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“STAND BACK AND STAND BY”—FOR A KIDNAPPING: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on October 21, 2020 at 12:26 am

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was born on August 23, 1971. She earned a BA degree in Communications from Michigan State University in 1993 and a Juris Doctor from Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University in 1998.

In 2000, she ran for the Michigan House of Representatives and was elected to represent the 23rd legislative district. She was reelected in 2002 and 2004. In March, 2006, Whitmer won a special election to the Michigan State Senate. She was elected to a full term in November, and reelected in 2010. Owing to term limits, she couldn’t run for reelection in 2014 and left office in 2015.

On June 21, 2016, judges of Michigan’s 30th Judicial Circuit Court unanimously selected Whtmer as Ingham County Prosecutor. Outgoing prosecutor Stuart Dunnings had been arrested on March 14, 2016, and charged with 11 counts of involvement with a prostitute. Whitmer served the remaining six months of his term, which expired in December, 2016.

On November 6, 2018, Whtmer was elected to a four-year term as Governor of Michigan. 

Standing five-feet-eight-inches tall and with a slender physique, Whitmer bears a striking resemblance to Bridget Moynahan, who plays District Attorney Erin Reagan on the CBS police drama, “Blue Bloods.”

Governor Whitmer Headshot

Gretchen Whitmer

She has two daughters from her first marriage. In 2011, she married dentist Marc P. Mallory, who has three children from his own previous marriage. They live in East Lansing, Michigan, with their children. 

From the moment Whitmer issued her stay-at-home order to stem the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan, she became a target for President Donald Trump.

On September 29, Trump faced off with his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the first of three scheduled Presidential debates.

When Trump refused to condemn white supremacists, moderator Chris Wallace challenged him to do so. 

“What do you want me to call them?” asked Trump. “Give me a name.”

Biden suggested the Proud Boys, a violent Right-wing group.

Trump’s response: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the Left, because this is not a Right-wing problem.” 

President Trump's Proud Boys comments stir up Kalamazoo residents | WWMT

Donald Trump

On October 8, 13 Right-wingers were charged in a terrorism plot to kidnap Whtmer. The terrorists intended to overthrow several state governments that they “believe are violating the US Constitution,” including the government of Michigan, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Interviewed on TV that afternoon, Whitmer said: “I knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest, I never could’ve imagined anything like this.

“Just last week, the President of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups.

“‘Stand back and stand by,’ he told them….Hate groups heard the President’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.” 

Trump’s response to the kidnapping plot swiftly followed: “Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job,” he tweeted. “She locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities.”

Trump claimed credit for the arrests: It was “my Justice Department” that foiled the kidnapping. The credit actually belongs to the Michigan Justice Department, the FBI which Trump is attacking, and local police.

In an interview on CNN on October 8, Whitmer said: “You know, the fact that after a plot to kidnap and to kill me, this is what they come out with. They start attacking me, as opposed to what good, decent people would do, [which] is to check in and say, ‘Are you OK?’”

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden telephoned her immediately after the announcement of the failed plot. “I think that tells you everything that’s at stake in this election,” Whitmer said. “It tells you everything you need to know about the character of the two people on this ballot that we have to choose from in a few weeks.”

Joe Biden's Next Big Decision: Choosing A Running Mate | Voice of America - English

Joe Biden

The plot had been known to the FBI for months. The agency arranged for a confidential informant to travel to Dublin, Ohio, on June 6 for a meeting with about 15 of the conspirators.

“Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” according to the federal criminal complaint.

In several recorded conversations, plotter Adam Fox said he needed “200 men” to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including Whitmer. He explained they would try the governor of Michigan for “treason” and would execute the plan before the November 2020 elections. 

Immediately after discovering the plot, the FBI warned the governor’s security detail. Whitmer’s security was greatly tightened. 

In April, Right-wing protesters had rallied at the state Capitol, gridlocking the streets and demanding that Whitmer lift her stay-at-home order. Armed demonstrators entered the state capitol—where it is legal to openly carry firearms—and demanded an end to Michigan’s state of emergency.

Having learned from this near-tragedy, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced on October 16 that residents will not be allowed to open-carry firearms “in a polling place, in any hallway used by voters to enter or exit, or within 100 feet of any entrance to a building in which a polling place is located.”

