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Posts Tagged ‘ROBERT F. KENNEDY’

STOPPING THE GUN MASSACRES

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 26, 2022 at 12:13 am

The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one—no matter where he lives or what he does— can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

–Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Senator Robert F. Kennedy announcing the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What should the surviving victims of gun massacres do to seek redress?

And how can the relatives and friends of those who didn’t survive seek justice for those they loved?

Two things:

First, don’t count on politicians to support a ban on assault weapons.

Politicians—with rare exceptions—have only two goals:

  1. Get elected to office, and
  2. Stay in office.

And too many of them fear the economic and voting clout of the NRA to risk its wrath.

Consider Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Both rushed to offer condolences to the surviving victims of the massacre at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012.

And both steadfastly refused to even discuss gun control—let alone support a ban on the type of assault weapons used by James Holmes, leaving 12 dead and 58 wounded.

Second, those who survived the massacre—and the relatives and friends of those who didn’t—should file wrongful death, class-action lawsuits against the NRA.

There is sound, legal precedent for this.

  • For decades, the American tobacco industry peddled death and disability to millions and reaped billions of dollars in profits.
  • The industry vigorously claimed there was no evidence that smoking caused cancer, heart disease, emphysema or any other ailment.

  • Tobacco companies spent billions on slick advertising campaigns to win new smokers and attack medical warnings about the dangers of smoking.
  • Tobacco companies spent millions to elect compliant politicians and block anti-smoking legislation.
  • From 1954 to 1994, over 800 private lawsuits were filed against tobacco companies in state courts. But only two plaintiffs prevailed, and both of those decisions were reversed on appeal.
  • In 1994, amidst great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.
  • Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.
  • The theory underlying these lawsuits was: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.
  • In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs. In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.
  • The companies agreed to curtail or cease certain marketing practices. They also agreed to pay, forever, annual payments to the states to compensate some of the medical costs for patients with smoking-related illnesses.

The parallels with the NRA are obvious:

  • For decades, the NRA has peddled deadly weapons to millions, reaped billions of dollars in profits and refused to admit the carnage those weapons have produced: “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  With guns. 
  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.

  • The NRA has bitterly fought background checks on gun-buyers, in effect granting even criminals and the mentally ill the right to own arsenals of death-dealing weaponry.
  • The NRA has spent millions on slick advertising campaigns to win new members and frighten them into buying guns.

  • The NRA has spent millions attacking political candidates and elected officials who warned about the dangers of unrestricted access to assault and/or concealed weapons.
  • The NRA has spent millions pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws in more than half the states, which potentially give every citizen a “license to kill.”
  • The NRA receives millions of dollars from online sales of ammunition, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and other accessories through its point-of-sale Round-Up Program—thus directly profiting by selling a product that kills about 30,288 people a year.

  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

It will take a series of highly expensive and well-publicized lawsuits to significantly weaken the NRA, financially and politically.

The first ones will have to be brought by the surviving victims of gun violence—and by the friends and families of those who did not survive it. Only they will have the courage and motivation to take such a risk.

As with the cases first brought against tobacco companies, there will be losses. And the NRA will rejoice with each one.

But, in time, state Attorneys General will see the clear parallels between lawsuits filed against those who peddle death by cigarette and those who peddle death by armor-piercing bullet.

And then the NRA—like the tobacco industry—will face an adversary wealthy enough to stand up for the rights of the gun industry’s own victims.

Only then will those politicians supporting reasonable gun controls dare to stand up for the victims of these  needless tragedies.

“DON’T EMBARRASS THE BUREAU–OR THE BUSINESS”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 25, 2022 at 12:10 am

J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI, has been dead for almost 50 years. But his rule—“Don’t embarrass the Bureau”—is very much alive and well in corporate America.

In 1959, Hoover—against his will—declared war on the Mafia.

On November 14, 1957, 70 top Mafia leaders from across the country had gathered at the estate of a fellow gangster, Joseph Barbara, in Apalachin, a small village in upstate New York.

The presence of so many cars with out-of-state license plates converging on an isolated mansion caught the attention of Sergeant Edgar Crosswell of the New York State Police.

