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Posts Tagged ‘WHITE HOUSE’

TRUMP AS CHURCHILL: AN OUTLANDISH COMPARISON

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 9, 2020 at 12:07 am

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black unemployed restaurant security guard, was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer. While Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street during an arrest, Chauvin kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. 

Cities across the United States erupted in mass protests over Floyd’s death—and police killings of black victims generally. Most of these demonstrations proved peaceful.

But cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City saw stores looted, vandalized and/or burned. In response, President Donald Trump called for harsh policing, telling governors in a nationwide conference call that they must “dominate” protesters or be seen as “weak.”

Two men on an asphalt surface, behind a black van on which the letters "EAPOLIS" is seen, with a license plate ending "ICE". One man has light skin, a blue shirt with identifying badges on his chest and shoulder, black pants and boots, and black sunglasses pushed to the top of his close-shorn head. He is kneeling with his left knee and upper shin resting on the neck of the other man, and his right knee out of sight behind the van. The other man is lying prone, with his left cheek pressed against the asphalt close to a painted line. He is dark-skinned, with similarly short hair, and is not wearing a shirt; His mouth is slightly open, his eyes are closed with his eyebrows raised, and his arms are down, not visible behind the van. The kneeling man has his left hand in a dark glove, with his right arm hidden behind the van, and is looking at the viewer with his eyebrows slightly lifted and mouth slightly open.

Death of George Floyd

To drive home his point, on June 1, Trump ordered police, Secret Service agents and National Guard troops to violently remove peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, which borders St. John’s Church near the White House. 

The purpose of the removal: To allow Trump to have a photo opportunity outside the church.  

“I imposed a curfew at 7pm,” tweeted Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. “A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!”

Video of the assault spread quickly on social media and news outlets, sparking outrage. The next day, the US Park Police (USPP) responded to the criticisms: “No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park.”

But the agency admitted that, while it hadn’t used tear gas, it had used smoke canisters and pepper balls. In addition, police used horses, shields and batons to beat back the demonstrators.

Patch of the United States Park Police.png

While the protesters were being cleared from the area, Trump appeared in the White House Rose Garden and said: “I will fight to protect you—I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters.”

This from the man who had been impeached by the House of Representatives in December, 2019, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Only a majority-Republican Senate—fearful of losing their seats if they convicted Trump on the overwhelming evidence presented against him—had saved him from ouster.

On June 3, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany compared Trump’s photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s visits to bombed British cities during World War II:

“Through all of time, we have seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for a nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination.

“Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage. It sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people.”

White House Press Briefing (49866894636) (cropped).jpg

Kayleigh McEnany

Comparing Trump to Churchill proved a huge leap of imagination on McEnany’s part.

For starters, Churchill was an avowed and relentless opponent of Fascism—and especially its most infamous exponent, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.

During the 1930s, as Europe’s democracies ignored or quailed before Nazi threats, Churchill demanded that England arm for the coming war against Nazi Germany.

Trump, a Fascistic dictator by nature, tries to rule by fiat and identifies with dictators—most notably Communist ones, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.

Second, throughout World War II, Churchill had only one bodyguard—Inspector Walter Thompson, of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch. 

Winston Churchill (testing a submachinegun); Walter Thompson (in black fedora)

During bombing raids, Churchill often climbed atop London buildings to watch the bombardment—or raced to cities he had just learned were under attack.

Trump, on the other hand, is regularly protected by hundreds of Secret Service agents who are supplemented by hundreds of local police. 

Moreover, Trump has turned the normally well-protected White House into an armed fortress. Block after block of tall, black reinforced fencing has been erected in recent days. Tan military vehicles roll along Pennsylvania Avenue and camo-clad troops patrol the corner where tourists used to buy red, white and blue USA sweatshirts.

Lafayette Square, across from the White House—normally full of selfie-taking tourists—is now behind the steel fence perimeter and filled with heavily-armed National Guard troops and Secret Service agents.

Third, as a young man, Churchill had served his country as a second lieutenant in the Fourth Queen’s Own Hussars regiment of the British Army. He volunteered to campaign against Islamic rebels in the Swat Valley of north-west India. In Egypt, he joined the 21st Lancers and subsequently saw action in the Battle of Omdurman.

