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“BLOOD FEUD”: POWER—AND IDEALISM—CORRUPT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 16, 2019 at 12:15 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union.  

By 1963, the Mafia despairs of the increasing pressure of the Justice Department. At a swanky restaurant, several high-ranking members agree that “something” must be done.

[Although this scene is fictional, it’s clearly based on an infamous outburst of Carlos Marcello, the longtime Mafia boss of New Orleans. 

Carlos Marcello

[In 1961, Marcello was deported to his native Guatemala on orders by RFK. After illegally re-entering the country, he swore vengeance against the Attorney General.  

[In September, 1962, during a meeting with several mob colleagues, he flew into a rage when someone mentioned Kennedy: “Don’t you worry about that little Bobby sonofabitch. He’s going to be taken care of!”

[Marcello believed that the death of President Kennedy would render the Attorney General powerless. And he added that he planned to use a “nut” to do the job.]

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible. 

[The House Assassinations Committee investigated this possibility in 1978, and determined that Carlos Marcello, the Mafia boss of New Orleans, had the means, motive and opportunity to kill JFK. But it could not find any conclusive evidence of his involvement.]

Even with the President dead, RFK’s Justice Department continues to pursue Hoffa. In 1964, he is finally convicted of jury tampering and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.

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U.S. Department of Justice

Hoping to avoid prison, Hoffa offers future Teamsters support if RFK runs for President. To prove he can deliver, he tells Kennedy that the Teamsters have even penetrated the FBI.

[In March, 1964, Kennedy met with Hoffa on an airfield at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. 

[Kennedy spoke quietly with Hoffa. The Attorney General showed him a document, and Hoffa at times nodded or shook his head.

[Kennedy never revealed the reason for the meeting.  

[Gus Russo—author of Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK—writes that the reason might have been Dallas.  

[Perhaps, he speculates, RFK had wanted to look into Hoffa’s eyes while asking him: Did you have anything to do with the assassination? RFK had, in fact, done this with CIA Director John McCone almost immediately after his brother’s death.]

In Blood Feud, Kennedy confronts J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine) and accuses him of illegally planting wiretaps in Mob hangouts all over the country.

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy 

Hoover retorts that this had been the only way to obtain the prosecution-worthy intelligence Kennedy had demanded: “You loved that flow of information.  You didn’t want it to stop.”

Kennedy: Why did you keep the FBI out of the fight against the Mob for decades?

Hoover: “Every agency that came to grips with them got corrupted by their money.”

[So far as is known, Hoover never made any such confession. Historians continue to guess his reason for leaving the Mob alone for decades.]

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Ernest Borgnine as J. Edgar Hoover

RFK then mentions the CIA’s plots to employ the Mob to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro

[The agency had wanted to please President Kennedy, and the Mafia had wanted to regain its casinos lost to the Cuban Revolution. The role the Kennedy brothers played in the CIA’s assassination plots remains murky, and has been the subject of endless speculation.]

“The CIA, doing business with the Mob,” says Kennedy. “The FBI, leaking information to its enemies [the Teamsters].” Then, sadly: “I guess it’s true–everyone does business with everyone.”

[So far as is known, the FBI did not pass on secrets to the Teamsters. But during the 1970s, the Mafia  penetrated the Cleveland FBI office through bribes to a secretary. Several FBI Mob informants were “clipped” as a result.

In 1967, Hoffa goes to prison.  He stays there until, in 1971, President Richard Nixon commutes his sentence in hopes of gaining Teamsters’ support for his 1972 re-election.

Kennedy leaves the Justice Department in 1964 and is elected U.S. Senator from New York. In 1968 he runs for President. On June 5, after winning the California primary, he’s assassinated.  

Hoffa schemes to return to the presidency of the Teamsters–a post now held by his successor, Frank Fitzsimmons. He runs the union in a more relaxed style than Hoffa, thus giving the Mob greater control over its pension fund.

And the Mafia likes it that way.

On July 30, 1975, Hoffa disappears from the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant near Detroit.  He had gone there to meet with two Mafia leaders.

Forty-three years after the death of James R. Hoffa, and 50 years after that of Robert F. Kennedy:

  • Labor unions are a shadow of their former power.
  • The threat they once represented to national prosperity has been replaced by that of predatory  corporations like Enron and AIG.
  • The war RFK began on the Mafia has continued, sending countless mobsters to prison.
  • Millions of Americans who once expected the Federal Government to protect them from crime now believe the Government is their biggest threat.
  • The idealism that fueled RFK’s life has virtually disappeared from politics.

