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Posts Tagged ‘JOHN F. KENNEDY’

OBAMA VS. TRUMP—IN FICTION

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on January 10, 2020 at 12:04 am

Presidential legacies live on in unexpected ways.  

Right now, the legacies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump are vying for the attention of—fiction readers.

In Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery, author Andrew Shaffer has fashioned a novel that is half-mystery, half-bromance.   

Vice President Joe Biden has just left the Obama White House and doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Then Finn Donnelly, his favorite railroad conductor, dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues.

To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” calls on the skills of his former boss: The 44th President of the United States. Together they scour biker bars, cheap motels and other memorable haunts throughout Delaware.

Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries)

Then Biden unearths a disturbing truth about his longtime—and now dead—friend. This, in turn, leads Biden and Obama to uncover the sinister forces behind America’s opioid epidemic.

The book is pure fantasy fun, as evidenced from this review by Alexandra Alter in The New York Times

“[Hope Never Dies is] a roughly 300-page work of political fanfiction, an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes. But it’s also at times a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances.”

A reader named Casey, reviewing the novel for Goodreads, writes: “While Shaffer could have leaned into nostalgia alone, he’s written a solid mystery with the characters fleshed out as more than just cliches.

“The reader really feels Biden’s longing to be helpful and his anguish over seeing 44’s legacy undone so quickly by an individual who shall remain nameless. (The presidential zings in this book are incredible, truly.)

“The tension between the two rings as true as it did when they were in office….By all means, this book shouldn’t work as well as it does. For a few hours, I got to enjoy the company of politicians who behaved like adults (mostly). It sure was nice.”

Contrasting with the relatively lighthearted fictional image of Barack Obama is the immensely darker one of Donald Trump.

Don Winslow offers Trump an extended cameo appearance in The Border, his massive, 736-page novel about America’s war on drugs—and the horrific violence it has spawned in Mexico. It’s the third of a trilogy of novels vividly portraying the violent costs of an unwinnable conflict. 

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog Book 3)

Art Keller is a dedicated agent of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For over 40 years, he has waged all-out war on Adán Barrera, the godfather of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Appointed director of the DEA, Keller now faces a series of deadly enemies:

  • A heroin epidemic surging across America; 
  • Hitmen who want to kill him;
  • Politicians who want to sabotage his agenda; and
  • An incoming administration that’s allied with the very drug traffickers he’s trying to destroy.

And heading this administration is John Dennison—Donald Trump in all but name—who:

  • Gratuitously insults people on Twitter;
  • Fires a Special Counsel;
  • Gets blackmailed by a woman he once bedded; and
  • Colludes with drug traffickers for a multi-million dollar loan to finance his Presidential campaign.

Whereas the reviews for Hope Never Dies were as upbeat as the book itself, those of The Border reflect the novel’s mercilessly grim take on a war that can’t be won. 

Los Angeles Times:The Border is intricate, mean and swift, a sprawling canvass of characters including narco kingpins, a Guatemalan stowaway, a Staten Island heroin addict, a kinky hit woman, a barely veiled Donald Trump and DEA agent Art Keller, who….has been noble and merciless, a conflicted wanderer who makes America face the transgressions committed in its name.”

Rolling Stone: “Clocking in at over 700 pages, it is his most overtly political installment yet. He takes on the Trump administration directly, creating a fictional candidate, then president, who stokes racist fears of Mexicans, campaigns on ‘building the wall’ and, along with his venal son-in-law, gets caught up in a shady real estate deal involving Cartel money.”

NPR: The Border becomes a book for our times. Like Shakespeare, it makes a three-act drama of our modern moment. Like Shakespeare’s plays, it shows us a world that is our own, a history that is our own, a burden that is our own, rendered out into the rhythm of scenes and arcs, chapters and parts.”

The signature slogan of Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign was: “Yes, We Can!” The slogan of Trump’s 2016 effort could have been: “No, You Can’t.” 