Trump, on the other hand, used his father’s influence to win five draft deferments during the Vietnam war—four allowing him to complete college and one for “bone spurs.”

There is a lesson here for Kayleigh McEnany—and all future Trump apologists: Do your homework before you make easily-debunked claims on his behalf.

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

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

Republicans constantly revile the very government they lust to control.

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

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

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

United States Holocaust Museum   

At 88, von Brunn died in jail awaiting trial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Service agents protecting President Barack Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where

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

The White House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donald Trump

The effects of the shutdown quickly became evident:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford’s Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAKE NEWS: PROTECTING TRUMP FROM THE TRUTH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on May 28, 2019 at 12:18 am

On May 24, NBC News published a story under the headline: ‘TRUMP DOESN’T SEEM TO UNDERSTAND WHAT ‘TREASON’ MEANS.”

The article noted: “Once again on Thursday, President Donald Trump used the T-word, this time saying that former FBI officials who were involved in investigating his campaign committed treason.

“Asked at a White House event which of his adversaries he had in mind when he accused them of treason, he said, ‘A number of people. They have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person.’ He then specified former FBI director James Comey, former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and former FBI agent Peter Strzok.

“‘That’s treason. They couldn’t win the election, and that’s what happened.'”

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Donald Trump

The story goes on to point out that the Constitution does not define treason as being disloyal to the President—or a private citizen, which is what Trump was when he ran for President in 2016.

In Article III, Section 3, the United States Constitution states: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Enemy” means a country or an entity that has declared war or is in a state of open war against the United States.

United States Constitution

Although the story got its facts right, the headline gives a thoroughly misleading impression. By saying, “Trump doesn’t seem to understand….” it implies that he’s simply ignorant, and once someone explains the true meaning of treason to him, all will be well.

This is not only patently absurd, it is absolutely dangerous.

First of all, Trump considers himself “a very stable genius”—which in itself proves he’s the opposite of both. This is the sort of megalomania for which brutal dictators like Gaius Caligula were infamous.

Second, he hates being corrected, and those who have tried have been fired or quit after repeated frustration and harassment. John Kelly, his former chief of staff, said of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown.” 

Third, he has no respect for anyone but himself, and none for the traditions that go with America’s highest office. He has called the White House “a real dump.” 

In addition, Trump has replaced Presidential dignity with infantile tantrums and personal attacks on virtually everyone on Twitter and in press conferences.

Fourth, Trump has always sought absolute control over everyone. As a private businessman, he forced his employees to sign NDAs—Non-Disclosure Agreements—to keep secret his acts of criminality and incompetence. As President, he has tried to continue that practice—even though it’s forbidden by law for Federal employees.

Fifth, he has always been a vindictive man. He and his companies have been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits. He has openly bragged about how enjoyable it is to “get even” with those who “screw you.”  He has “joked” that it would be nice if the United States had a “president-for-life”—like China. And he accused Democrats of “treason” for not applauding his 2018 State of the Union message.

Or take the headline in a May 24 article in Politico:  “GIULIANI APPEARS TO DEFEND SHARING A DOCTORED PELOSI VIDEO.”

The story outlines how Rudolph Giuliani, a former United States Attorney and now Trump’s chief legal protector, defended sharing a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—one that had been doctored to make her appear drunk and slurring her words.  

Rudloph Giuliani

“Nancy Pelosi wants an apology for a caricature exaggerating her already halting speech pattern,” Giuliani wrote on Twitter. “First she should withdraw her charge which hurts our entire nation when she says the President needs an ‘intervention’. ‘People who live in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.’”

Giuliani was referring to a remark Pelosi made on May 23.  The day before, Trump had stalked out of infrastructure talks with top congressional Democrats and railed against their investigations. 

“I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country,” said Pelosi in a press conference.

Pelosi’s words could be interpreted as a slap at Trump’s lack of maturity—or as an invitation for members of his Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment. Under this, a President can be removed from office if he is mentally or physically unable to carry out his assigned duties.

Giuliani’s tweet, on the other hand, was pure slander. Including the doctored clip with his tweet, he taunted: “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi? Her speech pattern is bizarre.”

He later deleted the message.

To assert—as the Politico headline does—that Giuliani “appears” to be defending a lying video is to refuse to tell the full truth. He was defending—and re-posting—it. 