“BLOOD FEUD”: POWER–AND IDEALISM–CORRUPT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 15, 2019 at 12:08 am

In 1983, Blood Feud, a two-part TV mini-series, depicted the 11-year struggle between Robert F. Kennedy and James Riddle Hoffa. Although it took some dramatic liberties, its portrayal of the major events of that period remains essentially accurate.

Today, labor unions are a rapidly-vanishing species, commanding far less political influence than they did 50 years ago. As a result, young viewers of this series may find it hard to believe that labor ever held such sway, or that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union posed such a threat.

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

And in an age when millions see “Big Government” as the enemy, they may feel strong reservations about the all-out war that Kennedy waged against Hoffa. 

Blood Feud opens in 1957, when Hoffa (Robert Blake) is a rising figure within the Teamsters. Kennedy (Cotter Smith) is chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. 

At first, Hoffa tries to ingratiate himself with Kennedy, telling him: “I know everybody who can help me and anybody who can hurt me.”

Robert Blake as James R. Hoffa

A wily Hoffa decides to parley Kennedy’s anti-corruption zeal into a path to power for himself. Via his attorney, Eddie Cheyfitz, he feeds Kennedy incriminating evidence against Dave Beck, president of the Teamsters. 

Confronted with a Senate subpoena, Beck flees the country—paving the way for Hoffa to assume the top position in the union. Hoffa believes he has solved two problems at once. 

“He’s got his scalp,” Hoffa tells an associate. “Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.” 

But Hoffa has guessed wrong—with fatal results. Realizing that he’s been “played” by Hoffa, a furious Kennedy strikes back.  

He orders increased surveillance of Hoffa and his topmost associates. He subpoenas union records and members of both the Teamsters and the Mafia to appear before his committee in public hearings.  

And he tries to enlist the aid of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Ernest Borgnine). But Hoover wants no part of a war against organized crime, whose existence he refuses to admit.

Meanwhile, Kennedy’s confrontations with Hoffa grow increasingly fierce. In open hearings, Kennedy accuses Hoffa of receiving kickbacks in the name of his wife. Hoffa damns him for “dirtying my wife’s name.” 

Kennedy secures an indictment against Hoffa for hiring a spy to infiltrate the Senate Labor Rackets Committee. He’s so certain of a conviction that he tells the press he’ll “jump off the Capitol building” if Hoffa beats the rap.

But Hoffa’s lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams (Jose Ferrer) puts Kennedy himself on the witness stand. There he portrays Kennedy as a spoiled rich man who’s waging a vendetta against Hoffa.

Hoffa beats the rap, and offers to send Kennedy a parachute. But he jokingly warns reporters: “Hey, Bobby, you better have it checked. I don’t trust myself!”

By 1959, Robert Kennedy’s work as chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee is over. But not his determination to send Teamsters President James Hoffa to prison.

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

Throughout 1960, he manages the Presidential campaign for his brother, John F. Kennedy (Sam Groom). By a margin of only 100,000 votes, JFK wins the election.

Hoffa thinks that his troubles are over, that “Bobby” will move on to other pursuits and forget about the Teamsters.

Hoffa is partly right: Kennedy moves on to another job. But it’s the office of United States Attorney General.  

JFK, needing someone in the Cabinet he can trust completely, browbeats Robert into becoming the the nation’s top cop.

For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

As Attorney General, Kennedy no longer has to beg J. Edgar Hoover to attack organized crime. He can—and does—order him to do so.

Throughout the country, the Mafia feels a new heat as FBI agents plant illegal electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their innermost sanctums. Agents openly tail mobsters—and send them to prison in large numbers.

And Kennedy sets up a special unit, composed of topflight prosecutors and investigators, to go after just one man: James Riddle Hoffa. The press comes to call it the “Get Hoffa” squad.

Hoffa continues to beat federal prosecutors in court. But he believes he’s under constant surveillance by the FBI, and his nerves are starting to crack. 

Convinced that the FBI has bugged his office, he literally tears apart the room, hoping to find the bug. But he fails to do so.

What he doesn’t know is he’s facing a more personal danger—from one of his closest associates. 

He tells a trusted colleague, Edward Grady Partin (Brian Dennehy) how easy it would be to assassinate Kennedy with a rifle or bomb.

Later, Partin gets into a legal jam—and is abandoned by the Teamsters. Hoping to cut a deal, he relays word to the Justice Department of Hoffa’s threats against the Attorney General.

Now working for the Justice Department, Partin sends in reports on Hoffa’s juror-bribing efforts in yet another trial. Hoffa again beats the rap—but now Kennedy has the insider’s proof he needs to put him away for years.  