Crosswell assembled an army of state troopers, set up roadblocks, and swooped down on the estate.

The mobsters, panicked and fled—many into the surrounding woods. Even so, more than 60 underworld bosses were arrested and indicted following the raid.

Hoover had vigorously and vocally denied the existence of a nationwide Mafia. He had carefully kept the FBI well out of the war on organized crime. Several theories have been advanced as to why:

  1. Hoover feared that his agents—-long renowned for their incorruptibility—would fall prey to the bribes of well-heeled mobsters.
  2. Hoover feared that his allegedly homosexual relationship with his longtime associate director, Clyde Tolson, would be exposed by the Mob. Rumors still persist that mobster Meyer Lansky came into possession of a compromising photo of Hoover and Tolson engaged in flagrante delicto.
  3. Hoover knew of the ties between moneyed mobsters and their political allies in Congress. And he feared losing the goodwill of his political allies—and ever-larger appropriations for the FBI.
  4. Hoover preferred flashy, easily-solved cases to those requiring huge investments of manpower and money.

Suddenly, however, ignoring the Mob was no longer possible.

J. Edgar Hoover

He set up a Top Hoodlum Program and encouraged his agents to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance (“bugging”) to make up for lost time and Intelligence.

But planting “bugs” demanded illegal trespass into mob hangouts.

Making this even more hazardous: Hoover imposed restrictions on these assignments that could destroy an agent’s professional and personal life.

William E. Roemer, Jr., assigned to the FBI’s Chicago field office, was one of the first agents to volunteer for such duty.

William Roemer | C-SPAN.org

William Roemer

In his memoirs, Man Against the Mob, published in 1989, Roemer laid out the dangers that went with such work:

  1. If confronted by police or mobsters, agents were to try to escape without being identified.
  2. If caught by police, agents were not to identify themselves as FBI employees.
  3. They were to carry no badges, credentials or guns—or anything else connecting themselves with the FBI.
  4. If they were arrested by police and the truth emerged about their FBI employment, the Bureau would claim they were “rogue agents” acting on their own.
  5. Such agents were not to refute the FBI’s portrayal of them as “rogues.”

As summed up by Roemer, Hoover’s greatest concern was always: ‘Do the job, by God, but don’t ever let anything happen that might embarrass the Bureau.”

In the business sector, Hoover’s rule still forcefully apples. Anyone who doubts this need only examine the public scandal involving Applebee’s International, Inc.

AB Brand Refresh Logo R.png

Applebees Restaurant LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

On March 9, Wayne Pankratz, an executive with Apple Central, a Kansas City-based company that operates Applebee’s restaurants, sent an email to managers saying high gas prices could help them cut employees’ wages.

He noted that most Applebee’s employees live “paycheck to paycheck.” But instead of suggesting a pay raise, he advocated the opposite: 

“Any increase in gas price cuts into their disposable income. As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.”

Because workers were no longer supported by government stimulus, desperate workers would be forced back into the workforce regardless of wages, giving the company the upper hand when it came to compensation.

Pankratz said competing restaurants had been raising wages to attract more workers, leaving Applebee’s struggling to keep up.

“We all saw businesses hiring team members at $18-$20 an hour. They will no longer be able to afford to do this,” the memo said. 

Pankratz predicted that the labor market was “about to turn in our favor.”

The memo was posted to an r/antiwork forum on Reddit and then picked up on social media. At that point, it took on a life of its own. 

Twitter users expressed outrage at the memo. Some said they would spend their money at other restaurants.

At least three managers quit their jobs at a Kansas Applebee’s over the memo, CBS News reported. 

Suddenly, it was Pankratz who was desperate for employment—he was fired.

In line with Hoover’s dictum of disavowing anyone who caused embarrassment for the organization, Kevin Carroll, Dine Brands’ chief operations officer for Applebee’s, rushed to repair the damage:

“This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s. We understand that the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market has placed the individual on leave.

“Our team members are the lifeblood of our restaurants, and our franchisees are always looking to reward and incentivize team members, new and current, to remain within the Applebee’s family.”

