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FOUR HEROES, TWO VILLAINS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 16, 2019 at 12:05 am

In his poem, “Conversation With an American Writer,” the Russian poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko spoke for those Russians who managed to maintain their integrity in the face of Stalinist terror:

“You have courage,” they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of Republicans in the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko poet

Yevgeney Yevtushenko

In late September, news broke that, on July 25, President Donald Trump had tried to extort a “favor” from the president of Ukraine: Find embarrassing “dirt” on former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter.

Hunter had had business dealings in Ukraine. And Joe Biden might be Trump’s Democratic opponent for the White House in 2020. 

To underline the seriousness of his “request,” Trump had withheld $400 million in promised military aid to Ukraine, which is facing an increasingly aggressive Russia. 

Since late September, reporters have repeatedly asked Congressional Republicans: “Is it appropriate for President Donald Trump to ask a foreign government to investigate his political opponent?” 

And the overwhelming majority of Republicans have refused to answer—even though, on October 3, Trump said publicly on the south lawn of the White House: “China should start an investigation into the Bidens.”

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Donald Trump

Among those refusing to answer:

Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner: “Well look, that’s what we’re going to get into. The Senate Intelligence Committee is having an investigation, a bipartisan investigation.”

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst: “We don’t have all the facts, we don’t know what is accurate. We have a picture painted by the media and we don’t know if that picture is accurate.”

Arizona Senator Martha McSally: “I think what we’ve seen out of [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi and [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam] Schiff and others in the House is quite partisan and I think people want us to take a serious look at this and not have it be just partisan bickering going on.” 

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis: “I’m going to leave it to the President to make that decision” on whether his actions were appropriate. 

The reason for Republicans’ deafening silence: They don’t want to anger Trump or his fanatical supporters. Many of them face tough reelection campaigns. And they fear losing their Congressional seats and the perks that go with them.  

So they’re willing to support a President who calls on hostile foreign nations to subvert an American Presidential election.

Enter Marie Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine (2016 – 2019). She had joined the Foreign Service in 1986, and served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2005 – 2008) and Armenia (2008 – 2011). 

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Marie Yovanovitch

In May 2019, on Trump’s orders, the State Department recalled Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine. She had earned respect from the national security community for her efforts to encourage Ukraine to tackle corruption.

But she had been criticized by Right-wing media outlets—notably Fox News Network—and by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

CNN reported that Yovanovitch stopped Giuliani from interviewing witnesses in his search for politically damaging information against former Vice President Joe Biden.

On August 12, a whistleblower filed a complaint with the Intelligence community’s Inspector General, Michael Atkinson.

In it, he warned that Yovanovitch’s ousting raised red flags that Trump was abusing his office by soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.

From that complaint ultimately resulted the impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives.

With so many Republicans cowering before Trump, Yovanovitch emerged as the first real hero of the Trump era.

On October 11, she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). She did so in defiance of orders by the White House and State Department to not attend.

In response, the Committee issued a subpoena to compel her testimony—and provide her with a measure of protection against wrongful termination.

“She was a hero even before she hit the hearing room,” wrote Charles Pierce for Esquire magazine.

“She told them to stuff their directives, she would answer a congressional subpoena like a citizen is supposed to do. And she didn’t sneak in through the basement. She walked into the Capitol through the front doors, and she didn’t do so to fck around.”

Testifying for nearly 10 hours, Yovanovitch said that Trump had removed her from her post owing to “unfounded and false claims” and “a concerted campaign against me.”

She believed that associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, might have believed “that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

And she warned that the State Department was being “attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees.

“We need to rebuild diplomacy as the first resort to advance America’s interests and the front line of America’s defense. I fear that not doing so will harm our nation’s interest, perhaps irreparably.”

Frontier general Andrew Jackson once said: “One man with courage makes a majority.”

By courageously defying Trump, Marie Yovanovitch may lead other conscientious men and women to do the same.

FOUR HEROES, TWO VILLAINS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 15, 2019 at 12:11 am

Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers.

Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich.

Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky, the former military hero now falsely condemned and executed as a traitor by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1938, Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) also became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) secret police sent to arrest him.

