Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

BLACK IS WHITE

In 1949, George Orwell published his iconic novel of dystopia, 1984. It presented the world divided into three with Orwell’s England part of Oceania, ruled by the tyrant—or perhaps an avatar—Big Brother. The key to Big Brother’s power was twisting language: war is peace, freedom slavery, ignorance strength. The two articles of impeachment brought against Donald Trump bring Orwell to mind.

On November 21st, Joe Garofoli in the San Francisco Chronicle assessed Republicans’ take on the impeachment inquiry. The conservative writer Brent Bozell tried to undercut a witness who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Sondland testified that yes, there was a quid pro quo. Bozell’s tweeted observation: “Listen to Sondland and you’ll understand why Americans elected Donald Trump to get rid of people like Sondland.”

Black for Bozell and countless others is white. Gordon Sondland, whom Donald Trump claimed not to know all that well—after Sondland testified—donated one million dollars to Trump’s inauguration. Hard to miss a guy like that. In turn, Trump appointed Sondland, who made his fortune with hotels, to his ambassadorial post. (Reminder: Wealthy donors with no experience in statecraft often receive such posts, sometimes critical ones, from presidents of either party.)

It appears that Americans had no intention of electing Trump so he could get rid of people like Sondland, because Sondland represents not the “deep state” but the moneyed state to which Trump caters.

And there is another Orwellian-type term: Deep state. This nation has—at least, had—a large roster of career professionals in the State and Defense Departments, among others. These folks, unlike Sondland, are not political appointees but career civil servants carrying out the nation’s business with hard-earned expertise.

But what better way to whip the far right into a frenzy than to claim a plot by these unelected professionals without whom the nation faces dissolving relationships with other countries, challenges to forming and maintaining economic and military alliances, and roadblocks to gathering intelligence regarding hostile nations and terrorist groups such as ISIS.

Then again, the far right believes in Fortress America going it alone. Yet for me, the image ofDeep Stateconjures not a threat by invisible men and women bent on violating our Constitution but the classic TV show, X-Files. The show loved conspiracies and portrayed a fictional deep with tongue in cheek.

During one meeting of the deep state’s small committee of movers and shakers, their leader, the Cigarette Man (played marvelously by William B. Davis), takes the group through the day’s order of business. In concluding, he insists that the Buffalo Bills never win the Super Bowl. Football fans got the joke. The Bills had appeared in four straight Super Bowls from 1991-94 and lost them all.

Now let’s go to last Monday. The Justice Department’s inspector general determined that the FBI had mishandled some of the processes regarding investigating foreign interference in the 2016 presidential campaign but the decision to investigate was proper and devoid of political prejudice. Trump’s response: The report was worse than he thought it would be. The FBI engaged in an “attempted overthrow” of the government.

So yes, black is white. Take it from the Oval Office. Or should I say, the Ellipsoid Headquarters of Alternative Reality?

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

WE ARE ALL MEXICO

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump boasted that Mexico would pay for a wall on our southwestern border. His frenzied supporters cheered. What they failed to realize is that the wall would be paid for by them.

In a way, Trump may have been right. Today, we are all Mexicoakin to the millions around the world who declared, “We are all Charlie Hebdo after the January 2015 Islamist killing of 12 people at that French magazine’s Paris offices.

Most Americans support the Mexican people’s desire for a nation free of ignorance, hatred and corruption, all of which threaten our own democracy. Many American citizens—yes, citizens—have roots in Mexico. Many more vacation in or retire there. At home, we eat Mexican food, drink Mexican beer and tequila, and even learn Spanish.   

Of course, the Republic of Mexico refused to pay for however-many miles of wall—or barrier. So our beleaguered president declared a state of emergency. 

As things stand, funding will be pulled from the Department of Defense. Not every American believes that our defense budget needs to be as high as it is, but we all believe that defense is important. Also that our military personnel must be well cared for—from training to deployment to homecoming. If Mr. Trump, an advocate of increased military spending, pulls away $3 billion or more, who gets hurt? Not the members of his golf club, Mar-a-Lago.

Suits already have been filed. Today, House Democrats introduced a resolution—to be voted on Tuesday—to overturn Trump’s trumped-up state of emergency. Ultimately, the courts will rule. One sure bet: If they find for Trump, Americans will pick up the tab.

While legal issues remain up in the air, the facts should ground American opinion regarding what constitutes a national emergency. Trump points to illegal drugs. But the FBI, DEA and other law-enforcement agencies state that the vast majority of drugs from Mexico—85 percent and up—arrive at ports of entry. On January 31, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the largest-ever seizure of Fentanyl—245 pounds—at the border crossing in Nogales, Mexico. 

