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WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 3, 2020 at 12:50 am

The appointment of Robert S. Mueller as Special Counsel aroused unprecedented hopes and fears.

Foes of President Donald Trump hoped that Mueller would unearth evidence of criminality—if not treason—blatant enough to guarantee his impeachment.

Supporters of Trump—starting with the President—feared that this would be the case. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump that a Special Counsel had been appointed, the President exclaimed, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”

Yet even before the release of the long-awaited Mueller report, several deeply-researched and well-written books outlined Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 Presidential race. And they cast devastating light on Trump’s loyalty to the United States.  

Among these:

  • The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of Democracy, by Greg Miller
  • House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia, by Craig Unger
  • Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, by Michael Isikoff
  • The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West, by Malcom W. Nance

According to its blurb on Amazon.com, The Apprentice is “based on interviews with hundreds of people in Trump’s inner circle, current and former government officials, individuals with close ties to the White House, members of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, foreign officials, and confidential documents.”

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Among the subjects it covers:

  • The Trump Tower meeting, where the Trump campaign sought “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from Russian Intelligence agents;
  • The penetration by Russian Intelligence of computer systems used by Democrats;
  • How Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, tried to set up a secret back channel to Moscow via Russian diplomatic facilities;
  • Trump’s giving Russian officials highly classified secrets supplied by Israeli Intelligence;
  • Trump’s clashes with the FBI and CIA.

Miller is a veteran investigative journalist and twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Among his stories: National security adviser Michael Flynn’s discussing U.S. sanctions with Russian officials prior to Trump’s inauguration. The story contributed to Flynn’s ouster.

Then there’s House of Trump, House of Putin, whose jacket blurb describes Trump’s inauguration as “the culmination of Vladimir Putin’s long mission to undermine Western democracy, a mission that he and his hand-selected group of oligarchs and Mafia kingpins had ensnared Trump in, starting more than twenty years ago with the massive bailout of a string of sensational Trump hotel and casino failures in Atlantic City.  

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia

“…Craig Unger methodically traces the deep-rooted alliance between the highest echelons of American political operatives and the biggest players in the frightening underworld of the Russian Mafia. He traces Donald Trump’s sordid ascent from foundering real estate tycoon to leader of the free world….

“Without Trump, Russia would have lacked a key component in its attempts to return to imperial greatness. Without Russia, Trump would not be president.”

As an appendix to the book, Unger writes: “Donald Trump has repeatedly said he has nothing to do with Russia. Below are fifty-nine Trump connections to Russia.”

Russian Roulette, according to its dust jacket, “is a story of political skullduggery unprecedented in American history. It weaves together tales of international intrigue, cyber espionage, and superpower rivalry.

“After U.S.-Russia relations soured, as Vladimir Putin moved to reassert Russian strength on the global stage, Moscow trained its best hackers and trolls on U.S. political targets and exploited WikiLeaks to disseminate information that could affect the 2016 election.

“The Russians were wildly successful and the great break-in of 2016 was no ‘third-rate burglary.’ It was far more sophisticated and sinister—a brazen act of political espionage designed to interfere with American democracy. At the end of the day, Trump, the candidate who pursued business deals in Russia, won….

“This story of high-tech spying and multiple political feuds is told against the backdrop of Trump’s strange relationship with Putin and the curious ties between members of his inner circle—including Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn—and Russia.”

Malcom Nance, the author of The Plot to Destroy Democracy, is an Intelligence and foreign policy analyst and media commentator on terrorism, intelligence, insurgency and torture. 

In his book, he outlines how “Donald Trump was made President of the United States with the assistance of a foreign power. 

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West

“[It is] the dramatic story of how blackmail, espionage, assassination, and psychological warfare were used by Vladimir Putin and his spy agencies to steal the 2016 U.S. election—and attempted to bring about the fall of NATO, the European Union, and western democracy….

“Nance has utilized top secret Russian-sourced political and hybrid warfare strategy documents to demonstrate the master plan to undermine American institutions that has been in effect from the Cold War to the present day.

“Based on original research and countless interviews with espionage experts, Nance examines how Putin’s recent hacking accomplished a crucial first step for destabilizing the West for Russia, and why Putin is just the man to do it.”

