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LESSONS IN DISLOYALTY—GOTTI AND TRUMP: PART TWO (END)

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

President Donald Trump shares more than a few striking similarities with John Gotti, who, for five years, ruled as the boss of the most powerful Mafia family in the United States: The Gambino Family. 

Among those similarities: A complete lack of loyalty to anyone. 

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Donald Trump

Unknowingly speaking into an FBI electronic bug, Gotti charged that Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, his underboss, or second-in command, was too greedy. He also blamed him for the murders of three Mafiosi whom Gotti had ordered hit.

When Gravano learned of these slanders at a pretrial hearing, he agreed to testify against Gotti and other Mafiosi in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. 

And just as Gotti’s disloyalty ultimately destroyed him, the same may yet prove true for Trump.

Consider the case of attorney Michael Cohen.

  • An executive of the Trump Organization, Cohen acted as “Trump’s pit bull.” “If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like,” he told ABC News in 2011, “I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit.”
  • In 2015, a reporter for The Daily Beast asked Cohen about Ivana Trump’s charge (later recanted) that Trump had raped her while they were married. Cohen: “I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.”
  • In 2016, while Trump was running for President, Cohen acted as the go-between for a $130,000 hush-money payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels. The reason: To prevent her from revealing a 2006 tryst she had had with Trump.  

In April 2018, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York began investigating Cohen. Charges reportedly include bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of campaign finance law.

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Michael Cohen

By IowaPolitics.com (Trump executive Michael Cohen 012) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On April 9, 2018, the FBI, executing a federal search warrant, raided Cohen’s office at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, as well as his home and his hotel room in the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City. Agents seized emails, tax and business records and recordings of phone conversations that Cohen had made.

Trump’s response: “Michael Cohen only handled a tiny, tiny fraction of my legal work.”  

Thus Trump undermined the argument of Cohen’s lawyers that he was the President’s personal attorney—and therefore everything Cohen did was protected by attorney-client privilege.

Then there’s Paul Manafort—a lobbyist, political consultant and lawyer.

  • He joined Trump’s  presidential campaign team in March 2016 and was campaign chairman from March to August 2016. He attended the Republican Convention in July, where Trump was officially nominated as the GOP candidate for President.
  • On June 9, 2016, Manafort, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian Intelligence agents at Trump Tower. The reason: The Russians claimed to have “dirt” on Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In March, 2017, news broke that Manafort, in his work as a lobbyist, had represented Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and close associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The story fueled growing controversy over the Trump campaign’s documented ties to Russia,

Trump’s response: 

“The President was not aware of Paul’s clients from the last decade,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.

Describing Manafort’s role as chairman of the Trump campaign, Spicer said that he “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” 

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Paul Manafort

An April 19, 2018 headline in Esquire magazine warned: “If the Water is Rising, Donald Trump Will Throw You Overboard.” 

The article read in part:

“No matter how long or how intimately you’ve known Donald Trump, you’re one news cycle away from being tossed overboard….

“An old friend becomes a needy acquaintance; a campaign chairman becomes someone you got from the temp agency; a national security adviser becomes a ‘volunteer.'” 

Trump’s desertion of his former allies places them in jeopardy—but it also endangers him.

Cohen wasn’t just Trump’s lawyer. He was his fixer, a man who made problems “go away” with threats and bribes. He knows many—if not most—of Trump’s darkest secrets.

And he may be preparing to reveal them.

In a recent off-camera interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Cohen warned: “I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy” if Trump or his attorneys try to discredit him.

And unlike Trump—who has repeatedly asserted that Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 Presidential election—Cohen said he believed it did.

As for Manafort: He resigned as Trump’s campaign manager when news broke that he had received $12.7 million from then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Puttin lackey.

Given Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s focus on Trump’s ties to Russia, Manafort—through his own ties there—can deliver a mother-lode of secrets if he so desires.

Donald Trump now faces the dilemma—and possibly the same fate—of John “Teflon Don” Gotti: Faced with increasing evidence of his blatant criminality and possibly even treason, does he:

  • Stand by those whose secrets can destroy him? or
  • Throw them to the wolves, hoping they will still not betray him?

LESSONS IN DISLOYALTY—GOTTI AND TRUMP: PART ONE (OF TWO)

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

On December 11, 1990, FBI agents and NYPD detectives raided the Ravenite Social Club in Manhattan.

They had arrest warrants for John Gotti, boss of the Gambino Mafia Family, and his two lieutenants: Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, his underboss, or second-in-command, and Frankie Locascio, his Consigliere, or adviser.

