards and inmates.

Hitler used his time in prison to write his infamous book, Mein Kampf–“My Struggle.” Part autobiography, part political treatise, it laid out his future plans–including the extermination of the Jews and the conquest of the Soviet Union.

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Adolf Hitler leaving Landsberg Prison, December, 20, 1924

Nine months later, he was released on parole–by authorities loyal to the authoritarian Right instead of the newly-created Weimar Republic.

Hitler immediately began rebuilding the shattered Nazi party–and deciding on a new strategy to gain power. Never again would he resort to armed force. He would win office by election–or intrigue.

Writes historian Volker Ullrich, in his monumental new biography, Hitler: Ascent 1889 – 1939: “Historians have perennially tried to answer the question of whether Hitler’s rise to power could have been halted….

“There were repeated opportunities to end Hitler’s run of triumphs. The most obvious one was after the failed Putsch of November 1923. Had the Munich rabble-rouser been forced to serve his full five-year term of imprisonment in Landsberg, it is extremely unlikely that he would have been able to restart his political career.”

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Thus, it isn’t just what happens that can influence the course of history. Often, it’s what doesn’t happen that has at least as great a result.

Future historians–if there are any–may one day write that it’s what didn’t happen that played at least as great a role in electing Donald Trump President as what actually did.

There were at least four instances where intervention by Federal law enforcement authorities could have utterly changed the outcome of the 2016 election.

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Donald Trump

Case #1:  The Justice Department did not indict Trump and/or the Attorney Generals of Texas and/or Florida for their roles in the Trump University scandal.

  • Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates.
  • After Bondi dropped the Trump University case against Trump, he wrote her a check $25,000 for her re-election campaign. The money came from the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
  • Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton moved to muzzle a former state regulator who says he was ordered in 2010 to drop a fraud investigation into Trump University for political reasons.
  • Paxton’s office issued a cease and desist letter to former Deputy Chief of Consumer Protection John Owens after he made public copies of a 14-page internal summary of the state’s case against Donald Trump for scamming millions from students of his now-defunct real estate seminar.
  • After the Texas case was dropped, Trump cut a $35,000 check to the gubernatorial campaign of then attorney general and now Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

One attorney general who refused to accept money from Trump was New York’s Eric Schneiderman. His decision to press fraud claims against Trump forced the real estate mogul to settle the case out of court for $25 million.

“Today’s $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump,” said Schneiderman on November 18, “and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.”

There have been no press reports that the Justice Department investigated these cases to determine if Trump violated the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act statutes.

If the Justice Department did not investigate these cases, it should have. And if he did violate the RICO statutes, he should have been indicted, even as a Presidential candidate or President-elect.

Even if an indictment had not produced a conviction, the mere bringing of one would have cast an unprecedented cloud over his candidacy–let alone his being sworn in as President.

Case #2:  The Justice Department did not indict Trump for his series of threats that he made–directly and indirectly–against Republicans and Democrats throughout the 2016 campaign.

  • On March 16, he warned Republicans that if he didn’t win the GOP nomination in July, his supporters would literally riot: “I think you’d have riots. I think you would see problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen. I really do. I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.”
  • An NBC reporter summed it up as: “The message to Republicans was clear on [March 16]: ‘Nice convention you got there, shame if something happened to it.'”
  • That Republicans clearly saw this as a threat is undeniable. Paul Ryan, their Speaker of the House, said on March 17: “Nobody should say such things in my opinion because to even address or hint to violence is unacceptable.”
  • And Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich chinned in. “Leaders don’t imply violence,” Kasich told “Face the Nation” on March 20. “When he says that there could be riots, that’s inappropriate. I think you understand that, okay? Secondly, while we have our differences and disagreements, we’re Americans. Americans don’t say, ‘Let’s take to the streets and have violence.'”

THE PRESIDENT FROM PUTIN

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 15, 2016 at 1:20 am

Donald Trump spent five years slandering Barack Obama as “the President from Kenya.”  

And now it appears that the United States is on the brink of inaugurating him as “the President from Vladimir Putin.”

On December 14, NBC News reported that “U.S. intelligence officials now believe with ‘a high level of confidence’ that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.”

