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AMERICA’S POISONED CUBAN POLICY STILL HAUNTS US: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 20, 2021 at 12:12 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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novel, it vividly captures the atmosphere of intrigue, danger and sleaziness that permeated that era in a way that dry, historical documents never can.

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

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

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

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

  • The Cuban Missile Crisis remains the single most dangerous moment of the 50-year Cold War, when the world stood only minutes away from nuclear Armageddon.
  • That crisis stemmed from the American Right’s twisted obsession with Cuba, an obsession that continues today.
  • Following the JFK assassination, there was a cover-up.
  • Its purpose: To protect the reputation of the United States Government—and that of its newly-martyred President.
  • The CIA and FBI concealed the CIA-Mafia assassination plots from the Warren Commission assigned to investigate Kennedy’s murder.
  • Other government officials participating in the cover-up included Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Ironically, this secrecy ignited the widespread—and false—belief that the President had died at the hands of a government conspiracy.
  • Robert Kennedy feared that his relentless pursuit of Castro might have led Castro to “take out” JFK first.
  • Fearing his own assassination if he continued Kennedy’s efforts to murder Castro, President Johnson ordered the CIA to halt its campaign to overthrow and/or assassinate the Cuban leader.
  • The huge Cuban community throughout Florida—and especially Miami—continues to exert a blackmailing influence on American politics.
  • Right-wing politicians from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump have reaped electoral rewards by catering to the demands of this hate-obsessed voting block.
  • These Cuban ex-patriots hope that the United States will launch a full-scale military invasion of the island to remove Castro. 
  • Having grown rich and soft in the United States, they fear to risk their own lives by returning to Cuba to overthrow the Castro regime—Castro he had overthrown Fulgencio Batista.
  • Only President Barack Obama had the political courage to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba—in 2015.
  • This occurred long after the United States had done so with such former enemies as the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam.  
  • President Donald Trump. hoping to please anti-Castro voters in Florida, abandoned engagement and increased sanctions against Cuba.

So what are the lessons to be learned from America’s twisted obsession with Cuba?

  • Americans should initiate major changes in its foreign policy toward Cuba.
  • America should end the half-century contamination of American politics by those Cubans who live only for their hatred of Castro—and those political candidates who live to exploit it. 
  • (For example: Marco Rubio got elected U.S. Senator from Florida in 2010 by claiming that his parents had been forced to leave Cuba in 1959, after Fidel Castro took power. In fact, they had left Cuba in 1956—during the Batista dictatorship.)
  • America needs to end this wag-the-dog relationship. A population of about 1.53 million Cuban exiles living in Florida should not be allowed to shape the domestic and foreign policy of a nation of 333 million.
  • Those who continue to hate—or love—Fidel Castro should be left to their own private feud. But that is a feud they should settle on their own island, and not from the shores of the United States.

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

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 19, 2021 at 12:15 am

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

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

President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation

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

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

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

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

Other measures taken included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office

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

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

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

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

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

John F. and Robert F. Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 18, 2021 at 12:11 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other proposals or attempts included:

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

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

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

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

1960s poster of Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev

Keizers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

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

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

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

to Cuba to deter another invasion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 17, 2021 at 12:12 am

On November 25, 2016, Fidel Castro, Cuba’s longtime “Maximum Leader,” died at the age of 90.

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

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

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

Fidel Castro

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

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

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

By 2017, more than 1.53 million Cubans were living in Florida, where the population of Miami was about one-third Cuban. Their sheer numbers transformed the state’s political, economic and cultural life.  And not entirely for the better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

JohnRoselli.jpg

Johnny Roselli

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

Sam Giancana.jpg

Sam Giancana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DICTATORS IN CRISIS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 16, 2021 at 12:39 am

Two dictators. Two crises.

Next up: Donald Trump.   

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin received multiple warnings that his supposed ally, Nazi Germany, would soon invade Russia. He ignored all of them. And when the invasion came—on June 22, 1941—the result was the loss of 26 million men, women and children and four years of devastation. 