Gotti had become boss of the Gambino Family in December, 1985—by arranging the execution of its then-boss, Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, on December 16.

Since then, he had moved his headquarters from Queens to the Ravenite. And, like a king holding court, he had ordered all of his captains to report to him at the Ravenite once a week.  

Word quickly reached the FBI—and agents in vans shot video as they staked out Prince Street. 

Gotti had handed the FBI a mob organization chart.

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FBI Seal

It was only a matter of time before the FBI’s Technical Surveillance Squad (TSS) breached the security of the Ravenite. 

In 1989, the TSS planted a hidden microphone in an apartment above the Ravenite where Gotti held his secret meetings. Tape recorders were running when he bragged that he had ordered three murders—and was running a criminal enterprise: The Gambino Mafia Family.

When he wasn’t bragging, Gotti was badmouthing virtually everyone—past and present—in the Mafia: Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino, Vincent “The Chins” Gigante. And, most fatally, his own underboss: Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.

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John Gotti

On December 12, 1989, the electronic bug picked up the following conversation between Gotti and his Consigliere, or adviser, Frankie Locascio. 

The subject: The murders of three former Gambino Family mobsters: Robert “Deebee” DiBernardo, Louis Milito and Louis DiBono.  

DiBernardo had been murdered over Gravano’s objections. A fellow mobster had told Gotti that DiBernardo had made “subversive” comments behind Gotti’s back.

But that wasn’t the way Gotti told it.

GOTTI: “Deebee, did he ever talk subversive to you?”

LOCASCIO: “Never.”

GOTTI: “Never talked it to Angelo, never talked it to [Joseph Armone] either. I took Sammy’s word that he talked about me behind my back….I was in jail when I whacked him. I knew why it was being done. I done it anyway. I allowed it to be done anyway.”

Next Gotti focused on the murders of Louis Milito and Louis DiBono. Milito had been “whacked” for questioning Gotti’s judgment. And DiBono had been hit because he refused to answer a Gotti summons

But Gotti was determined to lay the blame on Gravano. He claimed that both men had been killed because Gravano had asked for permission to remove his business partners.

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Sammy “The Bull” Gravano

GOTTI: “Every time we get a partner that don’t agree with us, we kill him. [The] boss kills him. He kills him. He okays it. Says it’s all right, good.” 

And there was more: Gotti accused Gravano of excessive greed—and hoarding money for himself at the expense of the Family. 

GOTTI: “That’s Sammy….Every fucking time I turn around there’s a new company poppin’ up. Building. Consulting. Concrete.  Where the hell did all these new companies come from?  Where did five new companies come from? 

“Paul [Castellano, the Gambino Family’s previous boss] sold the Family out for a fucking construction company. And that’s what Sammy’s doing now.  Three, four guys will wind up with every fuckin’ thing. And the rest of the Family looks like waste.” 

He accused Gravano of creating “a fuckin’ army inside an army,” adding: “You know what I’m saying, Frankie? I saw that shit and I don’t need that shit.” 

Gotti’s effort to rewrite history soon came back to haunt him.

At a pretrial hearing following the arrests of Gotti, Gravano and Locascio, prosecutors played the FBI’s tapes of Gotti’s unintended confessions—including his badmouthing of Gravano. 

Gravano suddenly realized that his future in the Mafia was nil. 

Gravano, Gotti and Locascio were all facing life imprisonment as targets of RICO—the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.

And if the Feds didn’t send him to prison, mob gunmen—sent by Gotti—would eventually get him. Gotti clearly planned to make him the fall guy—in court or in a coffin—for murders that Gotti himself had ordered

Only John Gotti was shocked when Gravano agreed to testify against him—and other Mafiosi—in exchange for a five-year prison sentence.

Gravano, as Gotti’s second-in-command, had literally been at the seat of power for five years.  He knew the secrets of the Gambino Family—and the other four Mafia families who ruled New York.

On April 2, 1992, a jury convicted Gotti of five murders, conspiracy to murder, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion. He drew a life sentence, without possibility of parole.  

Gotti was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, in virtual solitary confinement. He died of throat cancer on June 10, 2002, at the age of 61.    

Donald Trump resembles his fellow New Yorker, John Gotti, in more ways than he would like to admit: In his greed, arrogance, egomania, love of publicity and vindictiveness. 

So far, he has survived his lifelong hubris.  But he may not survive his lifelong dedication to “looking out for Number One.”

GREED IS NOT ENOUGH: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 28, 2018 at 1:21 am

President Donald Trump was furious.