“STAND BACK AND STAND BY”–FOR A KIDNAPPING: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on October 20, 2020 at 12:04 am

On April 9, Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended the anti-Coronavirus measures set forth in her March 10 Executive Order 2020-4. Among these:

  • No person or entity shall operate a business or conduct operations that require workers to leave their homes or places of residence unless those workers are necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct minimum basic operations.
  • “Essential workers” were defined as those “necessary to sustain or protect life.”

KXAN Austin

Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Individuals were allowed to leave their home and travel as necessary to:

  • Engage in outdoor physical activity, so long as they stayed at least six feet from people from outside their own household.
  • Perform their jobs as critical infrastructure workers after being so designated by their employers.
  • Perform necessary government activities.
  • Obtain necessary services or supplies for themselves, their family or household members, their pets, and their vehicles.
  • Care for a family member or a family member’s pet in another household.
  • Care for minors, dependents, the elderly, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.
  • Visit an individual under the care of a health care facility, residential care facility, or congregate care facility.
  • Attend legal proceedings or hearings for essential or emergency purposes as ordered by a court.
  • Work or volunteer for businesses or operations that provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for those who are poor, disabled, or suffering because of the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Attend a funeral, provided that no more than 10 people are in attendance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged Americans to wear masks and keep at least six feet from their fellows. And most of the nation’s governors issued stay-at-home orders that banned large gatherings—including visits to parks and beaches.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Yet President Donald Trump openly encouraged defiance of those orders. On April 17 he issued a series of tweets to his supporters:

“LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”

“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” 

“LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

All these states had Democratic governors—and had been targeted for Right-wing protests. Large numbers of men and women stood closely together, with most of them not wearing masks. They claimed their “freedoms” were being infringed upon.

Whitmer, who had defied the Republican legislature by extending her stay-at-home order, was denounced as a Nazi, with protesters displaying signs like “Heil Whtmer.” 

(It is a hallmark of Right-wingers to accuse their opponents of being what they are themselves—Fascists.) 

On April 30, a protest at the Michigan Capitol Building featured treasonous Confederate flags and hangman’s nooses. Some signs displayed swastikas. Many of the demonstrators were armed with AK-47s.

That protest was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, a group co-founded by a GOP state representative and his wife, who is on the advisory board for an official Trump campaign group called Women for Trump and is also the co-founder of Michigan Trump Republicans.

Another of the event’s promoters, Greg McNeilly, is a longtime political adviser to the wealthy DeVos family, which includes Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her brother, Erik Prince, founder of the notorious Blackwater mercenary group.

On May 1, demonstrators—many of them heavily armed—again descended on the state capital in Lansing, protesting Whitmer’s extension of her emergency declaration that kept some businesses closed amidst the plague. And, once again, President Trump sided with the protesters.

On May 1, Trump tweeted in support of the Michigan demonstrators. Just as German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler blamed his opponents for the violence he stoked, so did Trump. Aiming his tweet at Whitmer, he wrote: “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

Writer Steven Pressfield summed up the immorality of these protests: “Why are we asked to wear surgical or face masks in public, to practice social distancing and to observe self-quarantining? Because these practices are not for the individual alone but for the protection of the whole [community].”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee tweeted: “The president’s statements this morning encourage illegal and dangerous acts. He is putting millions of people in danger of contracting COVID-19.

“His unhinged rantings and calls for people to ‘liberate’ states could also lead to violence. We’ve seen it before.”

Trump had two hidden agendas for ending “stay-at-home” orders.

First, from the moment he took office on January 20, 2017, he had claimed credit for a booming economy—even though this was largely the creation of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Now, with thousands of businesses closed because of Coronavirus, that economy was essentially dead.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

Coronavirus

Trump knew that Presidents who preside over faltering economies usually don’t win a second term. And Trump not only lusted to win a second term but—as he has repeatedly “joked”—become “President-for-Life.”

Second, Trump was desperate to return to his Nuremberg-style rallies. There he could hurl insults at virtually everyone and bask in the fanatical worship of his followers. These rallies acted as fuel to his campaign.