His attitude was: “If you’re going to criticize the President, I have the right to slander you.” 

But you wouldn’t have gotten that from the headline. 

Donald Trump has relentlessly accused the mainstream media of attacking him with “fake news.”

The only “fake news” has been those stories that sugarcoat the despicable behavior of the President and his closest associates.

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.

Jeff Sessions, official portrait.jpg

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.

DAMNING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on October 4, 2013 at 12:01 am

For a half-century, Republicans have been damning the very government they lust to control.

Consider this choice comment from Mitt Romney supporter Ted Nugent:

“I spoke at the NRA and will stand by my speech. It’s 100 percent positive. It’s about we the people taking back our American dream from the corrupt monsters in the federal government under this administration, the communist czars he [President Barack Obama] has appointed.”

Romney, of course, refused to disavow the slander Nugent cast over every man and woman working on behalf of the American people.

Romney and his fellow Republicans salivate at every vile charge they can hurl at the very government they lust to control.

As in the case of Senator Joseph McCarthy, no slander is too great if it advances their path to power.

But there are others–living or at least working in Washington, D.C.–who simply go about their jobs with quiet dedication.  And they leave slanderous, self-glorifying rhetoric to Right-wing politicians.

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

14th Street Entrance of USHMM. Large, rectangular façade with rounded opening.

On June 10, 2009, Johns, 39, was shot and killed by James Wenneker von Brunn, a white supremist and Holocaust denier.  Brunn was himself shot and wounded by two other security guards who returned fire.

While in jail awaiting his trial, von Brunn–who was 88–died on January 6, 2010.

To work in Washington, D.C., is to realize that this city ranks–with New York City–at the top of Al Qaeda’s list of targets.

No one knows this better than the agents of the United States Secret Service, who protect the President, Vice President, their families and the White House itself 24 hours a day.

Prior to 9/11, visiting the White House was assumed to be an American right.  No longer.

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

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

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

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

But even that isn’t enough to get you through the White House door.

You’ll have to undergo a Secret Service background check.  And that requires you to submit the following information in advance of your visit:

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

And be prepared to leave a great many items at your hotel room.  Among these:

  • Cameras or video recorders
  • Handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses
  • Food or beverages, tobacco products, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.)
  • Strollers
  • Cell phones
  • Any pointed objects
  • Aerosol containers
  • Guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size

Visitors enter the White House–after showing a government-issued ID card such as a driver’s license–from the south side of East Executive Avenue.

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

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

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

This is where

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

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

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

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

Another guest asked the same agent if he enjoyed being a Secret Serviceman.

To my surprise, he said that this was simply what he did for a living.  His real passion, he said, was counseling youths.

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

Of the more than 2.65 million civilian employees of the executive branch, more than 800,000 have been sent home without pay.

These men and women aren’t faceless “bureaucrats,” as Right-wingers would have people believe.  They  are hustands and wives, fathers and mothers.  They have bills to pay, just like everyone else.

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

And they now face the dread of going for weeks or even months without a paycheck–as pawns in another Right-wing case of: “My way or no way.”

They deserve a better break–and so do all those who cherish liberty.

DAMNING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on October 3, 2013 at 12:06 am

Listen to almost any Republican and you’re almost certain to hear how much he hates and despises “Washington.”

To hear Right-wingers tell it, you might believe that “Washington” is:

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

All that prevents “Washington” from gaining absolute power–so claim Republicans–is the Republican Party.

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

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

Many of them work for the National Park Service.  Every national monument–and Washington is speckled with monuments–has several of these employees assigned to it.

Their duties are to protect the monuments and offer historical commentary to the public.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Completed in 1982, it receives about 3 million visitors a year.  Adorning the Wall, in columns that seem to reach endlessly to the sky, are the names of the 58,195 soldiers who gave their lives during the Vietnam War.

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

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

But their adult chaperones realized its significance, and ordered the children to quiet down.

I asked a nearby Park Ranger: “Do you feel people now respond differently to the Wall, as we get further away from the Vietnam war?”

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

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

When thinking about “Washington,” it’s essential to remember that this city–along with New York City–remains at the top of Al Qaeda’s target list.