Barriers can be partof the solution to illegal immigration and drugs. But Trump continues to put the cart before the horse, offering a symbolic sop to his anti-brown base without assessing the reports and statistics government experts present to him. Why? Trump prefers making decisions based on his gut, which translates to obtaining daily approval from Fox News. 

Where does the public stand? A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll reported that 36 percent of Americans favor building a wall, 61 percentoppose.

What lies ahead? NPR reported last Tuesday that 90 percent of the Trump base supports the wall. That leaves 10 percent against. Given the closeness of the 2016 presidential election—Trump lost the popular vote by three million—and the upcoming report on Russian interference in that election from Special Commissioner Robert Mueller—a chipped base can hurt Trump badly. 

Come 2020—if Trump remains president and runs for re-election—American voters will likely declare, “We are all Mexico.” They will refuse to pay for Trump’s wall and what it stands for, as well as his Oval Office salary.  

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION

Delivering his first State of the Union address, Donald Trump stuck to his script. Although often wandering from the truth, he saluted an improved economy and painted a rosy picture of his presidency and the future. Beware! The real state of the union is far gloomier.

Trump’s speech featured heavy doses of self-congratulation. It also engaged in shameless pandering with guests sobbing on camera as Trump told stories of violent crimes committed against their families. Still, seventy-five percent of people who heard the address approved. But Trump did no more than present a Potemkin Village.

A more accurate portrait of this presidency emerges from the ongoing lies, attacks on American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and inability to deal straightforwardly with Congressional leaders—of both parties.

In terms of breaking news, Trump continues trying to thwart the Mueller commission’s investigation into his connections to Russia. This morning, Devin Nunes (R-Cal.), chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released a memo written by his staff casting a negative light on the FBI. Bureau director Christopher Wray—chosen by Trump to replace the fired James Comey—had condemned releasing the memo, as did leading members of Congress, intelligence experts and journalists. They believe the memo to be out of context and distorted. They fear it will reveal Bureau sources and methods, putting American intelligence operatives at risk. Trump permitted its release.

Back to the State of the Union and something you may have missed. Trump concluded by calling for Americans to maintain “trust in our God.” Our God? Do all Americans believe in the same God? If they believe in God at all?

Given Trump’s support by ecumenical Christians, I assume he referred to Jesus. I’m a Jew. Jesus isn’t my God—or the God of American Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others. “Our God” is not the God of Israel, Saudi Arabia, India and Japan. Vladimir Putin promotes Russia, despite its large Muslim population, as a Christian (Orthodox) nation, but referencing “our God” can only heighten tensions with China, Iran and North Korea. Will our God battle their Gods?

The comment served to send a clear message to the Trump base: that America remains a white, Christian nation. That, re Charlottesville, Virginia, “good people” can march alongside white supremacists and neo-Nazis. That immigrants from Haiti and Africa really do come from “shithole” countries.

For Trump, the State of the Union was all about money—with no acknowledgment of Barack Obama’s role in moving the economy forward. Economic growth is good. Mammon is not.

This week’s Torah portion, Yitro (Jethro), presents the Ten Commandments. The commentary Etz Chayim examines the (Jewish) First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God who brought out of the land of Egypt.” Egypt, a nation of great wealth, was the house of culture, science and mathematics. All good. But for Israel, it was the house of bondage. The scholar Benno Jacob (1862–1945) comments, “If freedom and culture cannot coexist, we should bid farewell to culture for the sake of freedom.” Money cannot be “our God”.

Trump continues to widen American divisions. No matter how strong the economy, bigotry and hatred—espoused and supported by the president of the United States—can only turn America into Pharaoh’s Egypt. And we know how that story turned out.

As I publish, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average has plummeted over 800 points since last Friday. Will Mr. Trump, as the force behind the American economy, accept responsibility for this?

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The media continues to follow Robert Mueller’s investigation into the relationship between Donald Trump and Russia. A fuss was made this past week about Trump knowing that his national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, lied not only to Vice President Mike Pence but also to an FBI agent before Trump fired him. Don’t get excited. This represents some of the what of the matter. But it’s just part of the story.

The investigation will bear fruit only when we understand why Trump turned his back on, and even condemned, the United States’ top security agencies for reporting that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Why he admires Putin and his governing style yet has chided leaders of allied governments. Why he fired FBI head James Comey. And why, early this week, he trashed the FBI.