President Donald Trump similarly received warnings that Coronavirus was a major world threat—and would likely hit the United States. Like Stalin, he ignored those warnings—with similarly disastrous consequences.

The virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December, 2019.  Its first reported victim became ill on December 1.

By December 31, the outbreak was traced to a novel strain of Coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that affect birds and mammals. In humans, Coronaviruses can cause pneumonia and may cause bronchitis.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

Coronavirus

According to the March 21, 2020 edition of Rolling Stone magazine: “The United States intelligence community has been warning the president since January and February about the dire consequences that would occur when coronavirus reached America, but the president seemed determined to play down the threat, leaving the country largely unaware and unprepared.”

An anonymous Intelligence official cited by the Washington Post said: “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were—they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it. The system was blinking red.”

Trump first learned of the virus on January 3, 2020. This did not prevent him from playing golf on January 4, 5, 18 and 19.

On January 19, the first Coronavirus case appeared in the United States.

On January 27, then-acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tried to get the President to act. But, according to officials who spoke with the Post, Trump was “dismissive” of early briefings “because he did not believe that the virus had spread widely throughout the United States.”

Trump fired Mulvaney one month later.

Then, for Trump, it was back to the golf course—on February 1, 2, 15. 

Image result for Trump Corona Timeline

Refusing to take action against the emerging Coronavirus threat, Trump repeatedly made statements that minimized it. 

January 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

January 30: “We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment–five—and those people are all recuperating successfully. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us .…that I can assure you.”

February 10: “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do—you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat—as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases—11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.” 

February 28: “[Democrats] tried the impeachment hoax…They lost…. And this is their new hoax.”

A major reason for the spectacular early victories of the German army in Russia was that, from 1936 to 1938, Stalin had gutted his own military by a series of systematic purges. Thus, there were few experienced, competent officers—from army corps commanders to four-star generals—to mount a strategic defense. 

Similarly, upon taking office, Trump had gutted the permanent epidemic monitoring and command groups set up inside the White House: The National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Pathologically jealous of Barack Obama, Trump tried to destroy every vestige of Obama’s legacy as the first black President of the United States. And these disease-monitoring groups were set up by Obama following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

In the spring of 2018, Trump pushed Congress to cut $15 billion from national health spending—and cutting the global disease-fighting budgets of the Centers for Disease Control, National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In April, 2018, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton forced Tom Bossert, director of the infectious disease unit at DHS, to resign—along with his entire team.

On February 29, the first American died of Coronavirus. 

Trump continued to be unconcerned about the growing threat.

On March 7, reporters asked him if he was concerned that Coronavirus had arrived in Washington, D.C. He replied:  “No, I’m not concerned at all. No, we’ve done a great job with it.”

And in a March 9 tweet, Trump wrote: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”  

Perhaps most dangerously of all, Trump from the outset blatantly contradicted health officials—even when standing next to them at press conferences.

On March 21, Trump insisted he had a “very good” feeling about using a malaria drug to combat the virus. It fell to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to set the record straight: “No.”

By January 20, 2021—the end of Trump’s term—the United States had more than 24.2 million confirmed Coronavirus cases—and more than 400,000 deaths.

DICTATORS IN CRISIS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 15, 2021 at 12:25 am

Two dictators. Two crises.

First up: Joseph Stalin.

“I know what Hitler’s up to. He thinks he’s outsmarted me. But in actuality, it is I who have outsmarted him.” 

So spoke Joseph Stalin, absolute dictator of the Soviet Union, to his future successor, Nikita Khrushchev, in 1939.

Less than two years later, on June 22, 1941, three million German soldiers poured across the western border of the Soviet Union.

On August 23, 1939, Stalin had signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact with German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. The reason: Each dictator got what he wanted—for the moment. Hitler was planning to invade Poland in a matter of days—and he wanted to avoid a war with the Soviet Union. And Stalin got what he wanted: The eastern half of Poland.

Joseph Stalin

The agreement stunned the world. Since 1919, Nazis and Communists had fought bitter battles against each other in the streets of Germany during the Weimar Republic.

