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UPDATING MURROW FOR OUR TIME: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2018 at 12:23 am

On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow, the most respected broadcast journalist in America, outlined the career and demagogic tactics of Wisconsin United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

He did so on his CBS news show, “See It Now,” at the height of the “Red Scare” hysteria that McCarthy had whipped up four years earlier.

Virtually any American could find himself accused of being a Communist, or a “Comsymp,” or a “fellow traveler.” Such an act could rob him of friends, family, his job, even his liberty on the flimsiest of evidence.

Meanwhile, Republicans cowered before McCarthy’s attacks on the press, the military, the judiciary and law enforcement—or joined his chorus. Protecting the nation’s social and political institutions took a distant second place to attacking Democrats as Communist traitors.

Today, 64 years later, another demagogue—Donald Trump—casts an even darker shadow across the land. As the President of the United States, he commands far more power than McCarthy ever did. 

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Donald Trump

  • He freely slanders anyone—famous or anonymous, athlete or disabled, politician or philosopher—who dares contradict him. Or for whom he simply takes a disliking to.
  • He fired FBI Director James Comey for refusing to pledge his personal loyalty—the way Joseph Stalin expected his secret police chiefs to operate.
  • He hounded Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe into resigning, and then fired him 24 hours before he was to receive his pension after 21 years of sterling service.
  • He fired his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson—by tweet—while Tillerson was still on an official visit to Africa.
  • He has, in short, forced most Americans to re-think their longtime assumption that a dictatorship can’t happen here.

Today, only those Republicans who have decided to retire from Congress dare to criticize Trump. The rest fear he will aim a nasty tweet at them—and cost them Fascistic voters,  perhaps even their offices.

Meanwhile, Robert Mueller—a career prosecutor with the highest reputation for integrity—struggles to discover the truth about Russian electoral subversion and the Trump campaign’s collusion in it.

Every day he faces the danger of being fired by the very man whose criminal associates he’s investigating. And yet Republicans refuse to enact a law that would protect him against such abuse of power.

At this time, Murrow’s warnings about Joseph McCarthy need to be seriously reconsidered. Just substitute “President” for “Junior Senator” and “Trump” for “McCarthy,” and Murrow’s text could have been written yesterday.

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 Edward R. Murrow

On one thing the [President] has been consistent. Often operating as a one-man committee, he has traveled far, [defamed] many, terrorized some, accused civilian and military leaders of the past administration of a great conspiracy to turn over the country to [terrorism], [slamdered] and substantially demoralized the present State Department….

He has [slandered] a varied assortment of what he calls [“the enemy of the American people.”]

Republican Senator Flanders of Vermont said of [Trump] today: “He dons war paint; he goes into his war dance; he emits his war whoops; he goes forth to battle and proudly returns with the scalp of a pink army dentist.”

It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the [President of the United States] has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of [terrorism].

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another.

We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose [President Trump’s] methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.

There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the [President of the United States] have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his.

He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

UPDATING MURROW FOR OUR TIME: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 20, 2018 at 12:04 am

During the 1950s, Wisconsin United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy rode a wave of paranoia to national prominence–by attacking the patriotism of anyone who disagreed with him.

Joseph McCarthy

Elected to the Senate in 1946, he rose to national prominence on February 9, 1950, after giving a fiery speech in Wheeling, West Virginia:

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”

No American—no matter how prominent—was safe from the accusation of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer—”a Comsymp” or “fellow traveler” in the style of the era.

Among those accused:

  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had overseen America’s strategy for defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan;
  • President Harry S. Truman;
  • Playwrights Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller;
  • Actors Charlie Chaplin, Zero Mostel, Lloyd Bridges, Howard Da Silva, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield;
  • Composers Arron Copland and Elmer Bernstein;
  • Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who presided over the creation of America’s atomic bomb;
  • Actresses Lee Grant, Delores del Rio, Ruth Gordon and Lucille Ball;
  • Journalists Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer, who had chronicled the rise of Nazi Germany;
  • Folksinger Pete Seeger;
  • Writers Irwin Shaw, Howard Fast, John Steinbeck and Dashiell Hammett.

Even “untouchable” Republicans became targets for such slander.