WHAT EMPLOYERS OFTEN MEAN BY “A TEAM PLAYER”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 20, 2022 at 12:13 am

In 1959,, J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI, declared war on the Mafia.

He set up a Top Hoodlum Program and encouraged his agents to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance (“bugging”) to make up for lost time and Intelligence.

But planting “bugs” demanded illegal trespass into mob hangouts.

Making this even more hazardous: Hoover imposed restrictions on these assignments that could destroy an agent’s professional and personal life.

William E. Roemer, Jr., assigned to the FBI’s Chicago field office, was one of the first agents to volunteer for such duty.

William Roemer | C-SPAN.org

William Roemer

In his memoirs, Man Against the Mob, published in 1989, Roemer laid out the dangers that went with such work:

  1. If confronted by police or mobsters, agents were to try to escape without being identified.
  2. If caught by police, agents were not to identify themselves as FBI employees.
  3. They were to carry no badges, credentials or guns—or anything else connecting themselves with the FBI.
  4. If they were arrested by police and the truth emerged about their FBI employment, the Bureau would claim they were “rogue agents” acting on their own.
  5. Such agents were not to refute the FBI’s portrayal of them as “rogues.”

If he had been arrested by the Chicago Police Department and identified as an FBI agent, Roemer would have:

  • Been fired as an FBI agent.
  • Almost certainly been convicted for at least breaking and entering.
  • Disbarred from the legal profession (Roemer was an attorney).
  • Perhaps served a prison sentence.
  • Been disgraced as a convicted felon.
  • Been unable to serve in his chosen profession of law enforcement.

If he had been intercepted by the mobsters, he would have likely been shot.

Given the huge risks involved, many agents, unsurprisingly, shunned “black bag jobs.”

The agents who took them on were so committed to penetrating the Mob that they willingly accepted Hoover’s dictates.

In 1989, Roemer speculated that former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North had fallen victim to such a “Mission: Impossible” scenario: “The secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions….”

Oliver North’s mugshot

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan’s “arms-for-hostages” deal known as Iran-Contra had been exposed.

To retrieve seven Americans taken hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, Reagan had secretly agreed to sell some of America’s most sophisticated missiles to Iran.

During this operation, several Reagan officials—including North—diverted proceeds from the sale of those missiles to fund Reagan’s illegal war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

In Roemer’s view: North had followed orders from his superiors without question.  But when the time came for those superiors to step forward and protect him, they didn’t.

They let him take the fall.

Roemer speculated that North had been led to believe he would be rescued from criminal prosecution.  Instead, in 1989, he was convicted for

  • Accepting an illegal gratuity;
  • Aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry; and
  • Ordering the destruction of documents via his secretary, Fawn Hall.

That is how many employers expect their employees to act: To carry out whatever assignments they are given and take the blame if anything goes wrong.

Take the case of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the world’s biggest retailer.

In March, 2005, Wal-Mart escaped criminal charges when it agreed to pay $11 million to end a federal probe into its use of illegal aliens as janitors.

Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided 60 Wal-Mart stores across 21 states in October, 2003. The raids led to the arrest of 245 illegal aliens.

An ICE raid

The illegal aliens had been hired as janitors at Wal-Mart stores.

Many of the employees worked seven days or nights a week without overtime pay or injury compensation. Those who worked nights were often locked in the store until morning.

According to Federal officials, court-authorized wiretaps revealed that Wal-Mart executives knew their subcontractors hired illegal aliens.

Once the raids began, Federal agents invaded the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, seizing boxes of records from the office of a mid-level executive.

Of course, Wal-Mart admitted no wrongdoing in the case. Instead, it blamed its subcontractors for hiring illegal aliens and claiming that Wal-Mart hadn’t been aware of this.

Just as the FBI planned to have its agents take the fall in “black bag” cases, Wal-Mart meant to sacrifice its subcontractors for hiring illegal aliens.

The only reason Wal-Mart couldn’t make this work: The Feds had, for once, treated corporate executives like Mafia leaders and had tapped their phones.