So now he went to any lengths to “reopen” the country–including soliciting violent resistance to the laws of governors he didn’t like.

“STAND BACK AND STAND BY”–FOR A KIDNAPPING: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on October 19, 2020 at 12:08 am

It could have been the plot for a Frederick Forsythe novel.

It was Forsythe who wrote The Day of the Jackal, the fictional account of a Right-wing plot to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle. 

Another Forsythe novel, The Dogs of War, focused on a group of mercenaries hired to overthrow the ruler of a small African country and install a brutal dictator in his place.

So Forsythe was probably not surprised when he learned, on October 8, that 13 people were charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The scheme included plans to overthrow several state governments that the suspects “believe are violating the US Constitution,” including the government of Michigan, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Six people were charged federally with conspiracy to kidnap. Seven other people, associated with the militia group “Wolverine Watchmen,” were charged by the state.  

“The individuals in (state) custody are suspected to have attempted to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war, and engaged in planning and training for an operation to attack the capitol building of Michigan and to kidnap government officials, including the governor of Michigan,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a press conference.

Whitmer had become a major target of President Donald Trump in March, when she tried to obtain urgently-needed medical supplies for Michigan hospitals coping with a flood of Coronavirus cases.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (cropped).jpg

Gretchen Whitmer

Julia Pickett / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

On March 26, during an interview on Fox News, Trump blamed the failures of his administration’s response to Coronavirus on Democratic state governors like Andrew Cuomo (NY), Jay Inslee (WA), and Gretchen Whitmer (MI).

On March 27, during his press briefing, Trump said he told Vice President Mike Pence—who’s officially in charge of the White House’s Coronavirus response effort—to not call Inslee and Whitmer because they weren’t “appreciative” enough of his efforts.

Trump said this even as hospitals in each of their states were being overwhelmed with Coronavirus patients.

“I tell him—I mean I’m a different type of person. I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor in Washington, you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan,’” Trump said. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.”

Echoing French King Louis XIV’s boast, “I am the State,” Trump said that when people criticized him, they were criticizing the federal government: “When they’re not appreciative to me, they’re not appreciative to the Army Corps, they’re not appreciative to FEMA.  It’s not right.”

Trump also attacked Whitmer on Right-wing Fox News’ “Sean Hannity Show”: “I don’t know if she knows what’s going on, but all she does is sit there and blame the federal government.”

Image result for Public domain images of Donald Trump

Donald Trump

That same day—March 27—Whitmer told a Michigan radio station: “What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we’ve procured contracts—they’re being told not to send stuff to Michigan. It’s really concerning. I reached out to the White House last night and asked for a phone call with the president, ironically at the time this stuff was going on.”

A March 29 story in the Washington Monthly sheds light on what lay behind Whitmer’s inability to secure desperately-needed ventilators from her longtime vendors. Its headline ran: “What If Trump Decides to Save Republicans But Not Democrats?”

And it was followed by a sub-headline: “He’s providing vital resources to red states and ignoring blue states.”

Florida submitted a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves—and received a shipment with everything three days later.

It received an identical shipment on March 23, and was awaiting a third.

On March 10, 2020, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services identified the first two presumptive-positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. On that same day, Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-4, which declared a state of emergency across the state of Michigan. 

Seal of Michigan.svg

State Seal of Michigan

In the three weeks that followed, the virus spread across Michigan, bringing deaths in the hundreds, confirmed cases in the thousands, and deep disruption to the state’s economy, homes, and educational, civic, social, and religious institutions.

On April 1, 2020, in response to the widespread calamities inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-33. This declared both a state of emergency and a state of disaster across Michigan.

By April 8, 2020, COVID-19 had infected 20,346 Michigan residents and claimed 959 lives. 

As a result, on April 9, Whitmer reaffirmed and extended the measures set forth in Executive Order 2020-21. Her order stated:

  • Michigan residents must stay at home or at their place of residence.
  • All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household were prohibited.
  • All individuals who leave their home or place of residence must adhere to social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household to the extent feasible under the circumstances.

WHEN A PRESIDENT FOUGHT RACISM INSTEAD OF SUPPORTING IT

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

On September 28, the first of three scheduled Presidential debates occurred between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.