When this was replaced in 1933 by the Third Reich, German Communists were rounded up and imprisoned, if not murdered, by Hitler’s ruthless secret police, the Schutzstaffel (“Protective Squads”).

For the moment, however, all of that was conveniently forgotten.

But Hitler hadn’t forgotten his life’s ambition to conquer the Soviet Union and utterly destroy “the scourge of Jewish-Marxism.”

Stalin received numerous warnings from the United States and Great Britain about the coming invasion. But he dismissed them as efforts by the West to trick him into violating the pact and turning Nazi Germany into his mortal enemy. 

When informed of the attack, Stalin at first believed it was being made by rogue German forces. He refused to order an immediate counterattack. Upon being convinced that the Wehrmacht intended to wage all-out war, he went into a funk in his dacha and shut himself off from everyone. To his closest associates he wailed: “Lenin left us a great inheritance and we, his heirs, have fucked it all up!”

Meanwhile, the Red Air Force was destroyed on the ground by the awesome Luftwaffe. And the Wehrmacht was advancing at a rate of 25 miles a day.

German soldiers marching through Russia

On July 3, after 10 days of brooding (and probably drinking heavily) in his dacha, Stalin finally took to the airways. He didn’t speak live; Radio Moscow played a recording of his voice across the Soviet Union.

Never a spellbinding orator, Stalin spoke in slow and faltering tones. Nevertheless, his opening words were startling: “Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and sisters! Men of our army and navy! I am addressing you, my friends!”

Stalin had never addressed an audience this way, and he never would again. Born Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, he had given himself the name of “Stalin”—“Man of Steel.” And he had lived up to it, sending tens of thousands to the Soviet penal system known as the Gulag while ordering the executions of tens of thousands of others.

He said the “peace loving” Soviet Union had been attacked by “fiends and cannibals.” He claimed the non-aggression pact with Germany had given the army much-needed time to rearm and reorganize its forces. He claimed the Germans wanted to restore the rule of the landlords and re-establish Tsarism.

He repeatedly spoke of the treachery of the enemy—and of the need for constant vigilance against traitors: “We must wage a ruthless fight against all disorganizers of the rear, deserters, panic-mongers and rumor-mongers.”

This was accompanied by orders unprecedented in any other army: Those taken prisoner by the Germans were to be considered traitors—and shot or imprisoned. Those suspected of wounding themselves to avoid combat were also subject to summary execution. So were soldiers who had been legitimately wounded in battle but were suspected of inflicting those injuries.

The first two years of the war—1941 to 1943—proved disastrous for the Soviet Union.

During the first six months—June to December, 1941—German armies lured huge Soviet forces into gigantic “cauldron battles,” surrounding and exterminating them. An estimated 5.7 million prisoners of war (POWs) fell into German hands. Of these, at least 3.5 million died in custody.

But then the infamous Russian cold and snows of winter halted  the Wehrmacht before Moscow. In the summer of 1942 German forces once again mounted a ferocious offensive, driving all the way to the Volga—and Stalingrad.

But they became bogged down in bitter house-to-house fighting. With the arrival of winter, Soviet forces surrounded the Wehrmacht’s powerful Sixth Army. The besiegers became the besieged. On February 2, 1943, Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus surrendered what remained of his army. The battle cost Germany 500,000 men, including 91,000 taken prisoner. 

As the Red Army finally began to go over on the offensive, Stalin relaxed the iron controls that had long stifled creativity on the part of his commandeers. 

The infamous political commissars were removed from control over Russian generals. Gold braid and fancy uniforms were manufactured and rushed to the front as morale boosters.

At last, Stalin realized there was no way to win a life-and-death struggle than to give his soldiers the flexibility they needed.

The war would last another two years—costing the Soviet Union at least 26 million citizens—before it ended with the Red flag flying over Berlin.

THE DANGERS OF EGOTISM

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 11, 2021 at 12:08 am

It’s commonplace to read about the role sex plays in motivating behavior. But the power of ego to determine history is often ignored.

Consider the role that ego played in igniting the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, it wasn’t the cause of “states’ rights” that led 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1860-61. It was their demand for “respect,” which, in reality, translates into “e-g-o.”