These books—combined with the findings of the Mueller report—clearly establish the damning conclusion: The man now sitting in the Oval Office is an illegitimate usurper, installed by an unholy alliance of American Fascists and Russian Communists.

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 2, 2020 at 12:08 am

Yet another example of Donald Trump’s treason occurred on January 20, 2017—the day he became the 45th President of the United States: Michael Flynn became the nation’s 25th National Security Adviser.

Flynn was a former United States Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

TREASON EXAMPLE #5 On February 8, Flynn denied having spoken to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, 2016, about removing the sanctions placed on Russia by the outgoing Obama administration.

The sanctions had been placed in retaliation for Russia’s efforts to manipulate the 2016 Presidential election.

On February 13, The Washington Post reported that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned Trump in late January that Flynn had lied about his contacts with Kislyak—and that he could be blackmailed by Russian Intelligence. 

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Sally Yates

Flynn was forced to resign that same day—after only 24 days as National Security Adviser.

Officially, the reason given was that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence. But Flynn’s deception had already been known—via the warning to Trump by Yates.

Only after Yates’ warning became known to the media was Flynn forced to resign.  

The same Washington Post story reported that, in December, 2015, he had appeared on Russia Today, the news network that American Intelligence agencies consider “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.” 

He had also received more than $45,000 as a “speaking fee” from the network for a talk on world affairs. At the gala where Flynn received the fee, he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin for dinner.

Flynn did not file the required paperwork for the trip. Nor did he report the “fee” to the Pentagon.

On December 1, 2017, Flynn appeared in federal court to formalize a deal with Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.  He plead guilty to a felony count of “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI

TREASON EXAMPLE #6 On May 9, 2017, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for investigating Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential race. 

There were four reasons for this:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 Putin. 

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James Comey

TREASON EXAMPLE #7 On May 10, Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office—and gave them highly classified Israeli Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.

Kislyak is reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, then 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.”        

TREASON EXAMPLE #8 On July 16, 2018, Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

There he blamed American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—as partners in a conspiracy: “You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server, why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? 

“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” 

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Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin in Helsinki

TREASON EXAMPLE #9  On June 9, 2018, Trump called for Russia to be readmitted to the G7.  

“I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in,” he said during an impromptu press conference at the summit.

“I think it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for Russia. I think it would be good for the United States. I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7. I think the G8 would be better.”  

Russia was ousted from the group in 2014 after Putin annexed Crimea—the first violation of a European country’s borders since World War II. 

“Today crystallizes precisely why Putin was so eager to see Trump elected,” said former Obama National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

“For Putin, this is return on his investment, and it’s safe to say that his investment has paid off beyond even his wildest dreams,” he said in a statement to CNN.   

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 1, 2020 at 12:15 am

Donald Trump—as the Republican nominee for President—steadfastly refused to acknowledge his decades-long relationship with Russia. On October 24, 2016, he stated: “I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, I’ll give you a written statement.” 

In fact, Trump had a highly profitable relationship with Russia—as his two sons, Donald, Jr., and Eric, unintentionally revealed: 

In 2008, Donald Trump, Jr. said at a New York real estate conference: “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets….We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

And Trump’s son, Eric, said in 2014: “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

So any statement Trump gave—oral or written–on that relationship was a lie.

Nor did Trump have any qualms about appointing men with ties to Russian officials to high posts. One of these—Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State—has already been mentioned.

Another was Jeff Sessions, whom he nominated as Attorney General. During the 2016 campaign, Sessions—then serving as a surrogate for Trump’s campaign—twice spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But during his Senate confirmation hearings, Sessions denied that he had had “communications with the Russians” during the campaign.

The discovery of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian Intelligence agents led the FBI to investigate Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.

TREASON EXAMPLE #4: Trump has repeatedly praised and defended Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

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Vladimir Putin

On December 18, 2015, Trump appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Its host, Joe Scarborough, was upset by Trump’s praise for Putin: 

SCARBOROUGH: Well, I mean, [he’s] also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?

TRUMP: He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: But again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.

TRUMP: I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.

On October 7, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement blaming the Russian government for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. Its motive: “To interfere with the US election process.”

Two days later, Trump publicly stated: “But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are—Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia.”

On December 16, 2016, FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. agreed with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House. 

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Trump, however, steadfastly denied any such role by Russia: “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it….No, I don’t believe it at all.”

