Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Out In Theaters Now: “Shock and Awe” A Film About Suppression of Anti-War News Journalism That Itself Seems Like It Is Being Suppressed– So You’ll Have to Hurry To See It

Two film reviews that came out last week are poles apart: One is the New York Times review of Rob Reiner’s new film “Shock and Awe,” a true story about investigative beltway reporting.  It’s about the run-up to Iraq war.  The other was the review of the same film that appears in the Village Voice.

The New York Times review of the film is disgraceful: It reviews the film dishonestly treating it as essentially a non-movie.  It short-shrifts it with a few mostly dismissive paragraphs.  Likely to be overlooked by most readers, the message was clearly: `nothing to see here, move along.'

Conversely, the review in the Village Voice was way beyond respectful. It was an engaging one that would likely encourage most readers to see the film.  Oddly, the Village Voice review, initially very easy to discover in an internet search just hours after it was posted, was soon almost impossible to find by Googling.  That is one indicator of a question that needs to be discussed: Whether the film is being suppressed.  The New York Times review, on the other hand, continues to be easy to find.

Ben Kenigsberg, who wrote the Times mini-review, probably telegraphed what he was up to when he wrote in the first paragraph that the film insults the abysmal quality of news coverage that the New York Times offered during the run up to the Iraq war.  And truly, part of the fun of the film (as the Village Voice review recognized: Rob Reiner’s “Shock and Awe” Takes on Bush’s War and the “New York Times” — and Wins) is how thoroughly the film lambasts the New York Times as an unconscionable conduit of propaganda for the powerful who doled out access in return for the publication of the false stories they want the public to swallow.  The inspiring part of the film is how diligent reporters working at the Knight Ridder newspaper chain were, without high-level access, able to see through the deceptions and get the story right.  Its main characters, journalists working for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain, are Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, and later Joe Galloway working under their Washington bureau chief John Walcott.

In the film, that propaganda is the fake news that the George W. Bush administration manufactured and deceitfully handed out in 2003 as an excuse to go to war in Iraq.  As such, the film is ever so relevant to today, particularly from a potentially anti-war standpoint, as we presently listen to the drumbeats urging the U.S. to start up new wars around the world on multiple fronts, Korea, Iran, Syria, Russia, Yemen, Venezuela. . .  Two of those countries, not yet attacked by us, Korea, and Iran, were, alongside Iraq, included in G. W. Bush’s original 2002 rhetoric about a tripartite “Axis of Evil.”— Venezuela is the country that Trump very recently questioned whether we could invade. . .  Thus, it is perhaps not surprising if the film is being suppressed in various ways, as appears may very likely be the case.

In his New York Times review, Kenigsberg ignores those ways that the film is most likely relevant and manages to invert the way he concludes that the film “feels more timely than it might have,” by instead linking its potential relevance to a “current president” who “routinely dismisses the accuracy of reporting.”  In other words, Trump is the enemy again and if you have the notion that the New York Times publishes fake or unreliable news then that puts you in the Trump camp?

Kenigsberg concludes his review by saying of the film:
It also captures an aspect of journalism not often portrayed: the fear of being wrong when the conclusions of your reporting break from those of your competitors.
That almost sounds like a humorously offered defense of the New York Times for getting it 100% wrong in the run up to the Iraq war, as if instead of incredible sloppiness on the part of the Times, there was just a difference of opinion between competing journalists about what the news actually was with the Times and Judith Miller having the commendable courage to get it wrong.

The film is a significant addition to the expanding canon of films about real journalists reporting about real events and issues.  Some of them are documentaries and others, like this and “All The Presidents’ Men” are dramatized versions of what happened.  To include its release, National Notice has just updated a list of such films ordered according to the chronology of the real events concerned: Time To Update Our Timeline Presenting Movies About Real Journalists Covering Real Public Issues and Events (To Include “Shock and Awe” and “Risk”), Sunday, July 15, 2018.- 

One important subject of “Shock and Awe” is about the working of mainstream media and how the reporting of the Knight Ridder team of journalists which, essentially anti-war because of its rightful skepticism, was suppressed.  The on-target and in retrospect very valuable stories published by the Knight Ridder chain were not treated as news or picked up by New York Times, Washington Post and other mainstream media.   As the films puts it, those media outlets, as in the wake of 9/11, acted as “stenographers” for the Bush administration’s propaganda.  One of the things the film sadly depicts is how the Philadelphia Inquirer, one newspaper in the Knight Ridder chain, defected, refusing to publish the accurately skeptical Knight Ridder stories and replaced them with the stories by Judith Miller for which the New York Times ultimately had to apologize because of they were so abjectly false.