We know Trump believes good relations with Russia can be to our advantage. But that’s like advocating mom and apple pie. It’s always preferable to establish good relations with all nations— even those with whom we have conflicts, such as Iran and North Korea. But Trump has never assumed the role of statesman and geopolitical thinker. He has never written or delivered cogent speeches or position papers detailing the ways American-Russian engagement can make the world safer and freer.

So back to the key question: Why all the contacts between Trump’s people and Russia? Why did members of the Trump team mention the easing of sanctions imposed by Barack Obama before the inauguration? Why the guilty pleas from Trump team members, which may cripple or end the careers of those who entered them? And why the constant discovery of more questionable contacts between the Trump campaign and transition teams, and Russia?

Follow the money!

On Tuesday, Thompson Reuters reported Mueller subpoenaed global banking giant Deutsche Bank for information regarding Trump and his family’s accounts and transactions. Might this relate to past New York Times and Vanity Fair articles on Russians laundering money through Trump condominium projects in New York and Florida? Will it reveal other Trump-Russian financial arrangements? Whatever, this form of inquiry represents the search for key answers.

It’s also critical to know why Trump refused to release his tax returns as all other candidates have over the last forty years. Look for Mueller’s team to review Trump’s tax returns soon—if they’re not doing so now. Their examination will go way past the tasks performed by the IRS. A tax expert told me that the IRS doesn’t look for illegal activities when individuals or entities state appropriate revenues, claim reasonable deductions and pay appropriate taxes. Additionally, sources of revenue and recipients of expenses don’t draw attention. It’s all about the numbers.

Mueller’s forensic accountants and investigators will dig deep. They’ll search for sources of revenue and recipients of financial obligations not listed on Trump’s returns. They’ll seek to uncover layers of shell companies to find the real people and organizations behind Trump’s business dealings.

When Mueller and his staff reach conclusions, they’ll know if Trump sought to enable Russians to profit from equity positions in some of his projects and to collect on large debts he owes Russian banks, oligarchs and mobsters. The truth is out there. To find it, Mueller will follow the money.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

MARATHON IN 9.58

How fast do news stories change? Last night, I had a draft of this post ready to go. It included comments about the Boston Marathon bombings. This morning, I had to start over.

I had written: “You can imagine a number of likely suspects, foreign and domestic, in general terms, but the investigation demands time to examine all the details. While CNN and other TV networks sprint towards breaking news, the FBI and other involved agencies must run a marathon of their own.”

Well, the FBI seems to have run a marathon in 9.58 seconds—the world record for 100 meters set by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in 2009. They found and identified the remains of the bombs. They identified suspects from security videos then came up with faces and finally, names. As you doubtless know, The two suspects—brothers and ethnic Chechens—are believed to have held up a 7-Eleven store in Cambridge, murdered a school policeman at MIT and hijacked a Mercedes.

The elder, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was shot by police in Watertown and died at Beth Israel Hospital. Law enforcement personnel are looking for the younger, Dzhokhar Tarnaev, 19, who survived the shootout. He may be captured or killed by the time you read this.

Yet the marathon metaphor remains apt. If law enforcement authorities will have one run sprint, they’ll have to run another to answer important questions. Why did the brothers engage in this act of terrorism? Should anyone have picked up signals? Did they act alone? And can we expect copycat attempts from sick individuals seeking public exposure through such acts?

Okay, the Feds run a second sprint. But then the finish line moves again. How do we tighten security to make terrorist activities harder to plot and carry out? Do cities widen the use of video cameras? Do we form a National Video Association, inspired by the National Rifle Association, to encourage citizens to video every aspect of their lives should something go wrong?

Still, the tape keeps moving no matter how fast we run. Technology gives incredible power to police and security agencies. It enabled the FBI to make connections at seeming light speed. As KCBS Radio’s political analyst Marc Sandalow mentioned this morning, does this make us feel comfortable—or threatened? Where is the balance point between security and privacy? Does one exist at all?

Finally, how do we create a world in which we prevent the causes of terrorism? How do we reconcile Western ideas of peace and freedom with countless nations and peoples who don’t share our worldview and engage in violence that kills more people daily than died in Boston?

I conclude that life is one sprint after another—a marathon. The Talmud instructs that we must try to improve the world even if we can’t achieve that goal. Events of this week remind us that the finish line is a long way off. Yet decency demands that we put one foot in front of the other, mile after mile after mile.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.