Clinton Watts, a consultant to the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division, is an expert on cyberwarfare. 

Testifying before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 30, 2017, Watts outlined cyberwarfare measures that Russia used to subvert the 2016 Presidential campaign. 

This pattern of Russian falsehoods and social media manipulation of the American electorate continued through Election Day and persists today.

Many of the accounts we watched push the false Incirlik story in July now focus their efforts on shaping the upcoming European elections, promoting fears of immigration or false claims of refugee criminality.  

They’ve not forgotten about the United States either. This past week, we observed social media campaigns targeting Speaker of the House Paul Ryan hoping to foment further unrest amongst U.S. democratic institutions, their leaders and their constituents. 

As we noted two days before the Presidential election in our article describing Russian influence operations, Russia certainly seeks to promote Western candidates sympathetic to their worldview and foreign policy objectives.

But winning a single election is not their end goal. Russian Active Measures hope to topple democracies through the pursuit of five complementary objectives: 

  1. Undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance;
  2. Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures;
  3. Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions;
  4. Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations;
  5. Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

From these objectives, the Kremlin can crumble democracies from the inside out creating political divisions resulting in two key milestones:

  1. The dissolution of the European Union and 
  2. The break up of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO).

TREASON EXAMPLE #5 On January 20, 2017—the day Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States—Michael Flynn took office as the nation’s 25th National Security Adviser.

Flynn, a former United States Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, seemed the perfect choice for safeguarding the country’s security.

Two days later, The Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn was under investigation by U.S. counterintelligence agents for his secret communications with Russian officials. 

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 30, 2020 at 12:20 am

American Intelligence officials have told The New York Times and the Associated Press that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan.  

In early 2020, members of the elite SEAL Team Six raided a Taliban outpost and recovered roughly $500,000 in American cash. The recovered funds led the American intelligence community to believe that the government of Vladimir Putin had offered money to Taliban militants to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Additional confirmation came from the interrogations of captured militants and criminals. 

As early as January, the SEALS in Afghanistan alerted their superiors of this danger.

President Donald Trump—who receives Intelligence from a wide range of military and civilian agencies—claims he wasn’t briefed on these Intelligence assessments. He made his denial through White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany: The information had not been “verified.” 

This despite the fact that every morning he receives the President’s Daily Briefing, a top-secret document containing highly classified Intelligence analysis.

In fact, the Intelligence assessment has been under discussion within the Trump administration since at least March.

From the outset, Trump has acted like a guilty man desperate to stop an investigation before it uncovers the full extent of his criminality and treason. 

TREASON EXAMPLE #1 On July 9, 2016, high-ranking members of his Presidential campaign met at Trump Tower with at least two lobbyists who had ties to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. The participants included:

  • Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr.;
  • His son-in-law, Jared Kushner;
  • His then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort; 
  • Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with ties to Putin; and 
  • Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected of having ongoing ties to Russian Intelligence.

The purpose of that meeting: To gain access to any “dirt” Russian Intelligence could supply on Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. 

Trump originally claimed that the meeting was “about the adoption of Russian children.” Eventually he admitted that it had been “a meeting to get information on an opponent.”

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Donald Trump

TREASON EXAMPLE #2 On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Early reports traced the leak to Russian hackers. 

On July 27, 2016, during his campaign for President, Trump said at a press conference in Doral, Florida: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing [from Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computer]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

This was nothing less than treason—calling upon a foreign power, hostile to the United States, to interfere in its Presidential election.

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

Clinton Watts is a consultant and researcher on cyberwarfare. He has served as

  • An FBI Special Agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF);
  • The Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC); and
  • A consultant to the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division (CTD) and National Security Branch (NSB). 

In a statement he prepared for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Watts outlined cyberwarfare measures that Russia used to subvert the 2016 Presidential campaign. 

He delivered this on March 30. 2017. Part of this reads as follows: 

Through the end of 2015 and start of 2016, the Russian influence system….began pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election.

Russia’s overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views toward the Kremlin. The final months leading up to the election have been the predominate focus of Russian influence discussions to date.

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Clinton Watts

However, Russian Active Measures were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season and may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed. 

The final piece of Russia’s modern Active Measures surfaced in the summer of 2016 as hacked materials from previous months were strategically leaked.

