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THE WASHINGTON, D.C., REPUBLICANS DON’T TALK ABOUT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 26, 2019 at 1:21 am

Republicans constantly revile the very government they lust to control.

But there are others—living or working in Washington, D.C.—who perform their jobs with quiet dedication. 

One of these unsung heroes was Stephen Tyrone Johns, a security guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

On June 10, 2009, Johns, 39, was shot and killed by James Wenneker von Brunn, a white supremist and Holocaust denier. Brunn was himself shot and wounded by two other security guards who returned fire.14th Street Entrance of USHMM. Large, rectangular façade with rounded opening.

United States Holocaust Museum   

At 88, von Brunn died in jail awaiting trial.

Washington, D.C. ranks—with New York City—at the top of Al Qaeda’s list of targets.

Prior to 9/11, Americans assumed that visiting the White House was their birthright. 

Today, if you want to tour the Executive Mansion, you quickly learn there are only two ways to get in:

  1. Through a special pass provided by your Congressman; or
  2. By someone connected with the incumbent administration.

Congressmen, however, have a limited number of passes to give out.  And most of these go to people who have put serious money into the Congressman’s re-election campaigns.

And the odds that you’ll know someone who works in the White House—and who’s willing to offer you an invitation—are even smaller than those of knowing a Congressman. 

But even then you’ll have to undergo a Secret Service background check. And that means submitting the following information in advance of your visit:

  1. Name
  2. Date of birth
  3. Birthplace
  4. Social Security Number

Secret Service agents protecting President Barack Obama

You’ll have to leave many items at home.  Among these:

  • Cameras or video recorders
  • Handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses
  • Food or beverages
  • Tobacco products
  • Strollers
  • Cell phones
  • Knives 
  • Electric stun guns
  • Mace

After showing a government-issued ID—such as a driver’s license—visitors enter the White House from the south side of East Executive Avenue.

After passing through the security screening room, they walk upstairs to the first door and through the East, Green, Blue, Red and State Dining rooms.

Secret Service agents quietly stand post in every room—unless they’re tasked with explaining the illustrious history of each section of the White House.

Like everyone else who lives/works there, the Secret Service fully appreciates the incredible sense of history that radiates throughout the building.

This is where

  • Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation;
  • Franklin Roosevelt directed the United States to victory in World War II;
  • John F. Kennedy stared down the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The White House

But even the generally unsmiling Secret Service agents have their human side.

While touring the East Wing of the White House, I asked an agent: “Is the East Room where President Nixon gave his farewell speech?” on August 9, 1974.

“I haven’t been programmed for that information,” the agent joked, inviting me to ask a question he could answer.

Another guest asked the same agent if he enjoyed being a Secret Serviceman. The agent replied that this was simply what he did for a living. His real passion, he said, was counseling youths.

“If you love something,” he advised, “get a job where you can do it.  And if you can’t get a job you’re passionate about, get a job so you can pursue your passion.”

On December 22, 2018, President Donald J. Trump shut down the government. The reason: A Democratic House refused to fund his “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. 

An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

Trump’s fanatical base believed that a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border would stop all illegal immigration. Trump knew it wouldn’t. But he also knew that if he didn’t build it, they wouldn’t re-elect him.

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Donald Trump

The effects of the shutdown quickly became evident:  

  • For weeks, hundreds of thousands of government workers missed paychecks.
  • Increasing numbers of employees of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)—which provides security against airline terrorism—began refusing to come to work, claiming to be sick.
  • At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) many air traffic controllers called in “sick.” Those who showed up to work without pay grew increasingly frazzled as they feared being evicted for being unable to make rent or house payments. 
  • Many Federal employees—such as FBI agents—were forced to rely on soup kitchens to feed their families.
  • Many workers tried to bring in money by babysitting or driving for Uber, 

Trump told Congressional leaders the shutdown could last months or even years.

But by January 25, 2019,  the 35th day of the shutdown, Trump’s popularity had fallen to a historic low of 37%. On that day, he caved and re-opened the government.

The men and women who work in Washington, D.C., aren’t faceless “bureaucrats,” as Right-wingers falsely claim.

They  are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. They have deadlines to meet and bills to pay, just like everyone else.

Many of them, such as agents of the FBI and Secret Service, have taken an oath to defend the United States Constitution—with their lives if necessary.

They deserve a better break—and the respect of their fellow Americans. 

THE WASHINGTON, D.C. REPUBLICANS DON’T TALK ABOUT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 25, 2019 at 12:27 am

To hear Right-wingers tell it, you might believe that Washington, D.C. is:

  • The capitol of an enemy nation;
  • A cesspool of corrupt, power-hungry men and women slavering to gain dictatorial control over the life of every American;
  • A center of lethal contagion which, like ancient Carthage, should be burned to the ground and its inhabitants destroyed or scattered.

According to Republicans, they are all that prevents “Washington” from gaining absolute power over a defenseless citizenry.

This does not stop Republicans from lusting to rule it—and enable a Constitution-violating Donald Trump to serve as “President-for-Life.”

But others who live or work in Washington, D.C. take a far different view of their city and the duties they perform.

These men and women will never call a press conference or rake in millions in “political contributions” (i.e., legalized bribes) for promising special privileges to special interests.

Many of them work for the National Park Service.  Every national monument—and Washington is speckled with monuments—has several of these employees assigned to it. Their duties are to protect the monuments and offer historical commentary to the public.