Those who choose to live and/or work here do so in the potential shadow of violent death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAMING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on October 2, 2013 at 2:45 am

To hear many political pundits tell it,  the shutdown of the Federal Government is the result of “political dysfunction,” as if everybody in Congress were tripping on LSD.

This is not only untrue but misleading.

The truth is that the shutdown is the result of yet another ruthless attempt by Right-wing Republicans to obtain absolute power.

When they can obtain it at the ballot box, they rule as though by divine right.  When they can’t obtain it at election time, they try to obtain it through intimidation.

Thus, in 1992 and 1996, their Presidential candidates–President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, respectively–couldn’t defeat Bill Clinton.

So Republicans mounted an inquisition into a failed land deal that occurred before Clinton was first elected President.  This investigation spanned the length of the Clinton Presidency and produced no evidence or indictments of criminal activity.

It did, however, turn up the salacious news that Clinton had actually enjoyed several instances of oral sex courtesy of a libidinous White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

Unable to defeat Clinton at election time, and unable to find any actual criminal wrongdoing on his part, Right-wing Republicans tried to drive him out of office by impeachment.

The effort failed, and Clinton stayed in the White House until his term expired in 2001.

Then, as now, it was members of the House of Representatives who were the driving force.

Now, fast forward to the present: Republicans have made it their mission to deprive millions of Americans of health care.  They have voted 42 times to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

And they have made its elimination the focus of their threats to shut down the government unless they get their way.

Yet, consider this: Whether they like it or not, the Affordable Care Act is now a law that was legally passed by both houses of Congress.  It has been certified as Constitutional by no less than a Republican Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Under our system of government, that’s as legal as it gets.

But Republicans don’t care about legality when they’re pursuing absolute power over the lives of their fellow Americans.

Thus, they have carried out their threat to shut down the Federal Government since they couldn’t coerce Senate Democrats into de-funding “Obamacare.”

As a result:

  • More than 800,000 federal workers have been sent home without pay;
  • National parks and monuments have been closed;
  • Some programs have been temporarily crippled–such as WIC, which provides nutritional food to poor mothers with infants; and
  • Some members of “essential services” are still required to be on duty–such as the military and Federal law enforcement agencies–but without receiving paychecks.

Of course, this disgrace didn’t have to happen.

President Obama didn’t have to cave in to the latest Republican extortion demands to prevent such a shutdown.

He could have ordered his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to launch an FBI invesdtigation into terroristic threats made by Right-wingers to shut down the government.

Both the 1970 Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and the USA Patriot Act provide remedies for punishing the sort of behavior engaged in by House Republicans.

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys.  Among those crimes: Extortion.

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”

And if President Obama believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism.  Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

Demanding that the President de-fund Obamacare or face a potentially disastrous government shutdown clearly falls within the legal definition of “activities…intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”

If the FBI had determined that Federal laws against extortion and terrorism had been broken, the Justice Department could have convened criminal grand juries to indict those Republicans found as violators.

President Obama should have authorized this investigation as soon as Republicans started making terroristic threats.  Thus, he would have served notice on his sworn enemies that he was no one to take lightly.

Knowing that they might well face indictment and prosecution for engaging in domestic terrorism would have frightened many Republicans into backing away from such behavior.

Those who persisted would have found themselves fighting desperately to stay out of prison.  They would have had to pay huge fees to top-flight criminal attorneys.

They would have lived with, first, the threat of indictments hanging over their heads, and, once those indictments were returned, with the threat of conviction and imprisonment.

As a result, they would not have had time to make destroying the Presidency of Barack Obama their Number One priority.

But Obama forfeited all those advantages when he accused Republicans of “blackmail” and then refused to legally punish them for it.

GUNS AND BLACKS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 16, 2013 at 12:01 am

During White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s press briefing on July 15, there occured this memorable exchange:

Q    Well, tomorrow, Eric Holder, Kathleen Sebelius and Shaun Donovan will be in Florida addressing the NAACP, and one of the issues is on gun violence.

And according to the NAACP, black males ages 15 to 19 were eight times as likely as white males of the same age, and two and a half times as likely as their Hispanic peers, to be killed in gun-related homicides in 2009. And Kathleen Sebelius, Eric Holder and Shaun Donovan will be addressing those issues.

What does the White House have to say, particularly as you can’t push forward gun legislation?