Obama concentrated the full force of his attention on reforming American healthcare—by making it available to millions whose insurance refused to provide coverage.

Trump’s top priority is to separate the United States from Mexico with an impenetrable wall—and he has even diverted $3.6 billion from Pentagon funding to pay for it. 

Like John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama will likely be positively remembered as much for what he tried to do as what he succeeded at doing.

Like Richard M. Nixon, Donald Trump will likely be remembered as a menacing stain on American history. 

SUBVERTING OTHER GOVERNMENTS? IT’S THE AMERICAN WAY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on January 3, 2020 at 12:03 am

“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

The speaker was White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. And in an October 17 press conference, he was trying to put the best possible spin on President Donald Trump’s latest outrage: An attempt to extort a “favor” from the president of Ukraine.

In July, 2019, Trump told 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 had had business dealings in Ukraine.The reason for such an investigation: To find embarrassing “dirt” on Biden.

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Donald Trump

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.

As far as known, this marked a first in American foreign policy: Trying to extort a patently illegal favor from an ally.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t hesitate to leverage the great economic and military power of the United States to gain concessions from Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain.

At Roosevelt’s insistence, for example, it was an American—General Dwight D. Eisenhower—who was appointed Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Had the British gotten their way, the post would have almost certainly gone to British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery.

Roosevelt’s insistence, however, had nothing to do with personally benefiting himself. 

But the unpleasant truth remains that subverting the governments of other countries is a right that Americans have long reserved for themselves. For example:

  • Between 1898 and 1934, the United States repeatedly intervened with military force in Central America and the Caribbean.
  • Americans staged invasions of Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925 to defend U.S. interests. These were defined as Standard Oil and the United Fruit Company.
  • The United States occupied Nicaragua almost continuously from 1912 to 1933. Its legacy was the imposition of the tyrannical Somoza family, which ruled from 1936 to 1979.
  • The United States occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. American banks had lent money to Haiti and requested American government intervention.
  • In 1918, 13,000 American soldiers joined armies from Europe and Japan to overthrow the new Soviet government and restore the previous Tsarist regime. By 1920, the invading forces proved unsuccessful and withdrew.

Wladiwostok Parade 1918.jpg

Allied troops parading in Vladivostok, 1918  

  • In 1953, the Eisenhower administration ordered the CIA to overthrew the democratically-elected government of of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. His crime: Nationalizing the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913.
  • He was succeeded by Mohammad-Reza Shah Phlavi. Whereas Mossadeddgh had ruled as a constitutional monarch, Phlavi was a dictator who depended on United States government support to retain power until he was overthrown in 1979 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
  • In 1954, the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected government of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. His crime: Installing a series of reforms that expanded the right to vote, allowed workers to organize, legitimized political parties and allowed public debate. Most infuriating to American Right-wingers: His agrarian reform law, which expropriated parts of large land-holdings and redistributed them to agricultural laborers.
  • From 1959 until 1963, the United States government was obsessed with overthrowing the revolutionary Cuban government of Fidel Castro. Although not democratically elected, Castro was wildly popular in Cuba for overthrowing the dictatorial Fulgencio Batista.
  • On April 17, 1961, over 1,400 CIA-trained Cuban exiles invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Cuban military forces crushed the invasion in three days.
  • Infuriated with the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President John F. Kennedy authorized “Operation Mongoose” to remove Castro through sabotage and assassination. The CIA, wanting to please Kennedy, teamed up with the Mafia, which wanted to resurrect its casinos on the island.

Ernesto “Che” Guevera and Fidel Castro

  • In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the CIA to prevent Marxist Salvador Allende from being democratically elected as president of Chile. When that failed, he ordered the CIA to overthrow Allende.
  • Allende’s crime: A series of liberal reforms, including nationalizing large-scale industries (notably copper mining and banking). In 1973, he was overthrown by Chilean army units and national police. He was followed by Right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet, who slaughtered 3,200 political dissidents, imprisoned 30,000 and forced another 200,000 Chileans into exile.

