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Posts Tagged ‘U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE’

YOUR FRIENDS AS YOUR WORST ENEMIES: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 27, 2022 at 12:11 am

Donald Trump—before, during and after his Presidency—has always preferred “journalists” who toss him softball questions and repeatedly pay homage to him.  

Such a “journalist” is Sean Hannity, host of the Fox Network’s Sean Hannity Show.

On September 21, Hannity—who had “interviewed” Trump on many other occasions, did so again.

From the outset, he made his intentions clear: To exonerate Trump—who is now facing multiple civil and criminal investigations—from all accusations.     

Hannity opened by attacking Trump’s longtime foe, New York Attorney General Letitia James:

“Take a look at New York Attorney General Letitia James. Now, today she filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump and three of his children and other entities, claiming that they inflated the value of the Trump Organization. It is nothing short of a very obvious political stunt. It is not a criminal case. It is a civil case….

Sean Hannity 2020.jpg

Sean Hannity

“Now, the attorney general isn’t even trying to hide her efforts to weaponize justice in New York State. Her conduct is deeply unethical at best.”

Then Hannity moved on to other “Trump haters”:

“But she’s not alone, you know, from the Trump haters on Capitol Hill, high-ranking deep state bureaucrats in the DOJ, the FBI. Now we have witnessed, going on many years, the 45th president has been the subject of what is non-stop, never-ending legal scrutiny focused not on a specific crime but on the man himself.”

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Donald Trump

Then he moved on—inevitably—to attacking former Secretary of State and 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton:  

“And, by the way, the president can declassify any of these documents—unlike, for example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she cannot.

“Still, she stored 110 classified documents on unsecured private servers. Hillary Clinton was never forced to endure a federal raid. She was never charged with any crime.”

Hannity then ran a clip of former FBI Director James Comey saying of Clinton: “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

But Hannity did not say that Trump, on becoming President, fired Comey for investigating the proven ties between Trump’s Presidential campaign and operatives for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

All of this undoubtedly made Trump feel vindicated and comfortable. Too comfortable, as matters turned out.

When Trump left the White House on January 20, 2021, he illegally took highly-classified government documents to his private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.

On August 8, FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago to recover those documents. Among those retrieved: Eleven sets of classified documents, four of them tagged as “Top Secret” and one as “Top Secret/SCI,” the highest level of classification.

How the Photo of Top Secret Folders at Trump's Home Came About - The New York Times

Documents found at Trump’s residence

Continuing to exonerate Trump, no matter what the offense, Hannity said: “OK. You have said on Truth Social a number of times you did declassify—”

TRUMP: “I did declassify.”

HANNITY: “OK. Is there a process—what was your process to declassify?”

TRUMP: “There doesn’t have to be a process, as I understand it. You know, there’s—different people say different things, but as I understand there doesn’t have to be.

“If you’re the President of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, ‘It’s declassified.’ Even by thinking about it, because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you’re sending it.”

Not even Trump’s attorneys have dared to make such an argument. Not when they demanded a “Special Master” to comb through the seized documents—allegedly so those that belonged to Trump could be returned to him.

Nor did they make such an assertion when, before Special Master Judge Raymond Dearie, they refused to state the process by which Trump had allegedly declassified the documents.

The media—and Trump’s many enemies—quickly seized upon this mind-blowing claim. Late-night TV hosts in particular milked it for laughs.

The Daily Show host Trevor Noah:  How could Trump “declassify documents with his brain” when he couldn’t even “read documents with his brain?”

“If Trump actually had the power to change things just by thinking about them,” joked Jimmy Kimmel, “Don Jr. would have turned into a Big Mac 30 years ago.”  

Nor did Kimmel pass up the opportunity to stick a barb into Hannity: “His approach was basically, ‘Show me on the doll where the FBI investigated you.’ I mean you have to hand it to Sean. When life gives him felons, he makes felon-ade!”

On a serious level, Trump’s outlandish assertion is liable to hurt his—or his attorneys’—appearances before various state and federal judges. 

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, warned that a prince must guard against being taken lightly—and, worse, expose himself to ridicule.

In his book, The Prince, Machiavelli writes: “…He ought….to pay attention to [guilds and classes], mingle with them from time to time, and give them an example of his humanity and munificence, always upholding, however, the majesty of his dignity, which must never be allowed to fail in anything whatever.”

It’s hard to be taken seriously when you claim supernatural powers denied to other, mere mortals. 

YOUR FRIENDS AS YOUR WORST ENEMIES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 26, 2022 at 12:10 am

It’s a truth well-known to cross-examining attorneys: The best way to obtain the truth is often to “kill your opponents with kindness.”