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Dimitri Shostakovich

“He had a large picture of Tukhachevsky in his room, and after the announcement that Tukhachevsky had been shot as a traitor to the homeland, Zhilayev did not take the picture down.

“I don’t know if I can explain how heroic a deed that was….As soon as the next poor soul was declared an enemy of the people, everyone destroyed in a panic everything connected with that person….

“And naturally, photographs flew into the fire first, because if someone informed on you, reported that you had a picture of an enemy of the people, it meant certain death.

“Zhilayev wasn’t afraid. When they came for him, Tukhachevsky’s prominently hung portrait amazed even the executioners.”

“What, it’s still up?” one of the secret police asked.

“The time will come,” Zhilayev replied, “when they’ll erect a monument to him.”

As, in fact, has happened. 

Meanwhile, Stalin has been universally condemned as one of history’s greatest tyrants.

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Mikhail Tukhachevsky appears on a 1963 Soviet Union postage stamp

Third hero—James Brien Comey (December 14, 1960)

Comey served as United States Attorney (federal prosecutor) for the Southern District of New York (2002-2003).

As United States Deputy Attorney General (2003-2005), he opposed the warrantless wiretapping program of the George W. Bush administration. He also argued against the use of water boarding as an interrogation method.

In 2005, he entered the private sector as General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Lockheed Martin, the biggest contractor for the Department of Defense. 

On July 29, 2013, the United States Senate voted 93 -1 to confirm Comey as director of the FBI, the seventh in its history.

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James B. Comey

He directed the FBI from his appointment in 2013 by President Barack Obama until his firing on May 9, 2017, by President Donald Trump.

In a move that Joseph Stalin would have admired, Trump gave no warning of his intentions. Instead, he sent Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard, to the FBI with a letter announcing Comey’s dismissal.

Trump had three reasons for firing Comey:

  1. Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made this “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January. After refusing to make that pledge, Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief.
  2. Trump had tried to coerce him into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand.
  3. Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents. 

As a Presidential candidate and President, Trump:

  • Steadfastly denied those revelations;
  • Repeatedly attacked the “fake news” media reporting these revelations. Chief among his targets: CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post; and
  • Attacked the Intelligence agencies responsible for America’s security. 

On May 10—the day after firing Comey—Trump met in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Kislyak was reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign Intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions and Mike Flynn—respectively,, Trump’s fired Attorney General and fired National Security Adviser.

“I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

During that meeting he gave the Russians sensitive Intelligence on ISIS that had been supplied by Israel. 

Two days later, on May 12, Trump tweeted a threat to the fired FBI director: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” 

But shortly afterward, it appeared Trump was the one who should worry: Reports surfaced that Comey had written memos to himself immediately after his private meetings with Trump. 

He had also told close aides that Trump was trying to pressure him into dropping the investigation into close ties between Russian Intelligence agents and Trump campaign staffers.

As for Trump’s threat of having tapes of his and Comey’s conversations: Like Trump’s claim that he could prove that Barack Obama wasn’t an American citizen, this, too, proved to be a lie.

And Comey’s firing led directly to a result Trump did not anticipate: Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yielded to demands from Democrats and appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller III as a special prosecutor to investigate those ties.

FOUR HEROES, TWO VILLAINS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 14, 2019 at 12:09 am

…A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances. And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.
The conduct of weak men is very different. Made vain and intoxicated by good fortune, they attribute their success to merits which they do not possess. And this makes them odious and insupportable to all around them. And when they have afterwards to meet a reverse of fortune, they quickly fall into the other extreme, and become abject and vile.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Four heroes, two villains.

Two of the heroes are Russians; two are Americans.

The villains: One Russian (actually, Georgian); one American.

First up—in order of disappearance: Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (pronounced too-ka-chev-sky)

Tukhachevsky (February 4, 1893 – June 12, 1937) was a leading Soviet military leader and theoretician from 1918 to 1937. 

He commanded the Soviet Western Front during the Russian-Polish War (1920-21) and served as Chief of Staff of the Red Army (1925-1928).

He fought to modernize Soviet armament, as well as develop airborne, aviation and mechanized forces.  Almost singlehandedly, he created the theory of deep operations for Soviet forces.