Trump hurled insults and constantly interrupted Biden, causing many political commentators to label it the single worst Presidential debate in modern history.

For many, the lowest point came when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would condemn white supremacy: “You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left-wing extremist groups.

“But are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland? Are you prepared to specifically do that?”

“Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump asked Wallace.

Biden twice said, “Proud Boys,” a violent Right-wing hate group. 

“Proud Boys—stand back and stand by,” said Trump. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem.”

This was not the first time Trump had refused to condemn white supremacists.

On August 11-12, 2017, white supremacists from across the country gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a  “Unite the Right” rally.  Among the organizations represented:

  • The Ku Klux Klan (KKK);
  • The Alt-Knights;
  • The “Militia Movement”;
  • The American Nazi Party;
  • The Confederate League of the South;

Like Nazis in 1930s Germany, they marched through the streets carrying flaming torches, screaming racial epithets and frightening the local citizenry.

On August 13, a Nazi sympathizer rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring 19 other demonstrators.

President Donald Trump stated: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

Donald Trump official portrait.jpg

Donald Trump

But he refused to specifically denounce the Fascistic demonstrators.

White supremacists were elated.

“He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us,” wrote Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. 

“No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.” 

Another Trump admirer: Former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke. 

“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” Duke tweeted after the news conference. 

Fascistic groups make up a pivotal constituency for Trump. Without their support, he might not have become President. He can’t afford to alienate them.

But there was a time when a President and his Justice Department waged an all-out attack on the Klan during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. 

The reason: The murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi—Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney—-on June 21, 1964.

Related image

Poster for missing civil rights workers

Johnson ordered the FBI to find the missing activists. After their bodies were found buried near a dam, Johnson gave FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover a direct order: “I want you to have the same kind of intelligence [on the KKK] that you have on the communists.”

So the FBI launched a counterintelligence program—in Bureau-speak, a COINTELPRO—against the Ku Klux Klan.

Klansmen had shot, lynched and bombed their way across the Deep South, especially in Alabama and Mississippi. Many Southern sheriffs and police chiefs were Klan sympathizers, if not outright members and accomplices.

Ku Klux Klansmen in a meeting

The FBI’s covert action program aimed to “expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize” KKK groups through a wide range of legal and extra-legal methods.

“My father fought the Klan in Massachusetts,” recalled William C. Sullivan, who headed the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Division in the 1960s. “I always used to be frightened when I was a kid and I saw the fiery crosses burning in the hillside near our farm.

William C. Sullivan

“When the Klan reached 14,000 in the mid-sixties, I asked to take over the investigation of the Klan.  When I left the Bureau in 1971, the Klan was down to a completely disorganized 4,300.  It was broken.

“They were dirty, rough fellows. And we went after them with rough, tough methods.” 

Among those methods:

  • Planting electronic surveillance devices in Klan meeting places;
  • Carrying out “black bag jobs”—burglaries—to steal Klan membership lists;
  • Contacting the news media to publicize arrests and identify Klan leaders;
  • Informing the employers of known Klansmen of their employees’ criminal activity, resulting in the firing of untold numbers of them;
  • Developing informants within Klans and sewing a climate of distrust and fear among Klansmen;
  • Breaking up the marriages of Klansmen by circulating rumors of their infidelity among their wives; and
  • Beating and harassing Klansmen who threatened and harassed FBI agents.

The FBI’s counterintelligence war against the Klan ended in 1971.

Today, there are active Klan chapters in 41 states, with between 5,000 and 8,000 active members.

Only when America has a President who’s not beholden to the Fascistic Right can there be another COINTELPRO aimed at white hate groups.

FUHRERS AND THEIR GENERALS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 10, 2020 at 1:05 am

On September 3, a blockbuster story appeared in The Atlantic magazine under the headline: “Trump: Americans Who Died in War are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers'”.

The story opened: “When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true….

“In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, ‘Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.’ In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as ‘suckers’ for getting killed.”

Related image

Donald Trump

The story has massive implications for Trump. During his 2016 campaign for President, he got huge support from military voters. A May 9, 2016 story in Military Times reported: 

“In a new survey of American military personnel, Donald Trump emerged as active-duty service members’ preference to become the next U.S. president, topping Hillary Clinton by more than a 2-to-1 margin.”