Which holds a lesson for how Federal law enforcement agencies should treat future corporate executives when their companies are found violating the law.

Instead of seeing CEOs as “captains of industry,” a far more realistic approach would be giving this term a new meaning: Corrupt Egotistical Oligarchs.

Their phones should be tapped, their boardrooms and bedrooms bugged, and their closest associates should be given immunity to testify against them.

A smart investigator/prosecutor should always remember:

Widespread illegal and corrupt behavior cannot happen among the employees of a major government agency or private corporation unless:

  1. Those at the top have ordered it and are profiting from it; or
  2. Those at the top don’t want to know about it and have taken no steps to prevent or punish it.

WHAT EMPLOYERS OFTEN MEAN BY “A TEAM PLAYER”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 19, 2022 at 12:11 am

Recruiters for corporate America routinely claim they’re looking for “a team player.”

This sounds great—as though the corporation is seeking people who will get along with their colleagues and work to achieve a worthwhile objective.

And, at times, that is precisely what is being sought in a potential employee.

But, altogether too often, what the corporation actually means by “a team player” is what the Mafia means by “a real standup guy.”

That is: Someone willing to commit any crime for the organization—and take the fall for its leaders if anything goes wrong.

Consider this classic example from the files of America’s premier law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

On November 14, 1957, 70 top Mafia leaders from across the country gathered at the estate of a fellow gangster, Joseph Barbara, in Apalachin, a small village in upstate New York.

The presence of so many cars with out-of-state license plates converging on an isolated mansion caught the attention of Edgar Crosswell, a sergeant in the New York State Police.

Crosswell assembled as many troopers as he could find, set up roadblocks, and swooped down on the estate.

The mobsters, panicked, fled in all directions—many of them into the surrounding woods.  Even so, more than 60 underworld bosses were arrested and indicted following the raid.

Perhaps the most significant result of the raid was the effect it had on J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI.

J. Edgar Hoover

Up to that point, Hoover had vigorously and vocally denied the existence of a nationwide Mafia.  He had left the pursuit of international narcotics traffickers to his hated rival, Harry Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).

But he had carefully kept his own agency well out of the war on organized crime. Several theories have been advanced as to why. 

  1. Hoover feared that his agents—-long renowned for their incorruptibility—would fall prey to the bribes of well-heeled mobsters.
  2. Hoover feared that his allegedly homosexual relationship with his longtime associate director, Clyde Tolson, would be exposed by the Mob. Rumors still persist that mobster Meyer Lansky came into possession of a compromising photo of Hoover and Tolson engaged in flagrante delicto.
  3. Hoover knew of the ties between moneyed mobsters and their political allies in Congress. And he feared losing the goodwill of his political allies—and ever-larger appropriations for the FBI.
  4. Hoover preferred flashy, easily-solved cases to those requiring huge investments of manpower and money.

Suddenly, however, ignoring the Mob was no longer possible. The arrests of more than 60 known members of the underworld—in what the news media called “a conclave of crime”—deeply embarrassed Hoover.

How could the FBI have not known about this?

It was all the more embarrassing that while the FBI had virtually nothing in its files on the leading lights of the Mafia, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had opened its voluminous files to the Senate Labor Rackets Committee.

Heading that committee as chief legal counsel was Robert F. Kennedy—a fierce opponent of organized crime. In 1961, he would become Attorney General of the United States.

So Hoover created the Top Hoodlum Program (THP) to identify and target selected Mafiosi across the country.

Since the FBI had no networks of informants operating within the Mafia, Hoover fell back on a technique he had successfully employed against the Communist Party U.S.A.

He would wiretap the mobsters’ phones and plant electronic microphones (“bugs”) in their meeting places. The information gleamed from these techniques would arm the Bureau with evidence that could be used to strongarm mobsters into “rolling over” on their colleagues in exchange for leniency.

The Commission (American Mafia) - Wikipedia

Organization chart of Mafia famiies

Hoover believed he had authority to install wiretaps because more than one Attorney General had authorized their use.

But no Attorney General had given permission to install bugs—which involved breaking into the places where they were to be placed. Such assignments were referred to within the Bureau as “black bag jobs.”