The most prominent of these was President Dwight D. Eisenhower–labeled ”a conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy” by Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society in 1958.

On March 9, 1954, at the height of the McCarthy hysteria, Edward R. Murrow, the most respected broadcast journalist in America, delivered a powerful blow against the Senator’s dictatorial tactics and agenda. He did so on his high-rated CBS program, “See It Now.”

Edward R. Murrow

Today, 64 years later, Murrow’s eloquent appeal for moral courage in the face of tyranny still stands, and is still worth remembering.

This is especially true since the United States finds itself once again endangered by a fearful demagogue. But this one is even more dangerous than McCarthy.

For, unlike McCarthy, he commands the Justice Department to bludgeon his “enemies” at home and the Defense Department to literally destroy any country he dislikes abroad.

He is the President of the United States: Donald J. Trump.

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Donald Trump

Even before taking office on January 20, 2017, he was dogged by charges that Russian Intelligence agents had aided his 2016 Presidential campaign. And that members of his campaign had actively colluded with them.

The FBI, headed by James Comey, was then investigating that alleged collusion. Then, on May 8, 2017, Trump abruptly fired Comey from his position as FBI director.

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 Mueller to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice.

Mueller had dedicated almost his entire adult life to serving the Justice Department:

  • United States Attorney for 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) and
  • Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2001-2013);

Mueller had amassed a solid reputation for integrity and efficiency. So highly respected was he that when he planned to retire after serving out the mandatory 10-year term as FBI director, both Democrats and Republicans prevailed on him to stay on until President Barack Obama could find a suitable replacement for him.

That replacement turned out to be James Comey, Mueller’s former deputy director at the FBI.

Rosenstein now 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.”

Trump has claimed from the outset that there was “no collusion” between him and members of Russia’s Intelligence community.

But he has acted like a guilty man desperate to stop the investigation before it uncovers the full extent of his criminality.

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

From the outset of that investigation, there have been widespread fears that Trump would fire Mueller, just as he did Comey.

Those fears increased over the weekend of Marcy 17-18, 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!”

REPUBLICANS: FINDING COMMON CAUSE WITH COMMIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 1, 2018 at 12:08 am

There was a time when Republicans saw—and portrayed themselves—as America’s foremost defenders against Communism.

This was particularly true during the early 1950s. Case in point: Wisconsin United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. 

Elected to the Senate in 1946, he rose to national prominence on February 9, 1950, after giving a fiery speech in Wheeling, West Virginia: 

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”

Joseph McCarthy

No American—no matter how prominent—was safe from the accusation of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer—”a Comsymp” or “fellow traveler” in the style of the era.

So Red-baiting Republicans like McCarthy and then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon would feel dumbfounded at the following news: 

On February 20, a purge of Russian “bots” by Twitter sparked outrage by—yes!—Right-wingers. 

Bots are fake accounts used to spread propaganda or advertising campaigns. Investigations by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have uncovered massive efforts by Russia to throw the 2016 Presidential election to Donald Trump.

Their weapon of choice: Swamping “social media” sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter with genuinely fake news. 

The Twitter purge came a week after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies for interfering in that election. The indictments detailed an elaborate plot to wage “information warfare” against the United States. 

Right-wingers suddenly found thousands of their Russian bot followers had disappeared—and accused Twitter of secretly deleting like-minded accounts.

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“Twitter is currently purging the followers on conservative accounts only. I just lost 3000 followers in one minute,” tweeted Candace Owens, director of urban engagement for Turning Point USA.  This is a student organization promoting limited government and free markets.  

Bill Mitchell, a Right-winger known for his controversial tweets defending President Donald Trump, claimed that he lost roughly 4,000 followers overnight.  

“This is a damn joke,” tweeted Mike Zollo. “Twitter is absolutely censoring conservative and right wing speech for no damn reason other than their disagreement with it. But, liberals can write vile comments and threaten us with no punishment.”

From the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it would have been unthinkable for a Republican Presidential candidate to find common cause with a Soviet dictator.

But that utterly changed when Donald Trump won, first, the Republican Presidential nomination and, then, the White House. Trump lavishly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin—and even called on him to directly interfere in the 2016 Presidential race.

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. 

“Russia, if you are listening,” Trump said at a press conference in Doral, Florida, “I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing—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.

