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FOUR HEROES, TWO VILLAINS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 16, 2019 at 12:05 am

In his poem, “Conversation With an American Writer,” the Russian poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko spoke for those Russians who managed to maintain their integrity in the face of Stalinist terror:

“You have courage,” they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of Republicans in the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko poet

Yevgeney Yevtushenko

In late September, news broke that, on July 25, President Donald Trump had tried to extort a “favor” from the president of Ukraine: Find embarrassing “dirt” on former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter.

Hunter had had business dealings in Ukraine. And Joe Biden might be Trump’s Democratic opponent for the White House in 2020. 

To underline the seriousness of his “request,” Trump had withheld $400 million in promised military aid to Ukraine, which is facing an increasingly aggressive Russia. 

Since late September, reporters have repeatedly asked Congressional Republicans: “Is it appropriate for President Donald Trump to ask a foreign government to investigate his political opponent?” 

And the overwhelming majority of Republicans have refused to answer—even though, on October 3, Trump said publicly on the south lawn of the White House: “China should start an investigation into the Bidens.”

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Donald Trump

Among those refusing to answer:

Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner: “Well look, that’s what we’re going to get into. The Senate Intelligence Committee is having an investigation, a bipartisan investigation.”

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst: “We don’t have all the facts, we don’t know what is accurate. We have a picture painted by the media and we don’t know if that picture is accurate.”

Arizona Senator Martha McSally: “I think what we’ve seen out of [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi and [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam] Schiff and others in the House is quite partisan and I think people want us to take a serious look at this and not have it be just partisan bickering going on.” 

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis: “I’m going to leave it to the President to make that decision” on whether his actions were appropriate. 

The reason for Republicans’ deafening silence: They don’t want to anger Trump or his fanatical supporters. Many of them face tough reelection campaigns. And they fear losing their Congressional seats and the perks that go with them.  

So they’re willing to support a President who calls on hostile foreign nations to subvert an American Presidential election.

Enter Marie Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine (2016 – 2019). She had joined the Foreign Service in 1986, and served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2005 – 2008) and Armenia (2008 – 2011). 

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Marie Yovanovitch

In May 2019, on Trump’s orders, the State Department recalled Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine. She had earned respect from the national security community for her efforts to encourage Ukraine to tackle corruption.

But she had been criticized by Right-wing media outlets—notably Fox News Network—and by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

CNN reported that Yovanovitch stopped Giuliani from interviewing witnesses in his search for politically damaging information against former Vice President Joe Biden.

On August 12, a whistleblower filed a complaint with the Intelligence community’s Inspector General, Michael Atkinson.

In it, he warned that Yovanovitch’s ousting raised red flags that Trump was abusing his office by soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.

From that complaint ultimately resulted the impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives.

With so many Republicans cowering before Trump, Yovanovitch emerged as the first real hero of the Trump era.

On October 11, she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). She did so in defiance of orders by the White House and State Department to not attend.

In response, the Committee issued a subpoena to compel her testimony—and provide her with a measure of protection against wrongful termination.

“She was a hero even before she hit the hearing room,” wrote Charles Pierce for Esquire magazine.

“She told them to stuff their directives, she would answer a congressional subpoena like a citizen is supposed to do. And she didn’t sneak in through the basement. She walked into the Capitol through the front doors, and she didn’t do so to fck around.”

Testifying for nearly 10 hours, Yovanovitch said that Trump had removed her from her post owing to “unfounded and false claims” and “a concerted campaign against me.”

She believed that associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, might have believed “that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

And she warned that the State Department was being “attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees.

“We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’s interests and the front line of America’s defense. I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably.”

Frontier general Andrew Jackson once said: “One man with courage makes a majority.”

By courageously defying Trump, Marie Yovanovitch may lead other conscientious men and women to do the same.

FOUR HEROES, TWO VILLAINS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 15, 2019 at 12:11 am

Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers.

Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich.

Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky, the former military hero now falsely condemned and executed as a traitor by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1938, Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) also became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) secret police sent to arrest him.

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Dimitri Shostakovich

“He had a large picture of Tukhachevsky in his room, and after the announcement that Tukhachevsky had been shot as a traitor to the homeland, Zhilayev did not take the picture down.