Nordstrom department store had just dared to drop the clothing and accessories lines of his daughter, Ivanka.

So, true to form, on February 8, 2017, he aired his displeasure on Twitter: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

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Donald Trump

He used his personal Twitter account—@realDonaldTrump—to send this message. In fact, he sent it 21 minutes into his daily Intelligence briefing.

Still not satisfied, he retweeted his attack on Nordstrom on his official POTUS (President of the United States) Twitter account.  

In short, he used a taxpayer-funded account to benefit his daughter.

Not content to attack Nordstrom by himself, Trump enlisted other members of his administration as assailants.

One of these was his then-press secretary, Sean Spicer:

“There’s a targeting of her brand and it’s her name. She’s not directly running the company. It’s still her name on it. There are clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. Her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.”

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Sean Spicer

Nordstrom retorted that its decision to drop the Ivanka Trump line was “based on performance.”

“Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team. We’ve had open conversations with them over the past year to share what we’ve seen and Ivanka was personally informed of our decision in early January.”

But for the Trumpinistas, that wasn’t the end of it.

On Februrary 9, 2017, Kelleyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, became a TV shill for Ivanka.

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Kelleyanne Conway

Appearing on the Right-wing Fox News Channel program, “Fox and Friends,” Kelleyanne spoke from no less prestigious a forum than the White House itself:

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff. I hate shopping and I’m going to go get some myself today. It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

For Democrats and even some Republicans, Conway’s behavior was simply unacceptable.

Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, a member of the the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the committee.

In it, he requested a referral to the Office of Government Ethics for possible disciplinary action against Conway. 

The office does not have investigative or enforcement authority, but officials there can contact and provide guidance to other enforcement agencies.

Chaffetz told the Associated Press that Conway’s behavior was “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable.”

Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization of election law experts, said Trump’s tweet was “totally out of line.”

“He should not be promoting his daughter’s line, he should not be attacking a company that has business dealings with his daughter, and it just shows the massive amount of problems we have with his business holdings and his family’s business holdings,” Noble said.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert, said the Nordstrom tweet could make other retailers hesitate to drop the Ivanka Trump brand. They may fear being similarly attacked by the President.

“The implicit threat was that he will use whatever authority he has to retaliate against Nordstrom, or anyone who crosses his interest,” said Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

* * * * *

In 1969, 25-year-old Joe McGinnis became famous overnight with the publication of his first book, The Selling of the President. 

At the time, Americans were shocked to learn how Presidential candidate Richard Nixon had been sold to voters like any other product. In fact, the original book jacket featured Nixon’s face on a pack of cigarettes. 

Today, Madison Avenue doesn’t simply sell Americans their Presidents. Now—with Donald J. Trump—Americans have a President determined to turn the White House into Trump, Inc. 

A single example will serve to illustrate: 

On January 27, Trump signed an executive order that:

  • Suspends entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days;
  • Bars Syrian refugees indefinitely; and
  • Blocks entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Three countries not covered by Trump’s travel ban:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • The United Arab Emirates
  • Egypt 
  • Turkey.

Approximately 3,000 Americans have been killed by immigrants from those countries—most of them during the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey are all countries where President Trump has close business ties. His properties include two luxury towers in Turkey and golf courses in the United Arab Emirates.

The full dimensions of Trump’s holdings throughout the Middle East aren’t known because he has refused to release his tax returns.

GREED IS NOT ENOUGH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

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

Fifty-six years after John F. Kennedy gave his first and only Inaugural Address, these words remain its single most-quoted sentence: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

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John F. Kennedy Inaugural

So millions of Americans who were alive that day—January 20, 1961—were probably shocked when they learned that Melania Trump had a very different view of government service.

On August 20, 2016, The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, published a story accusing her of having once worked as a prostitute.

The newspaper cited a Slovenian magazine’s report that a modeling agency that she worked with in New York in the 1990s also served as an escort business, linking wealthy clients with women for sexual services.

On September 1, Melania sued The Daily Mail in a state court in Montgomery County, Maryland. In early 2017, the Maryland court dismissed the case, saying it did not have jurisdiction.

On February 6, 2017, Melania filed another libel suit against The Daily Mail in the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Required to prove that she had been harmed in some way, Melania did not cite undeserved shame or how much her family and friends had been hurt.

Instead, she argued that the article had ruined her “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to cash in on the Presidency.

Melania Trump

Melania Trump

According to the complaint that her attorney filed:

”Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person…to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world,” the Manhattan suit says.

“These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance.

“The [statements] also constitute defamation per se because they impugned on her fitness to perform her duties as First Lady of the United States,” the suit alleges.