BECOMING A FASCIST NATION—ONE STEP AT A TIME

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 14, 2019 at 12:03 am

Hans Bernd Gisevius holds a unique position in the history of the Third Reich.

He was one of the few plotters of the July 20, 1944 bomb attack on Adolf Hitler to survive the wave of arrests that followed.

A covert opponent of the Nazi regime, he served as a liaison in Zurich between the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and German resistance forces in Germany.

Not only did he outlive the Reich, he took revenge on it at the Nuremberg trials. In April, 1946, for three days he gave damning evidence against former Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring and his accomplices.

Hans Bernd Gisevius at Nuremberg

In 1946, he published his autobiography, To the Bitter End, sharply indicting the Reich and its leaders—many of whom Gisevius had known personally. He also condemned the German people, charging that they pretended ignorance of the atrocities being committed.

In his introduction, Gisevius notes: “This book is not intended as a history of the Third Reich. The author has selected a few prominent incidents out of the confusion of contemporaneous events and has attempted to use these as points through which to trace the broad curves of the historical process.”

To the Bitter End opens with the February 27, 1933 arson attack on the Reichstag building, home of the German parliament. By the time the fire was put out, most of the building was gutted. 

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of Germany. Now he used the fire to gain unprecedented control over the country. 

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Reichstag fire

The next day, at Hitler’s request, President Paul von Hindenburg signed the Reichstag Fire Decree into law. This suspended most civil liberties in Germany, including:

  • Freedom of speech, press, association and public assembly
  • Habeas corpus and
  • Secrecy of the mails and telephone.

The next major event Gisevius chronicled has since become known as “The Night of the Long Knives.”

On June 30, 1934, Hitler ordered a massive purge of his private army, the S.A., or Stormtroopers. This was carried out by Hitler’s elite army-within-an-army, the Schutzstaffel, or Protective Squads, better known as the SS.

The S.A. Brownshirts had been instrumental in securing Hitler’s rise to Chancellor of Germany. They had intimidated political opponents and organized mass rallies for the Nazi Party.

Ernst Rohem, their commander, urged Hitler to disband the regular German army, the Reichswehr, and replace it with his own legions as the nation’s defense force.

Frightened by Rohem’s ambitions, the generals of the Reichswehr warned Hitler: Get rid of Rohem—or we’ll get rid of you.

So Rohem died in a hail of SS bullets—along with several hundred of his longtime S.A. cronies.

SS firing squad

A third crisis that paved the way for Hitler’s assuming supremacy over the German armed forces came in early 1938.

Hitler had been wanting to replace two high-ranking military officials: General Werner von Fritsch and Colonel General Werner von Blomberg. He intended to go to war—and despised their hesitation to do so. 

On January 12, 1938, Blomberg married Erna Gruhn, with Hitler and Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring attending as witnesses. Soon afterward, Berlin police discovered that Gruhn had a criminal record as a prostitute and had posed for pornographic photographs.

Marrying a woman with such a background violated the standard of conduct expected of officers. Hitler was infuriated at having served as a witness, but he also saw the scandal as an opportunity to dispose of Blomberg.

Shortly after Blomberg was forced to resign in disgrace, the SS presented Hitler with a file that falsely accused Werner von Fritsch of homosexuality. Fritsch angrily denied the accusation but resigned on February 4, 1938.

From that point on, Hitler was in de facto command of the German Armed Services.

To the Bitter End vividly depicts how, step by step, Hitler gained total control of Germany—and plunged it headlong into World War II.

None of these steps, by itself, was fatal. But, taken together, they led to the deaths of 60 million men, women and children, the utter destruction of Germany and the domination of Eastern Europe (including East Germany) for 44 years after the Reich collapsed.

Since Donald Trump took office as the 45th President of the United States, Americans have seen him move, step by step, toward his goal of absolute power. Among these moves:

  • Firing FBI Director James Comey for pursuing an investigation into Russian subversion of the 2016 election.
  • Repeatedly attacking his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for not “protecting” him from investigators pursuing the Russia investigation.
  • Firing Sessions and replacing him with Matthew Whittaker, who had loudly criticized the probe led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller.
  • Relentlessly attacking the free press as “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Brutally attacking Federal judges whose rulings displease him.
  • On multiple occasions, urging Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to vengefully prosecute Hillary Clinton, his 2016 rival for the Presidency.

The United States may yet fall victim to a nuclear war triggered by an insult-happy Trump, or a dictatorship where he turns the Justice Department into his personal SS. 