Witnesses always expect the opposing counsel to immediately start screaming at them. But that only causes the witness to stay alert and say as little as possible.

So the smart attorney comes on as courteous, friendly, even sympathetic.

Image result for Images of justice

A classic example of this: A laborer claimed to have permanently injured his shoulder in a railway accident, leaving him unable to work. He claimed he could no longer raise his arm above a point parallel with his shoulder.

The railway’s attorney asked him a few sympathetic questions about his injuries. And the witness quickly volunteered that he was in constant pain and a near-invalid.

“And, as a result of the accident, how high can you raise your arm?” asked the attorney.

The witness slowly raised his arm parallel with his shoulder.

“Oh, that’s terrible,” said the attorney.

Then: “How high could you get it up before the accident?”

Unthinkingly, the witness extended his arm to its full height above his head—to the laughter of the judge, jury and spectators.

Case dismissed.

In politics, sometimes your best friends turn out to be your worst enemies.

Kevin McCarthy proved this during his September 30, 2015 appearance on Fox News.

McCarthy, the Republican member of the House of Representatives from Bakersfield, California, was undoubtedly feeling relaxed.

After all, he wasn’t being interviewed by such “enemies” of the Right as The New York Times or MSNBC political commentator Rachel Maddow.

He was being interviewed by Sean Hannity, a Right-wing political commentator whose books included Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda and Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism.

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Sean Hannity

The topic under discussion: Who would be the next Republican Speaker of the House, now that John Boehner had announced his decision to leave not only the Speakership but the House itself in November?

Now Hannity wanted to know what would happen when the next Republican Speaker took office. And McCarthy—who was in the running for the position—was eager to tell him.

“What you’re going to see is a conservative Speaker, that takes a conservative Congress, that puts a strategy to fight and win.

“And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?

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Kevin McCarthy

“But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her [poll] numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”

In 51 words, McCarthy revealed that:

  • The House Select Committee on Benghazi was not a legitimate investigative body.
  • Its purpose was not to investigate the 2012 deaths of four American diplomats during a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
  • Its real purpose was to destroy the Presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
  • To accomplish this, its members spent 17 months and wasted more than $4.5 million of American taxpayers’ funds.

On October 8, 2015, Republicans were expected to choose their nominee for Speaker. On that same date, McCarthy announced that he was withdrawing his name from consideration:

“Over the last week it has become clear to me that our Conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader. I have always put this Conference ahead of myself. Therefore I am withdrawing my candidacy for Speaker of the House.”

When reporters asked McCarthy if his revelation was the reason he withdrew, he replied, “Well, that wasn’t helpful.”

But then he quickly replayed the official Republican version: “But this Benghazi committee was only created for one purpose: to find the truth on behalf of the families for the four dead Americans.”

On October 29, 2015, Republicans—holding the majority of House members–elected Paul Ryan, (Wisconsin) the 54th speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

Democrats and Republicans were united in their anger that the real reason for the Benghazi “investigation” had been revealed.

Democrats were furious that McCarthy, in an unguarded moment, had revealed that their major Presidential candidate had been the victim of a Republican smear campaign disguised as a legitimate inquiry.

And Republicans were furious that McCarthy, in an unguarded moment, had revealed that the “legitimate inquiry” had been nothing more than a Republican smear campaign.

For McCarthy, the Benghazi Committee had legitimately served the nation—not by uncovering relevant details about a terrorist act but by causing Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers to drop.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan had attacked the leaders of the Soviet Union thusly: “They reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat.”

McCarthy’s comments demonstrated that the Republican Party had adopted the same mindset and tactics as the dictators of the former Soviet Union.

Almost seven years after Kevin McCarthy revealed himself and his party as ruthless hypocrites, Republicans suffered a similar outbreak of truth.

But this time, the stakes were higher—involving Donald J. Trump, the former President of the United States.

TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT COPS AND DRUGS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on August 3, 2022 at 12:16 am

It’s a movie that appeared in 1981—making it, for those born in 2000, an oldie. 

And it wasn’t a blockbuster, being yanked out of theaters almost as soon as it arrived. 

Yet Prince of the City remains that rarity—a movie about big-city police that:

  • Tells a dramatic (and true) story; and
  • Offers serious truths about how police and prosecutors really operate. 

It’s based on the real-life case of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film). 

Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in “Prince of the City”)

A member of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Ciello (played by Treat Williams) volunteers to work undercover against rampant corruption among narcotics agents, attorneys and bail bondsmen. 

His motive appears simple: To redeem himself and the NYPD from the corruption he sees everywhere: “These people we take from own us.” 

His only condition: “I will never betray cops who’ve been my partners.” 