Melania is alleging $150 million in damages.

Enter the Emoluments Clause.

This is a United States government law that specifically forbids any leader from using government services to “enrich” the President and his family.

Among the greatest dangers facing the newly-created American government, feared the Founding Fathers, was foreign interference. And this could be obtained through the use of bribes—money or gifts.

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The Constitution of the United States

To prevent this, the Founders inserted the Emoluments Clause into Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution:

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

This illustrates one of the dangers of bringing a libel or slander suit.

(NOTE: Libel is a written defamation; slander is a spoken one)

Whoever brings the suit must open himself to unprecedented privacy-invading questions. And, in answering them, he may unintentionally give away revelations that can prove highly damaging.

Another Trump seeking to find out “what the country can do for you” is the President’s daughter, Ivanka.

Starting in 2016, Shannon Coulter, a brand and digital strategist, started the Grab Your Wallet boycott aimed at more than 30 retailers who carry Ivanka’s line of fashion apparel.

Image result for Images of Grab Your Wallet campaign

Among the retailers targeted:

  • Amazon.com
  • Belk
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Bed, Bath and Beyond
  • Burlington Coat Factory
  • Century 21
  • DSW
  • Macy’s
  • Marshalls
  • TJ Maxx
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom
  • Overstock.com
  • Ross
  • Saks Off Fifth
  • Sears
  • Walmart
  • Zappos

During the first week of February, 2017, Nordstrom told The Seattle Times that it would no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing and accessories.

Nordstrom said the decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line was based on poor sales performance.

“We’ve got thousands of brands,” said a Nordstrom spokesman. “Each year we cut about 10 percent and refresh our assortment with about the same amount. In this case, based on the brand’s performance we’ve decided not to buy it for this season.”

President Trump had often boasted that he would defend the free enterprise system against an intrusive Federal government.

But for a major department store to drop his daughter’s clothing line was too much.

Turning to Twitter, his favorite weapon of insult, the President tweeted: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Trump drafted other members of his administration to attack Nordstrom.

One of these was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Spicer said that the store’s decision to stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories line was nothing less than an attack on the president’s policies and his daughter.

“”I think this is less about his family’s business and an attack on his daughter. He ran for President, he won, he’s leading this country.

“I think for people to take out their concern about his actions or his executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success.”

But even more was to come.

NUREMBERG FOR TRUMP, COMEDY FOR REPORTERS

In History, Humor, Politics, Social commentary on April 30, 2018 at 12:06 am

It was the second annual White House Correspondents dinner of the Donald Trump administration.

Traditionally, it’s been an occasion where Washington’s political and media elites enjoy dinner and trade barbed quips at one another.

Barack Obama—President for eight years—never missed one of these occasions. And with his comedic timing—and help from sharp-witted speechwriters—he starred in them.

But Donald Trump has chosen to skip not only one but two such dinners so far. And he’s likely to skip the rest of those given during his term as President.

Why?

Because Trump—who delights in insulting others—has too delicate a skin to put up with having even harmless jokes aimed at him.

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Donald Trump

As both a Presidential candidate and President, he 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.

But Trump skipped the White House Correspondents dinner to attend a “campaign rally” of fanatical followers in 2017. And skipping the dinner this year, he attended another Nuremberg-like rally in Washington, Michigan.

His speech featured attacks on immigrants, former FBI director James Comey, the European Union, Democratic members of Congress—and the news media.

Trump complained that the media hadn’t given him deserved credit for making possible the April 27  meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea.  He claimed  he had “everything” to do with it.

He attacked the media as composed of “very, very dishonest people” who put out “fake news.”

Meanwhile, at the correspondents dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf was on a roll. Among the barbs she aimed at the Trump administration:

  • “I actually really like [Press Secretary] Sarah [Huckabee Sanders]. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
  • “If you don’t give [White House spokeswoman Kelleyanne Conway] a platform, she has nowhere to lie. It’s like that old saying, if a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree?”
  • “There’s also, of course, Ivanka [Trump].. She was supposed to be an advocate for women, but it turns out she’s about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons. She’s done nothing to satisfy women. So, I guess like father, like daughter.”
  • “It’s 2018 and I’m a woman, so you cannot shut me up. Unless you have Michael Cohen wire me $130,000.”

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Michelle Wolf

This was an all-too-accurate reference to the payment of $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels by Trump’s lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen, to prevent her from talking about her 2006 tryst with the future President.