If so, a future American chronicler may, like Hans Bernd Gisevius, leave behind a record of a nation betrayed by lost opportunities and a brutal tyrant.

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 7, 2019 at 12:02 am

On November 8, 2016, millions of racist, hate-filled Americans took “revenge” on the nation’s first black President—by deliberately voting a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator into the White House. 

By doing so, they set in motion events that would lead Robert S. Mueller to assume the consequences—and burdens—of their brutal, Fascistic desires.

On April 27, 2018, the House Intelligence Committee, after a sham “investigation,” concluded there had been “no collusion” between Russian Intelligence agents and members of the Trump Presidential campaign.

Among the evidence ignored: The now-infamous meeting at Trump Tower, in June, 2016, between Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, with Russian Intelligence agents.

The reason for the meeting: The Russians claimed to have dirt to offer on Hillary Clinton.

The “no collusion” verdict was inevitable, since the committee was chaired by California’s Republican Representative Devin Nunes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Trump. Nunes had even improperly shared “secret” committee documents with the President. 

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Devin Nunes

The Senate Intelligence Committee, on the other hand, agreed with the conclusions previously reached by the American Intelligence community (CIA, FBI, National Security Agency): The Russians had worked to subvert the American political process and elect Trump over Clinton.

March 17, 2018, marked one year since Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation to uncover “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

By October, 2018, Mueller had:

  • Indicted 31 people—including 26 Russian nationals and four former Trump campaign advisers.Indicted three Russian companies. 
  • Obtained six guilty pleas.
  • Unveiled Russians’ determination to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton.
  • Revealed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing sanctions against Russia with then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period. 
  • Discovered that Trump associates knew about Russian outreach efforts during the campaign.

By contrast:

  • Republicans spent four years investigating the 2012 attack on the United States embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Their goal: To derail the presumed 2016 Presidential candidacy of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But no indictments followed.
  • Republicans spent two years investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State. Again, no indictments followed.

* * * * *

It’s past time for Republicans to remember the lesson taught by High Noon, the classic 1952 Western starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.

Town marshal Will Kane (Cooper) has just married Amy Fowler (Kelly) a Quaker. It should be the happiest day of his life. But shortly after the ceremony, word comes that Frank Miller—a notorious murderer Kane once sent to prison—has been released. 

High Noon poster.jpg

Even worse, Miller—joined by three other killers—is coming into town on the noon train to kill Kane.

Kane’s first instinct is to flee: He and his wife get into a buggy and dash out of town. But then his sense of duty takes over. He returns to town, intending to recruit a posse.

But this proves impossible—everyone is scared to death of Miller and his gang. And everyone Kane approaches has a reason for not backing him up.

Even Amy—a fervent believer in non-violence—threatens to leave him if he stands up to Miller. She will be on the noon train leaving town—with or without him.

When the clock strikes noon, the train arrives, and Kane—alone—faces his enemies. He shoots and kills two of them.

Then, as he’s pinned down by the third, he gets some unexpected help—from his wife: Amy shoots the would-be killer in the back—only to be taken hostage by Miller himself.

Miller tells Kane to leave his concealed position or he’ll kill Amy. Kane steps into the open—and Amy claws at Miller’s face, buying Kane the time he needs to shoot Miller down.

The townspeople rush to embrace Kane and congratulate him. But he’s disgusted with their cowardice and holds them in total contempt.

Saying nothing, he drops the marshal’s star into the dirt. He and Amy then get into a buggy and leave town.

Fred Zinnemann, the film’s director, intended the movie as an attack on those frightened into silence by Joseph McCarthy, the infamous Red-baiting Senator from Wisconsin.

Will Kane fought to protect himself and his town from a gang of murderous outlaws.

Robert Mueller is fighting to discover the truth behind Russian subversion of the American political system.

The difference between these two conflicts is this: We know how Kane’s fight ended—with a good man defeating evil men.

We do not know if Mueller will ultimately triumph over his—and America’s—mortal enemies. 

Robert Mueller—as a soldier, prosecutor, FBI director and now Special Counsel—took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” 

So did Donald Trump when he was inaugurated President. And so did every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

The difference between Robert Mueller, and the overwhelming majority of Republican Congressional members who continue to support Trump, is this: Mueller, like a compass pointing True North, has always stayed faithful to that oath. 

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 4, 2019 at 12:06 am

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

As Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky United States Senator Mitch McConnell participated in high-level intelligence briefings in 2016. From agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the code-cracking National Security Agency, he learned that the Russians were trying to subvert the electoral process.