So, in making clear to his agent-force that he wanted an unprecedented war against organized crime, Hoover also made clear the following:

Before agents could install electronic surveillance (an ELSUR, in FBI-speak) devices in Mob hangouts, agents had to first request authority for a survey.  This would have to establish:

  1. That this was truly a strategic location;
  2. That the agents had a plan of attack that the Bureau could see was logical and potentially successful; and, most importantly of all
  3. That it could be done without any “embarrassment to the Bureau.”

According to former FBI agent William E. Roemer, Jr., who carried out many of these “black bag” assignments: “The [last requirement] was always Mr. Hoover’s greatest concern: ‘Do the job, by God, but don’t ever let anything happen that might embarrass the Bureau.”

Roemer laid out the dangers of these “penetration” assignments in his autobiography: Romer: Man Against the Mob (1989)   

Agents faced not only the threat of arrest by police, but that of death at the hands of the Mob.

WHEN SCREEN CRIMINALS MEET REAL ONES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 3, 2021 at 12:10 am

Sean Penn is not the first celebrity to “get close to” a gangster.

Singer Frank Sinatra set the standard as far back as the 1940s when he was often seen in the company of notorious Mafiosi such as Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Willie Moretti.

(It was Moretti who is rumored to have freed Sinatra from his financially-limiting contract with bandleader Tommy Dorsey in the early 1940s.  

His alleged method of persuasion: Jamming a pistol down Dorsey’s throat and threatening to kill him. Dorsey eventually sold the contract to Sinatra for one dollar.)

But the mobster whom Sinatra was most-often linked with—by gossip and FBI reports—was Sam “Mooney” Giancana.

Giancana started out as a “wheelman” and enforcer for the teenage “42 Gang,” then joined the Chicago mob in the late 1930s. By 1957 he had been appointed its boss.

Sam Giancana.jpg

Sam Giancana

Sinatra often partied with Giancana, both in nightclubs and at his own residence in Palm Springs, California.

In December, 1959, financier Joseph P. Kennedy summoned Sinatra to the family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. His son, Senator John F. Kennedy, was planning to run for President in 1960. And the elder Kennedy wanted Sinatra’s help.

Sinatra and the Senator were by now well-acquainted. They shared a taste for gossip, nightclubs and beautiful women.

According to Sinatra’s daughter, Tina, the Kennedy patriarch said: “I think that you can help [the campaign] in [the] West Virginia [primary] and Illinois [in the general election] with our friends.

“You understand, Frank, I can’t go. They’re my friends, too, but I can’t approach them.  But you can.”

Frank Sinatra '57.jpg

Frank Sinatra

By “our friends,” Kennedy meant the Mafia. Joseph P. Kennedy had done business with the mob as a bootlegger during Prohibition.

Now he wanted the Mafia to pressure local union members into voting for JFK—and making contributions to the Kennedy Presidential campaign.

Sinatra went to his friend, Sam Giancana, and asked for the mob’s support.  And Giancana promised to deliver it.

In return, Giancana—and other mobsters—expected to win an ally in the White House. He was later overheard on an FBI wiretap saying he had been promised by Sinatra that “if I even got a traffic ticket, none of those fuckers [the FBI] would know me.”

Since 1959, Giancana and other “Top Hoodlum” mobsters had been under increasingly heavy FBI surveillance. Giancana wanted it stopped.

And Sinatra had assured him that, under a Kennedy Presidency, it would stop.

On Election Night, 1960, John F. Kennedy carried Illinois—and won the White House by a mere 120,000 votes nationwide.

Then, to the horror of the Mafia, JFK installed his brother, Robert Francis Kennedy, as Attorney General. From 1957 to 1959, RFK had pursued gangsters as chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee. 

Now he declared all-out war on organized crime.  Convictions against organized crime figures rose 800% during his four years in office.

 Robert F. Kennedy

Sinatra tried to deliver for Giancana.  He sent Peter Lawford—his Rat Pack pal and brother-in-law to the President—to talk with Robert Kennedy about laying off on the Mafia don.