Jay Carney

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President has made clear his feelings about the failure of the Senate to act on common-sense [gun control] legislation that would have improved upon our background check system–legislation that has enormous support across the country, in blue states and purple states and red states, and that the Senate should have approved.

The fact of the matter is–and the President has spoken about this–he will continue to work with members of his administration to advance the cause of reducing gun violence, using the powers that the administration has, but will also continue to try to impress upon Congress the need to have Congress act on this important problem and to reflect the will of the American people when it comes to common-sense steps….

* * * * *

Okay, let’s focus on the core of the question itself: “According to the NAACP, black males ages 15 to 19 were eight times as likely as white males of the same age, and two and a half times as likely as their Hispanic peers, to be killed in gun-related homicides in 2009.

The question came up two days after self-appointed “neighborhood watchman” George Zimmerman was acquitted on July 13 of murdering 17-year-old Travon Martin.

Zimmerman’s ethnicity is half-German (on his father’s side) and half-Peruvian (on his mother’s).  Martin was black.

From the tone of the question, you’d think that that blacks were being slaughtered daily by whites.

In fact, the racial group most responsible for the murders of blacks is–other blacks.

In 1971, Robert Daley, a reporter for the New York Times, became a deputy police commissioner for the New York Police Department (NYPD).

In that capacity, he saw the NYPD from the highest levels to the lowest–from the ornate, awe-inspiring office of  Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy to the gritty, sometimes blood-soaked streets of New York.

He spent one year on the job before resigning–later admitting that when he agreed to take the job, he got more than he bargained for.

It proved to be a tumultuous year in the NY’D’s history:  Among those challenges Daley and his fellow NYPD members faced were the murders of several police officers, committed by members of the militant Black Liberation Army.

Two of those murdered officers were Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini.  Jones was black, Piagentini white; both were partners.  Both were shot in the back without a chance to defend themselves.

Writing about these murders in a bestselling 1973 book–Target Blue: An Inside’s View of the N.Y.P.D.–Daley noted:

“Jones and Piagentini were the sixth and seventh policemen murdered so far that year [1971].  There would be three more….

“The identities of approximately 18 men involved in these murders became known to the police.  All were black.

“The city’s politicians refrained from pointing this out, and so did Commissioner Murphy.

“But the fact remained that approximately 65% of the city’s arrested murderers, muggers, armed robbers, proved to be black men; about 15% were of Hispanic origin; and about 20% were white.

“The overall racial breakdown of the city went approximately this way: whites, 63%; blacks, 20%; Hispanics 17%.”

Stated another way: Blacks, who made up 20% of the city’s population, were responsible for 65% of the city’s major crimes.

Or, as Daley himself put it: “So the dangerous precincts, any cop would tell you, were the black precincts.”

That was 40 years ago.

Now, consider the following statistics released by the NYPD for “Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City” in 2012.  Its introduction states:

“This report presents statistics on race/ethnicity compiled from the New York City Police Department’s records management system.”

Then follows this chart:

Misdemeanor Criminal Mischief
Victim, Suspect, Arrestee Race/Ethnicity                                                                  

American Indians:               Victims:  0.7%      Suspects:  0.3%      Arrestees:   0.3%

Asian/Pacific Islanders:    Victims:  8.4%      Suspects:   3.2%     Arrestees:    3.9%

Blacks:                                      Victims: 36.5%      Suspects: 49.6%     Arrestees: 36.5%

Whites:                                      Victims: 28.9%      Suspects: 17.0%      Arrestees: 22.9%

Hispanics:                                Victims:   25.4%     Suspects: 29.8%      Arrestees:  36.4%

Total Victims:      40,985       

Total Suspects:     11,356  

Total Arrests:         7,825

Consider the following statistics released by the NYPD for “Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City” in 2012.

Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter Victims:

  • Black (60.1%)
  • Hispanic (26.7%)
  • White victims (8.7%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (4.2%)

Murder and Non-Negligent Manslaughter Arrestees:

  • Black (51.4%)
  • Hispanic (36.7%)
  • White (9.2%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander (2.6%)

Rape Victims:

  • Black (37.9%)
  • Hispanic (36.9%)
  • White victims (19.2%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders (5.4%)

Rape Arrestees:

  • Black (48.6%)
  • Hispanic (42.8%)
  • White (5.0%)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander (3.1%)

CHENEY LIES DESCRIBE 9/11, NOT BENGHAZI: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on May 16, 2013 at 12:00 am

According to former Vice President Dick Cheney, President Barack Obama is trying to “cover up” the nature of a terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

He made this accusation while appearing on the right-wing Sean Hannity radio program on May 13.