When the story first appeared on Thursday, Trump demanded that aides deny it.  

On Labor Day, Trump called a White House press conference. He was angry that more of the top brass at the Pentagon had not defended him.

And it showed:

“I’m not saying the military’s in love with me—the soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

The next day, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows said that Trump wasn’t referencing Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a former top lobbyist for Raytheon. 

Attacking the “military industrial complex” hypocritically contradicted Trump’s efforts to broker multi-billion dollar arms sales with countries like Saudi Arabia. The companies which benefited from this $110 billion sale: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics.  

Trump’s rage reflected he mindset of an earlier CEO whose rage and egotism carried him—and his country—to ruin: Adolf Hitler.

Bevin Alexander provides an overall—but colorful—view of Hitler’s generalship in How Hitler Could have Won World War II.

How Hitler Could Have Won World War II

Among the fatal military insist that led to the defeat of the defeat of the Third Reich:

  • Wasting hundreds of  Luftwaffe [air force] pilots, fighters and bombers in a halfhearted attempt to conquer England.
  • Ignoring the pleas of generals like Erwin Rommel to conquer Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which would have given Germany control of most of the world’s oil.
  • Attacking his ally, the Soviet Union, while still at war with Great Britain.
  • Turning millions of Russians into enemies rather than allies by his brutal and murderous policies.
  • Needlessly declaring war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl harbor. (Had he not done so, Americans would have focused all their attention on defeating Japan.)
  • Refusing to negotiate a separate peace with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin—thus granting Germany a large portion of captured Russian territory in exchange for letting Stalin remain in power.
  • Insisting on a “not-one-step-back” military “strategy” that led to the needless surrounding, capture and/or deaths of hundreds of thousands of German servicemen.

As the war turned increasingly against him, Hitler became ever more rigid in his thinking.

He demanded absolute control over the smallest details of his forces. This, in turn, led to astonishing and unnecessary losses among their ranks. 

On June 6, 1944, General Erwin Rommel insisted that Panzer tanks to drive the Allies from the Normandy beaches. But these could not be released except on direct orders of the Fuehrer.

 

Panzer tank

Hitler’s chief of staff, General Alfred Jodl, informed Rommel: The Fuhrer was asleep-–and was not to be awakened. By the time Hitler awoke and issued the order, it was too late.  

Nor could Hitler accept responsibility for the policies that were leading Germany to certain defeat. He blamed his generals, accused them of cowardice, and relieved many of the best ones from command.  

Among those sacked was Heinz Guderian, creator of the German Panzer corps—and responsible for the blitzkreig victory against France in 1940.

Heinz Guderian

Another was Erich von Manstein, designer of the strategy that defeated France in six weeks—which Germany had failed to do during four years of World War 1.

Erich von Manstein

Finally, on April 29, 1945—with the Russians only blocks from his underground Berlin bunker—Hitler dictated his “Last Political Testament.”  

Once again, he refused to accept responsibility for unleashing a war that ultimately consumed 50 million lives: 

“It is untrue that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939. It was desired and instigated exclusively by those international statesmen who either were of Jewish origin or worked for Jewish interests.” 

Hitler had launched the invasion of Poland—and World War II—with a lie: That Poland had attacked Germany.

Fittingly, he closed the war—and his life—with a final lie.   

The ancient Greeks believed that “a man’s character is his destiny.”

For Adolf Hitler—and the nations he ravaged—that proved fatally true.  

It remains to be seen whether the same will prove true for Donald Trump—and the United States.

THE NRA: FACING JUDGMENT FOR THE LEAST OF ITS CRIMES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 18, 2020 at 1:20 am

On August 6, New York Attorney General Letitia James gave the National Rifle Association (NRA) an unprecedented broadside. 

“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” James outlined in a news release.

And she assailed the organization’s leadership for creating “a culture of self-dealing mismanagement” benefiting themselves, family, friends and favored vendors.

As a result, the NRA had lost more than $63 million in three years.