“I don’t know if I can explain how heroic a deed that was….As soon as the next poor soul was declared an enemy of the people, everyone destroyed in a panic everything connected with that person….

“And naturally, photographs flew into the fire first, because if someone informed on you, reported that you had a picture of an enemy of the people, it meant certain death.

“Zhilayev wasn’t afraid. When they came for him, Tukhachevsky’s prominently hung portrait amazed even the executioners.”

“What, it’s still up?” one of the secret police asked.

“The time will come,” Zhilayev replied, “when they’ll erect a monument to him.”

As, in fact, has happened. 

Meanwhile, Stalin has been universally condemned as one of history’s greatest tyrants.

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Mikhail Tukhachevsky appears on a 1963 Soviet Union postage stamp

Third hero—James Brien Comey (December 14, 1960)

Comey served as United States Attorney (federal prosecutor) for the Southern District of New York (2002-2003).

As United States Deputy Attorney General (2003-2005), he opposed the warrantless wiretapping program of the George W. Bush administration. He also argued against the use of water boarding as an interrogation method.

In 2005, he entered the private sector as General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Lockheed Martin, the biggest contractor for the Department of Defense. 

On July 29, 2013, the United States Senate voted 93 -1 to confirm Comey as director of the FBI, the seventh in its history.

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James B. Comey

He directed the FBI from his appointment in 2013 by President Barack Obama until his firing on May 9, 2017, by President Donald Trump.

In a move that Joseph Stalin would have admired, Trump gave no warning of his intentions. Instead, he sent Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard, to the FBI with a letter announcing Comey’s dismissal.

Trump had three reasons for firing Comey:

  1. Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made this “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January. After refusing to make that pledge, Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief.
  2. Trump had tried to coerce him into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand.
  3. Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents. 

As a Presidential candidate and President, Trump:

  • Steadfastly denied those revelations;
  • Repeatedly attacked the “fake news” media reporting these revelations. Chief among his targets: CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post; and
  • Attacked the Intelligence agencies responsible for America’s security. 

On May 10—the day after firing Comey—Trump met in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Kislyak was reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign Intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions and Mike Flynn—respectively,, Trump’s fired Attorney General and fired National Security Adviser.

“I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

During that meeting he gave the Russians sensitive Intelligence on ISIS that had been supplied by Israel. 

Two days later, on May 12, Trump tweeted a threat to the fired FBI director: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” 

But shortly afterward, it appeared Trump was the one who should worry: Reports surfaced that Comey had written memos to himself immediately after his private meetings with Trump. 

He had also told close aides that Trump was trying to pressure him into dropping the investigation into close ties between Russian Intelligence agents and Trump campaign staffers.

As for Trump’s threat of having tapes of his and Comey’s conversations: Like Trump’s claim that he could prove that Barack Obama wasn’t an American citizen, this, too, proved to be a lie.

And Comey’s firing led directly to a result Trump did not anticipate: Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yielded to demands from Democrats and appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller III as a special prosecutor to investigate those ties.

FOUR HEROES, TWO VILLAINS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 14, 2019 at 12:09 am

…A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances. And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.
The conduct of weak men is very different. Made vain and intoxicated by good fortune, they attribute their success to merits which they do not possess. And this makes them odious and insupportable to all around them. And when they have afterwards to meet a reverse of fortune, they quickly fall into the other extreme, and become abject and vile.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Four heroes, two villains.

Two of the heroes are Russians; two are Americans.

The villains: One Russian (actually, Georgian); one American.

First up—in order of disappearance: Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (pronounced too-ka-chev-sky)

Tukhachevsky (February 4, 1893 – June 12, 1937) was a leading Soviet military leader and theoretician from 1918 to 1937. 

He commanded the Soviet Western Front during the Russian-Polish War (1920-21) and served as Chief of Staff of the Red Army (1925-1928).

He fought to modernize Soviet armament, as well as develop airborne, aviation and mechanized forces.  Almost singlehandedly, he created the theory of deep operations for Soviet forces.

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Mikhail Tukhachevsky

All of these innovations would reap huge dividends when the Soviet Union faced the lethal fury of Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

In 1936, Tukhachevsky warned Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that Nazi Germany might attack without warning—and ignite a long and murderous war.