According to senior Intelligence officials, Putin had several motives:

  • Waging a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, whom he has long disliked;
  • Publicly disgrace the United States by revealing corruption at the heart of its politics; and
  • “Split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore.” 

The CIA believes that Putin wanted to elect Donald Trump. The FBI isn’t so certain, feeling that Putin might have simply wanted to do as much harm as possible.

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Even so, an air of unreality clings to all of this.

The bromance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has been well-known for more than a year.   

On June 2, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said exactly that to an audience in San Diego, California:

“And I have to say, I don’t understand Donald [Trump’s] bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America.

“He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit’ for taking over North Korea–something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie.

“And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A. Now, I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants,” said Clinton.

To many people, it’s the ultimate odd-couple: The lifelong Communist and former KGB officer (Putin) walking arm-in-arm with the billionaire, publicity-hungry capitalist (Trump).

First Putin:

“He is a bright personality, a talented person, no doubt about it. It is not up to us to appraise his positive sides, it is up to the U.S. voters. but, as we can see, he is an absolute leader in the presidential race.

“He is saying that he wants to move to a different level of relations with Russia, to a closer, deeper one. How can we not welcome that?  Of course, we welcome that.”

Vladimir Putin

Now Trump:

“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

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Donald Trump

Appearing on the December 18, 2015 edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump said: “Sure, when people call you ‘brilliant,’ it’s always good. Especially when the person heads up Russia.”

The host, Joe Scarborough, was upset by Trump’s praise for Putin: “Well, I mean, [he’s] also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. obviously that would be a concern, would it not?”

TRUMP: He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: But again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.

TRUMP: I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.

SCARBOROUGH: I’m confused. So I mean, you obviously condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?

TRUMP:  Oh sure, absolutely.

And Trump has gone well beyond handing out compliments.

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). Early reports traced the leak to Russian hackers.  

And how did Trump react?

By declaring, at a press conference in Doral, Florida: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing–I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”  

This was nothing less than treason–calling upon a foreign power, hostile to the United States, to interfere in its Presidential election.

Why would Putin want to back Trump?  

Trump has repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He believes the United States is paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance–and he wants other members to contribute far more. 

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He has also said that, if Russia attacked NATO members, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after determining whether those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” If he believed that they had not done so, he would inform them: “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

For Putin, this clearly signaled a reason to prefer Trump to Clinton. The withdrawal of the United States from NATO would instantly render that alliance kaput. Its European members don’t have the armed forces to match Russia’s–nor Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal.  

As January 20, 2017, rapidly approaches, America faces a stark choice: Empower a man elected with help from a hostile power–or declare him ineligible as a result.

AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN LEGACY: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 2, 2016 at 12:02 am

“John and Robert Kennedy knew what they were doing. They waged a vicious war against Fidel Castro–a war someone had to lose.”

And the loser turned out to be John F. Kennedy.

So writes investigative reporter Gus Russo in Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK, published in 1998.

In what is almost certainly the definitive account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Russo reaches some startling–but highly documented–conclusions:

  • Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy.
  • He did it alone.
  • Oswald, a former Marine, was a committed Marxist–whose hero was Castro.
  • The CIA’s ongoing campaign to overthrow and/or assassinate Castro was an open secret throughout the Gulf.
  • Oswald visited New Orleans in the spring of 1963.
  • There he learned that Castro was in the crosshairs of the CIA.
  • For this, he blamed John F. Kennedy.
  • Oswald told his Russian-born wife, Marina: “Fidel Castro needs defenders. I’m going to join his army of volunteers.”
  • Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, murdered Oswald because he was distraught over Kennedy’s death.
  • Ruby was not part of a Mafia conspiracy to silence Oswald.
  • Skeptics of the Warren Commission–which concluded that Oswald had acted alone–asked the wrong question: “Who killed Kennedy?”
  • They should have asked: “Why was he killed?”
  • The answer–according to Russo: “The Kennedys’ relentless pursuit of Castro and Cuba backfired in tragedy on that terrible day in November, 1963.”

Another book well worth reading about America’s Cuban obsession during the early 1960s is American Tabloid, by James Ellroy.

Although a novel, it vividly captures the atmosphere of intrigue, danger and sleaziness that permeated that era in a way that dry, historical documents never can.