“The respect Southerners demanded did not consist simply of the states’ sovereignty or of the equal rights of Northern and Southern citizens, including slaveholders’ right to take their chattels into Northern territory.

“It entailed, too, respect for their assertion of the moral superiority of slaveholding society over free society,” writes Royster.

It was not enough for Southerners to claim equal standing with Northerners; Northerners must acknowledge it. But this was something that the North was less and less willing to do. 

Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

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

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln and his new Republican party damned slavery—and slaveholders—as morally evil, obsolete and ultimately doomed. And they were determined to prevent slavery from spreading any further throughout the country.

Southerners found all of this intolerable.

The British author, Anthony Trollope, explained to his readers: “It is no light thing to be told daily, by our fellow citizens…that you are guilty of the one damning sin that cannot be forgiven.

“All this [Southerners] could partly moderate, partly rebuke and partly bear as long as political power remained in their hands. But they have gradually felt that this was going, and were prepared to cut the rope and run as soon as it was gone.”

Only 10% of Southerners owned slaves. The other 90% of the population “had no dog in this fight,” as Southerners liked to say.

Yet they so admired and aspired to be like their “gentleman betters” that they threw in their lot with them.

There were some Southerners who could see what was coming—and vainly warned their fellow citizens against it.

One of these was Sam Houston, the man who had won Texas independence at the 1836 battle of San Jacinto and later served as that state’s governor.

Sam Houston

On April 19, 1860, addressing a crowd in Galveston, he said: “Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you.

“But I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states’ rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates.

“But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

Four years later, on April 9, 1865, Houston’s warning became history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Huge sections of the South had been laid waste by Union troops and more than 258,000 Southerners had been killed.

And slavery, the mainstay of Southern plantation life, had been ended forever.

The South had paid an expensive price for its fixation on ego.

Even more proved at risk a century later, when President John F. Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.  

Portrait of President Kennedy smiling

John F. Kennedy

That August, faced with the embarrassment of East Berliners fleeing by the thousands into West Germany, the Soviet leader backed off from his threat.In its place, he erected the infamous Berlin Wall, sealing off East and West Berlin.

Khrushchev pressed his advantage, threatening Kennedy with nuclear war unless the Americans abandoned their protection of West Berlin.

In April, Kennedy had been humiliated at the Bay of Pigs when a CIA-sponsored invasion failed to overthrow the Cuba’s Fidel Castro. So he was already on the defensive when he and Khrushchev met in Vienna.

Kennedy’s reaction: “That son of a bitch won’t pay any attention to words. He has to see you move.”

Then, most ominously: “If Khrushchev wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it’s all over.”

In short: Kennedy was prepared to incinerate the planet if he felt his almighty ego was about to get smacked.

Nuclear missile in silo

What has proved true for states and nations proves equally true for those leading every other type of institution.

Although most people like to believe they are guided by rationality and morality, all-too-often, what truly decides the course of events is their ego.

For pre-Civil War Southerners, it meant demanding that “Yankees” show respect for slave-owning society.  Otherwise, they would leave the Union.

For Kennedy, it meant playing a game of “chicken,” backed up with nuclear missiles, to show Khrushchev who Numero Uno really was. And during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October, 1962, humankind almost disappeared as Kennedy set out to make Khrushchev “blink.”

It is well to keep these lessons from history in mind when making our own major decisions.

TRUTH IS FOR PRESIDENTS, FLATTERY IS FOR DICTATORS

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on May 13, 2021 at 12:10 am

I must not omit an important subject….And this is with regard to flatterers, of which courts are full, because men take such pleasure in their own things and deceive themselves about them that they can with difficulty guard against this plague….Because there is no other way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking  the truth.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

On October 10, 2019, President Donald Trump took aim at Joe Biden, his potential Democratic rival for the White House in 2020.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Trump spoke as if Biden’s son, Hunter, was present: “Your father was never considered smart. He was never considered a good senator. He was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”

Trump no doubt believed he had scored a two-in-one insult—at both former President Barack Obama and his then-Vice President.

