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JIMMY HOFFA RETURNS–ON NETFLIX: PART THREE (END)

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 18, 2019 at 12:20 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Robert F. Kennedy (Cotter Smith) and James R. Hoffa (Robert Blake), president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.  

With Kennedy as Attorney General and facing relentless pressure from the Justice Department, the Mafia despairs of a solution. At a swanky restaurant, several high-ranking Mafiosi agree that “something” must be done.

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

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible.

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

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

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U.S. Department of Justice

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

[In March, 1964, Kennedy met with Hoffa on an airfield at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. He was accompanied by two Secret Service agents from the detail assigned to ex-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

[FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, no longer afraid to cross RFK, had withdrawn the agents previously assigned to guard Kennedy.

[Accompanying Hoffa were two muscular bodyguards—at least one of whom was packing two pistols in shoulder holsters.

[While the Secret Service agents watched from a respectful distance, Kennedy spoke quietly with Hoffa. The Attorney General showed a document to Hoffa, and the Teamsters leader at times nodded or shook his head.

[The agents drove Kennedy back to Washington. During the ride, he said nothing about the reason for the meeting.  

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

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

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

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy 

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

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

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

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

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Ernest Borgnine as J. Edgar Hoover

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Blood Feud, just before his assassination, RFK asks: “How will I ever really know if the Mob killed Jack because of my anti-Mob crusade?”

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

And the Mafia likes it that way.

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

Forty-four years after the death of James R. Hoffa, and 51 years after that of Robert F. Kennedy:

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

JIMMY HOFFA RETURNS–ON NETFLIX: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 17, 2019 at 12:23 am

The 1983 TV mini-series, Blood Feud, chronicles the decade-long struggle between Robert F. Kennedy and James R. Hoffa.

Having “helped” Kennedy (Cotter Smith) to oust corrupt Teamsters President Dave Beck, Hoffa (Robert Blake) believes that Kennedy should now be satisfied: “He’s got his scalp.  Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.” 

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

Robert Blake as James R Hoffa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

Throughout 1960, he manages the Presidential campaign for his brother, John F. Kennedy (Sam Groom). By a margin of only 112,000 votes, JFK wins the election.

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

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

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

For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos Marcello

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

[In September, 1962, during a meeting with several mob colleagues, he flew into a rage when someone mentioned Kennedy.  

“Take the stone out of my shoe!” he shouted, echoing a Sicilian curse. “Don’t you worry about that little Bobby sonofabitch. He’s going to be taken care of!”

[When one of his colleagues warned that murdering RFK would trigger the wrath of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, Marcello replied: “In Sicily they say if you want to kill a dog you don’t cut off the tail. You go for the head.”

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

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

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible. 

JIMMY HOFFA RETURNS–ON NETFLIX: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 16, 2019 at 12:10 am

James Riddle Hoffa, the onetime president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union, vanished 44 years ago—on July 30, 1975.

Elected President of the Teamsters in 1957, Hoffa was convicted of jury tampering in 1964 and began serving an eight-year prison sentence in 1967. Before doing so, he named Frank Fitzsimmons, whom he thought a totally loyal ally, to serve as a caretaker president.

Pardoned by President Richard M. Nixon in December, 1971, Hoffa immediately began campaigning to regain the presidency of the union in 1976. But Fitzsommons had come to enjoy the IBT presidency—and wanted to keep it. 

More importantly, the Mafia wanted him to keep it. Under Hoffa, the Teamsters had bankrolled various Mafia real estate schemes—such as building casinos in Las Vegas.

But Hoffa had kept a tight hold on Teamster monies. Fitzsimmons, by contrast, had allowed the Mafia a free hand—at the expense of the Teamster pension fund meant for retiring members.

Warned by his onetime Mafia allies to drop his campaign for re-election, Hoffa charged ahead anyway.

On July 30, 1975, he expected to meet with three major Mafia bosses at a restaurant in Detroit: Anthony Giacalone, Russell Buffalino and Anthony Provenzano. With their backing, he expected a guaranteed victory.