On December 16, 2016, then-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, has 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.”   

The last time dictator-worshiping Fascists found common cause with dictator-worshiping Communists was in August, 1939. 

Germany’s Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin agreed to end—at least temporarily—their years of violent rivalry and personal slander. 

The reason: Hitler planned to invade Poland, and feared he would have to fight its allies, France and England, if he did.  He didn’t want to have to fight the Soviet Union, too.

And Stalin saw Hitler’s warlike ambitions as useful to his own dreams of conquest: He wanted—and got—the eastern half of Poland, while Hitler’s legions occupied the western half. 

So why would Donald Trump—the arch capitalist—find common cause with Vladimir Putin, the arch Communist?

Simple: Each had something the other wanted.

First, Putin: He wanted a President who would withdraw the United States from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—which would instantly render that alliance kaput. And give Russia a free hand to attack Europe.

And Trump had repeatedly said the United States was paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain that alliance. 

Then, Trump: He wanted to be President—to enrich himself and his family, to become the center of the world’s attention, and to destroy anyone who dared confront or contradict him. 

And in supporting his dictatorial agenda, his millions of Right-wing followers have found common cause with the followers of a Communist dictator’s agenda.  

HUMOR VS. HITMEN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Humor, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 23, 2018 at 12:03 am

In March, 2013, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its Right-wing allies declared war on comedian Jim Carrey.

The reason: His music parody video: “Cold Dead Hand,” which mocked gun fanatics and the late Charlton Heston, former president of the NRA.

Click here: Jim Carrey’s Pro-Gun Control Stance Angers Conservatives

Among its lyrics:

Charlton Heston movies are no longer in demand
And his immortal soul may lay forever in the sand.
The angels wouldn’t take him up to heaven like he’d planned.
’Cause they couldn’t pry that gun from his cold, dead hand.

The phrase, “cold dead hand,” originated with Heston himself.

Charlton Heston in his prime

On May 20, 2000, the actor and then-president of the NRA addressed the organization at its 129th convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He warned that then-Vice President and Democratic Presidential candidade Al Gore “is going to smear you as the enemy,” and concluded:

“So, as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: ‘From my cold, dead hands!’”

Carrey’s stance on gun control couldn’t have been more opposite.

In in February, 2013, he outraged Right-wingers by tweeting: “Any1 who would run out to buy an assault rifle after the Newton massacre has very little left in their body or soul worth protecting.”

 Jim Carrey

Fox Nation referred to the tweet as “nasty.”  

Red Alert Politics writer Erin Brown dismissed it as “a careless remark …rooted in the shallow, parroted talking points so commonly espoused by liberal elites.”

But that was nothing compared to the rage that has greeted “Cold Dead Hand.” Reason TV’s Remy offered a parody rebuttal to Carrey’s song. Its lyrics included:

It takes a talking ass
to oppose a vaccination
when your PhD is in
making funny faces.

None of which bothered Carrey. In fact, he exulted in Right-wing outrage, tweeting: “Cold Dead Hand’ is abt u heartless motherf%ckers unwilling 2 bend 4 the safety of our kids. Sorry if you’re offended…”

Among its lyrics:

It takes a cold, dead hand to decide to pull the trigger.
Takes a cold, dead heart and as near as I can figger.
With your cold, dead aim you’re tryin’ to prove your dick is bigger …..

Many psychologists have long theorized that a fascination with firearms can compensate for inadequate sexual performance.

But it’s one thing for an unknown psychologist to write this in an obscure medical journal—and another for a famous comedian to splash it across the Internet.

Carrey is especially ruthless in attacking those who—like the NRA—make a lucrative living off gun sales:

Imagine if the Lord were here…
And on the ones
Who sell the guns
He’d sic the vultures and coyotes
Only the devil’s true devotees
Could profiteer
From pain and fear.

Many Rightists attacked Carrey for parodying a man—Heston—who died in 2008 and could not defend himself. But Heston had appeared several times on “Saturday Night Live” to spoof his granite-hard image.

In his video, Carrey dares to attack not simply the masculinity of the Rightist NRA crowd, but even its courage:

You don’t want to get caught
With your trousers down
When the psycho killer
Comes around
So you make your home
Like a Thunderdome
And you’re always packin’
Everywhere you roam.