Americans reacted to all these attempts—successful and unsuccessful—with indifference or outright support.

The popular 1960s TV series, “Mission: Impossible,” regularly depicted a CIA-type agency supporting regimes “we” liked or toppling those “we” didn’t.

Americans generally assume their Presidents and Congress know best who is a “friend” and who is an “enemy.”  America’s friends often turn out, for the most part, to be Right-wing dictators like  Fulgencio Batista, Augusto Pinochet and Mohammad-Reza Shah Phlavi.

And its enemies often turn out to be liberal reformers like Augusto Sandino, Jacobo Arbenz, Mohammad Mosaddegh and Salvador Allende. 

SELLING CLOTHES—AND PRESIDENTS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on December 30, 2019 at 12:06 am

President Donald Trump was furious.

Nordstrom department store had just dared to drop the clothing and accessories lines of his daughter, Ivanka.

So, true to form, on February 8, 2017, he aired his displeasure on Twitter: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Donald Trump official portrait.jpg

Donald Trump

He used his personal Twitter account—@realDonaldTrump—to send this message. In fact, he sent it 21 minutes into his daily Intelligence briefing.

Still not satisfied, he retweeted his attack on Nordstrom on his official POTUS (President of the United States) Twitter account.  

In short, he used a taxpayer-funded account to benefit his daughter.

Not content to attack Nordstrom by himself, Trump enlisted other members of his administration as assailants.

One of these was his then-press secretary, Sean Spicer:

“There’s a targeting of her brand and it’s her name. She’s not directly running the company. It’s still her name on it. There are clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. Her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.”

Sean Spicer.jpg

Sean Spicer

Nordstrom retorted that its decision to drop the Ivanka Trump line was “based on performance.”

“Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team. We’ve had open conversations with them over the past year to share what we’ve seen and Ivanka was personally informed of our decision in early January.”

But for the Trumpinistas, that wasn’t the end of it.

On Februrary 9, 2017, Kelleyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, became a TV shill for Ivanka.

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Kelleyanne Conway

Appearing on the Right-wing Fox News Channel program, “Fox and Friends,” Kelleyanne spoke from no less prestigious a forum than the White House itself:

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff. I hate shopping and I’m going to go get some myself today. It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

For Democrats and even some Republicans, Conway’s behavior was simply unacceptable.

Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, a member of the the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the committee.

In it, he requested a referral to the Office of Government Ethics for possible disciplinary action against Conway. 

The office does not have investigative or enforcement authority, but officials there can contact and provide guidance to other enforcement agencies.

Chaffetz told the Associated Press that Conway’s behavior was “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable.”

Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization of election law experts, said Trump’s tweet was “totally out of line.”

“He should not be promoting his daughter’s line, he should not be attacking a company that has business dealings with his daughter, and it just shows the massive amount of problems we have with his business holdings and his family’s business holdings,” Noble said.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert, said the Nordstrom tweet could make other retailers hesitate to drop the Ivanka Trump brand. They may fear being similarly attacked by the President.

“The implicit threat was that he will use whatever authority he has to retaliate against Nordstrom, or anyone who crosses his interest,” said Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

* * * * *

In 1969, 25-year-old Joe McGinnis became famous overnight with the publication of his first book, The Selling of the President.

At the time, Americans were shocked to learn how Presidential candidate Richard Nixon had been sold to voters like any other product. In fact, the original book jacket featured Nixon’s face on a pack of cigarettes. 

Today, Madison Avenue doesn’t simply sell Americans their Presidents. Now—with Donald J. Trump—Americans have a President determined to turn the White House into Trump, Inc. 

A single example will serve to illustrate: 

On January 27, 2017, Trump signed an executive order that:

  • Suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days;
  • Barred Syrian refugees indefinitely; and
  • Blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Four Islamic countries not covered by Trump’s travel ban:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • The United Arab Emirates
  • Egypt 
  • Turkey.