Stalin—the son of a Georgian cobbler—resented Tukhachevsky’s coming from a noble family. A monumental egomaniac, he also hated that Tukhachevesky’s fame rivaled his own.

Warned of the approaching German danger, Stalin shouted: “What are you trying to do—frighten Soviet authority?”

Joseph Stalin

The attack that Tukhachevsky warned against came five years later—on June 22, 1941, leaving at least 20 million Russians dead.

But Tukhachevsky wasn’t alive to command a defense.

The 1930s were a frightening and dangerous time to be alive in the Soviet Union. In 1934, Stalin, seeing imaginary enemies everywhere, ordered a series of purges that lasted right up to the German invasion.

An example of Stalin’s paranoia occurred one day while the dictator walked through the Kremlin corridors with Admiral Ivan Isakov. Officers of the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) stood guard at every corner. 

“Every time I walk down the corridors,” said Stalin, “I think: Which one of them is it? If it’s this one, he will shoot me in the back. But if I turn the corner, the next one can shoot me in the face.”

In 1937-38, the Red Army fell prey to Stalin’s paranoia.

Its victims included:

  • Three of five marshals (five-star generals);
  • Thirteen of 15 army commanders (three- and four-star generals);
  • Fifty of 57 army corps commanders; and
  • One hundred fifty-four out of 186 division commanders.

And heading the list of those marked for death was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

Arrested on May 22, 1937, he was interrogated and tortured. As a result, he “confessed” to being a German agent plotting to overthrow Stalin and seize power. 

On his confession, which survives in the archives, his bloodstains can clearly be seen.

On June 11, the Soviet Supreme Court convened a special military tribunal to try Tukhachevsky and eight generals for treason.

It was a sham: The accused were denied defense attorneys, and could not appeal the verdict—-which was foregone: Death.

In a Russian version of poetic justice, five of the eight generals who served as Tukhachevsky’s judges were themselves later condemned and executed as traitors.

Within hours of the verdict, Tukhachevsky was summoned from his cell and shot once in the back of the head.

From 1937 until 1956, Tukhachevsky was officially declared a traitor and fifth-columnist.

Then, on February 25, 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered his bombshell “Secret Speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In this, he denounced Stalin (who had died in 1953) as a ruthless tyrant responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocent men, women and children. He condemned Stalin for creating a “personality cult” around himself, and for so weakening the Red Army that Nazi Germany was able to easily overrun half of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1943.

On January 31, 1957, Tukhachevsky and his co-defendants were declared innocent of all charges and were “rehabilitated.”

Today, he is once again—rightly—considered a Russian hero and military genius. And Stalin is universally—and rightly—seen as a blood-stained tyrant.

Next hero: Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev)

Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers. Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich.

Zhilayev, a member of the Russian Academy of Art-Sciences, taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

In 1938, he, too, became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) secret police sent to arrest him. 

THE TYRANT WHO WOULD BE KING: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 8, 2019 at 12:04 am

As both a Presidential candidate and President, Donald Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him. 

Donald Trump

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

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump aimed insults at both Democratic and Republican rivals. Among these:

  • “Little Marco” – Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio 
  • “Goofy” – Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren 
  • “Lyin’ Ted” – Texas U.S. Senator Rafael Eduardo “Ted” Cruz 
  • “Crooked Hillary” – Hillary Clinton, former First Lady and Secretary of State
  • “Low Energy Jeb” – Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
  • “Crazy Bernie” – Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

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Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee

But now someone—no less than Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee—has dared give Trump a taste of his own ridicule medicine.

In July, 2019, Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to withhold almost $400 million in promised military aid for Ukraine, which faces increasing aggression from Russia.

On July 25, Trump telephoned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “request” a “favor”: Investigate 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who has had business dealings in Ukraine.

The reason for such an investigation: To find embarrassing “dirt” on Biden.

But then a CIA whistleblower filed a complaint about the extortion attempt—and the media and Congress soon learned of it. 

Schiff tweeted: “The transcript of the call reads like a classic mob shakedown: — We do a lot for Ukraine — There’s not much reciprocity — I have a favor to ask — Investigate my opponent — My people will be in touch — Nice country you got there. It would be a shame if something happened to her.”