“The 50’s are finished,” reads its paperback dust jacket. “Zealous young lawyer Robert Kennedy has a red-hot jones to nail Jimmy Hoffa. JFK has his eyes on the Oval Office.

“J. Edgar Hoover is swooping down on the Red Menace. Howard Hughes is dodging subpoenas and digging up Kennedy dirt. And Castro is mopping up the bloody aftermath of his new Communist nation….

“Mob bosses, politicos, snitches, psychos, fall guys and femmes fatale. They’re mixing up a Molotov cocktail guaranteed to end the country’s innocence with a bang.”

Among the legacies of America’s twisted romance with anti-Castro Cubans:

  • Following the JFK assassination, there was a cover-up.
  • Its purpose: To protect the reputation of the United States Government–and that of its newly-martyred President.
  • The CIA and FBI concealed the CIA-Mafia assassination plots from the Warren Commission assigned to investigate Kennedy’s murder.
  • Other government officials participating in the cover-up included Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Ironically, this secrecy ignited the widespread–and false–belief that the President had died at the hands of a government conspiracy.
  • Robert Kennedy feared that his relentless pursuit of Castro might have led Castro to “take out” JFK first.
  • Fearing his own assassination if he continued Kennedy’s efforts to murder Castro, President Johnson ordered the CIA to halt its campaign to overthrow and/or assassinate the Cuban leader.
  • The huge Cuban community throughout Florida–and especially Miami–continues to exert a blackmailing influence on American politics.
  • Right-wing politicians from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump have reaped electoral rewards by catering to the demands of this hate-obsessed voting block.
  • These Cuban ex-patriots hope that the United States will launch a full-scale military invasion of the island to remove Castro. 
  • Having grown rich and soft in the United States, they fear to risk their own lives by returning to Cuba to overthrow the Castro regime–as he had overthrown Fulgencio Batista.
  • Only President Barack Obama had the political courage to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba–in 2015.
  • This occurred long after the United States had done so with such former enemies as the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam.  
  • With President-elect Donald Trump due to take office in January, 2017, America’s future relations with Cuba remain in doubt.  

The Cuban Missile Crisis remains the single most dangerous moment of the 50-year Cold War, when the world stood only minutes away from nuclear Armageddon.

That crisis stemmed from the American Right’s twisted obsession with Cuba, an obsession that continues today.

So what are the lessons to be learned from that obsession?

  • It is long past time to demand major changes in our foreign policy toward Cuba.
  • It’s time to end the half-century contamination of American politics by those Cubans who live only for their hatred of Castro–and those political candidates who live to exploit it. 
  • (For example: Marco Rubio got elected U.S. Senator from Florida in 2010 by claiming that his parents had been forced to leave Cuba in 1959, after Fidel Castro took power. In fact, they had left Cuba in 1956–during the Batista dictatorship.)
  • It’s time to end this wag-the-dog relationship. A population of about 1,700,000 Cuban exiles living in Florida should not be allowed to shape the domestic and foreign policy of a nation of 300 million.
  • Those who continue to hate–or love–Fidel Castro should be left to their own private feud. But that is a feud they should settle on their own island, and not from the shores of the United States.

AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN LEGACY: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 1, 2016 at 10:46 am

On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy went on nationwide TV to announce the discovery of the missiles and his blockade of Cuba.

He warned that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union–and would trigger “a full retaliatory response” upon the U.S.S.R.

President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation

And he demanded that the Soviets remove all of their offensive weapons from Cuba:

“The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are, but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

On October 26,  the United States raised the readiness level of SAC forces to DEFCON 2–the step just short of war. For the only time in U.S. history, B-52 bombers were dispersed to various locations and made ready to take off, fully equipped, on 15 minutes’ notice.

Other measures taken included:

  • One-eighth of America’s 1,436 bombers were on airborne alert.
  • About 145 intercontinental ballistic missiles stood on ready alert.
  • Air Defense Command redeployed 161 nuclear-armed interceptors to 16 dispersal fields within nine hours with one-third maintaining 15-minute alert status.
  • Twenty-three nuclear-armed B-52 were sent to orbit points within striking distance of the Soviet Union.