The film was discussed in a segment of this week’s On The Media. On The Media introed its coverage of the film (at 11:46) with: “What if great investigative journalism falls in the forest and doesn’t make a noise: Fifteen years later it becomes a movie.”  Unfortunately, we could now add to that bleak epigram: “A movie that nobody sees.”. . .

. . . People are tweeting about how the film only made an absolutely paltry $41,000 its opening weekend, calculating that this must work out to about five tickets being sold per showing of the film.

This astoundingly poor showing doesn’t seem exactly like an accident.  I was eager to see the film as soon as it came out, but finding out where it was playing and how to get tickets was next to impossible when I tried.  The incomplete information Fandango offered was inaccurate.  There was only one theater in New York City where I could see the film at unless I wanted to travel to Coney Island late at night.

The apparent suppression of the film now, and thus, once again, the underlying story that is so very relevant to right now, is very meta.

The film also addresses concerns beyond mere journalism that are less vanilla and increasingly relevant to today.  I could offer a “spoiler alert” concerning what I am about to describe, but the film is so subtle in one respect that I think the way it pitches one point is likely to go over the heads of almost everyone.  “All The President’s Men” has its scene where reporters Woodward and Bernstein realize that their lives may be in danger and that they may also be the subject of surveillance.  “Shock and Awe,” has a very comparable scene that takes place between Woody Harrelson playing reporter Jonathan Landay and Milla Jovovich playing his wife.  Based on her experiences when her country of Yugoslavia disintegrated, she warns Landay that he needs to be concerned for their lives and about surveillance.  She does so when he tells her that he is working on a story about how the Bush administration is stove-piping intelligence up to a newly created senior unit at the top of the U.S. intelligence agencies for cherry-picking and manipulation purposes.

Immediately after this concern is expressed, another scene follows where the New York Times  scoops the Knight Ridder team on that same story, but does so in a way that neutralizes and defangs the point of what Knight Ridder would have reported, inoculating the intelligence agencies against any future disclosure of information the new special unit formed to skew the intelligence.  The implied question that is likely to go by too many viewers is whether the Bush administration fed the scoop to a cooperative New York Times to protect itself.  Essentially the question is whether the Times acted yet again, in yet another way, as an extension of the Bush administration’s push toward war.

The Kenigsberg review suggests that this is not a film that intelligent or informed people will want to see saying that “the writing . . . has more interest in reaching the least-informed viewers than in realism.”  In other words, saying that the film is pedestrian and didactic: But there is a lot in the film that most viewers will not know.

It is fair to say that the film, is aspirational about edifying and educating and therefore sticks fairly close to facts.  The On The Media segment noted that it therefore must deal with a story that is a bit of "a downer."  It also therefore necessarily falls short of checking the standard formulaic boxes for success as mindless entertainment or even infotainment.  There are bad guys, but no car chases or super-heroes throwing enormous objects as they fly through the air.  The bad guys also get away with their scheme in the end. It is nonetheless a good and inspiring film, very worth seeing, that could critically educate a large segment of our population.

This is not to say that the film doesn’t necessarily engage in some streamlining when it comes to the facts, something it perforce almost has to do.  The film starts by establishing the events of 9/11 as backdrop to the story that partly explains the lack of criticism of the government by the media at the time.  To emphasize how off track it was to blame Iraq for 9/11 it keeps its focus on Osama bin Laden as the 9/11 perpetrator who is, as a result, getting off the hook.  The film does not detour into the unpursued involvement of the Saudis.

Although the film’s courageous protagonists don’t get to follow the standard arc of today’s mythically-presented and godlike movie superheroes (some are actually Gods of ancient myth– and the Times in its movie reviews takes them more seriously), it sent me scurrying to research one of the great enduring myths of all time, the Greek Myth of Cassandra. In their ancient story telling, the Greeks (e.g. Sisyphus) have a penchant for exquisite frustration: Cassandra was granted the gift of accurate prophecy sequestered in the curse that whatever she predicted would not be believed.  The plight of the film’s reporting team is much the same.

The reporters in the film are able to see and accurately report that the Bush administration was lying and cherry picking intelligence, and they are able to foresee the many ways that going to war in Iraq would ultimately be exactly as extremely costly and counterproductive as it was.  They do so, not through prophecy, but by digging to come up with well-founded documentation.  Part of their strategy is to cultivate, as sources, lower level government officials rather than rely on access to top officials looking for media conduits to prostitute themselves.  (The reason that Cassandra was cursed by the god Apollo to have her prophecies never believed was that she would not go to bed with him.)