Then, even worse for Trump’s ego, Schiff went further.

On September 26, during a session of the Intelligence Committee, Schiff gave a dramatic reading—part news summary, part parody—of the call with Zelensky.

He prefaced the reading by saying, “In not so many words, this is the essence of what the President communicates.

“President Zelensky, eager to establish himself at home as the friend of the President of the most powerful nation on earth, had at least two objectives: Get a meeting with the President and get more military help. And so what happened on that call?

“Zelensky begins by ingratiating himself, and he tries to enlist the support of the President. He expresses his interest in meeting with the President, and says his country wants to acquire more weapons from us to defend itself.

“And what is the President’s response? Well, it reads like a classic organized crime shakedown.

“Shorn of its rambling character and in not so many words, this is the essence of what the President communicates. ‘We’ve been very good to your country. Very good. No other country has done as much as we have. But you know what? I don’t see much reciprocity here.

“‘I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you, though. And I’m going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent. Understand? Lots of it, on this and on that.

“‘I’m going to put you in touch with people, and not just any people. I’m going to put you in touch with the attorney general of the United States, my attorney general, Bill Barr. He’s got the whole weight of the American law enforcement behind him. And I’m going to put you in touch with Rudy [Trump’s personal attorney and fixer].

“‘You’re going to love him [Giuliani]. Trust me. You know what I’m asking? And so I’m only going to say this a few more times in a few more ways. And by the way, don’t call me again. I’ll call you when you’ve done what I asked.'”

Trump and his shills—in and out of Congress—were outraged.

On September 29, Trump tweeted: “….Schiff made up what I actually said by lying to Congress……

“His lies were made in perhaps the most blatant and sinister manner ever seen in the great Chamber. He wrote down and read terrible things, then said it was from the mouth of the President of the United States. I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason…..”  

Treason? 

Trump has clearly assumed for himself the mantle and power of a king—when criticizing a monarch was seen as attacking the country itself. 

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Donald Trump as Henry VIII

And Schiff’s response?

Asked about his comments by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Schiff said, “I think everyone understood—and my GOP colleagues may feign otherwise. But when I said, suggested, that it was as if the President said, ‘Listen carefully, because I’m only gonna tell you seven more times’—that I was mocking the President’s conduct.”  

Adam Schiff may not be Basil Rathbone, the British actor whose silky, flowing voice produced phonographic retellings of classics like The Jungle Books and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

But he certainly knows how to give a reading that gets under the skin of the Insulter-in-Chief.

THE TYRANT WHO WOULD BE KING: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 7, 2019 at 12:09 am

Reince Priebus, the incoming White House Chief of Staff for soon-to-be President Donald J. Trump, was furious.

There were three reasons for his outrage.

First, millions of Americans were questioning whether Trump was legitimately elected. Their suspicions were based on solid evidence: According to  the American Intelligence community, Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened in the 2016 Presidential election to ensure his victory over Hillary Clinton.

Second, among those Americans were members of the United States Congress—such as Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis.

On the January 15 edition of “Meet the Press,” Lewis was asked by host Chuck Todd: “Do you plan on trying to forge a relationship with Donald Trump?”

“No,” said Lewis. “I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be very difficult. I don’t see this President-elect as a legitimate president.”

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John Lewis

“You do not consider him a legitimate president. Why is that?”

“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

And the third reason Priebus was outraged: He believed—or at least claimed to believe—that President Barack Obama should vouch for Trump’s legitimacy.

“I think President Obama should step up,” Priebus said January 15 on ABC’s “This Week.” “We’ve had a great relationship with the White House….I think the administration can do a lot of good by telling folks that are on the Republican side of the aisle, look, we may have lost the election on the Democratic side, but it’s time to come together.”

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Reince Priebus

“You didn’t have Republicans questioning whether or not Obama legitimately beat John McCain in 2008,” Priebus added.

“This Week” host George Stephanopoulos replied that Trump had questioned Obama’s legitimacy as an American citizen until almost the end of the 2016 Presidential race.