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

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

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

Billionaires don’t give huge sums to politicians without expecting to get something in return. And this is especially true—and frightening—when the contributors are linked to a former KGB agent like Vladimir Putin, whose aggressive intentions are increasingly on display.

So Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing increased hostility from Republicans who no doubt fear their own ownership by Moscow will become a focus of his investigation.

But there is another powerful reason why so many Republicans have closed ranks with Trump against him: 

#2: Republicans fear enraging Trump’s fanatical base.

On August 30, 2017, an article in Salon sought to explain why President Donald Trump was so popular among his supporters.

Its headline ran: “Most Americans Strongly Dislike Trump, But the Angry Minority That Adores Him Controls Our Politics.”

It described these voters as representing about one-third of the Republican party:

“These are older and more conservative white people, for the most part, who believe he should not listen to other Republicans and should follow his own instincts….

“They like Trump’s coarse personality, and approve of the fact that he treats women like his personal playthings. They enjoy it when he expresses sympathy for neo-Nazis and neo-Confederate white supremacists.

“They cheer when he declares his love for torture, tells the police to rough up suspects and vows to mandate the death penalty for certain crimes. (Which of course the president cannot do.)

“…This cohort of the Republican party didn’t vote for Trump because of his supposed policies on trade or his threat to withdraw from NATO. They voted for him because he said out loud what they were thinking. A petty, sophomoric, crude bully is apparently what they want as a leader.”

And keeping that cohort constantly stirred up is the Right-wing Fox News Network. This is not a source of legitimate news but the propaganda arm of the Fascistic Right and the Republican party.

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Donald Trump

On May 18, 2018, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks offered this political commentary on The PBS Newshour: “I would just say, I observe politically, I do think if Trump fired Mueller tomorrow, the Republican Party would back him. 

“Because I think FOX News has created a predicate. They have done thousands of surveys and investigations about Mueller as a political operative.” 

And Brooks’ fellow political commentator, liberal syndicated columnist Mark Shields, echoed those sentiments: “At the same time, I think what we learned is that the defense of Donald Trump, led by himself and [his attorney] Rudy Giuliani, is to savage and torment, denigrate, vilify and libel Bob Mueller.

“Bob Mueller happens to be an American who turned down an eight-figure income to be a major corporate lawyer, instead became a public servant. He’s a man who volunteered and carries the wounds of battle from having been a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam.

“He is a public servant. He has not said a word. He has not given an interview. He has not leaked to anybody. And he stands vilified by Trump and Giuliani and their cohorts and their outriders. It is indefensible.

“And they are trying to exact the same damage upon the Justice Department of the country, the FBI and this country that Joe McCarthy did on the State Department, which has never fully recovered from his libelous attacks.”

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

According to a Pew Research Center survey, that one-third of Republicans who fanatically support Trump comprise only 16% of the population. That leaves 65% of Republicans who are revolted by Trump’s personality and behavior.

But that 65% of Republicans are being advised by GOP political consultants to vigorously support him.

“Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country,” one anonymous consultant told the Salon reporter. “Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is.”

It’s precisely these hard-core Fascists who come out in mid-term elections—and they’re scaring the remaining 65% who make up the GOP establishment.  

The highest priority of that establishment, after all, is to hold onto their privileged positions in the House and Senate. And anything that might jeopardize that—including what’s best for the country—can go hang.  

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 3, 2019 at 12:01 am

On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice. 

Rosenstein charged Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” 

Since then, Trump, his shills in Congress and Right-wing Fox News have relentlessly attacked Mueller’s integrity and investigative methods. 

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From the outset of that investigation, there have been widespread fears that Trump would fire Mueller, just as he did FBI Director James Comey. Those fears increased over the weekend of March 17-18, 2018, when Trump spewed a series of angry tweets on Twitter: 

  • “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” 
  • “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
  • “A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”

In High Noon, Marshal Will Kane faced death at the hands of four cold-blooded killers. 

For Mueller, the threat is different. Every day he conducts his investigation under the shadow of being fired by a President who has: 

  • Already fired an FBI director for investigating proven links between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents;
  • Repeatedly praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin; and
  • Who has “joked” about how great it would be if the United States, like China, had a “President-for-Life.”

Mueller faces another distressing possibility: Even if he’s allowed to complete his investigation, his final report might be suppressed by Trump under a claim of “executive privilege.”

And, on October 30, 2018, details emerged about a Right-wing plot to discredit the probe by falsely accusing Mueller of sexually abusing or harassing women. 

The Special Counsel’s office issued the following statement: “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.” 