One such employee regularly addresses visitors to Ford’s Theater—known worldwide as the scene of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

George (a pseudonym) opens his lecture by raising the question every member of the audience wants answered: How much of Ford’s Theater remains intact from the night of Lincoln’s murder—April 14, 1865?

And the answer is: Only the exterior of the building.

Ford’s Theater

After Lincoln’s assassination, enraged Union soldiers converted the interior of the building into a military command center.  That meant ripping out all the seats for spectators and the stage for actors.

The stage and seats—even the “Presidential Box” where Lincoln sat—have all been reproduced for a modern audience.

As George talks, you can tell that, for him, this is no typical day job.  He realizes that, renovated or not, Ford’s Theater remains saturated with history.  And he clearly feels privileged to share that history with others.

George explains that Presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth did not sneak into the theater.  He didn’t have to—as a celebrity actor, he received the sort of favored treatment now accorded Brad Pitt.

Another monument where you will find Park Ranger guides is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Completed in 1982, it receives about three million visitors a year.  Adorning the Wall, in columns that seem to reach endlessly to the sky, are the names of the 58,195 soldiers who gave their lives during the Vietnam War.

That struggle—from 1961 to 1975—proved the most divisive American conflict since the Civil War.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

On the day I visited the memorial, groups of elementary schoolchildren passed by. They were jabbering loudly, seemingly oblivious to the terrible sacrifice the Wall was meant to commemorate.

But their adult chaperones realized its significance, and ordered the children to quiet down. I asked a nearby Park Ranger: “Do you feel people now respond differently to the Wall, as we get further away from the Vietnam war?”

“No,” he answered.  He felt that today’s visitors showed the same reverence for the monument and for the losses it had been created to honor as those who had first come in the early 1980s.

And it may well be true: I saw many tiny American flags and wreaths of flowers left at various points along the Wall, which stretches  across 250 feet of land on the Mall.

When thinking about “Washington,” it’s essential to remember that this city—along with New York City—remains at the top of Al Qaeda’s target list. Those who choose to live and/or work here do so in the potential shadow of violent death.

Anytime you enter a Federal building, be prepared to undergo a security check.

In most agencies—such as the Department of Agriculture—you simply place your bags or purses into an X-ray machine similar to those found at airports, and walk through a magnetometer. If no alarms sound, you collect your valuables and pass on through.

Such machines are, of course, mammed by armed security guards. And they stand sentinel at every conceivable Federal building—such as the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the Smithsonian Museum, the Pentagon and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

These men and women must daily inspect the bodies and handbags of the 15 million people who visit Washington, D.C. annually, generating $5.24 billion dollar in revenues.

This means repeating the same screening gestures countless times—looking through X-ray machines at bags or coats, and running an electronic “wand” up and down those people whose clothing gives off signs of metallic objects.

It also means knowing that any one of these ordinary looking visitors could be the next terrorist intent on killing as many people as possible.

It also means projecting a smiling, friendly demeanor towards those same people—many of whom are in a rush and/or resent being electronically sniffed over.

And every security guard knows this: It’s only a matter of time before the next terrorist shows up.

On June 10, 2009, just that happened at the United States Holocaust Memorial.

WHAT MAKES A PRESIDENT LOVED? FORGOTTEN? HATED?

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on December 23, 2019 at 12:07 am

Why are some Presidents remembered with affection, while others are detested—or forgotten altogether?

Generally, Presidents who are warmly remembered are seen as making positive contributions to the lives of their fellow Americans and being “people-oriented.”

Among these:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy

Among the reasons they are held in such high regard:

  • Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and restored the Union. Although he ruthlessly prosecuted the Civil War, his humanity remains engraved in stories such as his pardoning a soldier condemned to be shot for cowardice: “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Theodore Roosevelt championed an era of reform, such as creating the Food and Drug Administration and five National Parks. Popularly known as “Teddy,” he even had a toy bear—the teddy bear—named after him.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully led America through the Great Depression and World War II. He was the first President to insist that government existed to directly better the lives of its citizens: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • John F. Kennedy supported civil rights and called for an end to the Cold War. He challenged Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” and made government service respectable, even chic. His youth, charisma, intelligence and handsomeness led millions to mourn for “what might have been” had he lived to win a second term.

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John F. Kennedy

Presidents who remain unpopular among Americans are seen as unlikable and responsible (directly or not) for mass suffering.

Among these:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Richard M. Nixon

Among the reasons they are held in such low regard:

  • Herbert Hoover is still blamed for the 1929 Great Depression. He didn’t create it, but his conservative, “small-government” philosophy led him to refuse to aid its victims. An engineer by profession, he saw the Depression as a machine that needed repair, not as a catastrophe for human beings. This lack of “emotional intelligence” cost him heavily with voters.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson is still blamed as the President “who got us into Vietnam.” John F. Kennedy had laid the groundwork by placing 16,000 American troops there by the time he died in 1963. But it was Johnson who greatly expanded the war in 1965 and kept it going—with hugely expanding casualties—for the next three years. Unlike Kennedy, whom he followed, he looked and sounded terrible on TV. Voters compared LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety with JFK’s wit and good looks—and found him wanting.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Richard M. Nixon will be remembered foremost as the President who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment and removal from office. Like Herbert Hoover, he was not a “people person” and seemed remote to even his closest associates. Although he took office on a pledge to “bring us together” and end the Vietnam war, he attacked war protesters as traitors and kept the war going another four years. His paranoid fears of losing the 1972 election led to his creating an illegal “Plumbers” unit which bugged the Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel. And his attempted cover-up of their illegal actions led to his being forced to resign from office in disgrace.