Perhaps that’s what most outraged the Right—the accusation that its members live in fear and do their best to generate needless fear in others. 

Fear that can supposedly be abated by turning America into a society where everyone packs a weapon and every moment holds a potential High Noon.

Carrey was not shy in responding to his Rightist critics. On March 29, 2013, he issued this statement:

“Since I released my “Cold Dead Hand” video on Funny or Die this week, I have watched Fux News rant, rave, bare its fangs and viciously slander me because of my stand against large magazines and assault rifles.

“I would take them to task legally if I felt they were worth my time or that anyone with a brain in their head could actually fall for such irresponsible buffoonery. That would gain them far too much attention which is all they really care about.

“I’ll just say this: in my opinion Fux News is a last resort for kinda-sorta-almost-journalists whose options have been severely limited by their extreme and intolerant views; a media colostomy bag that has begun to burst at the seams and should be emptied before it becomes a public health issue.”

The NRA has spent decades bribing and intimidating its way through Congress. Those members who subscribe to its “guns for everyone” agenda get legalized bribes (i.e., “campaign contributions”).

Those who refuse to do so face the threat—if not the reality—of being ousted. 

Bullies are conspicuously vulnerable to ridicule. Their only “defense” is to smash anyone who dares to mock their folly, brutality or pretense to omnipotence.  

Or, as Ernest Hemingway once put it: “Fascism is a lie told by bullies.”

HUMOR VS. HITMEN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Humor, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on February 22, 2018 at 12:05 am

Bullies do not like to be mocked.

Anyone who doubts this need only examine the Right’s reaction to actor Jim Carrey’s March, 2013 “Cold Dead Hand”  music video.

In this, Carrey—–a strong advocate of gun control—mocked the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its right-wing allies.

These included rural America and (for the video’s purposes) the late actor Charlton Heston, who served as the NRA’s five-term president (1998-2003).

Jim Carrey as Charlton Heston

The video featured Carrey and alt-rock band Eels as “Lonesome Earl And The Clutterbusters,” a country band on a TV set modeled after the 1960s variety show, “Hee Haw.” Carrey also portrayed Heston as a dim-witted, teeth-clenching champion of the NRA.

“I find the gun problem frustrating,” Carrey said in a press release, “and ‘Cold Dead Hand’ is my fun little way of expressing that frustration.”

Carrey’s frustration triggered NRA outrage.

Click here: Jim Carrey’s Pro-Gun Control Stance Angers Conservatives

Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld ranted: “He is probably the most pathetic tool on the face of the earth and I hope his career is dead and I hope he ends up sleeping in a car.

“This video made me want to go out and buy a gun. He thinks this is biting satire going after rural America and a dead man… He’s a dirty, stinking coward… He’s such a pathetic, sad, little freak. He’s a gibbering mess. He’s a modern bigot.”

Columnist Larry Elder spared no venom in attacking Carrey: “Let’s be charitable—call Carrey ignorant, not stupid.”

Click here: Jim Carrey: Not ‘Dumb & Dumber,’ Just Ignorant

Much of his March 29 column centered on defending Heston, who died at 84 in 2008.

A lyric in Carrey’s song says “Charlton Heston’s movies are no longer in demand.” This prompted Elder to defend the continuing popularity of Heston’s 1956 movie, “The Ten Commandments,” where he played Moses.

Elder felt compelled to defend Heston’s off-screen persona as well, citing his 64-year marriage to his college sweetheart, Lydia.

On the other hand, writes Elder, Carrey, “followed the well-worn Hollywood path: Get famous; get rich; dump the first wife/mother of your kid(s), who stood by you during the tough times; and act out your social life in the tabs to the embarrassment of your kid(s).”

Clearly, Carrey’s video struck a nerve with Right-wing gun fanatics. But why?

Start with Gutfield’s accusation that Carry was “going after rural America.”

Rural America—home of the most superstitious, ignorant and knee-jerk Fascistic elements in American society—boastfully refers to itself as “The Heartland.”

In short: a prime NRA and Rightist constituency.

It was rural America to which Senator Barack Obama referred—accurately—during his 2008 Presidential campaign:

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Second, there’s Elder’s outrage that Carrey should dare to say that Heston’s movies “are no longer in demand.”