James’ office filed the suit on August 6 in New York Supreme Court. In it, she accuses the following NRA leaders of corruption and misuse of funds:

  • CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre;
  • General Counsel and Secretary John Frazer;
  • Former Chief Financial Officer Wilson “Woody” Phillips; and
  • Former Chief of Staff and Executive Director of General Operations Josh Powell. 

Wayne LaPierre

The lawsuit accuses these officials of:

  • Violating multiple laws including false reporting of annual filings with the IRS and New York’s charities bureau
  • Improperly documenting expenses, improper wage and income tax reporting and
  • Excessively paying people for work for which they were not qualified.

The NRA is headquartered in the Northern Virginia suburbs outside Washington, D.C. But it has operated as a New York-registered 501(c)(4) non-profit group since 1871. 

As a charitable organization, the NRA faces strict state and federal rules governing spending. The alleged violation of many of those rules gives James’ office legal jurisdiction for bringing the lawsuit.

The NRA has long been one of the nation’s most powerful special interest groups. It has dominated Republican politics for decades. With a reported five million members across the country, it claims as its mission the defense of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The NRA claims that its mission stems from the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

NRA members conveniently ignore the first half of that sentence about “a well regulated Militia….”  They simply want everyone to own a gun—and contribute to the NRA.

The charges now facing the NRA are not the ones for which it truly deserves indictment.

For decades, the NRA has been the death-dealer of choice to criminals and terrorists. In its wake lie the bullet-torn, bloodstained bodies of countless Americans from coast to coast.

According to the non-profit organization, Brady: United Against Gun Violence: 

Every year, 114,328 people are shot. Among those:

  • 37,603 people die from gun violence
  • 13,380 are murdered 
  • 76,725 people survive gunshot injuries 
  • 34,566 are intentionally shot by someone else 
  • 22,926 died from gun suicide 
  • 3,554 survive an attempted gun suicide 
  • 478 are killed unintentionally 
  • 510 are killed by legal intervention 
  • 1,376 are shot by legal intervention
  •  310 die but the intent was unknown 
  • 4,471 are shot but the intent is unknown 
  • 529 women are killed by their husband or male dating partner

Gun Violence is estimated to cost the American economy at least $229 billion every year.

Among the NRA’s “contributions” to this carnage:

  • 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.
  • It championed the marketing of Teflon-coated “cop killer” bullets capable of piercing the bulletproof vests worn by police officers and targets of assassination.
  • The NRA opposes  removing firearms from violent individuals under active restraining orders for domestic abuse.

  • 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 rammed through a Republican-dominated Congress the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, (PLCAA). It was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005. This has armed the American firearms industry with immunity against lawsuits by victims of mass shootings and gun violence. 

  • The NRA has spent millions on political contributions to block gun-control legislation.
  • 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.”
  • In 2012, the NRA rushed to defend accused murderer George Zimmerman, the self-appointed “community watchman” who  ignored police orders to stop following 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and ultimately shot him. 
  • 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.

  • Anyone–including convicted criminals—can buy the NRA’s “hide-a-gun” sweatshirts, putting both the public and law enforcers at deadly risk.
  • Firearms made indiscriminately available through NRA lobbying have filled hospitals with casualties, and have thus badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems. 

The NRA’s leaders—past and present—will never be criminally indicted for the carnage their greed and irresponsibility have unleashed.

But the effort by New York Attorney General Letitia James to dissolve the NRA is at least a welcome step in the right direction.

BAY AREA ROTTEN TRANSIT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on February 4, 2020 at 12:11 am

When the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was launched on September 11, 1972, it was hailed as the future for mass transit.

Forty-seven years later, that future looks to be a nightmare.

Here are the basic facts that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency—which operates BART—is happy to release:

  • The BART system services Alameda County (Oakland), Contra Costa County, San Francisco County and stations in San Mateo County.
  • There are 48 BART stations.
  • There are 669 cars.
  • BART track runs about 121 miles.
  • Trains usually travel at 35 mph, but can reach a speed of 70 mph.
  • BART operates its own police force, with 206 sworn law enforcement officers.
  • Its security system includes alarms, video surveillance and other intrusion prevention equipment.

Now for the facts that BART does not feel proud to publicize.

  • BART does not provide phone service for its riders on weekends.