Taking a shot at Fox News—which functions as a propaganda arm of the Republican party—Wolf cracked: “Fox News is here. So you know what that means, ladies. Cover your drinks”—a reference to men who spike women’s drinks with “roofies.”

Wolf couldn’t resist noting that the man who would otherwise star at the dinner—President Trump—had refused to attend: “Of course, Trump isn’t here, if you haven’t noticed. He’s not here. And I know, I know, I would drag him here myself, but it turns out the president of the United States is the one pussy you’re not allowed to grab.”

Once again, a painful reference (for Trump supporters) to Trump’s infamous remark that, when you’re a celebrity, “you can do anything” with women: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

But Wolf had sharp words for Democrats, too:

“Democrats are harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything. People think you might flip the House and Senate this November, but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You’re somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor.”

Those who weren’t Trump fans enjoyed Wolf’s routine.  Among these:

Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ attorney, said he thought Wolf was “really funny.” And actor Rob Reiner said that although Wolf’s routine wasn’t going over well but that he believed “she spoke the truth.”

But Trump devotees had a different reaction.

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the event “a disgrace.” 

New York Times White House Correspondent Maggie Haberman reacted on Twitter:

“That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.” 

To which Wolf tweeted in reply: “Hey mags! All these jokes were about her despicable behavior. Sounds like you have some thoughts about her looks though?” 

According to the Fox News website: “Apparently offended by many of the comedian’s jabs at President Donald Trump and members of his administration, many attendees sat in silence, or simply got up and walked out.” 

All of which amounted to a Right-wing chorus: “Legitimacy—and humor—are for us. Not for you.”

JFK’S GREATEST LEGACY

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

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

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

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

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

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

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

 White House painting of JFK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PATRIOTISM IS OUT, GREED IS IN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 25, 2017 at 12:42 am

President Donald Trump was furious.

Nordstrom department store had just dared to drop the clothing and accessories lines of his daughter, Ivanka.

So, true to form, on February 8 he took to Twitter to vent his displeasure: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person—always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

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Donald Trump

He used his personal Twitter account—@realDonaldTrump—to send this message. In fact, he sent it 21 minutes into his daily Intelligence briefing.

Still not satisfied, he retweeted his attack on Nordstrom on his official POTUS (President of the United States) Twitter account. 

In short, he used a taxpayer-funded account to benefit his daughter.

Not content to attack Nordstrom by himself, Trump enlisted other members of his administration as assailants.

One of these was his press secretary, Sean Spicer:

“There’s a targeting of her brand and it’s her name. She’s not directly running the company. It’s still her name on it. There are clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. Her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.”

Sean Spicer.jpg

Sean Spicer

Nordstrom retorted that its decision to drop the Ivanka Trump line was “based on performance.”

“Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team. We’ve had open conversations with them over the past year to share what we’ve seen and Ivanka was personally informed of our decision in early January.”

But for the Trumpinistas, that wasn’t the end of it.

On Februrary 9, Kelleyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, became a TV shill for Ivanka.

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Kelleyanne Conway

Appearing on the Right-wing Fox News Channel program, “Fox and Friends,” Kelleyanne spoke from no less prestigious a forum than the White House itself:

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff. I hate shopping and I’m going to go get some myself today. It’s a wonderful line. I own some of it. I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online.”

For Democrats—and even some Republicans—Conway’s behavior was simply unacceptable.

Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, a member of the the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the committee.

In it, he requested a referral to the Office of Government Ethics for possible disciplinary action against Conway. 

The office does not have investigative or enforcement authority, but officials there can contact and provide guidance to other enforcement agencies.

Chaffetz told the Associated Press that Conway’s behavior was “wrong, wrong, wrong, clearly over the line, unacceptable.”

Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization of election law experts, said Trump’s tweet was “totally out of line.”

“He should not be promoting his daughter’s line, he should not be attacking a company that has business dealings with his daughter, and it just shows the massive amount of problems we have with his business holdings and his family’s business holdings,” Noble said.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert, said the Nordstrom tweet could make other retailers hesitate to drop the Ivanka Trump brand. They may fear being similarly attacked by the President.

“The implicit threat was that he will use whatever authority he has to retaliate against Nordstrom, or anyone who crosses his interest,” said Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

* * * * *

In 1969, 25-year-old Joe McGinnis became famous overnight with the publication of his first book, The Selling of the President. 

At the time, Americans were shocked to learn how Presidential candidate Richard Nixon had been sold to voters like any other product. In fact, the original book jacket featured Nixon’s face on a pack of cigarettes. 