On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks released troves of stolen communications from the Democratic National Committee and later batches of campaign emails. Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks revealed hacked information from a host of former U.S. government officials throughout July and August 2016.

For the remainder of the campaign season, this compromising material powered the influence system Russia successfully constructed in the previous two years.

TREASON EXAMPLE #3 Throughout 2016, the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) found numerous ties between officials of the Trump Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.  

And many of those Trump appointed to office had strong ties to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of these was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In 2013, as the chief executive of ExxonMobil, he was presented with Russia’s Order of Friendship award. He had just signed deals with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft. Its chief, Igor Sechin, is a loyal Putin lieutenant.

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Rex Tillerson

YOUR CORONAVIRUS CZAR

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 16, 2020 at 12:09 am

On February 26, President Donald Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead a task force to combat the spread of the Coronavirus. 

In doing so, he rejected calls to appoint an outside medical expert.

This put the Federal medical establishment under a trusted sycophant—and gave Trump a convenient scapegoat if something went wrong.

So here’s what America is getting as its medical savior.

Michael Richard “Mike” Pence served as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013. He also served as Chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009 to 2012.  His record included:

  • Voted, in 2007, to defund Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions.
  • Opposed, in 2009, giving American citizenship to children born to illegal aliens living within the United States.
  • Compared the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • Voted to eliminate funding for climate education programs and to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2012, he ran for Governor of Indiana, won the election, and assumed this office in 2013.

As Governor, Pence: 

  • Signed legislation in 2015 that repealed an 80-year-old Indiana law requiring construction companies working on publicly funded projects to pay a prevailing wage.
  • Successfully lobbied in 2013 to limit reductions in sentences for marijuana offenses.

On July 15, 2016, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he had selected Pence as his Vice Presidential running mate in the 2016 Presidential election.

But for all of Pence’s actions as Congressman and Governor, the one which may prove the most far-reaching may be this: His signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As Governor of Indiana, he did this on March 26, 2015. The law allows any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

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Mike Pence

Officially, its intent is to prevent the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs. Unofficially, its purpose is to appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party.

Thus, a bakery can legally refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding or a restaurant can refuse to serve lesbian patrons.

And a hospital can refuse to provide care to a gay or lesbian patient. 

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature.  

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Pence said in a statement on the day he signed the bill.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Yet for all his praise for the bill, Pence signed it in a ceremony closed to the public and the press. The media were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.

At least one unintended consequence of that legislation has already surfaced: The First Church of Cannabis.

The day after Pence signed the Act, church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that he had filed paperwork with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State.

Its registration had been approved—and Levin was ecstatic: “Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.

“Donate $100 or more and become a GREEN ANGEL. Donate $500 or more and become a GOLD ANGEL. Donate $1000 or more and become a CHURCH POOHBA.”

This legislation has not only brought legal marijuana to Indiana. It may bring Sharia law as well.

Since 9/11, Right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America. And now Indiana’s legislators, in elevating religion above the law, may have laid the legal foundations for making that possible.

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Muslims demanding the imposition of Sharia law–on themselves and non-Muslims

What will happen when: 

  • Muslims in Indiana claim their right—guaranteed in Islamic religious law—to have as many as four wives?  
  • Muslims demand a taxpayer-funded “halal” non-pork food shelf at free food pantries for the poor? (Exactly this happened among Somali refugees in Minnesota in 2015.) 
  • Muslims demand that police departments cancel counter-terrorism courses by claiming that their materials are anti-Muslim? (Exactly this happened to several police departments in Illinois.)

And when they claim that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects those rights? 

Now that Pence is Coronizavirus Czar, it’s essential to remember:

  • In 2001, when he ran for Congress, he posted on his campaign website: “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”
  • As a Congressman, Pence voted against legislation allowing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry.
  • During a CNN panel in 2002 about abstinence education, Pence said: “Frankly, condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.”
  • In 2015, Indiana had an unprecedented HIV outbreak. Although the Centers for Disease Control recommended clean needle exchanges, Pence, as governor, opposed this.

As the Coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the United States as it has Italy, the appointment of Mike Pence as America’s Dr. Marcus Welby is not an event to celebrate.