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Mikhail Tukhachevsky

All of these innovations would reap huge dividends when the Soviet Union faced the lethal fury of Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

In 1936, Tukhachevsky warned Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that Nazi Germany might attack without warning—and ignite a long and murderous war.

Stalin—the son of a Georgian cobbler—resented Tukhachevsky’s coming from a noble family. A monumental egomaniac, he also hated that Tukhachevesky’s fame rivaled his own.

Warned of the approaching German danger, Stalin shouted: “What are you trying to do—frighten Soviet authority?”

Joseph Stalin

The attack that Tukhachevsky warned against came five years later—on June 22, 1941, leaving at least 20 million Russians dead.

But Tukhachevsky wasn’t alive to command a defense.

The 1930s were a frightening and dangerous time to be alive in the Soviet Union. In 1934, Stalin, seeing imaginary enemies everywhere, ordered a series of purges that lasted right up to the German invasion.

An example of Stalin’s paranoia occurred one day while the dictator walked through the Kremlin corridors with Admiral Ivan Isakov. Officers of the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) stood guard at every corner. 

“Every time I walk down the corridors,” said Stalin, “I think: Which one of them is it? If it’s this one, he will shoot me in the back. But if I turn the corner, the next one can shoot me in the face.”

In 1937-38, the Red Army fell prey to Stalin’s paranoia.

Its victims included:

  • Three of five marshals (five-star generals);
  • Thirteen of 15 army commanders (three- and four-star generals);
  • Fifty of 57 army corps commanders; and
  • One hundred fifty-four out of 186 division commanders.

And heading the list of those marked for death was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

Arrested on May 22, 1937, he was interrogated and tortured. As a result, he “confessed” to being a German agent plotting to overthrow Stalin and seize power. 

On his confession, which survives in the archives, his bloodstains can clearly be seen.

On June 11, the Soviet Supreme Court convened a special military tribunal to try Tukhachevsky and eight generals for treason.

It was a sham: The accused were denied defense attorneys, and could not appeal the verdict—-which was foregone: Death.

In a Russian version of poetic justice, five of the eight generals who served as Tukhachevsky’s judges were themselves later condemned and executed as traitors.

Within hours of the verdict, Tukhachevsky was summoned from his cell and shot once in the back of the head.

From 1937 until 1956, Tukhachevsky was officially declared a traitor and fifth-columnist.

Then, on February 25, 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered his bombshell “Secret Speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In this, he denounced Stalin (who had died in 1953) as a ruthless tyrant responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocent men, women and children. He condemned Stalin for creating a “personality cult” around himself, and for so weakening the Red Army that Nazi Germany was able to easily overrun half of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1943.

On January 31, 1957, Tukhachevsky and his co-defendants were declared innocent of all charges and were “rehabilitated.”

Today, he is once again—rightly—considered a Russian hero and military genius. And Stalin is universally—and rightly—seen as a blood-stained tyrant.

Next hero: Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev)

Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers. Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich.

Zhilayev, a member of the Russian Academy of Art-Sciences, taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

In 1938, he, too, became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) secret police sent to arrest him. 

MACHIAVELLI: TRUMP AS A PRINCE? GET REAL!

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 4, 2019 at 12:25 am

No shortage of pundits have sized up Donald Trump–first as a Presidential candidate, and now as the nation’s 45th President.  

But how does Trump measure up in the estimate of Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th-century Florentine statesman?

It is Machiavelli whose two great works on politics—The Prince and The Discourses—remain textbooks for successful politicians more than 500 years later.  

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Niccolo Machiavelli

Let’s start with Trump’s notoriety for hurling insults at virtually everyone, including:  

  • Latinos
  • Asians
  • Muslims
  • Blacks
  • The Disabled
  • Women
  • Prisoners-of-War

These insults delight his white, under-educated followers. But they have alienated millions of other Americans who might have voted for him.

Now consider Machiavelli’s advice on gratuitously handing out insults and threats:

  • “I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one.
  • “For neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy–but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, many Trump supporters claimed he would act more “Presidential” if elected. For them, Machiavelli had a stern warning:

  • “…If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful.  But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of his procedure.
  • “No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him, or else because, having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it…
  • “For if one could change one’s nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change.”