Kennedy bluntly told Lawford to mind his own business.

Giancana came under even greater pressure. FBI agents put a 24-hour “lockstep” surveillance on him, following him even into church and restrooms.

“I was on the road with this broad,” Giancana raged to his murderous associate, Johnny Formosa. “There must have been 20 guys [FBI agents]. They were next door, upstairs, downstairs, surrounded all the way around!

“Get in a car, somebody picks you up  I lose that tail—boom!—I get picked up someplace else!  Four or five cars, back and forth, back and forth.”

In another exchange with Formosa, Giancana’s anger at Sinatra boiled over:

“The last time I talked to [Sinatra] was at the hotel in Florida.  And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it.  If I can’t talk to the old man [Joseph P. Kennedy] I’m going to talk to the man [President Kennedy].’

“One minute he says he’s talked to Robert, and the next minute he says he hasn’t talked to him.  So he never did talk to him.”

Formosa suggested a remedy: “Let’s show ’em.  Let’s show those fuckin’ Hollywood fruitcakes that they can’t get away with it as if nothin’s happened.

“Let’s hit Sinatra. Or I could whack out a couple of those other guys, Lawford and that [Dean] Martin.  And I could take the nigger [Sammy Davis, Jr.] and put his other eye out.”

Giancana refused to issue the contract. But he seriously considered doing so, as he confessed to a Chicago associate named Tommy DiBella:

“One night I’m fucking Phyllis [McGuire, a member of the famous McGuire sisters trio], playing Sinatra songs in the background, and the whole time I’m thinking to myself, ‘Christ, how can I silence that voice?’

“It’s the most beautiful voice in the world. Frank’s lucky he’s got it.  It saved his life.”

Sinatra’s Rat Pack “pally,” Dean Martin, summed it up: “Only Frank could get away with the shit he’s got away with. Only Frank. Anybody else would’ve been dead.”

Sinatra survived the murderous anger of a mob boss.  It remains to be seen if Sean Penn can do the same.

WHEN SCREEN CRIMINALS MEET REAL ONES: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on December 2, 2021 at 12:11 am

Actor Sean Penn believes the Mexican Government wants to put him at risk by convincing Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman that Penn played a role—deliberately or negligently—in his capture.

“We know the Mexican government, they clearly were humiliated by the notion that someone found him before they did,” Penn told interviewer Charlie Rose.

“Nobody found him before they did. We are not smarter than the DEA, or Mexican Intelligence.  We had a contact upon which we were able to facilitate an invitation.”

By “we” Penn meant himself and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who had actually arranged the meeting.

Kate del Castillo at the 2012 Imagen Awards.jpg

 Actress Kate del Castillo

“They wanted to encourage the cartel to put you in their crosshairs?” Rose asked.

“Yes,” Penn answered.

This is entirely possible.  Guzman’s escape from a “maximum security” prison in July, 2015, had proved internationally embarrassing for the Mexican Government

Even more embarrassing: He escaped through a mile-long tunnel that literally led to his cell.  Almost certainly this happened with the collusion of some prison guards.

Penn—and del Castillo—could face dangers from at least three groups.

Danger #1: El Chapo

Already there is evidence that “El Chapo” regrets having given an interview to Penn and del Castillo in the Mexican jungle on October 2, 2015.

Related image

Sean Penn

Published in Rolling Stone on January 9, 2016, the article contained such Guzman boasts as:

“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anyone else in the world.  I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”

Juan Pablo Badillo, one of Guzman’s attorneys, has since claimed that the article contains falsehoods:

“It’s a lie, absurd speculation from Mr. Penn. Mr. Penn should be called to testify to respond about the stupidities he has said.

“He [Guzman] could not have made these claims. Mr. Guzman is a very serious man, very intelligent.”

This could spell danger for Penn and del Castillo. Guzman is responsible for the deaths of thousands of rivals, journalists and police.Related image

Among the witnesses to the drug cartels’ savagery is Michael Levine, a 25-year veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the author of Deep Cover: Mexican Government Drug Corruption From the Inside.