Today, Madison Avenue doesn’t simply sell Americans their Presidents. Now—with Donald J. Trump—Americans have a President determined to turn the White House into Trump, Inc. 

A single example will serve to illustrate: 

On January 27, Trump signed an executive order that:

  • Suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days;
  • Barred Syrian refugees indefinitely; and
  • Blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Three countries not covered by Trump’s travel ban are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey.

Approximately 3,000 Americans have been killed by immigrants from these countries—most of them during the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Not-so-coincidentally, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey are all countries where President Trump has close business ties. His properties include two luxury towers in Turkey and golf courses in the United Arab Emirates.

The full dimensions of Trump’s holdings throughout the Middle East aren’t known because he has refused to release his tax returns.

PATRIOTISM IS OUT, GREED IS IN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 24, 2017 at 12:03 am

Fifty-six years after John F. Kennedy gave his first and only Inaugural Address, these words remain its single most-quoted sentence: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

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John F. Kennedy Inaugural

So millions of Americans who were alive that day—January 20, 1961—were probably shocked when they learned that Melania Trump had a very different view of government service.

On August 20, 2016, The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, published a story accusing her of having once worked as a prostitute.

The newspaper cited a Slovenian magazine’s report that a modeling agency that she worked with in New York in the 1990s also served as an escort business, linking wealthy clients with women for sexual services.

On September 1, Melania sued The Daily Mail in a state court in Montgomery County, Maryland. In early 2017, the Maryland court dismissed the case, saying it did not have jurisdiction.

On February 6, 2017, Melania filed another libel suit against The Daily Mail in the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Required to prove that she had been harmed in some way, Melania did not cite undeserved shame or how much her family and friends had been hurt.

Instead, she argued that the article had ruined her “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to cash in on the Presidency.

Melania Trump

Melania Trump

According to the complaint that her attorney filed: 

“Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person…to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world,” the Manhattan suit says.  

“These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance. 

“The [statements] also constitute defamation per se because they impugned on her fitness to perform her duties as First Lady of the United States.”

Melania is alleging $150 million in damages.

Enter the Emoluments Clause.

This is a United States government law that specifically forbids any leader from using government services to “enrich” the President and his family.

Among the greatest dangers facing the newly-created American government, feared the Founding Fathers, was foreign interference. And this could be obtained through the use of bribes—–money or gifts.

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The Founding Fathers of the United States

To prevent this, the Founders inserted the Emoluments Clause into Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution:

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

This illustrates one of the dangers of bringing a libel or slander suit.

(NOTE: Libel is a written defamation; slander is a spoken one)

Whoever brings the suit must open himself to unprecedented privacy-invading questions. And, in answering them, he may unintentionally give away revelations that can prove highly damaging.

Such as the revelation—in Melania Trump’s case—that, from the outset, she intended to use her position as First Lady to enrich herself.

Another Trump seeking to find out “what the country can do for you” is the President’s daughter, Ivanka.

Starting in 2016, Shannon Coulter, a brand and digital strategist, started the Grab Your Wallet boycott aimed at more than 30 retailers who carry Ivanka’s line of fashion apparel.

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Among the retailers targeted:

  • Amazon.com
  • Belk
  • Bloomingdale’s
  • Bed, Bath and Beyond
  • Burlington Coat Factory
  • Century 21
  • DSW
  • Macy’s
  • Marshalls
  • TJ Maxx
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom
  • Overstock.com
  • Ross
  • Saks Off Fifth
  • Sears
  • Walmart
  • Zappos

During the first week of February, Nordstrom told The Seattle Times that it would no longer carry Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing and accessories.

Nordstrom said the decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s line was based on poor sales performance.

“We’ve got thousands of brands,” said a Nordstrom spokesman. “Each year we cut about 10 percent and refresh our assortment with about the same amount. In this case, based on the brand’s performance we’ve decided not to buy it for this season.”

President Trump had often boasted that he would defend the free enterprise system against an intrusive Federal government.

But for a major department store to drop his daughter’s clothing line was too much.

Turning to Twitter, his favorite weapon of insult, the President tweeted: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person—always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Trump drafted other members of his administration to attack Nordstrom.

One of these was then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Spicer said that the store’s decision to stop carrying Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories line was nothing less than an attack on the president’s policies and his daughter.

“”I think this is less about his family’s business and an attack on his daughter. He ran for President, he won, he’s leading this country.

“I think for people to take out their concern about his actions or his executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success.”

But even more was to come.

PURGE-TIME IN STALIN’S RUSSIA AND TRUMP’S AMERICA: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 26, 2017 at 12:29 am

One summer night in 1923, during a booze-fueled dinner, Joseph Stalin opened his hear to his two fellow diners.