Then consider Trump’s approach to consulting advisers:

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he consults about foreign policy, Trump replied; “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

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Donald Trump

This totally contradicts the advice given by Machiavelli:

  • “A prudent prince must [choose] for his counsel wise men, and [give] them alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else.
  • “But he must be a great asker about everything and hear their opinions, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way, and in these counsels…comport himself so that every one may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be acceptable.”

And: 

  • “The first impression that one gets of a ruler and his brains is from seeing the men that he has about him. 
  • “When they are competent and loyal one can always consider him wise, as he has been able to recognize their ability and keep them faithful. 
  • “But when they are the reverse, one can always form an unfavorable opinion of him, because the first mistake that he makes is in making this choice.” 

Using Machiavelli as a guide, we can judge Trump’s ability to select advisers:

  • Founder of Latinos for Trump Marco Gutierrez told MSNBC’s Joy Reid: “My culture is a very dominant culture. And it’s imposing, and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re gonna have taco trucks every corner.” 
  • At a Tea Party for Trump rally at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Festus, Missouri, former Missouri Republican Party director Ed Martin reassured the crowd that they weren’t racist for hating Mexicans.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, 70% of women voiced an unfavorable opinion of Trump. So comments like this one didn’t increase his popularity among women—or anyone who received Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security.

  • Wayne Root, opening speaker and master of ceremonies at many Trump campaign events, told Virginia radio host Rob Schilling: People on public assistance and women getting birth control through Obamacare should not be allowed to vote.  

George W. Bush was President in 2004. Barack Obama became President in 2009. And Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State the same year. So voters were understandably startled when:

  • Trump’s spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, claimed that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were responsible for the death of Captain Humayun Khan—who was killed by a truck-bomb in Iraq in 2004.  

Finally, Machiavelli offers a related warning that especially applies to Trump: Unwise princes cannot be wisely advised.

  • “It is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised, unless by chance he leaves himself entirely in the hands of one man who rules him in everything, and happens to be a very prudent man. In this case, he may doubtless be well governed, but it would not last long, for the governor would in a short time deprive him of the state.”

All of which would lead Niccolo Machiavelli to warn, if he could witness American politics today: “This bodes ill for your Republic.”

REPUBLICANS LOVE TRUMP—BUT THEY LOVE THEIR JOBS MORE

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 27, 2019 at 12:08 am

On August 30, 2017, an article in Salon examined why Donald Trump’s base supports him so fanatically: “Most Americans Strongly Dislike Trump, But the Angry Minority That Adores Him Controls Our Politics.”

It described these voters as representing about one-third of the Republican party:

“These are older and more conservative white people, for the most part, who believe he should not listen to other Republicans and should follow his own instincts….

“They like Trump’s coarse personality, and approve of the fact that he treats women like his personal playthings. They enjoy it when he expresses sympathy for neo-Nazis and neo-Confederate white supremacists.

“They cheer when he declares his love for torture, tells the police to rough up suspects and vows to mandate the death penalty for certain crimes. (Which of course the president cannot do.)

“…This cohort of the Republican party didn’t vote for Trump because of his supposed policies on trade or his threat to withdraw from NATO. They voted for him because he said out loud what they were thinking. A petty, sophomoric, crude bully is apparently what they want as a leader.”

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Supporters giving the Nazi “Sieg Heil” salute to Trump

According to an August 29, 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, they only comprise 16% of the population. That leaves 65% of Republicans who are revolted by Trump’s personality and behavior. But they are being advised by GOP political consultants to vigorously support him.

“Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country,” one anonymous consultant told the Salon reporter. “Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is.” 

It’s precisely these hard-core Fascists who come out in mid-term elections—and they’re scaring the remaining 65% who make up the GOP establishment.

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Donald Trump

That’s one reason why the vast majority of Republicans continue to fanatically support Trump: They fear he will turn his hate-filled base on them.

But there’s a second reason why Republicans back Trump. And it has a historical basis.

While the Nazi Party ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945, its influence over all aspects of Germans’ lives was suffocating.