And Assistant US Attorney Rick Cappalino assures Ciello: “We’ll never make you do something you can’t live with.” 

As the almost three-hour movie unfolds, Ciello finds—to his growing dismay—that there are a great many things he will have to live with. 

Treat Williams as “Danny Ciello”

Although he doesn’t have a hand in it, he’s appalled to learn that Gino Moscone, a former buddy, is going to be arrested for taking bribes from drug dealers. 

Confronted by a high-ranking agent for the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Moscone refuses to “rat out” his buddies. Instead, he puts his service revolver to his head and blows out his brains.  

Ciello is devastated, but the investigation—and film—must go on. 

Along the way, he’s suspected by a corrupt cop and bail bondsman of being a “rat” and threatened with death. 

He’s about to be wasted in a back alley when his cousin—a Mafia member—suddenly intervenes. The Mafioso tells Ciello’s would-be killers: “You’d better be sure he’s a rat, because people like him.”

At which point, the grotesquely fat bail bondsman—who has been demanding Ciello’s execution—pats Danny on the arm and says, “No hard feelings.”

It’s director Sidney Lumet’s way of graphically saying: “Sometimes the bad guys can be good guys—and the good guys can be bad guys.”

Prince Of The City folded.jpg

Lumet makes it clear that police don’t always operate with the Godlike perfection of cops in TV and films. It’s precisely because his Federal backup agents lost him that Ciello almost became a casualty.  

In the end, Ciello becomes a victim of the prosecutorial forces he has unleashed. Although he’s vowed to never testify against his former partners, Ciello finds this is a promise he can’t keep.

Too many of the cops he’s responsible for indicting have implicated him of similar—if not worse—behavior. He’s even suspected of being involved in the theft of 450 pounds of heroin (“the French Connection”) from the police property room.

A sympathetic prosecutor—Mario Vincente in the movie, Rudolph Giuliani in real-life—convinces Ciello that he must finally reveal everything he knows.

Ciello’s had originally claimed to have done “three things” as a corrupt narcotics agent. By the time his true confessions are over, he’s admitted to scores of felonies.

Ciello then tries to convince his longtime SIU partners to do the same. One of them commits suicide.  Another tells Ciello to screw himself:  “I’m not going to shoot myself and I’m not going to become a rat.”

To his surprise, Ciello finds himself admiring his corrupt former partner for being willing to stand up to the Federal case-agents and prosecutors demanding his head.

The movie ends with a double dose of irony.

First: Armed with Ciello’s confessions, an attorney whom Ciello had successfully testified against appeals his conviction. But the judge rules Ciello’s admitted misdeeds to be “collateral,” apart from the main evidence in the case, and affirms the conviction.

Second: Ciello is himself placed on trial—of a sort. A large group of assistant U.S. attorneys gathers to debate whether their prize “canary” should be indicted. If he is, his confessions will ensure his conviction.

Some prosecutors argue forcefully that Ciello is a corrupt law enforcement officer who has admitted to more than 40 cases of perjury—among other crimes. How can the government use him to convict others and not address the criminality in his own past?

Other prosecutors argue that Ciello voluntarily risked his life—physically and professionally—to expose rampant police corruption. He deserves a better deal than to be cast aside by those who have made so many cases through his testimony.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes his decision: “The government declines to prosecute Detective Daniel Ciello.”

It is Lumet’s way of showing that the decision to prosecute is not always an easy or objective one.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy. 

A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”  And he walks out.

Is Danny Ciello a hero, a villain, or some combination of the two?

On this ambiguous note that the film ends—an ambiguity that each viewer must resolve for himself.

HOW TO END AIR-RAGE INCIDENTS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on November 15, 2021 at 1:15 am

Of the 4,385 air rage incidents reported by September 24, only one person has been criminally charged.  

That is Vyvianna Quinonez, who in May punched a flight attendant in the face on a Southwest flight approaching San Diego. At the time of her arrest, she claimed she was acting in self-defense.

The airlines are under Federal jurisdiction—which means legal violations can be prosecuted by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Criminal penalties can run up to 20 years in prison if convicted of interfering with the operations of an aircraft.

As a civil authority, the FAA cannot charge anyone. The agency can fine violators up to $35,000. 

Seal of the United States Department of Justice.svg

Seal of the Justice Department

There are several reasons for this huge increase in air-rage incidents.

First, coach passengers are cramped into tight places with strangers, where they have little control over what’s happening to them. This can lead to nervousness, negative feelings and anger.

Second, the political polarization that marked the Donald Trump administration has taken to the skies with the imposition of mask mandates.