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Richard M. Nixon

Which brings us to the question: How is Donald J. Trump likely to be remembered?

Historian Joachim C. Fest offers an unintended answer to this question in his 1973 bestselling biography Hitler:

“The phenomenon of the great man is primarily aesthetic, very rarely moral in nature; and even if we were prepared to make allowances in the latter realm, in the former we could not.

“An ancient tenet of aesthetics holds that one who for all his remarkable traits is a repulsive human being, is unfit to be a hero.”

Among the reasons for Hitler’s being “a repulsive human being,” Fest cites the Fuhrer’s

  • “intolerance and vindictiveness”;
  • “lack of generosity”; and
  • “banal and naked materialism–power was the only motive he would recognize.”

Fest then quotes German chancellor Otto von Bismark on what constitutes greatness: “Impressiveness in this world is always akin to the fallen angel who is beautiful but without peace, great in his plans and efforts, but without success, proud but sad.”

And Fest concludes: “If this is true greatness, Hitler’s distance from it is immeasurable.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump.

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Donald Trump

Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

He has:

  • Boasted about the politicians he’s bought and the women he’s bedded—and forced himself on.
  • Threatened his Democratic opponent—Hillary Clinton—with prosecution if he were elected.
  • Slandered entire segments of Americans—blacks, Hispanics, women, journalists, Asians, the disabled, the Gold Star parents of a fallen soldier.
  • Slandered President Barack Obama for five years as a non-citizen, finally admitting the truth only to win black votes.
  • Attacked the FBI and CIA for accurately reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had intervened in the 2016 Presidential election to ensure Trump’s victory. 

At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Trump joining that select number of Presidents Americans remember with awe and reverence. 

HOW HEALTHY ARE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES?

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on November 19, 2019 at 12:10 am

The United States Constitution mandates that candidates for the Presidency be at least 35. But it does not mandate an age-limit for such candidates.

In light of so many oldsters now clogging the highways and airways for this honor, it’s clearly time to establish one. 

Consider the ages of the major candidates for 2020:

  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – 77
  • Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders – 78
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden – 76
  • Massachusetts United States Senator Elizabeth Warren – 70
  • President Donald Trump – 73 

Of course, there have been past Presidential candidates who appeared better-suited for the rocker than the Oval Office:

  • Former California Governor Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected in 1980 and 73 when he was re-elected in 1984.
  • Kansas United States Senator Bob Dole was 73 when he unsuccessfully opposed Bill Clinton in 1996.
  • Arizona United States Senator John McCain was 72 when he ran in 2008 and lost to Barack Obama.
  • Former First Lady, United States Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was 68 when she ran in 2016 and lost to Donald Trump—who was 70.

And with advancing age come advancing health dangers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “About three-fourths of all deaths are among persons ages 65 and older. The majority of deaths are caused by chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

US CDC logo.svg

 

Running for any political office is one of the most stressful exercises anyone can undertake. In races for the House of Representatives, candidates are constantly on the move, shuttling from one event to the next.

Races for the Senate demand shuttling from city-to-city, eating large amounts of junk food, getting little sleep, giving hurried speeches before driving or flying off to the next meeting with potential constituents, having to readjust their approach to each new group of voters. (For example: Farmers have totally different concerns than doctors.)

And races for the White House demand even greater endurance. Candidates aren’t competing for voters within a single city or state, but within the entire country. There are 50 states comprising the United States of America. They are all different—and many of them have conflicting interests. California, for example, opposes offshore oil drilling—while Louisiana champions an increase in this.

And it can prove politically suicidal to write off appearing in states where the vote is “locked up.” Hillary Clinton refused to campaign in such “Rustbelt” states as Michigan and Pennsylvania because she “knew” they were hers for the taking. Voters there resented her refusing to visit them—and they got even by voting for Trump.

Even young candidates suffer the ravages that come from nonstop campaigning. New York United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy was 42 when he campaigned for President in 1968. His campaign lasted only 85 days before it was cut short by his assassination. Yet he was taking massive doses of vitamin B and medications for his voice damaged from non-stop speech making. 

Robert F. Kennedy

Some older Presidential candidates find themselves overwhelmed by the stress of nonstop campaigning.  

  • In October, Bernie Sanders, 78, was hospitalized with—according to his campaign—“chest discomfort,” It turned out to be a heart attack.
  • In September 2016, Hillary Clinton, then 68, was privately diagnosed with pneumonia. The campaign concealed the diagnosis until she was caught on camera fainting from dehydration.

Bernie Sanders in July 2019.

Bernie Sanders

Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Nor can Presidential candidates be relied on to tell the truth about the state of their health. 

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921 at the age of 39. He couldn’t stand or walk without support and was otherwise seated in a wheelchair. During his 12 years as President, he never used a wheelchair in public. Although suffering from hardening of the arteries and clearly a dying man, he kept this secret during his last Presidential campaign in 1944.