“Censorship prevailed, education was undermined, family life was idealized, but children were encouraged to turn in disloyal parents,” reads the back cover of Richard Grunberger’s classic 1971 book, The 12-Year Reich

“‘Volk’ festivals, party rallies, awards, uniforms, pageantry all played a part in the massive effort to shape the mind of a nation.” 

And yet, after the Reich surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on May 8, 1945, a strange thing happened: Virtually no German admitted to having been a Nazi—or having even known one.

In short: Adolf Hitler had lost the war he started—making him a loser nobody wanted to be identified with.

In the decades since, the “loser” tag has continued to stick with those who once served the Third Reich. Mel Brooks has repeatedly turned German soldiers—once the pride of the battlefield—into idiotic comic foils.

Even the fearsome Gestapo was spoofed for laughs on the long-running TV comedy, “Hogan’s Heroes.”

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“Hogan’s Heroes”

“Americans love a winner,” George C. Scott as George S. Patton says at the outset of the classic 1970 movie. “And will not tolerate a loser.” 

And that is why Republicans have stuck so closely with President Donald J. Trump.

Republicans don’t fear that Trump will destroy the institutions that Americans have long cherished—such as:

  • An independent judiciary
  • A free press
  • An incorruptible Justice Department
  • Intelligence agencies (such as the FBI and CIA) charged with protecting the country against subversion.

Trump has furiously attacked all of these—and Republicans have either said nothing or rushed to his defense.

  • Republicans don’t care that he has all but destroyed decades of solid relations between the United States and longtime allies, such as Canada and Great Britain.
  • Republicans don’t care that he will sell out the Nation to Russian president Vladimir Putin—whom he has never criticized and has defended against the FBI and CIA.
  • Republicans don’t even care that he tried to pressure the president of Ukraine to slander former Vice President Joe Biden, his rival in the upcoming 2020 election—and then tried to cover it up.

What Republicans fear is that if Democrats can impeach Trump, they will lose their own hold on nearly absolute power in Congress and the White House. 

If Trump is impeached and possibly indicted, he will become a man no one any longer fears. He will be a figure held up to ridicule and condemnation.

Like Adolf Hitler.  Like Richard M. Nixon. 

And his Congressional supporters will be branded as losers along with him.

Republicans vividly remember what happened after Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace on August 9, 1974: Democrats, riding a wave of reform fever, swept Republicans out of the House and Senate—and Jimmy Carter into the White House. 

If Republicans are conflicted about supporting Trump, their dilemma boils down to this:

  1. Can I hold onto my power—and all the privileges that go with it—by supporting Trump?  Or: 
  2. Can I hold onto my power—and privileges—by deserting him?

This is how Republicans define morality today.

CIVILIZING THE BARBARIANS: A HOPELESS TASK

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 20, 2019 at 12:07 am

On February 9, 2017, Army General John Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee he had enough U.S. and NATO troops for counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. 

But he needed more to sufficiently “train, advise and assist” the Afghan forces.

Today, there are 14,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.

To put the consequences of this effort into human terms:

On December 21, 2015, a suicide-bomber rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol.  Six American troops and an Afghan were killed.

One of the dead was Joseph Lemm, 45, a detective and 15-year veteran of the New York Police Department. A technical sergeant in the New York Air National Guard, he had been deployed three times—once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.

IMAGE: NYPD Detective Joseph Lemm

Joseph Lemm

Lemm left behind a daughter, Brook, 16, a son, Ryan, four, and his wife, Christine.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that flags on all state government buildings be flown at half-staff on December 23 in Lemm’s honor.

“Staff Sergeant Joe Lemm served this nation with the selflessness and bravery that embodies the U.S. Armed Forces and the NYPD,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Lemm’s death was a double tragedy—that of a dedicated man who should not have died so needlessly.

In short: It’s long past time for the United States to quit its failed mission to civilize Afghanistan.

The history of American conflict in Afghanistan began on September 11, 2001.

On that date, 19 Islamic highjackers slammed two jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

A fourth plane, headed for the White House or Capitol Building, failed to reach its target when its passengers rioted—and the highjackers dove it into a Pennsylvania field.

The mastermind of the attacks was Osama bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire then living in Afghanistan, under protection by its ruling thugocracy, the Taliban.

The administration of President George W. Bush demanded his immediate surrender to American justice.