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Surgical mask

Robert Bor, a director at the UK-based Centre for Aviation Psychology, says that most air-rage incidents are about masks.

“Most people are pretty neutral on whether they have Coke or Pepsi, but they will have very strong feelings when it comes to issues relating to health, human rights, access to air and so on; it triggers people to behave in slightly more militant ways.”

By June 29, of the 3,100 air-rage incidents thus far reported, 2,350 involved people refusing to comply with the Federal mask mandate. 

Airline crew members are frightened by these attacks—and depressed at the lack of punishment for them.

“We tell them [passengers] that it is a Federal offense to not comply with crew member instructions,” said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “Then the plane is met by airline supervisors or airport law enforcement and the passenger gets a slap on the wrist and sent on their way.”   

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson has his own complaints: “Every week, we see situations in which law enforcement was asked to meet an aircraft at the gate following an unruly passenger incident. Many of these passengers were interviewed by local police and released without criminal charges of any kind.”             

Meanwhile, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has had its own serious lapses in judgment.

In March, 2013, TSA Administrator John Pistole unveiled a proposal to allow passengers to bring small knives, baseball bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes.

He explained that in light of hardened cockpit doors, armed off-duty pilots traveling on planes and other preventive measures, small folding knives could not be used by terrorists to take over a plane.

TSA dropped the proposal in June, thanks to fierce opposition from passengers, Congressional leaders and airline industry officials.

By October, 2021, the TSA had seized nearly 4,500 guns at airport security checkpoints, compared with about 4,400 in all of 2019, before the pandemic caused air travel to plummet in 2020. 

About 85% of the weapons caught were loaded. They were found on passengers or in carry-on bags across 248 U.S. airports, largely in Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth.

It’s worth remembering that for all the publicity given the TSA’s “Air Marshal” program, it’s been airline passengers—not Federal lawmen—who have repeatedly been the ones to subdue unruly fliers.

Prior to 9/11, commercial airline pilots and passengers were warned: If someone tries to highjack the plane, just stay calm and do what he says.

So many airplanes were directed by highjackers to land in Fidel Castro’s Cuba that these incidents became joke fodder for stand-up comedians.

And, up to 9/11, the advice to cooperate fully with highjackers and land the planes where they wanted worked.  No planes and no lives were lost.

But during 9/11, passengers and crew—with one exception—cooperated fully with the highjackers’ demands.

And all of them died horrifically when three of those jetliners were deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

World Trade Center – September 11, 2001

Only on United Flight 93 did the passengers and crew fight back.

In doing so, they accomplished what soldiers, military pilots, the CIA and the FBI could not: They thwarted the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives and preventing the fourth plane from destroying the White House or the Capitol Building.

Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93

As a result, passengers are now ordered to act as their own air marshals when danger threatens.

To put an end to these outrages against public safety:

  • Violators should be taken into custody solely by the FBI.
  • Bail should be denied for all violators.
  • Every air-rage case should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
  • If this puts a strain on Federal detention centers, the accused should be shipped off to Guantanamo and other holding facilities.
  • Flight attendants and passengers should be empowered to use deadly force against anyone who poses a danger to the flight. Anyone found to have legally killed an air-rage perpetrator should be granted immunity from prosecution.
  • Anyone found illegally bringing a firearm aboard a flight should be arrested, jailed without bond, and tried under the USA Patriot Act, which counters terrorism. If convicted, s/he should spend at least 10 years in prison.

DE-REGULATION: LET PREDATORS BE PREDATORS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 21, 2021 at 12:09 am

This December 2 will mark the 20th anniversary of the death of a criminal empire. An empire that almost destroyed the Western United States.

The Enron Corporation.

Based in Houston, Texas, Enron had employed 22,000 staffers and was one of the world’s leading electricity, natural gas, communications and paper companies.

In 2000, it claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion. Fortune had named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years.

But then the truth emerged in 2001: Enron’s reported profitability was based not on brilliance and innovation but on systematic and creative accounting fraud.

And, on December 2, 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy  Code.

Enron’s $63.4 billion in assets made it the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history—until WorldCom’s bankruptcy in 2002.

The California electricity crisis (2000-2001) was caused by extortionate market manipulations and illegal shutdowns of pipelines by Texas energy companies.

California suffered from multiple large-scale blackouts. Pacific Gas & Electric, one of the state’s largest energy companies, collapsed, and the economic fall-out greatly harmed Governor Gray Davis’ standing.

The crisis was made possible by Governor Pete Wilson, who had forced the passage of partial de-regulation legislation in 1996. 

Enron seized its opportunity to inflate prices and manipulate energy output in California’s spot markets. The crisis cost the state $40 to $45 billion.