“But look, George, that’s not the point!” Priebus said, visibly agitated. “The point is not where Barack Obama was born! The point is that we’ve got congressmen on the Democratic side of the aisle that are questioning the legitimacy of President-elect Trump.”  

In short: Let’s ignore Trump’s five-year slander campaign against the legitimacy of President Obama. What’s important is that people are questioning the legitimacy of a Republican elected with the help of Russian Communists.  

In 2011, Trump, then-host of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” was thinking of running for President against Obama.

Seeking to gain popularity among America’s Right-wing, Trump almost singlehandedly created the popular fiction that Obama was born in Kenya—and was not an American citizen.

His motive: To convince Americans that Obama was an illegitimate President.

The United States Constitution requires that the President be a natural-born citizen.

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Donald Trump

Among the statements Trump made:

February 10, 2011: “Our current president came out of nowhere. Came out of nowhere. In fact, I’ll go a step further: The people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don’t know who he is. It’s crazy.”

March 23, 2011: “I want him to show his birth certificate. I want him to show his birth certificate. … There’s something on that birth certificate that he doesn’t like.”

March 28, 2011: “I am really concerned” [that Obama wasn’t born in the United States]. He said that the birth announcement for Obama in a Hawaii newspaper could have been planted “for whatever reason.”

March 30, 2011: “If you are going to be president of the United States you have to be born in this country. And there is a doubt as to whether or not he was. … He doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or he may not have one. But I will tell you this. If he wasn’t born in this country, it’s one of the great scams of all time.”

April 7, 2011: “I have people that have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they’re finding. You are not allowed to be a president if you’re not born in this country. Right now I have real doubts.”

April 25, 2011: “I’ve been told very recently…that the birth certificate is missing. I’ve been told that it’s not there or it doesn’t exist. And if that’s the case, it’s a big problem.”

On April 27, President Obama released his original, long-form Hawiian birth certificate.

The long-form version of President Obama’s birth certificate

“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” said Obama at a press conference, speaking as a father might to a roomful of spiteful children. “We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve.

“We are not going to be able to do it if we are distracted, we are not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other…if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts, we are not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by side shows and carnival barkers.”

On May 1, the President announced the solving of one of those “big problems”: Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, had been tracked down and shot dead by elite U.S. Navy SEALS in Pakistan.

TRUMP HATES/LOVES “RATS”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 1, 2019 at 12:08 am

Former FBI Director James Comey has had firsthand experience in attacking organized crime—and in spotting its leaders.

In his bestselling memoir, A Higher Loyalty, he writes:

“As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and the truth.” 

James Comey official portrait.jpg

James Comey

Validating Comey’s comparison of Trump to a mobster:

On August 21, 2018, Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to eight counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. He also said he had made illegal campaign contributions “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office”—Donald Trump.

On August 23, on the Fox News program, “Fox and Friends,” Trump attacked Cohen for “flipping” on him:  

“For 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers. Everything’s wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they—they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It—it almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair.”

Making “flipping” illegal would undo decades of organized crime prosecutions—and make future ones almost impossible.

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United States Department of Justice

To penetrate the secrets of criminal organizations, investigators and prosecutors need the testimony of those who are parties to those secrets.  

The Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 gave Justice Department prosecutors unprecedented weapons for attacking crime syndicates across the country. One of these was the authority to give witnesses immunity from prosecution on the basis of their own testimony.

Thus, a witness to a criminal conspiracy could be forced to tell all he knew—and thus implicate his accomplices—and bosses. In turn, he wouldn’t be prosecuted on the basis of his testimony. 

Organized crime members aggressively damn such “rats.” There is no more obscene word in a mobster’s vocabulary.

But no President—until Trump—has ever attacked those who make possible a war on organized crime. 

On August 19, he tweeted: 

“The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel, he must be a John Dean type “RAT.” But I allowed him and all others to testify – I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide……” 

In 1973, former White House Counsel John Dean testified before the United States Senate on a litany of crimes committed by President Richard M. Nixon. Dean didn’t lie about Nixon—who ultimately resigned in disgrace.

For Trump, Dean’s sin is that he “flipped” on his former boss, violating the Mafia’s code of omerta, or silence. 

But Trump feels completely different abut “flippers” when their revelations serve his interests.