“Depending on what the cartels and/or the many corrupt Mexican cops and Mexican government officials believe El Chapo divulged during the interview, Penn, and whomever else was present, may be in more physical danger than he could ever imagine,” said Levine.

An anonymous law enforcement official said that not only could Penn be in danger, but so could his entire family.

“It won’t happen now. They [the cartels] wait. Him or people close to him are in danger. They don’t single out the one person.  They go for the person’s family.

“He poked his head into a nest of vipers with an amazing global reach. He was a fool.  As public as Penn is, he will be a sitting duck.”

Danger #2: Guzman’s Competitors in the Drug Trade

“The problem with dealing with someone like Guzman on this personal basis, where one is perceived as a ‘friend’ or an aide or a business partner of sorts to Chapo, is that you have to be prepared to inherit all his enemies, and there are many,” warned Michael Levine.

“These are some very kill-crazy people. The notoriety gained by killing someone like Penn or even del Castillo will actually turn these bastards on.

“It’s a step into the dark world of the kill crazies.  Believe me it is there, and unwittingly these two may have stepped into a world where there is an actual competition to kill them,” said Levine, who has dealt face-to-face with Latin American drug lords.

Danger #3: Wannabe Cartel Members

Countless men—in Mexico and the United States—would love to “do El Chapo a favor” by gunning down Penn and/or del Castillo.

This could happen even if Guzman harbors no ill will toward either.  It would be enough for someone to simply believe that he did.

An additional motive: The fame—or infamy—that the assassin of a “big celebrity” like Penn would receive. John Lennon died at the hands of such a fame-obsessed, psychotic gunman.

This means that literally anyone could be a potential assassin—making it that much harder to defend against.

When clients enter the Justice Department’s Witness Security Program, they are quickly asked: “Who do you think poses the biggest threat to you?”

Deputy U.S. marshals, who operate the program, assume that a witness is the best judge of who poses the greatest danger to him.

Related image

Witness Security Program protection detail

This works well when a witness is unknown and testifying against someone who is equally unknown to the public.

But when a witness is notorious—such as Sammy “The Bull” Gravano—and the defendant is equally infamous—such as John Gotti—all bets are off.

Of course, Federally-protected witnesses have two advantages going for them that Penn and del Castillo do not:

First, they are protected by the U.S. Marshals Service, which has an excellent track record in protecting its charges; and

Second, they are expected to assume a low profile, which serves as their best protection.

Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo aren’t Federally-protected witnesses. And they’re unlikely to assume a low profile by going into hiding.

WHEN SCREEN CRIMINALS MEET REAL ONES: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on December 1, 2021 at 12:24 am

Actor Sean Penn is used to being a tough guy—onscreen.

In 2006, he played real-life mobster Mickey Cohen (1913 – 1976) in Gangster Squad.  And in 2013, he played Willie Stark, a corrupt, Huey Long-type Southern governor in a remake of All the King’s Men.

As Cohen, Penn put out contracts on his enemies and even went mano-o-mano in a long-running (and fictional) fistfight with an LAPD detective.

And as Stark, he clawed his way to power and bullied both his enemies and his supporters.

Perhaps Penn should have paid more attention to the way those movies ended.

Sean Penn by Sachyn Mital (cropped).jpg

Sean Penn

Mickey Cohen goes to prison, where he is brutally waylaid by other inmates.

And Willie Stark, at the height of his power, is shot by a longtime enemy.

Had he thought about it, he might have decided it could be a mistake to meet with Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman, the notorious Mexican drug lord.

On October 2, 2015, Penn met with Guzman in an undisclosed location in the Mexican jungle.  He was there to interview him on behalf of Rolling Stone magazine. 

Guzman wanted a movie made about him.  So he had reached out to Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, asking her to meet with him to discuss such a project.  She, in turn, referred him to Penn, whom Guzman said could come along for the meeting.

Penn had his own agenda: To write an article for Rolling Stone whose “purpose [would] contribute to this conversation on the war on drugs.”

Three months later, on January 8, 2016, Mexican Marines and Federal Police launched an early-morning raid on a house in Los Mochis, in northern Sinaloa, where Guzman’s drug cartel operated.