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The true scandal of Enron was not that it was eventually destroyed by its own greed.

The true scandal was that its leaders were never Federally prosecuted for almost driving California—and the entire Western United States—into bankruptcy.

Under the pro-oil company administration of George W. Bush, no such prosecutions ever occurred. But Americans had a right to expect such redress under “liberal” President Bill Clinton.

Once the news broke that Enron had filed for bankruptcy, commentators almost universally oozed compassion for its thousands of employees who would lose their salaries and pensions.

No one, however, condemned the “profits at any cost” dedication of those same employees for pushing California to the brink of ruin.

To put this in historical perspective:

  • Imagine a historian writing about the destruction of Adolf Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (Guard Detachment), or SS, as a human interest tragedy.
  • Imagine its Reichsfuehrer, Heinrich Himmler, being blamed for failing to prevent its collapse—as CEO Kenneth Lay was blamed for Enron’s demise.
  • Imagine that same historian completely ignoring the horrific role the SS had played throughout Nazi-occupied countries—and its primary role in slaughtering six million Jews in the Holocaust.  

Nor did anyone in the media or government declare that the solution to such extortionate activity lay within the United States Department of Justice via RICO—the Federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.

Seal of the United States Department of Justice.svg

Passed by Congress in 1970, this was originally aimed at the kingpins of the Mafia. Since the mid-1980s, however, RICO has been successfully applied against both terrorist groups and legitimate businesses engaged in criminal activity.

Under RICO, people financially injured by a pattern of criminal activity can bring a claim in State or Federal court, and obtain damages at three times the amount of their actual claim, plus reimbursement for their attorneys’ fees and costs.

Such prosecutions would have pitted energy-extortionists against the full investigative might of the FBI and the sweeping legal  authority of the Justice Department.

Consider this selection from the opening of the Act:

(1) “racketeering activity” means (A) any act or threat involving…extortion; (B) any act which is indictable under any of the following provisions of title 18, United States Code: sections 891-894 (relating to extortionate credit transactions), section 1343 (relating to wire fraud)Section 1344 (relating to financial institution fraud), section 1951 (relating to interference with commerce, robbery, or extortion), section 1952 (relating to racketeering)….

With the 20th anniversary of Enron’s demise coming up, the mantra of “de-regulation” should be ruthlessly turned against those who have most ardently championed it.

Republicans have ingeniously dubbed the estate tax—which affects only a tiny minority of ultra-rich—“the death tax.” This makes it appear to affect everyone.

With the 2022 midterm elections fast approaching, Democrats should recast de-regulation thus:

“Greed Relief” 

“Greed Protection” 

“Legalized Extortion” 

And here are some possible slogans: 

“The Energy Industry: Giving You the Best Congress Money Can Buy.” 

“De-regulation: Let Criminals Be Criminals.”

The coal industry has pumped millions into TV ads touting the non-existent wonders of “clean coal.” And Chevron has spent millions assuring us that all its profits go strictly toward making the world a better place for others. (Presumably not a penny is left for its altruistic executives.)

When faced with such outright lying by the most vested of financial interests, it’s well to recall the warning given by Niccolo Machiavelli more than 500 years ago:

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it.  

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself. But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.

A REALISTIC PORTRAYAL OF POLICE CORRUPTION—AND JUSTICE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 29, 2020 at 1:19 pm

Almost 40 years later, “Prince of the City” remains that rarity—a movie about big-city police that:

  • Tells a dramatic (and true) story; and
  • Offers serious truths about how police and prosecutors really operate. 

Released in 1981, it’s based on the real-life case of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film). 

Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in “Prince of the City”)

A member of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) targeting high-level narcotics dealers, Ciello (played by Treat Williams) volunteers to work undercover against rampant corruption among narcotics agents, attorneys and bail bondsmen. 

His motive appears simple: To redeem himself and the NYPD from the corruption he sees everywhere: “These people we take from own us.” 

His only condition: “I will never betray cops who’ve been my partners.” 

And Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Cappalino assures Ciello: “We’ll never make you do something you can’t live with.” 

As the almost three-hour movie unfolds, Ciello finds—to his growing dismay—that there are a great many things he will have to learn to live with. 

Treat Williams as “Danny Ciello”

Although he doesn’t have a hand in it, he’s appalled to learn that Gino Moscone, a former buddy, is going to be arrested for taking bribes from drug dealers. 

Confronted by a high-ranking agent for the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Moscone refuses to “rat out” his buddies. Instead, he puts his service revolver to his head and blows out his brains.  

Ciello is devastated, but the investigation—and film—must go on. 

Along the way, he’s suspected by a corrupt cop and bail bondsman of being a “rat” and threatened with death. 