Franklin D. Roosevelt meeting with Winston Churchill

  • In 1960, Massachusetts United States Senator John F. Kennedy denied that he had Addison’s Disease, an insufficiency of the adrenal glands. In fact, he did suffer from this—and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, had even stashed doses of cortisone in safe deposit boxes around the country in case he suffered a mishap.
  • Donald Trump’s doctor claimed: “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”  This despite his refusal to exercise and his indulging in fatty and cholesterol-heavy foods. 

Is there a way that Americans can be certain that the President they elect is truly physically fit for office? 

Admittedly, no proposed remedy is foolproof. Still, there is a clear need to stop taking candidates at their own self-serving word. 

Candidates for the office of the Presidency should be required to submit to a full physical examination conducted by an independent panel of board-certified physicians—and the results immediately made public. Any candidate who refuses to take part should be officially barred from running. 

Candidates for the United States Secret Service—which protects the President—are required to under rigorous physical and mental examinations before they are allowed anywhere near the Oval Office. 

Those who compete for control of the nation’s nuclear launch codes should be required to do the same.

3,000 DIED, WHILE THE GUILTY GO FREE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 11, 2019 at 12:03 am

On October 16, 2015, then-Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump told a brutal truth to take down his opponent, Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida.

Interviewed on Bloomberg TV, Trump said what—to Republicans—had been the unsayable about former President George W. Bush: “I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time.”

“Hold on,” said correspondent Stephanie Ruhle, “you can’t blame George Bush for that.”

“He was President, okay? Blame him or don’t blame him, but he was President,” Trump said. “The World Trade Center came down during his reign.”

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Donald Trump

Immediately after Trump’s remarks, the Right exploded.

Representative Peter King (R-NY) said that no one saw the 9/11 attacks coming and that blaming the former president was a cheap shot.

Speaking on Right-wing Fox Radio, King added: “I think Donald Trump is totally wrong there. That sounds like a Michael Moore talking point.”

And Jeb Bush rushed to his brother’s defense on Twitter: “How pathetic for @realdonaldtrump to criticize the president for 9/11. We were attacked & my brother kept us safe.”  

Of course, “my brother” didn’t keep safe those 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11

Nor did Jeb mention that, during his first eight months in office before September 11, “my brother” was on vacation 42% of the time.

But holding Bush accountable for the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center is taboo for Right-wing Republicans.

Conversely, Republicans spent four years blaming President Barack Obama for the deaths of four Americans killed in an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

Fortunately, British historian Nigel Hamilton has brutally laid bare the facts of this needless tragedy.

Hamilton is the author of several acclaimed political biographies, including JFK: Reckless Youth and Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency.

His book: American Caesars: The Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush, appeared in 2010.

It was inspired by a classic work of ancient biography: The Twelve Caesars, by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus—known as Suetonius. 

Suetonius, a Roman citizen and historian, had chronicled the lives of the first 12 Caesars of Imperial Rome: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.

Hamilton wanted to examine post-World War II United States history as Suetonius had examined that of ancient Rome: Through the lives of the 12 “emperors” who had held the power of life and death over their fellow citizens—and those of other nations.

For Hamilton, the “greatest of American emperors, the Caesar Augustus of his time,” was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led his country through the Great Depression and World War II.

His “”great successors” were Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy—who, in turn, contained the Soviet Union abroad and presided over sustained economic prosperity at home.

By contrast, “arguably the worst of all the American Caesars” was “George W. Bush, and his deputy, Dick Cheney, who willfully and recklessly destroyed so much of the moral basis of American leadership in the modern world.”

Among the most lethal of Bush’s offenses: The appointing of officials who refused to take seriously the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.

These included:

  • Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy Secretary of Defense: “I don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden.” 
  • National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice initially refused to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject. Then she insisted the matter be handled only by a more junior Deputy Principals meeting in April, 2001.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney focused his attention on fomenting a war against Iraq.
  • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly ignored American Intelligence warnings that Al-Qaeda was planning a major attack on the American mainland.

The only major administration official who did take Al-Qaeda seriously was Richard Clarke, the chief counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council. But Clarke’s position didn’t give him Cabinet-level rank.

Richard Clarke

This put him at a severe disadvantage when dealing with higher-ranking Bush officials—such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rice.

Clarke alerted Federal Intelligence agencies that “Al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us.” He asked the FBI and CIA to report to his office all they could learn about suspicious persons or activities at home and abroad.

Finally, at a meeting with Rice on September 4, 2001, Clarke challenged her to “picture yourself at a moment when in the very near future Al-Qaeda has killed hundreds of Americans, and imagine asking yourself what you wish then that you had already done.”

Seven days later, Al-Qaeda struck, and 3,000 Americans died horrifically—and needlessly.

Neither Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz ever apologized for their negligence. Nor has any of them ever been held accountable.

After 9/11, they wrapped themselves in the flag and posed as America’s saviors.

Only Richard Clarke—who had vainly argued for stepped-up security precautions and taking the fight to Al-Qaeda—gave that apology.

On March 24, 2004, Clarke testified at the public 9/11 Commission hearings. Addressing relatives of victims in the audience, he said: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you.”

 

D-DAY BECOMES T- (TRUMP) DAY: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 13, 2019 at 12:27 am

For most Americans, June 6th marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. A time to remember and celebrate the more than 160,000 troops—73,000 of them Americans—who liberated France from Nazi slavery. 