One of these was Felix Dzerzhinsky, then  the chief of the Cheka, the dreaded Soviet secret police (and precursor to the KGB).  The other was Lev Kamenev, a member of the powerful Central Committee of the Communist party. 

Kamenev asked his companions: “What is your greatest pleasure?” 

And Stalin is reported to have said: “To choose one’s victim, to prepare one’s plans minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance and then to go to bed.  There is nothing sweeter in the world.”  

Thirteen years later, in August, 1936, Kamenev would be forced to confess to forming a terrorist organization.  Its alleged purpose: To assassinate Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet government. 

On August 25, 1936, Kamenev was executed in the notorious Lubyanka prison.

Donald Trump may not have read Stalin’s notorious quote about finding pleasure in vengeance. But he has given his own variation of it.

While addressing the National Achievers Conference in Sidney, Australia, in 2011, he offered this advice on how to achieve success: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”

Throughout his business career, Trump strictly practiced what he preached—becoming a plaintiff or a defendant in no fewer than 3,500 lawsuits. 

Since January 20, he has carried this “get even” philosophy into the Presidency.

The result has been unprecedented White House infighting, turmoil—and departures.  Among the casualties:

  • Steve Bannon – Chief strategist and senior counselor:  On August 17, 2016, Bannon was appointed chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign.  On August 18, 211 days into his tenure, he was fired.  A major reason: Trump was angered by the news media’s—and even many comedians’—depiction of Bannon as the real power in the White House.
  • Anthony Scaramucci – White House communications director: To celebrate his new job, he gave an insult-ridden interview to The New Yorker.  Among his targets: Then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (“a fucking paranoid schizophrenic”) and Steve Bannon (““I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock”).  Scaramucci’s career ended in just six days—on July 31.
  • Reince Priebus – White House Chief of Staff:  After repeatedly being humiliated by Trump—who at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about—Priebus resigned on July 28, 190 days into his tenure.
  • Jeff Sessions – Attorney General: Trump made him the target of a Twitter-laced feud.  Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from any decisions involving investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign. Trump publicly said that if he had known Sessions would recuse himself—because of his own past contacts with Russian officials—he would have picked someone else for Attorney General.
  • Sean Spicer – Press Secretary:  Resigned on July 21, 183 days into his tenure. The reason: Trump kept him in the dark about events Spicer needed to know—such as an interview that Trump arranged with the New York Times—and which ended disastrously for Trump.
  • James Comey – FBI Director:  Comey did not work for the Trump Presidential campaign.  But many political analysts believe he played perhaps the decisive role in electing the reality TV mogul. Comey’s announcement—11 days before Election Day—that he was re-opening the Hillary Clinton email server case convinced millions of voters that she had committed a crime. If, as some believed, Comey did so to curry favor with Trump, he proved mistaken.  Trump summoned Comey to the White House and, in a private meeting, demanded a pledge of personal loyalty.  Comey refused to give this—or to drop the FBI’s investigation into collaboration between Russian Intelligence agents and Trump campaign officials. On May 9, Trump sent his longtime private bodyguard and chief henchman, Keith Schiller, to the FBI with a letter announcing Comey’s firing. (FBI directors do not have Civil Service protection and can be fired at any time by the President.)
  • Mike Flynn – National Security Advisor: After resigning from the Defense Intelligence Agency, he vigorously supported Trump at rallies and events—including at the Republican National Convention.  As a reward, he was appointed National Security Advisor.  But he was forced to resign just 25 days into his tenure. The reason: The media revealed that he hadmisled Vice President Mike Pence about his multiple meetings with Sergey Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to the United States, before Trump’s inauguration.

As if such turmoil wasn’t enough, even worse may be to come. According to PoliticoMany White House staffers are starting to look for the exits, even though the one-year mark of Trump’s first term is still months away.

“There is no joy in Trumpworld right now,” one source told Politico. “Working in the White House is supposed to be the peak of your career, but everyone is unhappy, and everyone is fighting everyone else.”

A mass exodus would cause even greater difficulties for the Trump administration, which has not filled hundreds of  available positions because many people don’t want to join. 

The Trump administration is hiring at a slower pace than the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—including nominations and confirmations.

Fewer positions filled means less effective enforcement of the Trump agenda. For those who oppose it, this is something to celebrate.

PURGE-TIME IN STALIN’S RUSSIA AND TRUMP’S AMERICA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 25, 2017 at 2:06 am

Donald Trump—as both Presidential candidate and President—has often been compared to Adolf Hitler.