Instead, he disappeared. 

The FBI assigned 200 agents to investigate his disappearance. But Hoffa’s body was never found, and even the way he died remained a mystery.

Then, in 2004, former prosecutor-turned-author Charles Brandt published a non-fiction book: I Heard You Paint Houses. Based on tape recorded interviews with former Mafia hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, it revealed the events that led up to Hoffa’s execution. 

And it was none other than Sheeran—to whom Hoffa had presented a gold, diamond-encrusted watch in October, 1974—who carried out the execution. 

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This November, Sheeran’s life will be depicted in a new movie: The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese. Sheeran will be portrayed by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci will portray Mafia boss Russell Buffalino and Al Pacino will play Hoffa.

The Irishman will receive a limited theatrical release on November 1, 2019, followed by digital streaming on November 27 by Netflix.

This is not the first movie made about the life and death of Jimmy Hoffa. Sylvester Stallone played Johnny Kovak, a Hoffa-like labor leader, in 1978’s F.I.S.T. And Jack Nicholson played Hoffa in a 1992 movie.

But the most lengthy and detailed portrayal of Hoffa’s stormy life came 36 years ago on TV.

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

In 1957, as a young, idealistic attorney, Kennedy had declared war on Hoffa, the president of the Mafia-dominated International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union.

As chief counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, Kennedy was appalled at the corruption he discovered among high-ranking Teamster officials. As he saw it, under Hoffa’s leadership, the union was nothing less than “a conspiracy of evil.”

Robert Francis Kennedy as Chief Counsel, Senate Labor Rackets Committee

Hoffa, in turn, held an equally unflattering view of Kennedy. “A rich punk,” said Hoffa, who didn’t know or care about “the average workingman.”

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

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

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

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

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

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

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

Having “helped” Kennedy to oust Beck, Hoffa believes that Kennedy should now be satisfied: “He’s got his scalp.  Now he can move on to other things while I run the union.”

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

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

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

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED, THE HATED—PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 6, 2019 at 12:04 am

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

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

Second, a beloved leader has greater clout than one who isn’t. A Presidential candidate who wins by a landslide has a mandate to pursue his agenda—at least, for the first two years of his administration.

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

Image result for Images of Barack Obama giving a speech in the Oval Office

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, believing in rationality and decency, preferred to responding to attacks on his character rather than 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 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.

Thus, 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 justified the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011.

Anwar al-Awlaki had been 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.

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

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Donald Trump

As a Presidential candidate and President, Trump 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 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 fired him on November 7, 2018, the day after Democrats retook the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections.
  • Trump repeatedly humiliated Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, 2017, six months after taking the job, Priebus resigned.
  • Trump similarly tongue-lashed Priebus’ replacement, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. Trump was angered by Kelly’s efforts to limit the number of advisers who had unrestricted access to him. Kelly told colleagues he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of military service—and wouldn’t 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….

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.”

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED, THE HATED—PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 5, 2019 at 12:14 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—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 their own 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….”

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.

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED, THE HATED—PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 4, 2019 at 12:14 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.” 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

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.

WHEN PRESIDENTS ACT LIKE MAFIA BOSSES: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 11, 2018 at 12:27 am

A reputation for being feared can be useful.

But it’s dangerous to constantly employ cruelties or punishments. 

Whoever does so, warns Niccolo 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.”

Such a President is Donald Trump, who, as a Presidential candidate in 2016, told journalist Bob Woodward: “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.” 

As  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.