On October 29, Jacob Wohl, a Fox News contributor and Trump supporter, tweeted: “Several media sources tell me that a scandalous story about Mueller is breaking tomorrow. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!” 

Then, on October 30, Jennifer Taub, a law professor at Vermont Law School, told The Atlantic that a man working for Surefire Intelligence, a private investigative agency, had offered to pay her if she could provide dirt on Mueller.

She didn’t respond and forwarded the information to the Special Counsel’s office.

Jennifer Taub - VERMONT LAW SCHOOL

Jennifer Taub

Nor can Mueller, a lifelong Republican, count on protection from Republicans in the House and Senate.

Almost universally, they have refused to speak out against threats by Trump to fire him or deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  

Or, more importantly, to take action to prevent or punish him for doing so.

On April 17, 2018, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not allow legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s independent investigation into Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election to reach the Senate floor.  

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Mitch McConnell

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as majority leader. We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview on Fox News.                

Earlier that day, another Republican, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, claimed that legislation to protect Mueller was “unnecessary.”

“It would not be in the President’s interest to [fire Mueller] and I think he knows that,” said the Wisconsin Congressman.

Why have so few Republicans dared to stand against Trump?  

Two major reasons:

#1: Because many House and Senate Republicans received millions of dollars in “campaign contributions” from Russian oligarchs who are answerable to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

In short: Bribe monies

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The Kremlin

The following data comes from the Federal Elections Commission.

One major Russian contributor is Len Blavatnik. During the 2015-16 election cycle, he proved one of the largest donors to GOP Political Action Committees (PACs).

Blavatnik’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion. In 2016, he gave $6.35 million to GOP PACs.

In 2017, he gave millions of dollars to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina). Specifically, Blavatnik contributed:

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

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

A third oligarch, Andrew Intrater, contributed $250,000 to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.

And a fourth, Simon Kukes, contributed a total of $283,000, much of it to the Trump Victory Fund.

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 2, 2019 at 12:05 am

“O, what a fall was there, my countrymen! Then I, and you, and all of us fell down whilst bloody treason flourished over us!”

So Mark Antony mourns the assassination of his friend and mentor, Julius Caesar, in the classic play of the same name by William Shakespeare.

Millions of Americans now feel the same anguish over the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States on November 8, 2016.

And for the same reason.

True, Trump continues to wail there was “no collusion” between himself and Russian Intelligence agents to win the Presidency.

Yet an increasing onslaught of revelations spotlight the links among Trump and members of his campaign and/or Cabinet with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

And, for this, the United States owes thanks  to a 74-year-old man who has assumed the burdens created when millions of racist, hate-filled Americans deliberately sent a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator to the White House.

That man is Robert Swan Mueller III.

Like Will Kane, the embattled marshal played by Gary Cooper in High Noon, he is not a young man—born on August 7, 1944. And, like Cooper’s Will Kane, he is tall, gray-haired and tight-lipped.

But while Cooper never saw military service, Mueller did. A 1966 graduate of Princeton University, he served as a Marine Corps infantry platoon commander during the Vietnam War.

Wounded in combat, among the military awards he received were:

  • The Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for heroism (for saving a wounded Marine while under enemy fire).
  • The Purple Heart Medal (awarded for wounds in combat).
  • Two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat “V”.
  • Combat Action Ribbon.
  • National Defense Service Medal.

Having given three years of his life (1968-1971) to the Marines, Mueller devoted the rest of his life to law enforcement.

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Robert Mueller

A 1973 graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, Mueller served as:

  • United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts (1986-1987);
  • United States Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division (1990-1993);
  • United States Attorney for the Northern District of California (1998-2001);
  • United States Deputy Attorney General (January 20, 2001– May 10, 2001).

On September 4, 2001—seven days before Al Qaeda’s monstrous 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York—President George W. Bush appointed him director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Widely praised for his integrity and effectiveness, he served his full 10-year term—the legal maximum. 

But when President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he asked Mueller—a lifelong Republican—to stay on for an additional two years until a suitable replacement could be found.

Mueller agreed—and was succeeded by a fellow Justice Department colleague named James Comey.

Retiring from the FBI in 2013 at age 69, Mueller’s 27-year career as a dedicated law enforcer seemed at last to be over. 

Then, on May 9, 2017, President Donald Trump fired Comey as FBI director. There were five reasons for this:

  • Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made the “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January.
  • Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief—as was the case in the former Soviet Union.
  • Trump had tried to coerce Comey into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand. 
  • Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into well-documented contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.
  • The goal of that collaboration: To elect Trump over Hillary Clinton, a longtime foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

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James Comey

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

Kislyak is reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General, and fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. 