He’s about to be wasted in a back alley when his cousin—a Mafia member—suddenly intervenes. The Mafioso tells Ciello’s would-be killers: “You’d better be sure he’s a rat, because people like him.”

At which point, the grotesquely fat bail bondsman—who has been demanding Ciello’s execution—pats Danny on the arm and says, “No hard feelings.”

It is director Sidney Lumet’s way of graphically saying: “Sometimes the bad guys can be good guys—and the good guys can be bad guys.”

Prince Of The City folded.jpg

Lumet makes it clear that police don’t always operate with the Godlike efficiency of cops in TV and films. It’s precisely because his Federal backup agents lost him that Ciello almost became a casualty.  

In the end, Ciello becomes a victim of the prosecutorial forces he has unleashed.  Although he’s vowed to never testify against his former partners, Ciello finds this is a promise he can’t keep.

Too many of the cops he’s responsible for indicting have implicated him of similar—if not worse—behavior. He’s even suspected of being involved in the theft of 450 pounds of heroin (“the French Connection”) from the police property room.

A sympathetic prosecutor—Mario Vincente in the movie, Rudolph Giuliani in real-life—convinces Ciello that he must finally reveal everything he’s done.

Ciello had originally claimed to have done “three things” as a corrupt narcotics agent. By the time his true confessions are over, he’s admitted to scores of felonies.

Ciello then tries to convince his longtime SIU partners to do the same. One of them commits suicide.  Another tells Ciello to screw himself:  “I’m not going to shoot myself and I’m not going to rat out my friends.”

To his surprise, Ciello finds himself admiring his corrupt former partner for being willing to stand up to the Federal case-agents and prosecutors demanding his head.

The movie ends with a double dose of irony.

First: Armed with Ciello’s confessions, an attorney whom Ciello had successfully testified against appeals his conviction. But the judge rules Ciello’s admitted misdeeds to be “collateral”—apart from the main evidence in the case—and affirms the conviction.

Second: Ciello is himself placed on trial—-of a sort. A large group of assistant U.S. attorneys gathers to debate whether their prize “canary” should be indicted. If he is, his confessions will ensure his conviction.

Some prosecutors argue forcefully that Ciello is a corrupt law enforcement officer who has admitted to more than 40 cases of perjury—among other crimes. How can the government use him to convict others and not address the criminality in his own past?

Other prosecutors argue that Ciello voluntarily risked his life—physically and professionally—to expose rampant police corruption. He deserves a better deal than to be cast aside by those who have made so many cases through his testimony.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes his decision: “The government declines to prosecute Detective Daniel Ciello.”

It is Lumet’s way of showing that the decision to prosecute is not always an easy or objective one.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy. 

A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”  And he walks out.

Is Danny Ciello a hero, a villain, or some combination of the two? It’s with this ambiguity that the film ends—an ambiguity that infuses America’s clearly hopeless “war on drugs.”

DE-REGULATION: LET CRIMINALS BE CRIMINALS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 29, 2018 at 12:05 am

A forgotten anniversary is fast approaching: This December 2 will mark the 17th anniversary of the collapse of Enron Corporation.

Based in Houston, Texas, Enron had employed 22,000 staffers and was one of the world’s leading electricity, natural gas, communications and paper companies.

In 2000, it claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion. Fortune had named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years.

But then the truth emerged in 2001: Enron’s reported profitability was based not on brilliance and innovation but on systematic and creative accounting fraud.

And, on December 2, 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy  Code.

Enron’s $63.4 billion in assets made it the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history—until WorldCom’s bankruptcy in 2002.

The California electricity crisis (2000-2001) was caused by market manipulations and illegal shutdowns of pipelines by Texas energy companies.

The state suffered from multiple large-scale blackouts. Pacific Gas & Electric, one of the state’s largest energy companies, collapsed, and the economic fall-out greatly harmed Governor Gray Davis’ standing.

The crisis was made possible by Governor Pete Wilson, who had forced the passage of partial de-regulation legislation in 1996. 

Enron seized its opportunity to inflate prices and manipulate energy output in California’s spot markets. The crisis cost the state $40 to $45 billion.

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The true scandal of Enron was not that it was eventually destroyed by its own greed.

The true scandal was that its leaders were never Federally prosecuted for almost driving California—and the entire Western United States—into bankruptcy.

Under the pro-oil company administration of George W. Bush, no such prosecutions ever occurred. But Americans had a right to expect such redress under “liberal” President Bill Clinton.

Once the news broke that Enron had filed for bankruptcy, commentators almost universally oozed compassion for its thousands of employees who would lose their salaries and pensions.