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Donald Trump

The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them. Making one inflammatory statement after another, he offended one group of potential voters after another. Among those groups: 

  • Latinos
  • Asians
  • Blacks
  • The disabled
  • Women
  • Prisoners-of-war

Since becoming President on January 20, 2017, Trump has attacked and/or infuriated a wide array of influential agencies or groups. Among these:  

  • “Obamacare” patients: Trump authorized the directors of Federal agencies to waive requirements of the Affordable Care Act—which provides medical insurance to 22 million otherwise uninsured Americans—to the “maximum extent permitted by law.”  
  • The CIA: Appearing at CIA headquarters on his first full day in office, Trump addressed about 400 case officers. Standing before the star-studded memorial wall honoring 117 CIA officers who had fallen in the line of duty. Trump ignored their sacrifice. Instead, he boasted of the size of his Inaugural crowd and how many times he had appeared on the cover of Time.
  • Civil rights advocates: Trump signed an executive order banning Muslims from entering the United States. 
  • He also ordered the Department of Homeland Security to massively expand the number of people subject to detention and deportation.
  • Women: Trump has publicly insulted numerous women—such as Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell—on their looks.
  • He’s been accused by 22 women of making improper sexual advances.
  • And he successfully backed Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whom Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers.
  • Medicare patients: During the 2016 campaign, Trump said he would allow Medicare to negotiate down the price of prescription drugs. But after meeting with pharmaceutical lobbyists on January 31, 2017,  Trump said: “I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market. That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare.”  

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

  • Jeff Sessions: Trump waged a Twitter-laced feud against his Attorney General. Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • On the day after the November, 2018 mid-term elections, Trump fired him.
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: Trump told him: “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations….You’re past your prime.”
  • Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: Suffered repeated humiliations by Trump—such a being ordered to kill a fly that was buzzing about.
  • On another occasion, Trump told an associate that Priebus was “like a little rat. He just scurries around.”
  • On July 28, 2017, Priebus resigned.
  • Chief of Staff John Kelly: Trump similarly ridiculed Priebus’ replacement, a former Marine Corps general. Kelly tried to limit the number of advisers who had unrestricted access to Trump—and bring discipline to his schedule.
  • Instead of being grateful, Trump became furious. Kelly told colleagues: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
  • The United States Secret Service: Before taking office as President, Trump infuriated this agency by keeping his longtime private security force—and adding its members to the elite federal agency. Thus, he clearly sent the insulting message: “You’re not good enough, and I don’t trust you.”

Trump’s repeated humiliations—and firings—of high-ranking administration officials have led to a near-paralysis of his government. Many agencies remain plagued by staff shortages. And many of the replacements are not of “top drawer” quality.

If Trump ever read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, he’s clearly forgotten the Florentine’s warning on the need to avoid hatred at all costs.

The new musical version of the play/movie A Bronx Tale allows Mafia capo Sonny to sing his lesson on fear versus love to Calogero, the teenager who idolizes him: 

Listen now what I tell ya
This advice is you know whose
Love or fear—
It’s up to you kid
But you live with what you choose.

And it’s true: You live with what you choose.

Make being loved your top priority, and you risk being labeled a weakling who can be rolled—as Bill Clinton did.

But make being feared your goal, and you risk creating an atmosphere of hatred and paranoia—as Donald Trump has.

WHEN PRESIDENTS ACT LIKE MAFIA BOSSES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on December 10, 2018 at 12:27 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.”

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

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.”

Sonny has “done 10 years in the joint.” There he got an education in power—from the works of Machiavelli. Now he wants to pass on those hard-learned lessons to Calogero.

“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.”

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Sonny gives advice to his adopted son, Calogero

But Sonny warns there is a trick to being feared: “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.”  

Many who quote Machiavelli in defense of being feared overlook this vital point: “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.”

Presidents who desire above all to be loved risk inviting their enemies to see them as weaklings.

Case in point: Bill Clinton.

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Bill Clinton

Clinton needed 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.

Clinton 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.

In 1998, emboldened by Clinton’s refusal to stand up to them, 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.

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.

Case in point: 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

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.

“IT IS NOT I WHO ATE THE LAMB,” SAID THE WOLF–AGAIN: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on November 1, 2018 at 12:29 am

Increasingly, Republicans have repeatedly aimed violent—-and violence-arousing—-rhetoric at their Democratic opponents. This is not a case of careless language that is simply misinterpreted, with tragic results.

Republicans like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump fully understand the constituency they are trying to reach: Those masses of alienated, uneducated Americans who live only for their guns and hardline religious beliefs—and who can be easily manipulated by perceived threats to either.