THE TRUE LEGACY OF TRUMP’S IMPEACHMENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 5, 2020 at 12:13 am

On December 10, 2019, Sarah Jones, editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA, did what Senate Republicans fear to do: She openly declared Donald J. Trump to be an illegitimate President whose removal is entirely justified.

She did so in an editorial titled, “Adam Schiff Tells Trump That He Won’t Be Allowed To Cheat In 2020.”

“On Tuesday as House Democrats made the formal announcement of articles of impeachment against President Trump, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gave a perfectly accurate rebuttal to the plea that Democrats should ‘just wait’ on impeachment, saying that those who argue ‘just wait’ are actually arguing ‘just let him cheat in one more election’ and ‘let him have foreign help just one more time,’” wrote Jones. [Italics added]

To underscore her point, Jones concluded: “Trump’s cheating is finally being acknowledged and punished.

“This matters because after three years of pretending that Trump is the rightful president, it is finally being acknowledged that not only is he trying to cheat in 2020, but it is again, because he cheated in 2016.

“For three years this nation has endured the abuses of this pretender and his entire party of lock step enablers, save for Rep. Amash of Michigan.

“For three long years those who suggested Trump was not a legitimate president were shamed and silenced, even after the Mueller report made it clear that the Trump campaign sought illegal help and took illegal help from Russia in the 2016 election.

“Now that Trump is again seeking foreign help to undermine our elections and in so doing, attacking our national security and core values — and only due to the bravery of whistleblowers got caught red-handed — the entitled, privileged, faux-wealthy con artist poorly playing president has finally been called what he is: A cheat.

“A cheating cheater.

“A loser.

“A man who can’t win an election and did not win an election of the people fairly.

“Donald Trump can’t win an election without cheating. He knows that, and that’s why it upsets him so much to be called out for his illegal actions.

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Donald Trump

Trump is used to getting away with his criminal entitlements, but today, even if just for a moment before Republicans in the Senate betray their country again by letting Trump off as he attacks the United States, justice has been spoken and served.”  [Italics added]

Before Republicans in the Senate betray their country again by letting Trump off….

Jones clearly has no patience for those who insist on playing a game of “Let’s Pretend.” As in: “Let’s pretend that Republicans care more about the Constitution and the security of the nation than about attaining dictatorial power.”

In September, 2019, the House Intelligence Committee began investigating Trump’s attempt to coerce Ukraine to smear a 2020 political rival for the White House—former Vice President Joseph Biden.

And every day of its hearings, Republicans loudly and brutally defended that extortion.

  • They didn’t offer any evidence that Trump didn’t try to extort an ally.
  • They simply attacked the witnesses who dared to come forward and testify to their own knowledge of it.
  • They attacked Schiff, who heads that committee, demanding self-righteously that he resign.

And they continued to do so throughout the Senate “trial”—where they banned witnesses from testifying about Trump’s impeachable behavior.

It’s a certainty that the Republican-dominated Senate (53 to 47 Democrats) will once again serve as Trump’s “party of lock step enablers.”

But there is a way to put the impeachment effort into historical perspective.

In 1960, David Hackworth was a young Army captain stationed in West Germany. The end of World War II had revealed the horror of Nazi death camps and the extermination of millions. To everyone, that is, but the Germans.

David Hackworth

One winter’s day, Hackworth took his wife, Patty, to Dachau, the infamous concentration camp. In his 1989 memoir, About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, he describes that experience:

“The horror of Hitler’s vision was alive and well in this grim death camp: the barracks, the ovens, the electrified barbed wire fences, remained intact. A mound here held the bones of 10,000 Jews; one over there held the bones of 12,000 more.

“The place was a monument to the darkest side of man, and yet—despite the smoke and ash that rained down on their homes from camp incinerators, despite the sickly smell of burning flesh and hair….the villagers claimed they hadn’t known. I couldn’t square it….”

Nor could Hackworth accept that “not one of the laughing, backslapping, congenial comrades I met…had fought the Americans in the West. All assured me they’d been on the Eastern Front, fighting ‘the real enemy,’ the Russians….

“In 15 years the Germans had come a long way in their rewrite of history. But at least there’s Dachau, I thought to myself, to remind them of the truth.”

So, too, will the impeachment of Donald Trump stand as a monument to the sheer evil and infamy of himself and the Republican party.