But Obama, as depicted in the memoirs of those who worked closely with him, did not demand sickeningly worshipful praise. He was, in fact, wary of sycophants, insisting on being well and honestly briefed.

It was this quality that led him to authorize—and oversee—the successful takedown of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden on May 1, 2011 by U.S. Navy SEALs.

It is actually Trump who demands not simply loyalty but constant flattery.

In this—as in his vindictiveness and coarseness—he closely resembles Joseph Stalin, the infamous dictator of the Soviet Union from 1924 to 1953.

Joseph Stalin

On December 21, 1949, Stalin turned 70. And millions of Russians feverishly competed to out-do one another in singing his praises.

These celebrations weren’t prompted by love—but fear.

He had lived up to his pseudonym: “Man of Steel.” For almost 30 years, through purges and starvation caused by enforced collections of farmers’ crops, he had slaughtered 20 to 60 million of his fellow citizens.

The British historian, Robert Payne, described these rapturous events in his classic 1965 biography, The Rise and Fall of Stalin:

“From all over the country came gifts of embroidered cloth, tapestries and carpets bearing his name or his features….Poets extolled him in verses, He was the sun, the splendor, the lord of creation.

“The novelist Leonid Lenov…foretold the day when all the peoples of the earth would celebrate his birthday; the new calendar would begin with the birth of Stalin rather than with the birth of Christ.”

Lavrenti P. Beria, Stalin’s sinister and feared secret police chief: “Millions of fighters for peace and democracy in all countries of the world are closing their ranks still firmer around Comrade Stalin.”

Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov: “The gigantic Soviet army created during [World War II] was under the direct leadership of Comrade Stalin and built on the basis of the principles of Stalinist military science.”

Defense Commissar Kliment Voroshilov: “The mighty voice of the Great Stalin, defending the peace of the world, has penetrated into all corners of the globe.”

Central Committee Secretary Georgi Malenkov: “With a feeling of great gratitude, turning their eyes to Stalin, the peoples of the Soviet Union, and hundreds of millions of peoples in all countries of the world, and all progressive mankind see in Comrade Stalin their beloved leader and teacher….”

Now, fast forward to June 12, 2017.

That was when President Donald J. Trump—also 70—convened his first full Cabinet meeting since taking office on January 20.

Related image

Donald Trump

On June 12, polls showed that only 36% of Americans approved of his conduct. But from his Cabinet members, Trump got praise traditionally lavished on dictators like Stalin and North Korea’s Kim Jong On.

While the Cabinet members sat around a mahogany table in the West Wing of the White House, Trump instructed each one to say a few words about the good work his administration was doing.

Vice President Mike Pence: “It is the greatest privilege of my life to serve as the vice president to a president who is keeping his word to the American people.”

Related image

Mike Pence

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue: “I just got back from Mississippi. They love you there.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price: “What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank you enough for the privilege that you’ve given me, and the leadership you’ve shown.”

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus:On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.” 

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao: “Thank you for coming over to the Department of Transportation. I want to thank you for getting this country moving again, and also working again.”

Politicians—both domestic and foreign—quickly learned that the quickest way to get on Trump’s “good side” was to shamelessly and constantly praise him.

Some historians believe that Stalin was poisoned by one of his fawning yes-men—most likely Lavrenti Beria.

The time may come when Trump learns that outrageous flattery can hide murderous hatred.

BURYING TRUMP–AND STALIN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 15, 2021 at 12:10 am

Fifty-nine years ago, a Russian congress came face-to-face with the legacy of a ruthless dictator.

For almost 30 years, from 1924 to 1953, Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili—better known as Stalin—had ruled as absolute dictator over the Soviet Union. Hallmarks of his legacy included mass arrests, repeated purges, forced mass starvation and the imprisonment of millions. As many as 20 million men, women and children died as his victims. 

His reign of terror ended only with his death, of a cerebral hemorrhage, on March 5, 1953, at age 74. 

Joseph Stalin

As historian Robert Payne wrote in his monumental 1965 biography The Rise and Fall of Stalin: “The son of an obscure cobbler, he had become during the last years of his life the most powerful man on earth. No emperor had ever enjoyed the power he possessed.