Approximately 3,000 Americans have been killed by immigrants from those countries—most of them during the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey are all countries where President Trump has close business ties. His properties include two luxury towers in Turkey and golf courses in the United Arab Emirates.

The full dimensions of Trump’s holdings throughout the Middle East aren’t known because he has refused to release his tax returns.

SELLING CLOTHES—AND PRESIDENTS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 27, 2019 at 12:26 am

Fifty-eight years after John F. Kennedy gave his first and only Inaugural Address, these words remain its single most-quoted sentence: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

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John F. Kennedy Inaugural

So millions of Americans who were alive that day—January 20, 1961—were probably shocked when they learned that Melania Trump had a very different view of government service.

On August 20, 2016, The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, published a story accusing her of having once worked as a prostitute.

The newspaper cited a Slovenian magazine’s report that a modeling agency that she worked with in New York in the 1990s also served as an escort business, linking wealthy clients with women for sexual services.

On September 1, 2016, Melania sued The Daily Mail in a state court in Montgomery County, Maryland. In early 2017, the Maryland court dismissed the case, saying it did not have jurisdiction.

On February 6, 2017, Melania filed another libel suit against The Daily Mail in the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Required to prove that she had been harmed in some way, Melania did not cite undeserved shame or how much her family and friends had been hurt.

Instead, she argued that the article had ruined her “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to cash in on the Presidency.

Melania Trump

Melania Trump

According to the complaint that her attorney filed:

”Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person…to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world,” the Manhattan suit says.

“These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance.

“The [statements] also constitute defamation per se because they impugned on her fitness to perform her duties as First Lady of the United States,” the suit alleges.

Melania alleged $150 million in damages.

Enter the Emoluments Clause.

This is a United States government law that specifically forbids any leader from using government services to “enrich” the President and his family.

Among the greatest dangers facing the newly-created American government, feared the Founding Fathers, was foreign interference. And this could be obtained through the use of bribes—money or gifts.

Constitution of the United States, page 1.jpg

The Constitution of the United States

To prevent this, the Founders inserted the Emoluments Clause into Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution:

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

This illustrates one of the dangers of bringing a libel or slander suit.

(NOTE: Libel is a written defamation; slander is a spoken one)

Whoever brings the suit must open himself to unprecedented privacy-invading questions. And, in answering them, he may unintentionally give away revelations that can prove highly damaging.

Another Trump seeking to find out “what the country can do for you” is the President’s daughter, Ivanka.

Starting in 2016, Shannon Coulter, a brand and digital strategist, started the Grab Your Wallet boycott aimed at more than 30 retailers who carry Ivanka’s line of fashion apparel.

Image result for Images of Grab Your Wallet campaign

Among the retailers targeted:

  • Amazon.com
  • Belk
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Bed, Bath and Beyond
  • Burlington Coat Factory
  • Century 21
  • DSW
  • Macy’s
  • Marshalls
  • TJ Maxx
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom
  • Overstock.com
  • Ross
  • Saks Off Fifth
  • Sears
  • Walmart
  • Zappos

During the first week of February, 2017, Nordstrom told The Seattle Times that it would no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing and accessories.

Nordstrom said the decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line was based on poor sales performance.

“We’ve got thousands of brands,” said a Nordstrom spokesman. “Each year we cut about 10 percent and refresh our assortment with about the same amount. In this case, based on the brand’s performance we’ve decided not to buy it for this season.”

President Trump had often boasted that he would defend the free enterprise system against an intrusive Federal government.

But for a major department store to drop his daughter’s clothing line was, for him, akin to treason.

Turning to Twitter, his favorite weapon of insult, the President tweeted: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Trump drafted other members of his administration to attack Nordstrom.

One of these was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Spicer said that the store’s decision to stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories line was nothing less than an attack on the president’s policies and his daughter.

“I think this is less about his family’s business and an attack on his daughter. He ran for President, he won, he’s leading this country.