No one, however, condemned the “profits at any cost” dedication of those same employees for pushing California to the brink of ruin.

To put this in historical perspective:

  • Imagine a historian writing about the destruction of Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (Guard Detachment), or SS, as a human interest tragedy.
  • Imagine its Reichsfuehrer, Heinrich Himmler, being blamed for failing to prevent its collapse—as CEO Kenneth Lay was blamed for Enron’s demise.
  • Imagine that same historian completely ignoring the horrific role the SS had played throughout Nazi-occupied countries—and its primary role in slaughtering six million Jews in the Holocaust.  

Nor did anyone in the media or government declare that the solution to such extortionate activity lay within the United States Department of Justice via RICO—the Federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.

Seal of the United States Department of Justice.svg

Passed by Congress in 1970, this was originally aimed at the kingpins of the Mafia. Since the mid-1980s, however, RICO has been successfully applied against both terrorist groups and legitimate businesses engaged in criminal activity.

Under RICO, people financially injured by a pattern of criminal activity can bring a claim in State or Federal court, and obtain damages at three times the amount of their actual claim, plus reimbursement for their attorneys’ fees and costs.

Such prosecutions would have pitted energy-extortionists against the full investigative might of the FBI and the sweeping legal  authority of the Justice Department.

Consider this selection from the opening of the Act:

(1) “racketeering activity” means (A) any act or threat involving…extortion; (B) any act which is indictable under any of the following provisions of title 18, United States Code: sections 891-894 (relating to extortionate credit transactions), section 1343 (relating to wire fraud)Section 1344 (relating to financial institution fraud), section 1951 (relating to interference with commerce, robbery, or extortion), section 1952 (relating to racketeering)….

With the 17th anniversary of Enron’s demise coming up, the mantra of “de-regulation” should be ruthlessly turned against those who have most ardently championed it.

Republicans have ingeniously dubbed the estate tax—which affects only a tiny minority of ultra-rich—“the death tax.” This makes it appear to affect everyone.

Democrats should thus recast de-regulation in terms that will prove equally popular.  For example:

“Greed Relief” 

“Greed Protection” 

“Legalized Extortion” 

And here are some possible slogans: 

“The Energy Industry: Giving You the Best Congress Money Can Buy.” 

“De-regulation: Let Criminals Be Criminals.”

Today the coal industry is pumping millions into TV ads touting the non-existent wonders of “clean coal.” And Chevron spends millions assuring us that “all those profits” go strictly toward making the world a better place for others. (Presumably not a penny is left for its altruistic executives.)

When faced with such outright lying by the most vested of financial interests, it’s well to recall the warning given by Niccolo Machiavelli more than 500 years ago:

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it.  

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself. But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.

TRUMP’S TWO OPTIONS–BOTH BAD

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 11, 2018 at 12:08 am

Donald Trump is on the prowl. He’s looking for a traitor—or at least his version of one.

On September 5, Trump was rocked by an unprecedented scandal: The New York Times published an anonymous Op-Ed essay by “a senior official in the Trump administration.”

The writer called himself as a member of “The Resistance.” And he claimed that “many of the senior officials” in the Trump administration “are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations.”

Among his revelations:

  • “From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.”
  • “Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.”
  • “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until—one way or another—it’s over.”
  • Trump had opposed expelling “so many of Mr. [Vladimir] Putin’s spies” in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in Britain. He also opposed putting further sanctions on Russia “for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better—such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.”

The Op-Ed ignited a furious guessing game among Washington reporters and ordinary citizens. Not since Watergate and Deep Throat had so many reporters and high-level government officials  tried to identify a news source.

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Donald Trump

For many, it’s simply an enjoyable mystery.

For Trump, it’s a personal affront. Someone has dared reveal that he is not in total command of the government that he heads. And, even worse, that a shadow government exists to thwart his often reckless and even dangerous ambitions.

Two days after the editorial appeared, on September 7, Trump told reporters on Air Force One: “Yeah, I would say [Attorney General] Jeff [Sessions] should be investigating who the author of this piece was because I really believe it’s national security,”

This despite the fact that:

  • No State secrets had been revealed, and
  • “Leaking” is a routine occurrence among officials at every government agency.

So will the Justice Department investigate a case under such circumstances? 

No one knows.

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Jeff Sessions

Trump has locked himself into a no-win contest—to which there can be only two outcomes. And both of them will prove destructive to him.

Outcome #1: Trump doesn’t find the writer. Trump has always believed in conspiracy theories. and seen disagreement as betrayal. He will become increasingly paranoid and self-destructive, and the White House will become increasingly a place where few want to work.