The Marines expected to find Guzman there, and they did—ending his almost six-month flight after escaping from prison in July.  

One day after Guzman’s capture, Rolling Stone published Penn’s 10,000-word article.  

Penn had not been allowed to bring a tape recorder or even take notes with pen and paper.  So he had been forced to memorize as much of Guzman’s tale as he could.

Penn seemed to be enraptured by Guzman:

“There is no doubt this is the real deal. He’s wearing a casual patterned silk shirt, pressed black pants, and he appears remarkably well-groomed and healthy for a man on the run.  

“He opens [actress Kate del Castillo’s] [car} door and greets her like a daughter returning from college.  

“It seems important to him to express the warm affection in person that, until now, he’d only had occasion to communicate from afar.”  

Even so, Penn quoted Guzman as bragging: “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.  I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”

Booking photo of Joaquin “El Chapo“ Guzman (front).jpg

 Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman

After the interview’s publication, Penn came under fire for having allowed Guzman to approve the article.  He claimed that, despite this, Guzman had not asked for any changes.  

He also drew sharp criticism for having used his status as a movie star to play the part of a reporter. 

But worse was to come.  

Shortly after the capture of “El Chapo,” Mexico’s Attorney General Arely Gomez “credited” Penn with having played a vital role in the capture of the drug kingpin.  

The meeting between Penn, Castillo and Guzman “was an essential element, because we were following [Guzman’s] lawyer, and the lawyer took us to these people and to this meeting.”  

Suddenly, American experts on Mexican organized crime cartels began seeing Sean Penn in a new light—that of a movie star with a big target on his chest and back.

Suppose Guzman began suspecting that Penn had deliberately led Mexican authorities to him?  Or that he had done so even accidentally, through negligence in how he had traveled?

“These cartels are very violent, they do not forgive any transgression and they will respond in a most violent manner,” said Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“These are people who have dismembered, who have decapitated individuals.  So killing Sean Penn and del Castillo means absolutely nothing to them.”

Vigil believed it was careless for the Mexican Government to publicize any ties between the Penn meeting and Guzman’s arrest:

“If Chapo Guzman perceives that they cooperated with authorities in his capture, [the cartel] will go after them.”

He argued that the risk is likely  for del Castillo because she was the one in contact with Guzman.

She was the one whom Guzman’s associates supplied with a Blackberry—the phone they believed most secure.  And it was her and Guzman’s flirtatious exchanges that led to the meeting in the jungle with Sean Penn.

“Apart from that, [del Castillo] is originally from Mexico, she has all of her family in Mexico.  One of the traditional violent methods [the cartels] use is if they can’t get to the target, they’ll go after their family members.

“If I were Kate del Castillo, I would run like the wind.”

WHAT AMERICA LOST WITH JFK 58 YEARS AGO

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 22, 2021 at 12:07 am

Fifty-eight years ago this coming November 22, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

For most Americans, 1963 was over—and their lives would never be the same.

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 atmospheric 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.
  • By the time JFK died, 16,000 Americans were serving in Vietnam, with more than 70 casualties.
  • 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 asked 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 hopeless:

“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, Democrats and Republicans 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, couldn’t reach agreement.

President Kennedy insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press—but 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 candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

  • Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader”—thus excusing his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.
  • Texas Governor Rick Perry (and Secretary of Energy under Donald Trump) didn’t know 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 your answer reveals your ignorance, stupidity and/or criminality.
  • Sarah Palin rewrote history via “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”: “He warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” 
  • In fact, Revere wasn’t warning the British about anything. Instead, he was warning his fellow  Americans about an impending British attack—as his celebrated catchphrase “The British are coming!” made clear.

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.

Donald Trump has publicly celebrated ignorance. After winning the Nevada Republican primary in 2016, he declared: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

Similarly, 58% of Republicans and Right-wingers believe that higher education has a negative effect on the country.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders. And in seeking a reasoning and educated future for their children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation

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

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

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

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

Other measures taken included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office

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

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

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

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

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

John F. and Robert F. Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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