But for President Donald Trump, D-Day was simply another opportunity to slander men and women he considered “enemies of the people.”

On that day, President Donald Trump was to join European leaders—such as England’s Queen Elizabeth II and France’s President Emmanuel Macron—in celebratory observance.

But for Trump, honoring the dead—and a handful of D-Day survivors present at the ceremony—was a distant priority. 

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Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

First must come a soft-ball “interview” with Right-wing Fox News Network—even if it meant postponing the opening of D-Day ceremonies until he deigned to show up.

And conducting that interview was Right-wing Fox News host Laura Ingraham—who gave a stiff-armed Nazi salute at the 2016 Republican National Convention that nominated Trump for President.

Laura Ingraham: What could you do to unite the country at a time of great polarization, what else could you do? 

Donald Trump:  So, I think success should unite the country but I will tell you the more successful we’ve come the more angry people like Nancy Pelosi, who don’t have what it takes, if they don’t know what’s going on they get angry. They should — an example is Mexico, I said we’re going to put tariffs on because we want you to help us because they won’t pass any legislation in Congress and I have Senators and others and Pelosi coming out saying how horrible. 

What they’re doing is they’re hurting a deal, they should be saying we’re with the President, we’ll do whatever he wants to do and Mexico would fold like an umbrella. Now, I have these people and I’m saying there’s some republicans too,

[NOTE: Since becoming President, Trump has repeatedly tried—and failed—to curb illegal immigration from Central and South America. In May, he threatened to slap tariffs on goods from Mexico unless its government imposed strict controls over would-be immigrants traveling through its borders.]

On June 7, 2019, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist Peter Wehners appeared on the PBS Newshour to review the week’s major political events.

Shields—a liberal, and Wehner, a conservative—reached disturbingly similar conclusions about the behavior of President Donald Trump on the 75th anniversary celebration of the D-Day landings.

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Peter Wehner and Mark Shields

Peter Wehner:  in terms of watching it, it reminded me of why it was the Greatest Generation. It’s been called the Greatest Generation.The more you find out about what happened 75 years ago on Normandy Beach, the more extraordinary is, the courage and the valor and selflessness…

But, for me, what was, well, frankly, sickening was this interview that Donald Trump did with Laura Ingraham on Fox News, not just what he said, but where he said it. He had thousands and thousands of gravestones behind him, these people who had been cut down in the prime of their life. And he was attacking Nancy Pelosi and Robert Mueller, who himself was a—was a war hero, in petty terms.

And to have done it then was, in my mind, a desecration at a sacred place. And it was another window into the bonfire of anger and resentments and grievances that is Donald Trump.

Mark Shields: I would just add this….that the 9,388 Americans, husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, sweethearts are buried there who either died at Normandy or in the liberation of France. And it was a time in this country, it was a we generation, not a me generation.

I mean, we had 20 million victory gardens that civilians built that provided 40 percent of the vegetables for the whole country. We rationed everything from gasoline, to liquor, to cigarettes, to butter, to meat….

And all Americans were part of the collective effort, the collective sacrifice, and it was led by those at the top….The president of the United States had four sons. Every one of them served in combat. Every one of them was awarded in combat. You take the…sickly son of a multimillionaire, who asked his father to use his contacts to get him into combat, John Kennedy, rather than stay out….

One out of four American males served in World War II. And now we have one-third—one-percent of Americans serving. And they are serving over and over and over again.

Judy Woodruff (moderator): It’s been 75 years, Peter Wehner. What remains in the American psyche from that?

Wehner:  Well, we’re an angry country, a more divided country, and a more tribalistic country than we were then. It’s important to say that, in many ways, we’re a better country too, if you’re a minority or a woman, all sorts of things where we have made progress….

The thing is that the American capacity for self-renewal can be great. And sometimes, when virtues are taken from the life of the nation and an individual, you remember why they matter to begin with. And, hopefully, commemorations like this can—can remind us that there are things that are worth fighting for and worth living for.

INVADING IRAQ WAS A DISASTER–SO LET’S INVADE IRAN: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 27, 2019 at 12:04 am

On September 12, 2001, President George W. Bush attended a meeting of the National Security Council.

“Why shouldn’t we go against Iraq, not just Al-Qaeda?” demanded Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense.

Vice President Dick Cheney enthusiastically agreed.

Secretary of State Colin Powell then pointed out there was absolutely no evidence that Iraq had had anything to do with 9/11 or Al-Qaeda. And he added: “The American people want us to do something about Al-Qaeda”—not Iraq.

On November 21, 2001, only 10 weeks after 9/11, Bush told Rumsfeld: It’s time to turn to Iraq.

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Liars Club:  Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld

Bush and his war-hungry Cabinet officials knew that Americans demanded vengeance on AlQaeda’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden, and not Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. So they repeatedly fabricated “links” between the two:

  • Saddam had worked hand-in-glove with Bin Laden to plan 9/11.
  • Saddam was harboring and supporting Al-Qaeda throughout Iraq.
  • Saddam, with help from Al-Qaeda, was scheming to build a nuclear bomb.

Yet as early as September 22, 2001, Bush had received a classified President’s Daily Brief intelligence report, which stated that

  • There was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11.
  • There was scant evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al-Qaeda.
  • Saddam had tried to monitor Al Qaeda through his intelligence service—because he saw it and other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as potential threats to his secular regime.