The Taliban refused.

So, on October 7, 2011—less than one month from the 9/11 attacks—American bombers began pounding Taliban positions.

The whole point of the campaign was to pressure the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden.

But the Taliban held firm. Bin Laden holed up in the mountains of Tora Bora, and then ultimately escaped into Pakistan.

After December, 2001, American Intelligence completely lost track of Bin Laden.  CIA officials repeatedly said he was likely living in the “no-man’s-land” between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thus, there was no longer any point in pressuring the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden

Still, the United States continued to commit forces to Afghanistan—to turn a primitive, warlord-ruled country into a modern-day democracy.

There was, admittedly, a great deal to detest about the Taliban:

  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they turned soccer stadiums into execution plazas for mass beheadings or shootings.
  • Taliban “fighters” have proven their “courage” by throwing acid into the faces of women who dared to attend school.

Taliban religious police beating a woman

  • On August 8, 1989, the Taliban attacked Mazar-i-Sharif. Talibanists began shooting people in the street, then moved on to mass rapes of women. Thousands of people were locked in containers and left to suffocate.
  • The Taliban forbade women to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative and wearing the burqa—a traditional dress covering the entire body. Those who disobeyed were publicly beaten.

Yet, as horrific as such atrocities were, these did not obligate the United States to spend eternity trying to bring civilization to this barbaric country.

And, in pursuing that goal, both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly overlooked the following realities:

  • Hamid Karzai, the “president” of Afghanistan (2001-2014) didn’t believe in democracy–despite American claims to support his efforts to bring this to Afghanistan.
  • His authority didn’t extend beyond Kabul, and he was viewed by most Afghans as an illegitimate ruler, imposed by America.
  • The same can be said for his successor, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.
  • American soldiers in Afghanistan feel surrounded by enemies and hamstrung by unrealistic orders to win “hearts and minds” at the risk of their own lives.
  • The Taliban poses no threat to the security of the United States.
  • Afghan “insurgents” are fighting American forces because (1) they are in a civil war; and (2) they believe their country has once again been occupied by foreigners.
  • Counterinsurgency is being preached as the key to defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan—where it hasn’t worked.
  • Americans entered Afghanistan without an exit strategy.

All these truths applied just as firmly to America’s failed misadventure in Vietnam.

Almost 50 years ago, American “grunts” felt about their so-called South Vietnamese allies as American troops now feel about their Afghan “allies.”

Dr. Dennis Greenbaum, a former army medic, summed up how Americans had really felt about their supposed South Vietnamese allies.

“The highest [priority for medical treatment] was any U.S. person.

“The second highest was a U.S. dog from the canine corps.

“The third was NVA [North Vietnamese Army].

“The fourth was VC [Viet Cong].

“And the fifth was ARVIN [Army of the Republic of South Vietnam], because they had no particular value,” said Greenbaum.

When you despise the “ally” you’re spending lives and treasure to defend, it’s time to pack up.

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible.

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

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

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U.S. Department of Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy 

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

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

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

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

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Ernest Borgnine as J. Edgar Hoover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Mafia likes it that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Blake as James R Hoffa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cotter Smith as Robert Kennedy

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

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

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

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

For Hoffa, it’s a nightmare come true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlos Marcello

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Feud clearly implies that the Mafia was responsible. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, he disappeared. 

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

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

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

Image result for Images of I Heard You Paint Houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Francis Kennedy as Chief Counsel, Senate Labor Rackets Committee

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

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

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

James Riddle Hoffa testifying before the Senate Labor Rackets Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FORGET MARY POPPINS: IN SAN FRANCISCO, BUMS ARE IN, BIRDS ARE OUT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 3, 2019 at 12:04 am

If you visit San Francisco, forget what Julie Andrews told you in Mary Poppins: Don’t “Feed the Birds.”  

Getting caught doing so can net you a fine from $25 to $1,000.

City officials launched the campaign in 2004, fining people who fed pigeons in the Tenderloin area.

Within a month, they extended the crackdown to Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and the cable car turnaround in downtown.

Feeding birds “damages property, and it’s not good for the bird population,” said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the Public Works Department at the time of the ban.

“We have a whole education campaign letting people know it’s against the law,” said Falvey.