On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

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The leak revealed a DNC bias for Hillary Clinton and against her lone challenger, Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders. Clinton, who was about to receive the Democratic nomination for President, was thoroughly embarrassed. Sanders’ supporters were enraged.

Donald Trump’s reaction:

  • “WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.”
  • “This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart, you gotta read it.” 
  • This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”
  • “WikiLeaks just came out with a new one just a little while ago it’s just been shown that a rigged system with more collusion, probably illegal, between the Department of Justice the Clinton campaign and the State Department, you saw that.”

But now Trump has reverted to his longtime hatred of “leakers.”

In July, 2019, he told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to withhold almost $400 million in promised military aid for Ukraine, which faces increasing aggression from Russia.

On July 25, Trump telephoned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “request” a “favor”: Investigate Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who has had business dealings in Ukraine.

The reason for such an investigation: To find embarrassing “dirt” on Biden.

But then a CIA whistleblower filed a complaint about the extortion attempt—and the media and Congress soon learned of it. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted: “The transcript of the call reads like a classic mob shakedown: — We do a lot for Ukraine — There’s not much reciprocity — I have a favor to ask — Investigate my opponent — My people will be in touch — Nice country you got there. It would be a shame if something happened to her.”

On September 24, 2019, Nancy Pelosi, speaker to the House of Representatives, announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump.

On September 26, Trump told a private group at a midtown hotel: “I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy.

“You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

TRUMP HATES/LOVES “RATS”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 30, 2019 at 12:06 am

Donald Trump resembles his fellow New Yorker, Mafia “Boss of all Bosses” John Gotti, in more ways than he would like to admit. Among these:

  • He craves publicity like a drug.
  • His egomania long ago reached psychotic heights: In a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, he offered his worldview: “The show is Trump, and it is sold-out performances everywhere.” 
  • He impulsively and brutally badmouths virtually everyone—in press conferences and on Twitter. 
  • He brags constantly—about his wealth, his intelligence, his sexual prowess, his achievements: “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”  
  • He has bought his way out of legal trouble: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi personally solicited a political contribution from him while her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates. After Bondi dropped the case against Trump, he wrote her a $25,000 check for her re-election campaign. 

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 Donald Trump

  • He repeatedly threatens violence against his opponents: On March 16, 2016, he warned Republicans that if he didn’t win the GOP nomination in July, “I think you’d have riots….I think bad things would happen.” 
  • Although not a member of the Mafia, he has often been linked—directly or indirectly—to men who are, such as “Anthony Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano.
  • He prizes being seen as a tough guy: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” At a Las Vegas rally in 2016, he said about a protester: “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
  • He has no loyalty to anyone. He has badmouthed—and fired—such ardent supporters as his ex-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
  • He has an unrelenting hatred for “rats” who prove equally disloyal to him.

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John Gotti

Consider the case of attorney Michael Cohen.

  • An executive of the Trump Organization, Cohen acted as “Trump’s pit bull.” “If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like,” he told ABC News in 2011, “I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit.”
  • In 2015, a reporter for The Daily Beast asked Cohen about Ivana Trump’s charge (later recanted) that Trump had raped her while they were married. Cohen: “I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.”
  • In 2016, while Trump was running for President, Cohen acted as the go-between for a $130,000 hush-money payoff to porn “star” Stormy Daniels. The reason: To prevent her from revealing a 2006 tryst she had had with Trump.  

In April 2018, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York began investigating Cohen. Charges reportedly included bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of campaign finance law.

Trump executive Michael Cohen 012 (5506031001) (cropped).jpg

Michael Cohen

By IowaPolitics.com (Trump executive Michael Cohen 012) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On April 9, 2018, the FBI, executing a federal search warrant, raided Cohen’s office at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, as well as at his home and his hotel room in the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City. Agents seized emails, tax and business records and recordings of phone conversations that Cohen had made.

Trump’s response: “Michael Cohen only handled a tiny, tiny fraction of my legal work.”  

Thus Trump undermined the argument of Cohen’s lawyers that he was the President’s personal attorney—and therefore everything Cohen did was protected by attorney-client privilege.

Cohen,  feeling abandoned and enraged, struck back: He “rolled over” on the man he had once boasted he would take a bullet for.