Bush administration officials repeatedly claimed that Iraq possessed huge quantities of chemical and biological weapons, in violation of UN resolutions. And they further claimed that US intelligence agencies had determined:

  • The precise locations where these weapons were stored,
  • The identities of those involved in their production.
  • The military orders issued by Saddam Hussein for their use in the event of war.

Among other lies stated as fact by members of the Bush administration:

  • Iraq had sought uranium from Niger, in west Africa.
  • Thousands of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq could be used in centrifuges to create enriched uranium.
  • Iraq had up to 20 long-range Scud missiles, prohibited under UN sanctions.
  • Iraq had massive stockpiles of chemical and biological agents, including nerve gas, anthrax and botulinum toxin.
  • Saddam Hussein had issued chemical weapons to front-line troops who would use them when US forces crossed into Iraq.

August 26, 2002: Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars, “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.”

September 8, 2002: National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said on CNN: ”There is certainly evidence that Al-Qaeda people have been in Iraq. There is certainly evidence that Saddam Hussein cavorts with terrorists.”

September 18, 2002: Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee, “We do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical and biological weapons. His regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons—including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas.”

October 7, 2002: Bush declared in a nationally televised speech in Cincinnati that Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”

March 16, 2003: Cheney declared on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “We believe [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

Bush never regretted his decision to invade Iraq—on March 20, 2003.

Even as American occupying forces repeatedly failed to turn up any evidence of “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs), Bush and his minions claimed the invasion a good thing.

In fact, Bush—who hid out the Vietnam war in the Texas Air National Guard—even joked publicly about the absence of WMDs.

He did so at a White House Correspondents dinner on March 24, 2004—one year after he had started the war.

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George W. Bush at the 2004 White House Correspondents’ dinner

To Bush, the non-existent WMDs were simply the butt of a joke that night. While an overhead projector displayed photos of a puzzled-looking Bush searching around the Oval Office, Bush recited a comedy routine.

“Those weapons of mass destruction have gotta be somewhere,” Bush laughed, while a photo showed him poking around the corners in the Oval Office.

“Nope—no weapons over there! Maybe they’re under here,” he said, as a photo showed him looking under a desk.

Meanwhile, an assembly of wealthy, pampered men and women—-the elite of America’s media and political classes—laughed heartily during Bush’s performance.

It was a scene from the court of the ancient Caesars, complete with royal flunkies: “Hey! The country we just destroyed wasn’t a threat to us after all!  Isn’t that a gas?” 

The war that Bush had deliberately provoked:

  • Took the lives of 4,484 Americans.
  • Cost the United States Treasury at least $2 trillion.
  • Created a Middle East power vacumn.
  • Allowed Iran—Iraq’s arch enemy—to eagerly fill it.
  • Frightened and repelled even America’s closest allies.
  • Killed at least 655,000 Iraqis. 
  • Bush retired from office with a lavish pension and full Secret Service protection.
  • He wrote his memoirs and was paid $7 million for the first 1.5 million copies.
  • Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice retired to private business, wrote their own memoirs, and lived in comfort as respected elder statesmen.

History—in the form of a war-hungry President and a compliant Congress—seems about to repeat itself.

INVADING IRAQ WAS A DISASTER–SO LET’S INVADE IRAN: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 24, 2019 at 12:28 am

September 11, 2019, will mark the 18th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on United States soil.  Inevitably, this is a time to remember all those whose lives were so cruelly snuffed out.

But it is also a time to remember those Americans who made this atrocity—and the Iraq war that followed—inevitable.

British historian Nigel Hamilton has chronicled their arrogance and indifference in his 2010 biography: American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush.

Hamilton noted that Richard Clarke, the national security adviser on terrorism, was certain that Osama bin Laden had arranged the [USS.] Cole bombing in Aden on October 12, 2000.

For months, Clarke tried to convince others in the Bush Administration that Bin Laden was plotting another attack against the United States—either abroad or at home.

But Clarke could not prevail against the know-it-all arrogance of such higher-ranking Bush officials as Vice President Dick Cheney; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

Rice initially refused to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject. Then she “insisted the matter be handled only by a more junior Deputy Principals meeting” in April, 2001, writes Hamilton.

Wolfowitz, the number-two man at the Department of Defense, said: “I don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden.”

Wolfowitz—whose real target was Saddam Hussein—said: “You give bin Laden too much credit.” And he insisted that bin Laden couldn’t conduct his terrorist acts without a state sponsor—namely, Iraq.

Wolfowitz, in fact, blamed Iraq for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Clarke was stunned, since there was absolutely no evidence of Iraqi involvement in this.

“Al-Qaeda plans major acts of terrorism against the United States,” Clarke warned his colleagues. He pointed out that, like Adolf Hitler, bin Laden had actually published his plans for future destruction.

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Osama bin Laden

And he added: “Sometimes, as with Hitler in Mein Kampf, you have to believe that these people will actually do what they say they will do.”

Wolfowitz heatedly traded on his Jewish heritage to bring Clarke’s unwelcome arguments to a halt: “I resent any comparison between the Holocaust and this little terrorist in Afghanistan.”