And it will remind future generations that there were decent Americans who dared to confront that evil in a stand as hopeless and glorious as that at Thermopylae and the Alamo.

RED IS THE COLOR OF REPUBLICAN RUBLES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on January 31, 2020 at 12:05 am

On July 24, 2019, former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III finally addressed Congress on Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

Mueller had spent almost two years uncovering links between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign.

In his report, Mueller documented years of meddling in American politics by the Internet Research Agency, which runs the Kremlin’s online disinformation efforts from its headquarters in St. Petersburg.

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Robert Mueller

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, the Agency reached 126 million Americans through fake accounts on Facebook. 

Hours later that same day, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) blocked the passage of three bills designed to tighten election security at the federal level. She claimed that Congress had already responded to election security needs for the 2020 Presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) came to the Senate floor the next day to personally object to House-passed legislation backed by Democrats. 

From 1945 to 2015, it was unthinkable for a Republican Presidential candidate to pay tribute to a Soviet dictator.

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

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Donald Trump

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

The reason for the Trump-Putin bromance: Each had something to offer the other.

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

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

And monies. These Russian monies were officially classified as “campaign contributions,” not bribes.

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

On July 27, Trump said at a press conference in Doral, Florida: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing [from Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computer]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

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

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

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

According to the Federal Election Commission:

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

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

Millions of dollars went to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina).

Specifically, he contributed:

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

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

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

As Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell 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 is just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 election

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

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

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

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

A HEROIC SIEGE—AND A WARNING FOR AMERICA

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 27, 2020 at 12:04 am

January 26, 2020, marked the 135th anniversary of the fall of Khartoum, the Sudanese city that sits on the banks of the White and Blue Nile Rivers.

The siege and fall of Khartoum is one of the truly epic stories of military history.

From March 18, 1884, to January 26, 1885, the charisma and military genius of one man—British General Charles George Gordon—held at bay an army of thousands of fanatical Islamics intent on slaughtering everyone in the city.

Khartoum in 1888—four years after the siege

At stake were the lives of Khartoum’s 30,000 residents.

By comparison: The defenders of the Alamo—a far better-known battle, in 1836—numbered no more than 250.  And the siege of the San Antonio mission lasted only 13 days against an army of about 2,000 Mexicans.

The Alamo

Gordon’s story may seem antiquated.  But it resembles the efforts Republicans made to pressure the Obama administration to commit ground forces to “freeing” Syria of its longtime dictator, “President” Bashir al-Assad.

The neocons of the George W. Bush Administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003. After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves waging a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

And then, with Syria, Americans were being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they knew nothing about—and in which they had absolutely no stake.

On one side was the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbollah and elements in the Iraqi government. Hizbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.

A sworn enemy of Israel, it has kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hizbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.

It is intolerant of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics—and thus worthy of extermination.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

In short, it’s a Muslim-vs.Muslim “holy war.

It’s all very reminiscent of events in the 1966 epic film, Khartoum, starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles George Gordon. 

Charlton Heston (left); Charles George Gordon (right)

In 1884, the British government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.

Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi” (“The Expected One”) and raised the cry of jihad.

Laurence Oliver (left); Mohammed Achmed (“The Madhi”)

The Madhi (played by Lawrence Olivier) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan and exterminate all those Muslims who do not practice his “pure” version of Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants. Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also finds he has underestimated the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear. He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan. It has sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opinion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.  

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relief expedition to save him.

Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force—which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

George W. Joy’s famous—and romanticized—painting of “The Death of Gordon”

(Actually, the best historical evidence  indicates that Gordon fought to the last with pistol and sword before being overwhelmed by his dervish enemies.)  

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn—and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.  

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, military unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of Khartoum intones at the close of the film: “For 15 years the British paid the price with shame and war.”  

There is a blunt lesson for Americans to learn from this episode—and from the 1966 movie Khartoum itself.   

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001—first in Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infrastructure, millions living in poverty and trillions of dollars in debt.

It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations—especially those wholly alien to American values.

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

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

Republicans constantly revile the very government they lust to control.

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

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

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

United States Holocaust Museum   

At 88, von Brunn died in jail awaiting trial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Service agents protecting President Barack Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where

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

The White House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donald Trump

The effects of the shutdown quickly became evident:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford’s Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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