Yet, in at least one sense, this comparison is inaccurate.  As Germany’s Fuhrer (1933-1945) Hitler kept on the members of his Cabinet for no less than 12 years.

Adolf Hitler

Among these:

  • Hermann Goering had repeatedly shown himself as the incompetent Reichsmarshall of the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Yet Hitler kept him on because Goering had been one of the “Old Fighters” who had supported Hitler long before the Nazis came to power.  Only in April, 1945, when Hitler falsely believed that Goering was trying to supplant him as Fuhrer, did he expel him from the party and order his arrest.
  • Rudolf Hess joined the Nazi party in 1920, and served as Deputy Fuhrer to Hitler from 1933 to 1941. That was when he flew to Scotland on a self-assigned mission to make peace with England. The British, believing him mad, locked him in the Tower of London until 1945.  Afterward, he was convicted at Nuremberg for war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop had been a champagne salesman before Hitler appointed him Foreign Minister in 1938, and held that post until the Reich’s defeat in 1945.  Although his arrogance and incompetence made him universally disliked by other high-ranking Nazi officials, Hitler never considered firing him.
  • Heinrich Himmler, appointed Reichsfuhrer-SS in 1929, held that position throughout the 12 years (1933-1945) the Third Reich lasted. It was to Himmler that Hitler entrusted the most important project of his life: The destruction of European Jewry. Only after learning—in the final days of the Reich—that Himmler had sought to make peace with the Allies did Hitler expel him from the party and order his arrest.

Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union (1928-1953) serves as a far better comparison figure for Trump.

Joseph Stalin

In 1936, Stalin ordered the first of a series of purges—from high-ranking members of the Communist party to impoverished peasants.  Among the most prominent of his victims:

  • Grigory Zimoviev, former member of the Central Committee of the Communist party. He was arrested in 1934 on trumped-up charges of “moral complicity” in the assassination of Leniningrad party boss Sergei Kirov.  He was executed in 1936.
  • Leon Trotsky, onetime second-in-command only to Vladimir Lenin, clashed with Stalin before the November 7, 1917 Russian Revolution. They remained locked in combat until Lenin’s death of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1924. Stalin drove Trotsky out of the Communist party and even out of the Soviet Union. In 1940, on Stalin’s orders, he was assassinated while living under guard in Mexico.
  • Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda served as director of the NKVD secret police (the precursor of the KGB) from 1934 to 1936. He supervised the arrest, show trial and execution of former Central Committee members Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zimoviev. Arrested in 1937, he was falsely charged with treason and conspiracy against the Soviet government. Yagoda was shot soon after the trial. His wife Ida Averbakh was also executed in 1938.
  • Nikolai Yezhov became head of the NKVD secret police  in 1936.  He oversaw what historians have since named the Great Terror until 1939. Arrested in April, he was replaced by Lavrenty Beria. In 1940, Yezhov himself was executed by the executioners he had once commanded.

Like Joseph Stalin, Donald Trump has presided over a series of purges since reaching the White House.

Donald Trump

Like Stalin, Trump demands unconditional loyalty from those who serve in his administration. And, also like Stalin, he does not believe that loyalty is a two-way street.

Moreover, it doesn’t take much to offend Trump’s fragile ego. When “Saturday Night Live” started doing skits showcasing his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as a Rasputin-like figure who manipulated Trump, Bannon’s days were clearly numbered.

The same proved true for Anthony Scaramucci, who was to become White House communications director.  All that it took to secure his dismissal was an expletive-ridden phone interview with The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza. It didn’t help Scaramucci that he bragged about purging the entire White House communications staff and even siccing the FBI on leakers.

Others have left the White House owing to its increasingly paranoid atmosphere. Reports have surfaced of staffers being ordered to turn over their cell phones for inspection. The reason: To ensure they weren’t communicating with reporters by text message or through encrypted apps.

Then there is the very real—and justified—fear of being caught up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s ever-widening investigation into collusion between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

One of those who has reportedly hired top-notch legal talent is Hope Hicks, interim White House communications director. According to Politico, the 28-year-old has retained the services of veteran criminal defense lawyer Robert Trout, who once worked for the Justice Department.

Even if a White House staffer is not ultimately indicted and convicted, the costs of hiring top-flight legal talent can prove ruinous.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed a $9 billion fortune: “I’m really rich!”  But he has shown no willingness to spend any of it defending those officials he has hired.

And for an administration already plagued with a shortage of desperately-needed talent, even worse may soon be to come.

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