On August 21, 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to eight counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. He also said he had made illegal campaign contributions “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office”—Donald Trump.

Among his revelations:

  • Trump has repeatedly asserted that Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 Presidential election. But Cohen said he believed it did.
  • Trump has repeatedly claimed he had “no business” in Russia. But Cohen testified that the Trump Organization had sought to “pursue a branded property in Moscow.”
  • Trump denied having had sex with and paid off porn “actress” Stormy Daniels. But Cohen confirmed that Trump had instructed him to pay her $130,000 to buy her silence during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

On August 23, on the Fox News program, “Fox and Friends,” Trump attacked Cohen for “flipping” on him:

“For 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers. Everything’s wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they—they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It—it almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair.

“You know, campaign violations are considered not a big deal, frankly. But if somebody defrauded a bank and he’s going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail but if you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you’ll go down to two years or three years, which is the deal he made.”

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED, THE HATED—PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 6, 2019 at 12:04 am

American Presidents—like politicians everywhere—strive to be loved. There are two reasons for this.

First, even the vilest dictators want to believe they are good people—and thus rewarded by the love of their subjects.

Second, a beloved leader has greater clout than one who isn’t. A Presidential candidate who wins by a landslide has a mandate to pursue his agenda—at least, for the first two years of his administration.

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

Image result for Images of Barack Obama giving a speech in the Oval Office

Barack Obama

In Renegade: The Making of a President, Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s successful 2008 bid for the White House. Among his revelations:

Obama, believing in rationality and decency, preferred to responding to attacks on his character rather than attacking the character of his enemies.

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama was one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.

Yet he failed to apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science:

A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good. And therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.

Thus, Obama found most of his legislative agenda stymied by Republicans.

For example: In 2014, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sought to block David Barron, Obama’s nominee to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rand Paul

Paul objected to Barron’s authoring memos that justified the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011.

Anwar al-Awlaki had been a radical Muslim cleric notorious on the Internet for encouraging Muslims to attack the United States.

Paul demanded that the Justice Department release the memos Barron crafted justifying the drone policy.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Imagine how Republicans would depict Paul—or any Democratic Senator—who did the same with a Republican President: “Rand Paul: A traitor who supports terrorists. He sides with America’s sworn enemies against its own lawfully elected President.”

But Obama did nothing of the kind.

(On May 22, 2014, the Senate voted 53–45 to confirm Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.)

But Presidents who seek to rule primarily by fear can encounter their own limitations. Which immediately brings to mind Donald Trump.

As both a Presidential candidate and President, Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him.

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

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Donald Trump

As a Presidential candidate and President, Trump has shown outright hatred for President Obama. For five years, he slandered Obama as a Kenyan-born alien who had no right to hold the Presidency. 

Then, on March 4, 2017, in a series of unhinged tweets, Trump falsely accused Obama of committing an impeachable offense: Tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election.

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

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

  • Trump waged a Twitter-laced feud against Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General. Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign. Trump fired him on November 7, 2018, the day after Democrats retook the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections.
  • Trump repeatedly humiliated Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, 2017, six months after taking the job, Priebus resigned.
  • Trump similarly tongue-lashed Priebus’ replacement, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. Trump was angered by Kelly’s efforts to limit the number of advisers who had unrestricted access to him. Kelly told colleagues he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of military service—and wouldn’t tolerate it again.
  • After Trump gave sensitive Israeli intelligence to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, denied this had happened. Trump then contradicted McMaster in a tweet: “As president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled WH meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

If Trump ever read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, he’s clearly forgotten this passage:

Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time….Whoever acts otherwise….is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him….

Or, as Cambridge Professor of Divinity William Ralph Inge put it: “A man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he can’t sit on it.”

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED, THE HATED—PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 5, 2019 at 12:14 am

Is it better to be loved or feared?

That was the question Florentine statesman Niccolo Machiavelli raised more than 500 years ago.

Presidents have struggled to answer this question—and have come to different conclusions.

LOVE ME, FEAR MY BROTHER

Most people felt irresistibly drawn to John F. Kennedy—even his political foes. Henry Luce, the conservative publisher of Time, once said, “He makes me feel like a whore.”