In 2019, BART had an average of 411,000 weekday passengers and 118 million annual passengers.

Nevertheless, those passengers using BART on weekends are left to their own devices when it comes to getting directions on which trains to take to which destinations.

“Can’t they get that information from ticket agents at BART booths?” seems a logical question.

And the answer is: “No, not always”—because many BART ticket booths are empty on weekends.

It’s as if BART officials don’t think people travel on BART on weekends—or don’t care if they do. 

Antioch-bound train approaching MacArthur station, June 2018.JPG

A BART train

Pi.1415926535 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D 

  • BART stations—especially in San Francisco—are usually filthy and potentially dangerous places. 

Many of these are peopled by drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill and parasitical bums. And many of these derelicts are passed out or shooting up heroin in plain sight. Naturally, they don’t worry about picking up their used hypodermic needles. They leave those out for others to step on or pick up at their own risk. 

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A typical San Francisco BART station

Those who aren’t shooting up are usually hitting up legitimate BART riders for money. Sometimes these encounters can become ugly, especially if the beggar is psychotic or drugged up.

As for the much-vaunted BART police: They are almost never in sight. If you can find one and point out a violation, the odds are he will say, “That falls outside my jurisdiction.”

This despite the fact that BART officials admit that “fare evasion” costs BART $15 million to $25 million each year.

So when someone pushes open the electronic “gates” that can be opened with BART cards, there are no police to nab him.

Interviewed privately, BART ticket agents admit they feel as helpless as BART riders in these stations. The police are nowhere in sight, and ticket agents aren’t trained or empowered to take action against fare-evaders, drug-abusers or those who assault BART passengers.

BART stations in downtown San Francisco are usually littered with sleeping bags or blankets— evidence of a serious bum infestation.

These stations have locked their bathrooms, claiming it’s a “security measure against terrorism.” Yet a far greater potential danger lies under all those blankets and sleeping bags: It would be easy for a terrorist to scatter such disguised bombs in a BART station and then clear out—long before his handiwork went off.

That, however, is a danger BART officials seem content to ignore.

  • BART trains are often unpleasant at best, and unsafe at worst.

Cars are often taken over by gangs of teens—usually black—who crank up “boom boxes” and “perform” high-kicking stunts, then “ask” for “donations.” Many of their kicks come close to the heads of the riders who are forced to sit through these “entertainments.”

And there is always the risk that the “entertainers” might turn violent if they feel they aren’t getting enough “compensation” for their unasked-for “performance.” 

But there are usually no guards on any BART train. And, even if there were, there are no “panic buttons” whereby threatened riders could secretly summon such aid.

According to the latest (2018) BART Uniform Crime Reporting data, violent crime increased 57% between 2013 and 2017. Robberies make up most of the reported crimes—up nearly 40% since 2013. Cell phone thefts are defined as robberies.

“He was standing in front of me just looking, and I could see his gun in his jacket,” crime victim Daniel Mendez recalled. “I was surrounded. They took everything. There was nothing you could do…They’re doing that because there’s no police presence.”

He swore he would never again ride BART.

Image result for Images of broken handcuffs

Adding to the lack of police on BART trains: Most of the vaunted “security cameras” on BART trains don’t work.

Of course, high-ranking transit officials—who almost never ride public transit—disagree. 

“Transit is very safe,” claims Polly Hansen, speaking for the American Public Transportation Association. “When you have low numbers, a slight increase will look like a large percentage. Transit doesn’t operate in isolation. It’s going through, above and around communities and you really have to analyze crime in those communities to look at the crime you’re having.” 

The BART Board of Directors is comprised of nine elected officials from the nine BART districts. Each of them earns an average of $96,110. They can well afford to use private autos—even limousines—instead of public transit. 

Only when BART officials are held directly—and financially—responsible for the disgraceful conditions in BART stations and aboard BART trains will there be any hope for long-overdue reforms.

A “SAND CURTAIN” FOR THE MIDDLE EAST

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on January 9, 2020 at 12:10 am

There can be peace—at least for the United States—in the Middle East.

But to achieve this, Western Europe and the United States will have to make radical changes in their approach to that part of the world.