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

And on May 11, Trump, interviewed on NBC News by reporter Lester Holt, said: “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'”   

A national firestorm erupted—unprecedented since President Richard M. Nixon had fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox on October 20, 1973.

To squelch it, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein moved quickly.

On May 17, 2017, he appointed Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice. 

Rosenstein charged Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” 

Since then, Trump, his shills in Congress and Right-wing Fox News have relentlessly attacked Mueller’s integrity and investigative methods. 

THE REAL REASON WHY TRUMP WANTS A WALL

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 1, 2019 at 12:16 am

There’s a popular misconception about President Donald Trump and his efforts to build an illegal alien-proof Border Wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The misconception is that he simply doesn’t understand that it won’t work.

Among the obstacles to erecting such a barrier:

  • The United States/Mexican border stretches for 1,954 miles—and encompasses rivers, deserts and mountains.
  • Environmental and engineering problems.
  • Ranchers who refuse to give up any of their land.
  • Building such a wall would cost untold billions of dollars.

Another problem: The United States is surrounded by water on three sides—East, West and South. So anyone with a boat can smuggle illegal aliens into the country at any point along its 12,383 miles of coastline. 

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For those who get seasick, there’s a land route available—not across burning Mexican deserts but under them. 

Over the years, officials have found nearly 200 tunnels along the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border, mostly in Arizona and California. They range from rudimentary crawlspaces to “super tunnels” that cost more than a million dollars and are equipped with elevators, ventilation shafts electric lights, and disguised exits and entrances.

Many of those who want to infiltrate the United States can simply fly in.

Wealthy and pregnant Chinese women often fly to the United States to “anchor” themselves via a baby born on American soil. The same is true for many Russian women.

And the Number One cause of illegal immigration: Foreigners’ overstaying their visas. 

In 2017, more than 600,000 foreigners who legally entered the United States overstayed their visas and remained in the country by the end of the year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. 

A far cheaper and more effective way to combat illegal immigration is readily available through the United States Department of Justice: Simply indict the CEOs of those companies that systematically engage in violating America’s immigration laws by knowingly hiring illegals.

And slap convicted CEOs with a mandatory prison term of 20 years.

Other CEOs would take notice—and take drastic steps to ensure that their companies strictly complied with Federal immigration laws.

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So: if The Wall won’t keep out illegal aliens, why is Trump so determined to build it?

Simple: The real purpose of The Wall is not to keep illegal aliens out. It’s to keep Donald Trump in—the White House.

According to a December 17-22, 2018 Gallup poll, Trump’s approval rating stands at 39%. Fifty-five percent of Americans disapprove, and five percent had no opinion.

Trump knows he won’t win over those millions of Democrats who detest him—and especially those who salivate at his possible impeachment.

So it’s only the views of his Rightist followers that he cares about. And especially those views as expressed on the Fox News Network.

Case in point: Trump’s meeting in the Oval Office on December 11 with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY). 

Its purpose: To discuss Trump’s demand that Democrats provide $5 billion to fund his border wall—or face his shutdown of the Federal Government.

While the three agreed that “we need border security,” Pelosi and Schumer disagreed that “the wall is a part of border security.” 

Trump then bragged: “If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other…I will shut down the government. Absolutely.”

But Republican leaders in Congress didn’t want to be blamed for shutting down the government, seemed to persuade him to back away from his threat. The Senate passed a short-term funding measure without his wall money. 

Vice President Mike Pence told lawmakers that Trump was open to approving it 

Then the Fox News Network stepped in.

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“I think a lot of people who voted for President Trump counted on him on this particular issue,” Fox & Friends host Jedediah Bila said.

“I think their feet were to the fire. And you see a lot of people around the country saying: ‘Hold on a second. You told us that you weren’t afraid to shut down the government, that’s why we like you. What happened? You just gave in right away?’”

And Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter said: “Trump will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people, amused the populists for a while, but he’ll have no legacy whatsoever.

“Trump will very likely not finish his term and definitely not be elected to a second term.”

For a man who has “joked” that having a “President-for-Life” would be “great,” Coulter’s words are a nightmare.

On December 22, Trump shut down the government.

In his classic book, Language in Thought and Action, semantics professor S.I. Hayakawa noted: “The symbol is not the thing.”

Yet for Trump’s fanatical base, the symbol is the thing. So if Trump builds a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border, they believe that, alone, will stop all illegal immigration

Even if hard, objective evidence overwhelmingly proves it won’t.