“He had taken the world by the throat, and forced it to do his will. He was one of the world-shakers, and when he died in 1953 it was thought proper that his remains should be exhibited as an object of reverence and worship in the Lenin mausoleum, the holy of holies of the Soviet empire.”

On February 25, 1956, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, revealed Stalin’s litany of crimes to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The speech was the opening shot in Khrushchev’s “de-Stalinization” campaign. He intended to destroy the image of the late dictator as an infallible leader and rein in the infamous KGB secret police. 

The speech gave rise to a period of liberalization known as the “Khrushchev thaw” (1956-1964). During this, censorship policy was relaxed, and for the first time books and articles appeared about the huge network of forced labor camps set up by Vladimir Lenin and reaching its peak under Stalin.   

File:Khrushchov.jpg - Wikipedia

Nikita Khrushchev

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Thousands of political prisoners were released, and thousands more who had perished during Stalin’s reign were officially “rehabilitated.”

By 1961, Khrushchev and those seeking to reform the Soviet political system decided to condemn the horrors of the Stalinist decades in a forceful symbolic act.

On October 31, 1961, the body of Joseph Stalin was removed from its honored resting place in the Lenin mausoleum in Red Square. A new grave was dug for him—among the minor heroes of the Russian Revolution. The re-internment took place secretly—at night—without ceremonies. And his name was removed from the mausoleum. 

Historian Robert Payne described that event—and its significance: “A dead god was being transformed into a dead man, a dead emperor was being dethroned, a dead criminal was being executed….

The rise and fall of Stalin: Robert Payne: Amazon.com: Books

“But more than a ritual murder was at stake. The Supreme Soviet and the Central Committee, which decreed the punishment now being inflicted on the corpse of Stalin, were now attempting to absolve themselves from responsibility for his crimes. 

“They were saying: ‘We are not responsible, we are casting him away, he is not one of us! He committed such terrible crimes that we will have none of him.’

“For nearly thirty years Stalin had ruled tyrannically over Russia. History, too, was being consigned to oblivion.” 

A series of similar events has erupted within the United States since January 6.

On that day, thousands of Right-wing supporters of President Donald Trump—ignited by his fiery, lie-riddled rhetoric—overwhelmed police guarding the United States Capitol and occupied the building.

Donald Trump

Their intention: To halt the counting of Electoral College votes that would certify former Vice President Joseph Biden as the next President of the United States.

Americans who held that site sacred as the cradle of democracy were horrified to see rioters:

  • Breaking windows and battering down doors;
  • Beating police with fire extinguishers and an American flag pole; 
  • Carrying treasonous Confederate flags in the Capitol;
  • Stealing treasures (such as the podium used by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) and
  • Forcing members of Congress to crouch under chairs as police fought off rioters.

Since then, Trump’s fortunes have sharply declined:

  • Twitter—whose platform he had used during his Presidency to ruthlessly attack hundreds of people—finally cut off his account.
  • A series of Cabinet officials hurriedly resigned from his administration. Among these: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.
  • Deutsche Bank, his business lender since the 1990s, announced that it would not continue to do business with him.
  • The PGA of America cut ties with Trump by canceling plans to hold the PGA Championship at his New Jersey golf course in 2022.
  • And on January 13—one week to the day after his Stormtrumpers attacked the Capitol Building—the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for the second time during his Presidency. No other President has ever suffered such a humiliation.
  • Adding to this humiliation: Ten Republican House members voted to impeach him.

Herodotus, the Greek historian who chronicled the Greek-Persian wars, offers a still-timely explanation of such reverses of fortune—and a warning for those who dare to ignore history:

“Look to the end, no matter what it is you are considering. Often enough God gives a man a glimpse of happiness, and then utterly ruins him.”

BURYING TRUMP–AND STALIN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 14, 2021 at 12:08 am

On January 13, for the first time in its history, the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach a President—for the second time during his tenure.

On December 10, 2019, Democratic leaders in the House voted to send two Articles of Impeachment to the House Judiciary Committee.