Among these movies: “Major Dundee,” “El Cid,” “Khartoum,” “The War Lord.” And even the hammiest film for which he is best-known: “The Ten Commandments.”

In a film career spanning 62 years, Heston vividly portrayed such historical characters as:

  • Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar in “El Cid’:
  • Mark Anthony in “Julius Caesar”;
  • John the Baptist in “The Greatest Story Ever Told”;
  • Andrew Jackson in “The President’s Lady” and “The Buccaneer”;
  • Michaelangelo in “The Agony and the Ecstasy”;
  • General Charles Gordon in “Khartoun.”

And he played fictitious characters, too:

  • Civil War officers (“Major Dundee”);
  • Norman knights (“The War Lord”);
  • Ranchers (“Three Violent People”;
  • Explorers (“The Naked Jungle”).
  • Judah Ben-Hur (“Ben-Hur”); and
  • Astronauts (“Planet of the Apes”)’

Heston was a widely respected actor who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1959 for “Ben Hur” and servecd as the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1965 to 1971.

But it was not Heston’s film career that Carrey focused on—but his role as president of the NRA.

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Charlton Heston at the NRA convention

Ironically, Heston had identified himself with liberal causes long before he became the face and voice of the gun lobby.

In 1961, he campaigned for Senator John F. Kennedy for President.  In 1963, he took part in Martin Luther King’s March on Washington.

In 1968, after the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, he joined actors Kirk Douglas, James Stewart and Gregory Peck in issuing a statement supporting President Lyndon Johnson’s Gun Control Act of 1968.

But over the coming decades, Heston became increasingly conservative:

  • Reportedly voting for Richard Nixon in 1972;
  • Supporting gun rights; and
  • Campaigning for Republican Presidential candidates Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

When asked why he changed political alliances, Heston replied: “I didn’t change. The Democratic party changed.”

JFK’S GREATEST LEGACY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 22, 2017 at 12:03 am

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

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

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

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

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

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

 White House painting of JFK

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

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

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

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011, the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

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

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

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.” Thus he excused his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (and now Secretary of Energy) showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you—I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Court judges. And, uh, ah—

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.   

And President Donald Trump has gone even further—attacking the free press as “the enemy of America” for exposing his lies and criminality. 

His senior adviser, Kelleyanne Conway, set the tone of his administration’s approach to the truth right at the outset. Asked why then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, Conway replied: 

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving—Sean Spicer, our press secretary—gave alternative facts.” 

“Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods,” Chuck Todd, the moderator on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” properly responded.

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

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

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

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

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

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump infamously chortled after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

And, that November, “the poorly educated” elected him President.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.

It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

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

OUR MOST-LOVED–AND MOST-HATED–PRESIDENTS

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 28, 2017 at 12:06 am

Why are some Presidents remembered with affection, while others are detested—or forgotten altogether?

Generally, Presidents who are warmly remembered are seen as making positive contributions to the lives of their fellow Americans and being “people-oriented.”

Among these:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy

Among the reasons they are held in such high regard:

  • Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and restored the Union. Although he ruthlessly prosecuted the Civil War, his humanity remains engraved in stories such as his pardoning a soldier condemned to be shot for cowardice: “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

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

Abraham Lincoln

  • Theodore Roosevelt championed an era of reform, such as creating the Food and Drug Administration and five National Parks. Popularly known as “Teddy,” he even had a toy bear—the teddy bear—named after him.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully led America through the Great Depression and World War II. He was the first President to insist that government existed to directly better the lives of its citizens: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • John F. Kennedy supported civil rights and called for an end to the Cold War. He challenged Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” and made government service respectable, even chic. His youth, charisma, intelligence and handsomeness led millions to mourn for “what might have been” had he lived to win a second term.

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John F. Kennedy

Presidents who remain unpopular among Americans are seen as unlikable and responsible (directly or not) for mass suffering.