This includes posters erected by the Department of Public Works, which read:

“Please do not feed the pigeons. There are dozens of reasons why, but mainly: Feeding pigeons harms our neighborhoods and also harms the birds.

“Large population of pigeons is a health hazard. Our huge feral pigeon population is a health hazard and creates many problems in the city.

“Pigeon droppings dirty public spaces, do costly damage to buildings, and can spread life-threatening diseases, especially to the elderly and immune-deficient. Their nesting materials block drains and harbor parasites like bird mites. Pigeon food makes a mess and attracts rats.

“Feeding pigeons promotes over-breeding. Pigeon feeding produces over-breeding.

“Pigeons normally breed two or three times a year, producing two eggs per brood. Overfed city pigeons can breed up to eight times a year.

“Pigeons are harmed when fed. When you feed pigeons, you are not doing them a favor. They lose their natural ability to scavenge and survive on their own.

“Pigeon over population leads to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and produces sick and injured birds. A smaller flock is healthier and does less damage.

“It is illegal. It’s against the law to feed pigeons on the streets or sidewalks of San Francisco (Sec. 486. M.P.C). Violators may be cited and fined.

“You can help keep your neighborhood safe and clean and the pigeon population under control by not feeding pigeons. Keep edible garbage away from pigeons by discarding it in a securely covered garbage can.

“And don’t feed pets outside. You may report pigeon feeders to the San Francisco Police Department at 415-553-0123, or by calling 3-1-1. 

“Please join in on the efforts to keep San Francisco clean and beautiful by NOT feeding the pigeons.”

* * * * *

At the same time that city officials are telling residents, “Please don’t feed the pigeons,” they aren’t telling them, “Please don’t feed the bums.”

Because of its mild climate and social programs that give cash payments to just-arrived vagrants, San Francisco is often considered the homelessness capital of the United States.

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (1996–2004) actually proposed that the city create electronic cards for transients that residents could swipe with their credit cards, thus transferring money from their accounts to that of the recipient.

Brown dropped the idea when faced with the brutal truth that not many citizens—especially women—would be willing to whip out their credit card when confronted by a smelly, unshaved and possibly psychotic transient.

San Francisco spends spends more than $40,000 per homeless person each year.  In 2018, the city spent $305 million on what are now euphemistically called “the homeless.” That’s because city officials don’t want to use words that accurately describe who makes up the overwhelming majority of this population: 

  • Druggies
  • Drunks
  • Mental cases
  • Bums

Eight city departments oversee at least 400 contracts to 76 private organizations, most of them nonprofits, that are charged with eliminating this pestilence.

Estimates of this population range from 7,000 to 10,000 people, of which approximately 3,000 to 5,000 refuse shelter.

A similar public crackdown on “bum-feeders” could go like this:

“Please do not feed the bums. There are dozens of reasons why, but mainly: Feeding bums harms our neighborhoods and also harms the bums.

“Our huge feral bum population is a health hazard and creates many problems in the city. Bum droppings dirty public spaces, do costly damage to buildings, and can spread life-threatening diseases, especially to the elderly and immune-deficient.

“Their stolen shopping carts and filthy possessions block sidewalks and harbor parasites like bedbugs and lice. Bum food makes a mess and attracts rats.

“Feeding bums promotes overbreeding.  Bums normally travel alone, foraging for drugs and/or alcohol. Pampered city bums flock to liquor stores and drug dens where they can indulge their vices, thus taxing city medical services to the limit.

“When you feed bums, you are not doing them a favor. They lose their natural ability to find work and support themselves and their families.

“Bum over population leads to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and produces sick and injured bums. A smaller horde is healthier and does less damage.

“It’s against the law to feed bums on the streets or sidewalks of San Francisco. Violators may be cited and fined.

“You can help keep your neighborhood safe and clean and the bum population under control by not feeding bums.

“Keep edible garbage away from bums by discarding it in a securely covered garbage can. And don’t feed bums outside.

“It is Illegal.  You may report bum feeders to the San Francisco Police Department at 415-553-0123, or by calling 3-1-1.

“Please join in on the efforts to keep San Francisco clean and beautiful by NOT feeding the bums.”

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