Their purpose: To remove Donald J. Trump from office as the 45th President of the United States.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler read the charges:

Article 1: Abuse of Power: For pressuring Ukraine to assist him in his re-election campaign by damaging former Vice President Joseph Biden, his possible Democratic rival.

Article 2: Obstruction of Congress: For obstructing Congress by blocking testimony and refusing to provide documents in response to House subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry.

On January 23, 2020, House Intelligence Committee Chairman and Lead Impeachment Manager Adam Schiff (D-CA) tweeted a prophecy—and a warning: “Donald Trump must be convicted and removed from office. Because he will always choose his own personal interest over our national interest. Because in America, right matters. Truth matters. If not, no Constitution can protect us. If not, we are lost.” 

Adam Schiff official portrait.jpg

Adam Schiff

On February 5, 2020, the Republican-dominated Senate—ignoring the overwhelming evidence against him—acquitted Donald Trump on both impeachment articles: Obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.

Schiff’s prophecy came true on January 6, 2021. On that day, Trump unleashed thousands of Right-wing terrorists on the United States Capitol.

Inside, members of Congress were tabulating the Electoral College votes cast in the 2020 Presidential election.

The winner had been former Vice President Joseph Biden. Trump, seeking a second term, had lost, getting 74,196,153 votes.to 81,255,933 for Biden.

Trump had made repeated—and false—claims of electoral fraud. Yet despite filing 60 court cases seeking to overturn the election’s results, his lawyers had failed to produce any proof of it.

Trump had often “joked” about how great it would be for the United States to have a “President-for-Life”—like China.  Now his only hope of remaining in power lay in intimidating Congress into ignoring the election results.

Inspired by Trump’s violence-charged rhetoric, the Stormtrumpers marched to the United States Capitol—and quickly brushed aside outnumbered Capitol Police.

  • Members of the mob attacked police with chemical agents or lead pipes.
  • A Capitol Hill police officer was knocked off his feet, dragged into the mob surging toward the building, and beaten with the pole of an American flag.
  • Several rioters carried plastic handcuffs, possibly intending to take hostages. Others carried treasonous Confederate flags.

These are some of the high-profile figures who were seen storming the US Capitol

Stormtrumpers scaling Capitol Building walls

  • Shouts of “Hang Pence!” often rang out.
  • Improvised explosive devices were found in several locations in Washington, D.C. 
  • Members of the House and Senate huddled anxiously behind locked doors barricaded with furniture as seditionists tried to break in.
  • Many of the lawmakers’ office buildings were occupied and vandalized—including that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a favorite Right-wing target.

More than three hours passed before police—using riot gear, shields and batons—retook control of the Capitol. 

Meeting again that evening, members of the Senate and House resumed their vote-counting. In the end, Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris were named, respectively, the President-Elect and Vice-President Elect of the United States.

By the next day, members of the House—especially Democrats—were furious at their near-brush with death. And they were ready to seek retribution on the man responsible.

Their initial hope was that Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of Trump’s cabinet would invoke the 25th Amendment. But hopes for this quickly faded.

A growing number of Cabinet officials began resigning:

  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
  • Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao
  • Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf

There was a very real danger there wouldn’t be enough Cabinet members left to invoke the Amendment.  

But making the use of the Amendment even more unlikely was the obvious unwillingness of Vice President Pence to invoke it.

Official White House portrait of Mike Pence smiling. He wears a black suit, red tie, and an American flag lapel pin.

Mike Pence

This despite the fact that he could have been hanged as a “traitor” by the Stormtrumpers only days ago.

(He had likely been spared this fate by his Secret Service detail, whisking him out of the Senate—and leaving other government officials to their own fates.)

On January 11, Democrats introduced a single impeachment article charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” in urging his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

They also introduced a resolution that called on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove him from office before January 20.

On January 13, the House met to debate a single article of impeachment: “Incitement of Insurrection.” Its gist:

“Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.” 

Thus, the House sought to remove a President who intended to rule as a dictator.

Fifty-nine years earlier, a Russian congress had come face-to-face with the despotism of another tyrant.

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