First, the United States must embark on a crash program to develop alternatives to oil.  

The Islamic world offers only one reason for American concern: oil.

Yet its consumption threatens the future of the world through global warming. And it keeps America tethered to regimes that are fundamentally unstable and hostile to the West.

Second, once the United States weans itself from its dependency on fossil fuels, it can safely end its relationship with such regimes.

That means putting an end to spending billions of dollars every year to prop up dictatorial regimes like those in Iraq and Egypt. And it also means stopping the supply of big-ticket military hardware (like fighter planes and missiles) to Islamic regimes.

When the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979, he was probably the best-armed Islamic leader in the Middle East. His army and air force bristled with sophisticated American weaponry he had bought with billions of dollars in oil revenues.

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Shah of Iran

But he had thoroughly alienated his people. Liberals thought him a tyrant, and conservatives thought him a traitor to Islam. So when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini flew to Iran from his self-exile in Paris, no one in the Shah’s army and air force raised a hand in his defense.

And all that sophisticated American weaponry fell into Khoemeini’s waiting hands.

Third, the United States should end its “Permanent Bodyguard” relationship with Israel.

Every nation—-including Israel—has the absolute right to defend itself from aggression.

But no nation—including Israel—has the right to expect another nation to act as its permanent bodyguard.

Millions of Americans believe they are morally obligated to defend Israel owing to the barbarism of the Holocaust. But America was never a party to this, and has nothing to atone for.

But there is another reason many Americans feel committed to Israel. And it has nothing to do with concern for the fates of Israelis.

It lies in the mythology of the Christian Right. Millions of fundamentalist Christians believe that before Jesus Christ can awaken from his 2,000-year slumber, Israel must first re-conquer every inch of territory it supposedly held during the reign of Kings David and Solomon.

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Right-wing Christian fantasy: Dead man hovering

After Christ returns, they believe, the Jews will face a choice: Become Christians or go to hell. For evangelical Christians, Jews remain the eternal “Christ killers.”

And if Jews must assume temporary control of the Middle East to bring about the return of a man who died 2,000 years ago, so be it.

Many Right-wing members of the House of Representatives and Senate share this utterly irrational belief—thus proving their unfitness for public office. 

Fourth, the United States and its Western European allies should erect a “Sand Curtain” around the Middle East.

For 44 years—1947 to 1991—the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a Cold War. Essentially, the United States drew a ring around the Soviet Union—including those nations its armies had seized following the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

The United States said, in effect: “We can’t liberate the countries you’re now occupying”—because that would have triggered a nuclear World War III. “But we won’t allow you to occupy and enslave any other countries.  And if you try to do so, it will mean total war.”

That’s why America did nothing to aid Hungarians when they overthrew their Soviet occupiers in 1956. That rebellion was quickly and brutally crushed.

And the United States stood by when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1968 after Czechoslovakia dared to relax controls over its citizens.

Fifth, a “Sand Curtain” around the Middle East would work as follows:

America would withdraw all of its forces from the Middle East—but keep a good portion stationed in Europe.

The President would then publicly announce: “From now on, you are the masters of your own destinies—so long as what you do affects only those of you living in the Middle East.

“We recognize that barbarism and violence have always been a part of life in the Middle East. And we don’t expect this to change.

“So go ahead and destroy as many of your own citizens as you wish—either because they’re Jewish or Christians, or because Sunni Muslims hate Shiite Muslims and Shiite Muslims hate Sunni Muslims.

“Just don’t do anything that poses a threat to those living outside your barbaric lands. In short: Western Europe and the United States are strictly off-limits to you.

“If you aim your aggression at either, we will consider this an act of war and use all the weapons at our disposal—including nuclear ones—to wipe you from the face of the Earth.

The United States cannot enforce peace between Islamics and Israelis. Nor between Christians and Islamics. Nor between Islamics and Islamics.

But it can impose an embargo to confine such barbarism to only the Middle East.

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

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

Republicans constantly revile the very government they lust to control.

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

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

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

United States Holocaust Museum   

At 88, von Brunn died in jail awaiting trial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Service agents protecting President Barack Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where

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

The White House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donald Trump

The effects of the shutdown quickly became evident:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford’s Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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