An invasion date was set for October 29. But the Kennedy Administration–and the American military–didn’t know that the Russian soldiers guarding the missiles had been armed with tactical nuclear weapons.

Had the Marines gone in, those mini-nukes would have been used. And a fullscale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union would have almost certainly followed.

At the height of the crisis, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy offered a solution.

Khrushchev had sent two teletypes to Kennedy. The first had agreed to remove the missiles, but the second had demanded that the United States remove its own missiles from Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union.

Robert Kennedy’s solution: The administration should ignore the second message–and announce that it had accepted Khrushchev’s offer to remove the missiles.

After this announcement was made, President Kennedy said to his advisers: “It can go either way now.”

John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office

The crisis ended on October 28. Under enormous pressure, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba.

Behind his decision lay a secret promise by the Kennedy administration to remove its obsolete nuclear missiles from Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union. And a public pledge to not invade Cuba.

On the night the crisis ended, there occurred a prophetic exchange between the two Kennedy brothers.

JFK: “Maybe this is the night I should go to the theater”–a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s fatal attendance of Ford’s Theater at the end of the Civil War.

RFK: “If you go, I want to go with you.”

John F. and Robert F. Kennedy

But President Kennedy was not finished with Castro. While continuing the campaign of sabotage throughout Cuba, the Kennedys were preparing something far bigger: A fullscale American invasion of the island.

On October 4, 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff submitted its latest version of the invasion plan, known as OPLAN 380-63.  Its timetable went:

  • January, 1964:  Infiltration into Cuba by Cuban exiles.
  • July 15, 1964:  U.S. conventional forces join the fray.
  • August 3, 1964:  All-out U.S. air strikes on Cuba.
  • October 1, 1964:  Full-scale invasion to install “a government friendly to the U.S.”

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy–referring to the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor–had resisted demands for a “sneak attack” on Cuba by saying: “I don’t want my brother to be the Tojo of the 1960s.”

Now the Kennedys planned such an attack on Cuba just one month before the November, 1964 Presidential election.

Then fate–in the unlikely figure of Lee Harvey Oswald–intervened.

On November 22, 1963, while the President rode through Dallas in an open-air automobile, a rifle-wielding assassin opened fire. He scored two hits on Kennedy–in the back of the neck and head. The second wound proved instantly fatal.

The nation and the world were shocked–and plunged into deep mourning.

But for some of those who had waged a secret, lethal war against Fidel Castro for the previous two years, Kennedy’s death–at least in retrospect–didn’t come as a surprise.

Robert Kennedy, in particular, spent the remaining years of his life agonizing over the possibility that his highly personal war against Castro had backfired.

That Castro, fed up with the CIA’s assassination plots against him, had retaliated with one of his own.

Robert Kennedy’s fears and guilt were compounded by the fact that, while waging war on Castro, he had waged an equally ruthless crusade against organized crime.

He knew that some of the mobsters he had tried to send to prison had played a major role in the CIA’s efforts to “hit” Castro. Had the Mafia–believing itself the victim of a double-cross–put out a “contract” on JFK instead?  

It was a question that haunted him until the day he died.

AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN LEGACY: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 30, 2016 at 12:02 am

In April, 1961, the CIA tried to overthrow the Communist regime of Cuba’s “Maximum Leader,” Fidel Castro, at the Bay of Pigs.

When that failed, President John F. Kennedy ordered Castro’s removal through a campaign of sabotage and assassination.

These covert operatives became known within the CIA as the Special Group, and were ultimately supervised by Robert F. Kennedy, the President’s brother and Attorney General.

The war against Castro became known within the CIA as Operation Mongoose.

But not everyone in the CIA was enthusiastic about the “get Castro” effort.

“Everyone at CIA was surprised at Kennedy’s obsession with Fidel,” recalled Sam Halpern, who was assigned to the Cuba Project. “They thought it was a waste of time. We all knew [Fidel] couldn’t hurt us. Most of us at CIA initially liked Kennedy, but why go after this little guy?

“One thing is for sure: Kennedy wasn’t doing it out of national security concerns. It was a personal thing. The Kennedy family felt personally burnt by the Bay of Pigs and sought revenge.”