But JFK could afford to bask in the love of others—because his younger brother, Robert, was the one who inspired fear.

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

He had done so as Chief Counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee (1957-59), grilling Mafia bosses and corrupt union officials—notably Teamsters President James Hoffa.

Appointed Attorney General by JFK, he unleashed the FBI on the Mafia. When the steel companies colluded in an inflationary rise in the price of steel in 1962, Bobby sicced the FBI on them.

In 1963, JFK’s cavorting with Ellen Rometsh threatened to destroy his Presidency. Rometsch, a Washington, D.C. call girl, was suspected by the FBI of being an East German spy.

With Republican Senators preparing to investigate the rumors, Bobby ordered Rometsch deported immediately (to which, as a German citizen, she was subject).

He also ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to deliver a warning to the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate: The Bureau was fully aware of the extramarital trysts of most of their own members. And an investigation into the President’s sex life could easily lead into revelations of Senatorial sleaze.

Plans for a Senatorial investigation were shelved.

BEING LOVED AND FEARED

In the 1993 movie, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) asks his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri): “Is it better to be loved or feared?”

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Sonny gives advice to his adopted son, Calogero

Sonny says if he had to choose, he would rather be feared. But he adds a warning straight out of Machiavelli: “The trick is not being hated. That’s why I treat my men good, but not too good.

“I give too much, then they don’t need me. I give them just enough where they need me, but they don’t hate me.”

Machiavelli, writing in The Prince, went further:

“Still a Prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred, for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together….”

Many who quote Machiavelli in defense of being feared overlook this vital point: It’s essential to avoid becoming hated.

To establish a fearful reputation, a leader must act decisively and ruthlessly when the interests of the organization are threatened. Punitive action must be taken promptly and confidently.

One or two harsh actions of this kind can make a leader more feared than a reign of terror.

In fact, it’s actually dangerous to constantly employ cruelties or punishments. Whoever does so, warns Machiavelli, “is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him.” 

The 20th century President who came closest to realizing Machiavelli’s “loved and feared” prince in himself was Ronald Reagan.

Always smiling, quick with a one-liner (especially at press conferences), seemingly unflappable, he projected a constantly optimistic view of his country and its citizens.

Ronald Reagan

In his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention he declared: “[The Democrats] say that the United States has had its days in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.… My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.”

And Americans enthusiastically responded to that view, twice electing him President (1980 and 1984).

But there was a steely, ruthless side to Reagan that appeared when he felt crossed.

On August 3, 1981, nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers walked out after contract talks with the Federal Aviation Administration collapsed. As a result, some 7,000 flights across the country were canceled on that day at the peak of the summer travel season.

Reagan branded the strike illegal. He threatened to fire any controller who failed to return to work within 48 hours.

On August 5, Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who hadn’t returned to work. The mass firing slowed commercial air travel, but it did not cripple the system as the strikers had forecast.

Reagan’s action stunned the American labor movement. Reagan was the only American President to have belonged to a union, the Screen Actors Guild. He had even been president of this—from 1947 to 1954.

There were no more strikes by Federal workers during Reagan’s tenure in office.

Similarly, Libya’s dictator, Moammar Kadaffi, learned that Reagan was not a man to cross.

On April 5, 1986, Libyan agents bombed a nightclub in West Berlin, killing three people, one a U.S. serviceman. The United States quickly learned that Libyan agents in East Germany were behind the attack.

On April 15, acting on Reagan’s orders, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps bombers struck at several sites in Tripoli and Benghazi. Reportedly, Kaddafi himself narrowly missed becoming a casualty.

There were no more acts of Libyan terrorism against Americans for the rest of Reagan’s term.

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED, THE HATED—PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 4, 2019 at 12:14 am

It’s probably the most-quoted passage of Niccolo Machiavelli’s infamous book, The Prince:

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

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

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

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

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Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE ME BECAUSE I NEED TO BE LOVED

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

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

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Bill Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton further sought to endear himself to Republicans by:

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

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

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

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

Lyndon Johnson wanted desperately to be loved.

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

Why was that? Johnson demanded.

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

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Lyndon B. Johnson

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

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

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

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