Writing in outraged fury, Hamilton sums up Clarke’s agonizing frustrations:

  • Bush’s senior advisors treated their colleagues who had served in the Clinton administration with contempt.
  • President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz seemed content to ignore the danger signals of an impending al-Qaeda attack.
  • This left only Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Richard Armitage, Richard Clarke and a skeptical Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, to wage “a lonely battle to waken a seemingly deranged new administration.”

Richard Clarke

Clarke alerted Federal Intelligence agencies that “Al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us.” He asked the FBI and CIA to report to his office all they could learn about suspicious persons or activities at home and abroad.

Finally, at a meeting with Rice on September 4, 2001, Clarke challenged her to “picture yourself at a moment when in the very near future Al-Qaeda has killed hundreds of Americans, and imagine asking yourself what you wish then that you had already done.”

Seven days later, Al-Qaeda struck, and 3,000 Americans died horrifically—and needlessly.

Neither Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld nor Wolowitz ever admitted their negligence. Nor would any of them be brought to account.

Disgustingly, these were the same officials who, afterward, posed as the Nation’s saviors—and branded anyone who disagreed with them as a traitor, practices the Right continues to exploit to this day.

Only Richard Clarke—who had vainly argued for stepped-up security precautions and taking the fight to Al-Qaeda—gave that apology.

On March 24, 2004, Clarke testified at the public 9/11 Commission hearings. Addressing relatives of victims in the audience, he said: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you.”

Yet even worse was to come.

On the evening after the September 11 attacks, Bush took Clarke aside during a meeting in the White House Situation Room:

“I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam [Hussein, the dictator of Iraq] did this. See if he’s linked in any way.”

Clarke was stunned: “But, Mr. President, Al-Qaeda did this.”

“I know, I know,” said Bush. “But see if Saddam was involved. I want to know.”

Hussein had not plotted the attack–and there was no evidence proving that he did. But the attack gave “W” the excuse he wanted to remove the man he blamed for the 1992 defeat of his father, President George H.W. Bush.

Bush believed that his father would have been re-elected if he had “gone all the way” into Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War.

He would finish the job that his father had started but failed to compete.

On September 12, 2001, Bush attended a meeting of the National Security Council.

“Why shouldn’t we go against Iraq, not just Al-Qaeda?” demanded Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense.

Vice President Dick Cheney enthusiastically agreed.

INVADING IRAQ WAS A DISASTER–SO LET’S INVADE IRAN: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 23, 2019 at 12:07 am

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

So threatened President Donald Trump in a tweet on May 19.

Meanwhile, a debate raged among American military and Intelligence officials about the latest intentions of the Iranian government.

Some officials believed that Iran or its militias might be planning to attack American military bases in the Middle East. Others believed that Iran might be acting defensively to counter possible American aggression.

“I just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons, and they can’t be threatening us,” Trump said that same evening in an interview with Fox News.

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Donald Trump

“And with all of everything that’s going on, and I’m not one that believes—you know, I’m not somebody that wants to go into war, because war hurts economies, war kills people most importantly—by far most importantly.” 

That same day, Major-General Hossein Salami, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, responded: “Iran is not looking for any type of war, but it is fully prepared to defend itself.”

The Trump administration has aggressively tried to effect “regime change” in Iran. Its methods have included diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, hawkish rhetoric and increasing the number of American soldiers and weaponry deployed in the Middle East.

If this seems familiar to those Americans with a sense of historical perspective, there is good reason for it.

These are precisely the methods used by the George W. Bush administration in its build-up to invading Iraq in March, 2003.  

Even as the rubble was being cleared at the Pentagon and World Trade Center, President George W. Bush was preparing to use the attack as an excuse to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

Hussein had not plotted 9/11, and there was no evidence that he did. But that didn’t matter to Bush and those planning the invasion and conquest of Iraq.

British historian Nigel Hamilton has dared to lay bare the facts of this disgrace. Hamilton is the author of several acclaimed political biographies, including JFK: Reckless Youth and Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency.

In 2007, he began research on his latest book: American Caesars: The Lives of the Presidents From Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush.

Nigel Hamilton pic.jpg

Nigel Hamilton

By Nigel Hamilton (Nigel Hamilton picture)

The inspiration for this came from a classic work of ancient biography: The Twelve Caesars, by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus—known as Suetonius.

Suetonius, a Roman citizen and historian, had chronicled the lives of the first twelve Caesars of imperial Rome: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.

Hamilton wanted to examine post-World War II United States history as Suetonius had examined that of ancient Rome: Through the lives of the 12 “emperors” who had held the power of life and death over their fellow citizens—and those of other nations.

For Hamilton, the “greatest of American emperors, the Caesar Augustus of his time,” was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led his country through the Great Depression and World War II.

His “”great successors” were Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy–who, in turn, contained the Soviet Union abroad and presided over sustained economic prosperity at home.

By contrast, “arguably the worst of all the American Caesars” was “George W. Bush, and his deputy, Dick Cheney, who willfully and recklessly destroyed so much of the moral basis of American leadership in the modern world.”

Among the most lethal of Bush’s offenses: The appointing of officials who refused to take seriously the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.

And this arrogance and indifference continued–right up to September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center and Pentagon became targets for destruction.

Among the few administration officials who did take Al-Qaeda seriously was Richard Clarke, the chief counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council.

Clarke had been thus appointed in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. He continued in the same role under  President Bush—but the position was no longer given cabinet-level access.