Yet, perhaps unwittingly, Cheney’s accusations say at least as much about the failures of the Bush Administration to prevent 9/11–and its deliberate efforts to lie the United States into a needless war with Iraq.

CHENEY ON BENGHAZI:  There was never any doubt about what was happening here.  And the whole notion, they have gone through this process trying to get to the truth, they did exactly the opposite.

You say this, too, you start out with the truth as reported by the intelligence community, and then you turn it into a total distortion once the political types in the White House and some senior folks at the State Department get their hands on it.

THE RECORD ON 9/11/IRAQ:   Among the lies told by high-ranking Bush Administration officials to persuade Americans that Iraq posed an immediate threat to national security:

  • Iraq had sought uranium from Niger, in west Africa;
  • Thousands of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq could be used in centrifuges to create enriched uranium;
  • Iraq had up to 20 long-range Scud missiles, prohibited under UN sanctions;
  • Iraq had massive stockpiles of chemical and biological
  • Iraq had massive stockpiles of chemical and biological agents, including nerve gas, anthrax and botulinum toxin;
  • Saddam Hussein had issued chemical weapons to front-line troops who would use them when US forces crossed into Iraq.

Specifically:

August 26, 2002: Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars, “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.”

Related image

Dick Cheney

September 8, 2002: National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said on CNN: ”There is certainly evidence that al Qaeda people have been in Iraq. There is certainly evidence that Saddam Hussein cavorts with terrorists.”

September 18, 2002: Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee, “We do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical and biological weapons. His regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons—including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas.”

October 7, 2002: Bush declared in a nationally televised speech in Cincinnati that Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”

January 7, 2003: Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news briefing, “There’s no doubt in my mind but that they currently have chemical and biological weapons.” This certainty was based on contemporary intelligence, he said, not the fact that Iraq had used chemical weapons in the 1980s.

Related image

Donald Rumsfeld

February 8, 2003: Bush said in his weekly radio address: “We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons—the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”

March 16, 2003: Cheney declared on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “We believe [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

March 30, 2003: On ABC’s “This Week” program, 10 days into the war, Rumsfeld said: “We know where they [weapons of mass destruction] are.”

CHENEY ON BENGHAZI:  Remember when they were doing the bin Laden raid, you got pictures all over the place of the President sitting in the Situation Room and monitoring the take-down of Osama Bin Laden.  This was exactly the opposite of that.

THE RECORD ON 9/11/IRAQ:  Remember when–on May 1, 2003–President Bush landed a Lockheed S-3 Viking aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln?  How, to sailors’ cheers, he announced the end of major combat operations in the Iraq War?  How, above him, a huge banner read: “Mission Accomplished”?

George W. Bush claiming the Iraq war is over

And remember how guerrilla warfare increased in Iraq–and the majority of military and civilian casualties occurred after the speech?  Remember how administration officials grew increasingly testy and evasive in their interviews and press conferences? 

Remember how they suddenly quit talking about all those “weapons of mass destruction” that hadn’t been found in Iraq?

CHENEY ON BENGHAZI:  There were a lot of questions that need to be asked about the military chain of command….We have especially-trained units that practice this thing all the time.  They are very good at it and they are champing at the bit to go….Why weren’t they deployed ready to go to take action….?

THE RECORD ON 9/11:  When the first plane struck the World Trade Center, President Bush was reading My Pet Goat to a group of elementary schoolchildren in Sarasota County, Florida.  Even after being told that a second plane had hit the Center, Bush continued reading to the children for another seven minutes.

No armed Air Force planes were stationed between New York and Washington.  The CIA and the National Security Agency–the nation’s code-cracking center–stood totally vulnerable to aerial attack.  So did the Congress.

At the White House, Secret Service agents threw open the doors and told “ordinary” staffers to evacuate and fend for themselves.  Those officials considered worth protecting–such as Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice–were hustled into a secure, bomb-proof chamber.

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