Among these:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Richard M. Nixon

Among the reasons they are held in such low regard:

  • Herbert Hoover is still blamed for the 1929 Great Depression. He didn’t create it, but his conservative, “small-government” philosophy led him to refuse to aid its victims. An engineer by profession, he saw the Depression as a machine that needed repair, not as a catastrophe for human beings. This lack of “emotional intelligence” cost him heavily with voters.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson is still blamed as the President “who got us into Vietnam.” John F. Kennedy had laid the groundwork by placing 16,000 American troops there by the time he died in 1963. But it was Johnson who greatly expanded the war in 1965 and kept it going—with hugely expanding casualties—for the next three years. Unlike Kennedy, whom he followed, he looked and sounded terrible on TV. Voters compared LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety with JFK’s wit and good looks—and found him wanting.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Richard M. Nixon will be remembered foremost as the President who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment and removal from office. Like Herbert Hoover, he was not a “people person” and seemed remote to even his closest associates. Although he took office on a pledge to “bring us together” and end the Vietnam war, he attacked war protesters as traitors and kept the war going another four years. His paranoid fears of losing the 1972 election led to his creating an illegal “Plumbers” unit which bugged the Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel. And his attempted cover-up of their illegal actions led to his being forced to resign from office in disgrace.

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Richard M. Nixon

Which brings us to the question: How is Donald J. Trump likely to be remembered?

Historian Joachim C. Fest offers an unintended answer to this question in his 1973 bestselling biography Hitler:

“The phenomenon of the great man is primarily aesthetic, very rarely moral in nature; and even if we were prepared to make allowances in the latter realm, in the former we could not.

“An ancient tenet of aesthetics holds that one who for all his remarkable traits is a repulsive human being, is unfit to be a hero.”

Among the reasons for Hitler’s being “a repulsive human being,” Fest cites the Fuhrer’s

  • “intolerance and vindictiveness”;
  • “lack of generosity”; and
  • “banal and naked materialism–power was the only motive he would recognize.”

Fest then quotes German chancellor Otto von Bismark on what constitutes greatness: “Impressiveness in this world is always akin to the fallen angel who is beautiful but without peace, great in his plans and efforts, but without success, proud but sad.”

And Fest concludes: “If this is true greatness, Hitler’s distance from it is immeasurable.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump.

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Donald Trump

Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

He has:

  • Boasted about the politicians he’s bought and the women he’s bedded—and forced himself on.
  • Threatened his Democratic opponent—Hillary Clinton—with prosecution if he were elected.
  • Slandered entire segments of Americans—blacks, Hispanics, women, journalists, Asians, the disabled, the Gold Star parents of a fallen soldier.
  • Slandered President Barack Obama for five years as a non-citizen, finally admitting the truth only to win black votes.
  • Attacked the FBI and CIA for accurately reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had intervened in the 2016 Presidential election to ensure Trump’s victory. 

At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Trump joining that select number of Presidents Americans remember with awe and reverence.

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 21, 2017 at 12:02 am

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

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

Second, it’s universally recognized that a leader who’s beloved has great clout than one who isn’t. In the United States, a Presidential candidate who wins by a landslide is presumed to have a mandate to pursue his agenda—at least, for the first two years of his administration.

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

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Barack Obama

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

Obama, a believer in rationality and decency, felt more comfortable in responding to attacks on his character than in attacking the character of his enemies.

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

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

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

This explains why Obama found most of his legislative agenda stymied by Republicans.

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

Rand Paul

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

The target was Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric notorious on the Internet for encouraging Muslims to attack the United States.

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

Anwar al-Awlaki

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

But Obama did nothing of the kind.

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this one:

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred. 

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

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 20, 2017 at 12:30 am

Is it better to be loved or feared?

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

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

LOVE ME, FEAR MY BROTHER

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

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

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

Plans for a Senatorial investigation were shelved.

BEING LOVED AND FEARED

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

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Sonny gives advice to his adopted son, Calogero

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

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

Machiavelli, writing in The Prince, went further:

“Still a Prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred, for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together. And [this] will always be attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald Reagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Social commentary, Uncategorized on September 19, 2017 at 12:07 am

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

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

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

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

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

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Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE ME BECAUSE I NEED TO BE LOVED

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

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

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Bill Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton further sought to endear himself to Republicans by:

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

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

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

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

Lyndon Johnson wanted desperately to be loved.

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

Why was that? Johnson demanded.

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

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Lyndon B. Johnson

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

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

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

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