Trump may know that it won’t. But if he does, he doesn’t care.

He knows that his base believes it will. And he knows they won’t re-elect him if he doesn’t “build the wall.”

Maintaining himself in power and publicity is all that he has ever cared about—and all that he truly cares about now.

THE ULTIMATE NEW YEAR’S EVE

In History, Social commentary on December 31, 2018 at 12:12 am

New Year’s Eve, 2018, will soon lie behind us.

But for those who consciously lived through Friday, December 31, 1999, there will never be another New Year’s Eve like it.

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for people to reflect on the major events of the previous 12 months. Some of these are highly personal. Others have been shared by the entire country.

Some of these remembrances inevitably bring pleasure. Others bring pain.

But at the heart of every New Year’s Eve celebration is the fantasy that you get to start fresh in a matter of hours. And with that fantasy comes hope—that, this time, you can put your sorrows and failures behind you.

New Year’s Eve, 1999, was marked far more by apprehension and fear than joy.

  • Fear of Y2K—that our highly computerized, globally-interconnected world would crash when the “19″ at the start of every year was replaced with a “20″.
  • Fear of Armageddon—that Jesus, after dying 2,000 years ago, would return to destroy mankind (except for those 144,000 righteous souls He deemed worthy of salvation).
  • Fear of the Millennium itself—of ending not simply another decade and century but an entire thousand-year period of history, and thus losing our historical ties to the familiar highlights of our own (and America’s) past.

And, especially where Y2K was concerned, news commentators were quick to stoke our anxieties.

For those living on the West Coast of the United States on December 31, 1999, the day began with news reports of celebrations of the New Year in such distant countries as Australia and New Zealand.

“So far,” each of these reports ended, “there have been no reports of Y2K-related outages.”

But the underlying message was clear: Stay tuned—it could still happen. And this message kept blaring for the rest of the day and into the evening.

Long before New Year’s Eve, TV newscasters repeatedly warned that, when midnight struck on January 1, 2000, the three places you did not want to be were:

  • In an airplane.
  • In an elevator.
  • In a hospital.

Countless numbers of people in America and around the world stocked up on food, water, batteries and other essentials for surviving an emergency.

Merchants and police feared widespread rioting and violence. If Y2K didn’t set it off, then fears of a heaven-sent Apocalypse might.

In San Francisco, along Powell Street—a major center of tourism and commerce—store owners boarded up their doors and windows as New Year’s Eve approached. Many closed earlier than usual that day.

At 9 p.m. California time, a friend of mine turned off a VCR and turned on a local news station to watch celebrations—or chaos—unfold in New York City.

If the lights went off in New York at midnight Eastern time, then, in three more hours, the same would happen in California.

When he saw lights glittering in Times Square, he felt reasonably certain that Y2K would probably be a dud.

Fortunately, no Y2K disasters occurred.

Three people I know decided to throw an “End of the World” party. They didn’t believe the world was coming to an end. But they decided to throw an “absolute last blast” party as though it were.

Among the items they stockpiled for this occasion:

  1. Country pork spareribs
  2. Yams
  3. Crabs
  4. Apple cider
  5. Black olives
  6. Fresh cranberries
  7. Avocados 
  8. Chocolate chip ice cream
  9. Lambrusco
  10. Gin and tonic water
  11. Root beer
  12. Smoked cheese
  13. Artichoke hearts
  14. Pumpkin cream mousse cake
  15. Chocolate cake
  16. Pickles
  17. Asparagus 
  18. Tortilla chips
  19. Picante sauce  

It was definitely an unforgettable night.

New Year’s Eve 1999 is now 16 years distant. But some lessons may still be learned from it:

Each year is a journey unto itself–filled with countless joys and sorrows. Many of these joys can’t be predicted. And many of these tragedies can’t be prevented.

Learn to tell real dangers from imaginary ones. Computers are real—and sometimes they crash. Men who died 2,000 years ago do not leap out of graveyards, no matter what their disciples predict.

Don’t expect any particular year to usher in the Apocalypse. In any given year there will be wars, famines, earthquakes, riots, floods and a host of other disasters. These have always been with us–and always will be. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

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Don’t expect some Great Leader to lead you to success. As Gaius Cassius says in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Men at some time are masters of their fate. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Don’t expect any particular year or event to usher in your happiness. To again quote Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

If your life seems to make no sense to you, consider this: The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once noted: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE HATED, THE FORGOTTEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 27, 2018 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 JFK’s wit and good looks with LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety—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.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump: Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

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Donald Trump

Since taking office almost two years ago, 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.

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