It was all-out war. Among the tactics used:

  • Hiring Cuban gangsters to murder Cuban police officials and Soviet technicians.
  • Sabotaging mines.
  • Paying up to $100,000 per “hit” for the murder or kidnapping of Cuban officials.
  • Using biological and chemical warfare against the Cuban sugar industry.

“Bobby (Kennedy) wanted boom and bang all over the island,” recalled Halpern. “It was stupid. The pressure from the White House was very great.”

Among that “boom and bang” were a series of assassination plots against Castro, in which the Mafia was to be a key player.

Chicago Mobster Johnny Rosselli proposed a simple plan: through its underworld connections in Cuba, the Mafia would recruit a Cuban in Castro’s entourage, such as a waiter or bodyguard, who would poison him.

The CIA’s Technical Services division produced a botulinus toxin which was then injected into Castro’s favorite brand of cigars. The CIA also produced simpler botulinus toxin pills that could be dissolved in his food or drink.

But the deputized Mafia contacts failed to deliver any of the poisons to Castro. 

Rosselli told the CIA that the first poisoner had been discharged from Castro’s employ before he could kill him, and the back-up agent got “cold feet.” 

Other proposals or attempts included:

  • Planting colorful seashells rigged to explode at a site where Castro liked to go skindiving.
  • Trying to arrange for his being presented with a wetsuit impregnated with noxious bacteria and mold spores, or with lethal chemical agents.
  • Attempting to infect Castro’s scuba regulator with tuberculous bacilli.
  • Trying to douse his handkerchiefs, tea and coffee with other lethal bacteria.

Former members of the Kennedy Administration later insisted that neither John nor Robert Kennedy knew or approved of these assassination plots. But the sheer weight of available evidence indicates otherwise.

Bobby, in particular, was constantly pressing the CIA to “do something” about Castro. In the world of covert action, words like “Kill Castro” aren’t committed to paper. Or even spoken.

Castro, rightly seeing his life and regime threatened, appealed to Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, for assistance.

Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro

Khrushchev was quick to comply: “We must not allow the communist infant to be strangled in its crib,” he told members of his inner circle.

By October, 1962, the Soviet Union had sent more than

  • 40,000 soldiers,
  • 1,300 field pieces,
  • 700 anti-aircraft guns,
  • 350 tanks and
  • 150 jets

to Cuba to deter another invasion.

Most importantly, Khrushchev began supplying Castro with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

Their discovery, on October 15, 1962, ignited the single most dangerous confrontation of the 50-year Cold War.

Suddenly, the United States and the Soviet Union–bristling with nuclear weapons–found themselves on the brink of nuclear war.

At the time, Kennedy officials claimed they couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. “Maybe Khrushchev’s gone mad” was a typical public musing.  

This remained the official American view for years afterward–as depicted in Robert Kennedy’s memoir, Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, published in 1969, the year after his death. 

No admission was made that JFK had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leader.

The same proved true for the 1974 doc-u-drama, The Missiles of October, starring William Devane as John F. Kennedy and Martin Sheen as Robert Kennedy. 

On October 16, President Kennedy was informed of the missile installations. He immediately convened a group of his 12 most important advisers, which became known as Ex-Comm, for Executive Committee.

Then followed seven days of guarded and intense debate by Kennedy and his advisers. Some of the participants–such as Air Force General Curtis LeMay–urged an all-out air strike against the missile sites.

Others–such as Adlai Stevenson, the United States delegate to the United Nations–urged a reliance on quiet diplomacy.

It was Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara who suggested a middle course: A naval blockade–a “quarantine” in Kennedy’s softened term–around Cuba. This would hopefully prevent the arrival of more Soviet offensive weapons on the island.

Finally, the President decided to to impose a naval blockade.

On October 22, Kennedy went on nationwide TV to announce the discovery of the missiles and his blockade of Cuba.

AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN LEGACY: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 29, 2016 at 12:08 am

On November 25, Fidel Castro, Cuba’s longtime “Maximum Leader,” died at the age of 90.

Old age and disease finally achieved what years of plotting by CIA and Mafia assassins could not.

To his supporters he was a tireless champion of the poor and a foe of American imperialism. To his enemies he was a ruthless dictator who drove his country to economic ruin in the name of a failed ideology–communism.