Even under the best circumstances, any job at the Executive Mansion is tremendously stressful—filled with constant deadlines, turf battles between egotistical staffers, the threat of embarrassing exposure in the national media. 

If Trump insists that everyone now working for him be strapped into lie detectors, at least some people will refuse and leave. And getting well-screened and experienced replacements for such positions won’t be easy.

Outcome #2: Trump does find the writer. In that case, Trump’s Mount Rushmore-sized ego will demand the writer’s prosecution and imprisonment—if not execution.

Since the writer didn’t leak State secrets, there won’t be any legal basis for such a prosecution. So this will be seen as a vendetta driven by an authoritarian man’s ego. 

Moreover, Trump will run headlong into the danger of unleashing a Constitutional crisis.

His hatred of the “fake news” has long been known. The only media he watches and considers reliable is Right-wing Fox News Network, which acts as his personal cheering squad.

The rest of the media will see this—correctly—as an outright attack on their Constitutionally-protected freedom to discover the news and report it. And they will depict it as such.

Picking a fight with the national news media is a no-win situation for Presidents: The media have the resources to “dig up the dirt” on their enemies—and a unique megaphone to give voice to it.

Donald Trump has earned the hatred of many of the reporters covering him. And they will relish doing all they can to bring him down.  

And while Republicans have marched in lockstep with Trump from Day One, even they may well hesitate to support him in an all-out war on the press. After all, they have to run for office every two years (for the House of Representatives) or six (for the Senate). 

And they know how dangerous it is to antagonize the reporters and editors who cover them. 

For Trump, there will be the very real danger that, this time, they won’t back him.

Richard Nixon learned the hard way how dangerous it is to go to war against a free press.  

Donald Trump may be about to do the same.

UPDATING MURROW FOR OUR TIME: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2018 at 12:23 am

On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow, the most respected broadcast journalist in America, outlined the career and demagogic tactics of Wisconsin United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

He did so on his CBS news show, “See It Now,” at the height of the “Red Scare” hysteria that McCarthy had whipped up four years earlier.

Virtually any American could find himself accused of being a Communist, or a “Comsymp,” or a “fellow traveler.  Such an act could rob him/her of friends, career—or even liberty on the flimsiest of evidence. 

Meanwhile, Republicans cowered before McCarthy’s attacks on the press, the military, the judiciary and law enforcement—or joined hid chorus. Protecting the nation’s social and political institutions took a distant second place to attacking Democrats as Communist traitors.

Today, 64 years later, another demagogue—Donald Trump—casts an even darker shadow across the land. As the President of the United States, he commands far more power than McCarthy ever did. 

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Donald Trump

  • He freely slanders anyone—famous or anonymous, athlete or disabled, politician or philosopher—who dares contradict him. Or for whom he simply takes a disliking to.
  • He fired FBI Director James Comey for refusing to pledge his personal loyalty—the way Joseph Stalin expected his secret police chiefs to operate.
  • He hounded Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe into resigning, and then fired him 24 hours before he was to receive his pension after 21 years of sterling service.
  • He fired his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson—by tweet—while Tillerson was still on an official visit to Africa.
  • He has, in short, forced most Americans to re-think their longtime assumption that a dictatorship can’t happen here.

Today, only those Republicans who have decided to retire from Congress dare to criticize Trump. The rest fear he will aim a nasty tweet at them—and cost them Fascistic voters,  perhaps even their offices.

Meanwhile, Robert Mueller—a career prosecutor with the highest reputation for integrity—struggles to discover the truth about Russian electoral subversion and the Trump campaign’s collusion in it.

Every day he faces the danger of being fired by the very man whose criminal associates he’s investigating. And yet Republicans refuse to enact a law that would protect him against such abuse of power.

At this time, Murrow’s warnings about Joseph McCarthy need to be seriously reconsidered. Just substitute “President” for “Junior Senator” and “Trump” for “McCarthy,” and Murrow’s text could have been written yesterday.

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 Edward R. Murrow

On one thing the [President] has been consistent. Often operating as a one-man committee, he has traveled far, [defamed] many, terrorized some, accused civilian and military leaders of the past administration of a great conspiracy to turn over the country to [terrorism], [slamdered] and substantially demoralized the present State Department….

He has [slandered] a varied assortment of what he calls [“the enemy of the American people.”]

Republican Senator Flanders of Vermont said of [Trump] today: “He dons war paint; he goes into his war dance; he emits his war whoops; he goes forth to battle and proudly returns with the scalp of a pink army dentist.”

It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the [President of the United States] has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of [terrorism].

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another.

We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose [President Trump’s] methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.

There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the [President of the United States] have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his.

He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it—and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

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