If a “nutcases” assaults a Democratic politician and misses, then the Republican establishment claims to be shocked—-shocked!—that such a thing could have happened.

And if the attempt proves successful, then Republicans weep crocodile tears for public consumption.

Since the end of World War 11, Republicans have regularly hurled the charge of “treason” against anyone who dared to run against them for office or think other than Republican-sponsored thoughts.

Republicans had been locked out of the White House from 1933 to 1952, during the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

Determined to regain the Presidency by any means, they found that attacking the integrity of their fellow Americans a highly effective tactic.

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

The fact that McCarthy never uncovered one actual case of treason was conveniently overlooked during his lifetime.

The electoral success of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red-baiting treason slanders proved too alluring for other Republicans to resist.

Joseph McCarthy

Among those who have greatly profited from hurling similar charges are:

  • President Richard Nixon
  • His vice president, Spiro Agnew
  • Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
  • Former Congressman Dick Armey
  • President George W. Bush
  • Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin
  • Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Sean Hannity
  • Bill O’Reilly.

During the 1992 Presidential campaign, Republicans tried to paint Bill Clinton as a brainwashed “Manchurian candidate” because he had briefly visited the Soviet Union during his college years.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Republicans lost their “soft on Communism” slander-line.  So they tried to persuade voters that Democrats were “soft on crime.”

When riots flared in 1992 after the acquittal of LAPD officers who had savagely beaten Rodney King, President George H.W. Bush blamed the carnage on the “Great Society” programs of the 1960s.

George H.W. Bush

After losing the White House to Clinton at the polls in 1992 and 1996, Republicans tried to oust him another way: By impeaching him over a tryst with a penis-loving intern named Monica Lewinsky.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach, but the effort was defeated in the Democratically-controlled Senate.

The 2008 election of Barack Obama pushed the Republican “treason chorus” to new heights of infamy.

Barack Obama

Almost immediately after Obama took office, he came under attack by an industry of right-wing book authors such as Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. 

Among the titles:

  • Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda by Sean Hannity
  • The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists,Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists by Aaron Klein
  • The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency by Ken Blackwell
  • Why Obama’s Government Takeover of Health Care Will Be a Disaster by David Gratzer
  • To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine by Newt Gingrich
  • How the Obama Administration Threatens to Undermine Our Elections by John Fund
  • Power Grab: How Obama’s Green Policicies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America by Christopher C. Horner
  • America’s March to Socialism: Why We’re One Step Closer to Giant Missile Parades by Glenn Beck
  • Obama’s Betrayal of Israel by Michael Ledeen
  • Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them by Steven Milloy
  • Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter
  • Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America by Ann Coulter

Consider the vocabulary Right-wingers use to describe their political adversaries:

“Liberals,” “radicals, “bankrupting,” “treason,” subversion,” “slander,” “terrorism,” “betrayal,” “catastrophe,” “shattering the American dream,” “leftists,” “Communists,” “government takeover,” “socialism,” “power grab,” “secularism,” “environmentalism.”

And while the Right lusts to constantly compare Democrats and liberals (the two aren’t always the same) to Adolf Hitler, its propaganda campaign draws heavily on the Nazi leader’s own advice.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler laid out his formula for successful propaganda: “All effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials.

“Those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotypical formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”

“[The masses] more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.”

Thus, Republicans spent the eight years of Barack Obama’s Presidency repeating the lie that he was born in Kenya—not Hawaii, as the long-form version of his birth certificate attests.

The reason: To “prove” that he was an illegitimate President, and should be removed from office. 

To Republicans’ dismay, their slander campaign didn’t prevent Obama from being elected in 2008—and re-elected in 2012.

“IT IS NOT I WHO ATE THE LAMB,” SAID THE WOLF—AGAIN: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on October 31, 2018 at 12:05 am

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a white high school dropout, gunned down three black men and six black women at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The evidence made clear that Roof’s slaughter was racially motivated. Yet no 2016 Republican Presidential candidate dared acknowledge it.