This put him at a severe disadvantage when dealing with other, higher-ranking Bush officials—such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

These turned out to be the very officials who refused to believe that Al-Qaeda posed a lethal threat to the United States.

“Indeed,” writes Hamilton, “in the entire first eight months of the Bush Presidency, Clarke was not permitted to brief President Bush a single time, despite mounting evidence of plans for a new al-Qaeda outrage.”  [Italics added]

Nor did it help that, during his first eight months in office before September 11, Bush was on vacation, according to the Washington Post, 42% of the time. 

For months, Clarke tried to convince others in the Bush Administration that Bin Laden was plotting another attack against the United States–either abroad or at home.

But Clarke could not prevail against the know-it-all arrogance of such higher-ranking Bush officials as Vice President Dick Cheney; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

REPUBLICANS: FROM “BETTER DEAD THAN RED” TO “BETTER RED THAN UN-ELECTED”–PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 13, 2019 at 12:07 am

During the 1970s and 1980s, Republicans continue to accuse Democrats of being acting agents—or at least unwitting pawns—of “the Communist conspiracy.”

As late as 1992, President George H.W. Bush and the Republican establishment charge that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton might be a KGB plant.

George H.W. Bush

Their “evidence”: During his tenure at Oxford University in 1969-70, Clinton had briefly visited Moscow.

In short: Clinton might have been “programmed” as a real-life “Manchurian candidate” to become, first, Governor of Arkansas—one of America’s poorest states—and then President.

Making this charge even more absurd: The Soviet Union had officially dissolved in December, 1991. 

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Republicans find that accusing Democrats of being “Commies” doesn’t carry the same weight.

So they turn to “domestic enemies” to rail—and run—against: Liberals, blacks, Hispanics, “uppity” women, war protesters, lesbians, gays, and—after 9/11—Muslims.

From 1945 to 1991, it is unthinkable for a Republican Presidential candidate to pay tribute to a Soviet dictator.

But that utterly changes when Donald J. Trump, a “reality TV” host with longstanding financial ties to Russian oligarchs, runs for President of the United States.

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Donald Trump

Trump lavishly praises Russian President Vladimir Putin—and even invites him to directly interfere in the 2016 Presidential race.

The reason for the Trump-Putin bromance is simple: Each has something to offer the other.

Putin wants the United States to ditch the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, which has preserved Western Europe from Russian aggression since World War II. And Trump has often attacked America’s funding of NATO as a drain on the American economy.

And Trump wants to be President. For this, Putin can supply monies, Internet trolls to confuse voters with falsified news, and even the hacking of key voting centers.

These Russian monies are officially classified as “campaign contributions”—not bribes.

On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks releases 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Early reports trace the leak to Russian hackers. 

“Russia, if you are listening,” Trump says at a press conference in Doral, Florida, “I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing [from Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computer]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

This is treason—calling upon a foreign power, hostile to the United States, to interfere in its Presidential election.

Hours later, the Main Intelligence Directorate in Moscow targets Clinton’s personal office and hits more than 70 other Clinton campaign accounts.

Nor is Trump the only Republican receiving “help” from Putin. A network of Russian oligarchs—all of them answerable to Putin—has been increasingly contributing to top Republicans. 

According to the Federal Election Commission:

One such major contributor is Len Blavatnik, who holds citizenship in both the United States and the United Kingdom. During the 2015-16 election cycle, he proves one of the largest donors to GOP Political Action Committees (PACs).  

Blavatnik’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion. Before 2016, he donates to both Democrats and Republicans in meager amounts. But in 2016, he gives $6.35 million to GOP PACs

Millions of dollars go to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)Specifically, he contributes:

  • A total of $1.5 million to PACs associated with Rubio.  
  • $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee
  • $41,000 to both Republicans and Democrats in 2017.
  • $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.
  • $3.5 million to a PAC associated with McConnell
  • $1.1 million to Unintimidated PAC, associated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 
  • $200,000 to the Arizona Grassroots Action PAC, associated with Arizona Senator John McCain. 
  • $250,000 to New Day for America PAC, associated with Ohio Governor John Kasich
  • $800,000 went to the Security is Strength PAC, associated with Senator Lindsey Graham.

Another Russian oligarch, Alexander Shustorovich, contributes $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.   

Altogether, four Russian oligarchs—Blavatnik, Shustorovich, Andrew Intrater and Simon Kukescontribute $10.4 million from the start of the 2015-16 election cycle through September 2017. Of this, 99% went to Republicans.  

As Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell participates in high-level intelligence briefings in 2016. From agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the code-cracking National Security Agency, he learns that the Russians are trying to subvert the electoral process.  

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In October, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issue a joint statement: The Russian government had directed the effort to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.

Two weeks later, McConnell’s PAC accepts a $1 million donation from Blavatnik.

On March 30, 2017, McConnell’s PAC accepts another $1 million from Blavatnik. This is just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 election

* * * * * * * * * *

So, what has changed in the Republican Party?  Essentially nothing.

Its enemies changed—from Russian Communists to American liberals—but its goal remains the same: The quest for absolute power.

When Americans feared Communism, Republicans depicted themselves as the only ones who could be trusted to protect the United States. Big contributions poured in from Right-wing billionaires like H.L. Hunt and Howard Hughes.

But when Republicans found they could enrich themselves and stay in power via Russian “campaign contributions,” they decided: Better Red than un-elected.

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