“I think for people to take out their concern about his actions or his executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success.”

But even worse was to come.

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. 

A LEGACY LOST WITH JFK

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 25, 2019 at 12:17 am

Fifty-six years ago, on November 22, 1963, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that JFK left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmospheric testing—and poisoning—by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon—in 1969—Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration. For America, as for JFK, beating the Russians to the moon was the end-goal.
  • By the time JFK died, 16,000 Americans were serving in Vietnam, with more than 70 casualties.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war. From 1965 to 1972, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was a fourth legacy—and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy asked his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War. And he declared that the search for peace was by no means hopeless:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011, the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, couldn’t reach agreement.

President Kennedy insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press—but not for altruistic reasons. These journalistic contacts gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Republican candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

  • Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader”—thus excusing his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.
  • Texas Governor Rick Perry (and now Secretary of Energy) didn’t know there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court: “Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you—I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Court judges. And, uh, ah—
  • “Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”
  • In short, it’s the media’s fault if your answer reveals your ignorance, stupidity and/or criminality.
  • Sarah Palin rewrote history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”: “He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” 
  • In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything. Instead, he was warning his fellow  Americans about an impending British attack–as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences. Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake—that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Republicans attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resented his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope.  As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

Donald Trump has publicly celebrated ignorance. After winning the Nevada Republican primary in 2016, he declared: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

Similarly, 58% of Republicans and Right-wingers believe that higher education has a negative effect on the country.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders. And in seeking a reasoning and educated future for their children.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

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.”

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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.

THE WITNESS IS THE ENEMY: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 12, 2019 at 12:07 am

Donald Trump has a longstanding hatred of whistleblowers when they betray his crimes and follies. But he feels completely different about “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.

Presidential candidate 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.

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Joe 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.” 

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Trump can’t refute the sheer number of witnesses who have testified to his extortion attempt on Ukraine. So he now seeks to shift blame to the person who originally testified to his extortion.

On November 6, his son, Donald, Jr., tweeted out an article which might—or might not—have contained the name of the Intelligence community whistleblower.

A Trump shill later claimed that Trump hadn’t known about his son’s efforts to attack that official.

The law firm, Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP, called on Attorney General William Barr to open a criminal investigation into any leaks of the whistleblower’s identity. 

“As attorneys representing whistleblowers for over 35-years we are extremely concerned about the nation-wide ‘chilling effect’ the disclosure of the identity of any intelligence community whistleblower will necessary cause. Whistleblowers need to reassurance that the laws protecting them will be strictly enforced. 

“If the [whistleblower’s] name is revealed by any person, including Donald Trump, Jr., we hereby request that the persons engaging in this obstruction of justice be immediately arrested.” 

Yet Barr, as Trump’s handpicked Attorney General, has so far refused to take any action against those in violation of whistleblower statutes. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces the provisions of more than 20 whistleblower statutes protecting employees from retaliation for reporting violations of various workplace-related laws.

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According to a 2002 amendment to the federal retaliation statute:

“Whoever knowingly, with intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

These forbid an employer to fire, lay off, threaten, reduce pay or hours, blacklist, demote, deny overtime, benefits or promotion to anyone protected by such laws.

One such witness is Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an expert on Ukraine. A member of the National Security Council, he felt it improper for a President to ask a foreign leader to investigate an American citizen.

Trump called Vindman, a Purple Heart winner who was wounded in Iraq, “Yesterday’s Never Trumper witness.” 

Ultimately, the identity of the whistleblower doesn’t matter.

As Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) tweeted on November 8: “One more time for the people in the back: The whistleblower pulled the fire alarm. The 1st responders showed up and saw smoke, flames, and @realDonaldTrump holding matches. Does it matter who pulled the fire alarm?”

The truth of the original complaint about Trump’s extortion attempt has been repeatedly validated by multiple witnesses.

It now remains to be seen whether Republicans care more about the truth of that complaint—or bowing in subservience to a thoroughly corrupt President.

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