His reign began on January 1, 1959, when he swept triumphantly into Havana after a two-year guerrilla campaign against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Fidel Castro

Almost immediately, hundreds of thousands of Cubans began fleeing to America. The first émigrés were more than 215,000 Batista followers. The exodus increased, peaking at approximately 78,000 in 1962.

In October, 1962, Castro stopped regularly scheduled travel between the two countries, and asylum seekers began sailing from Cuba to Florida.

Between 1962 and 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cubans entered the United States under the Attorney General’s parole authority.

By 2008, more than 1.24 million Cubans were living in the United States, mostly in South Florida, where the population of Miami was about one-third Cuban. Their sheer numbers transformed the state’s political, economic and cultural life.  And not entirely for the better.

Many of these Cubans viewed themselves as political exiles, rather than immigrants, hoping to eventually return to Cuba after its Communist regime fell from power.

The large number of Cubans in South Florida, particularly in Miami’s “Little Havana,” allowed them to preserve their culture and customs to a degree rare for immigrant groups.

With so many discontented immigrants concentrated in Florida, they became a potential force for politicians to court.

And the issue guaranteed to sway their votes was unrelenting hostility to Castro.  Unsurprisingly, most of their votes went to Right-wing Republicans.

John F. Kennedy was the first President to face this dilemma.

During the closing months of the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the CIA had begun training Cuban exiles for an invasion of their former homeland.

The exiles’ goal: To do what Castro had done–seek refuge in the mountains and launch a successful anti-Castro revolution.

But word of the coming invasion quickly leaked: The exiles were terrible secret-keepers. (A joke at the CIA went: “A Cuban thinks a secret is something you tell to only 300 people.”)

Kennedy insisted the invasion must appear to be an entirely Cuban enterprise. He refused to commit U.S. Marines and Air Force bombers.

More than 1,400 invaders landed on April 17, 1961 at the Bay of Pigs–and were quickly overwhelmed, with hundreds of the men taken prisoner.

Kennedy publicly took the blame for its failure: “Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.” But privately he seethed, and ordered the CIA to redouble its efforts to remove Castro at all costs.

To make certain his order was carried out, he appointed his brother, Robert–then Attorney General–to oversee the CIA’s “Castro removal” program.

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

It’s here that America’s obsession with Cuba entered its darkest and most disgraceful period.

The CIA and the Mafia entered into an unholy alliance to assassinate Castro–each for its own benefit:

  • The CIA wanted to please Kennedy.
  • The mobsters wanted to regain their casino and brothel holdings that had made Cuba their private playground in pre-Castro times. They also hoped to use their pose as patriots to win immunity from future prosecution.

The CIA supplied poisons and explosives to various members of the Mafia. It was then up to the mobsters to assassinate Castro.

The CIA asked Johnny Roselli, a mobster linked to the Chicago syndicate, to go to Florida in 1961 and 1962 to organize assassination teams of Cuban exiles. They were to infiltrate their homeland and assassinate Castro.

Johnny Roselli

Rosselli called upon two other crime figures: Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana and Santos Trafficante, the Costra Nostra chieftain for Tampa, for assistance.

Sam Giancana

Giancana, using the name “Sam Gold” in his dealings with the CIA, was meanwhile being hounded by the FBI on direct orders of Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

The mobsters were authorized to offer $150,000 to anyone who would kill Castro and were promised any support the Agency could yield.

Giancana was to locate someone who was close enough to Castro to be able to drop pills into his food. Trafficante would serve as courier to Cuba, helping to make arrangements for the murder on the island.

Rosselli was to be the main link between all of the participants in the plot.

The available sources disagree on what actually happened. Some believe that the Mob made a genuine effort to “whack” Fidel.

Others are convinced the mobsters simply ran a scam on the government. They pretended to carry out their “patriotic duty” while in fact making no effort at all to penetrate Castro’s security.

The CIA’s war against Castro was known as Operation Mongoose–the mongoose being a traditional enemy of the cobra. And those entrusted with this assignment were known as the Special Group.

“We were hysterical about Castro at about the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter,” Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara later testified before Congress about these efforts. “And there was pressure from JFK and RFK to do something about Castro.”

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