But Rolling Stone magazine writer Jeb Lund left no doubt as to what—and who—was ultimately responsible for this crime: Racism and Republicans.

In a June 19, 2015 editorial—published two days after the massacre—Lund noted: “This [crime] is political because American movement conservatism has already made these kinds of killings political.

“The Republican Party has weaponized its supporters, made violence a virtue and, with almost every pronouncement for 50 years, given them an enemy politicized, radicalized and indivisible.

“Movement conservatives have fetishized a tendentious and ahistorical reading of the Second Amendment to the point that the Constitution itself somehow paradoxically ‘legitimizes’ an armed insurrection against the government created by it.

“Those leading said insurrection are swaddled by the blanket exculpation of patriotism. At the same time, they have synonymized the Democratic Party with illegitimacy and abuse of the American order.

“This is no longer an argument about whether one party’s beliefs are beneficial or harmful, but an attitude that labels leftism so antithetical to the American idea that empowering it on any level is an act of usurpation.”

Click here: The Charleston Shooter: Racist, Violent, and Yes – Political | Rolling Stone

On December 15, 2016, Dylann Roof was convicted of 33 Federal hate crime charges. On January 11, 2017, he was sentenced to death.  He remains on Death Row to this day.

Yet the leadership of the Republican party whose hate-filled rhetoric inspired Root escaped indictment—and even widespread condemnation.

The evidence that Republicans have weaponized hatred—with deadly results—was on display long before Dylann Roof opened fire on “uppity blacks” praying in their own church.

Consider:

On January 8, 2011, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with constituents outside a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona. After a miraculous recovery, she continues to struggle with language and has lost 50% of her vision in both eyes.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

She vowed to return to her former Congressional duties, but was forced to resign for health reasons in 2012.

Giffords was only one victim of a shooting spree that claimed the lives of six people and left 13 others wounded.

Also killed was Arizona’s chief U.S. District judge, John Roll, who had just stopped by to see his friend Giffords after celebrating Mass.

Although the actual shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was immediately arrested, those who fanned the flames of political violence that consumed 19 people that day have remained unpunished.

Consider the circumstances behind the shootings:

Gabrille Giffords, 40, is a moderate Democrat who narrowly wins re-election in November, 2010, against a Republican Tea Party candidate.

Her support of President Obama’s health care reform law has made her a target for violent rhetoric–-especially from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

In March, 2010, Palin releases a map featuring 20 House Democrats that uses cross-hairs images to show their districts. In case her supporters don’t get the message, she later writes on Twitter: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”

Sarah Palin’s “Crosshairs” Map

As the campaign continues, Giffords finds her Tucson office vandalized after the House passes the healthcare  overhaul in March.

She specifically cites Palin’s decision to list her seat as one of the top “targets” in the midterm elections.

“For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the cross-hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” Giffords tells MSNBC.

At one of her rallies, her aides call the police after an attendee drops a gun.

Giffords may have seen the spectre of violence closing in on her. In April, 2010, she supported Rep. Raúl Grijalva after he had to close two offices when he and his staff received threats.

He had called for a boycott of Arizona businesses in opposition to the state’s controversial immigration law.

“This is not how we, as Americans, express our political differences. Intimidation has no place in our representative democracy,” says Giffords. Such acts only make it more difficult for us to resolve our differences.”

John Roll is Arizona’s chief federal judge.  Appointed in 2006, he wins acclaim as a respected jurist and leader who pushes to beef up the court’s strained bench to handle a growing number of border crime-related cases.

In 2009, he becomes a target for threats after allowing a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit by illegal aliens to proceed against a local rancher. The case arouses the fury of local talk radio hosts, who encourage their audiences to threaten Roll’s life.

In one afternoon, Roll logs more than 200 threatening phone calls. Callers threaten the judge and his family. They post personal information about Roll online.

Roll and his wife are placed under fulltime protection by deputy U.S. marshals. Roll finds living under security “unnerving and invasive.”

Authorities identify four men believed responsible for the threats. But Roll declines to press charges on the advice of the Marshals Service. 

 

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