Another difference between the true story the film offers and the Cassandra story is the centrality of how the Knight Ridder reporters were not merely predicting the future, but trying to unmask liars crafting a concocted story.  But, in similar fashion, Cassandra was also predicting wars that would be disastrous to the civilizations involved, and at one point she too is dealing with and seeing through deception: When the Greeks deliver their Trojan Horse to the city of Troy, Cassanda knows it is a trick.  When she tries to destroy the horse herself, she is stopped by the people of Troy who degrade her for not appreciating the Greek gift.  The Greeks inside the horse were amazed at her perception.

Is there a lack of helpful attention and coverage that is suppressing this film?  Are reviews like the Times review intended to help bury it quickly?  Admittedly, the film makes almost all the newspapers and news magazines in the country look bad, and now it is up to those same news media outlets to publicize, praise or excoriate the film and help it find its audience.  It is not surprising that the film is getting little help from these quarters.  There are also serious questions about what does and does not get elevated in importance, or conversely what gets suppressed, by Google and Facebook algorithms.  (This article about the film may not Google well.)

If the film is being suppressed, I think that the best antidote is to build legs for it by noticing the suppression.  The film is reasonably good by any standard, and the only things that make it less than a perfect entertainment or work of art are the things that also make it a more important film in other respects.  Certainly, at the very least, anti-war sites should publicize the film and its apparent suppression.

We will have to conclude with some ironies.  The false information promulgated by almost every mainstream media outlet in the United States during the George Bush administration’s bellicose run up to the war is being cited by people like Aaron Maté for reason to be skeptical about all the Russiagate charges that Russia is an enemy of the Unites States interfering with our elections, especially since special prosecutor Robert Mueller heading the FBI in February 2003 was one of those Bush administration officials giving congress misleading information about Iraq  (at 9:11 in video).  Mueller, who started in office as head of the FBI a week before 9/11, is also one of the people in our government who inexplicably did not pursue the evidence linking top Saudis to 9/11.

But, on the other hand, yesterday in my email I got a request from Rob Reiner, the director of “Shock and Awe,” asking me to sign his petition demanding that President Donald Trump:
meet with special counsel Robert Mueller and answer his questions about possible conspiracy with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election and obstruction of justice to cover it up. It’s imperative that federal investigators have all the information they need to get to the truth.
Frankly, the timing of the petition email from Reiner is just too weird.  And, if I were someone like Aaron Maté, I’d say that it hardly squares with the rigorous skepticism and caution about people in government that Reiner’s new film really ought to encourage.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Time To Update Our Timeline Presenting Movies About Real Journalists Covering Real Public Issues and Events (To Include “Shock and Awe” and “Risk”)

Actors playing real journalists in real events are above, but our chronological list of films about real events in journalism also includes documentaries.
Back in January, National Notice reviewed and considered Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” which was still in the theaters and campaigning for a number of Academy Awards.  Given that “The Post” ends with a scene denoting it as a prequel to the renowned “All The President’s Men” (1976), it inspired us to also create a timeline of films that have been made about real journalists covering real events.  (See: Sunday, A Timeline of Reporting Dramas: Movies About Journalistic Coverage of Real Public Issues and Events, January 7, 2018.)

Now, with the release of the Rob Reiner directed  “Shock and Awe” in theaters on Friday, it is time to update the chronology of media events the films collectively afford.  We are also grabbing the opportunity to add to the chronology the documentary “Risk,” another documentary about Julian Assange and Wikileaks the first version of the chronology overlooked.  “Shock and Awe” is about how in the run up to the Iraq War journalists working for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain figured out and reported that the George W. Bush administration was lying and using other similarly unsavory and illicit tactics to propel the United States into an ill advised and ultimately very costly war; and they did this while virtually every other mainstream media outlet reporting was bamboozled by the Bush administration, publishing seriously inaccurate and misleading information as a result.

Our previous posting of the first version of the film chronology explained the criteria for including films in the list and discussed films about journalism and journalism issues that were left out because they were not about real journalists covering on the actual conflicts of our changing times.  The chronology of the films in the list is based on the dates of the events they are about, not the years in which the films were made or released.

The inclusion of films in this list as a resource does not vouchsafe that any of the particular films have gotten it exactly right in terms of the facts.  How valid any film's perspectives is, can bear more discussion.

Here then is a list that presents a chronology in which you can see an evolution of what we have believed has been the role of journalists.

    •    Good Night, and Good Luck (2005).  Set in 1953, during the early days of television broadcast journalism. Edward R. Murrow along with his CBS news team take a stand and take on the anti-communist fear mongering of  Senator Joseph McCarthy.

    •    All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone (2016).  This film covers the legacy of investigative journalist I.F. Stone who died at 81 in 1989, who writing in his I.F. Stone Weekly (1953–71), reported about and during the eras of Joe McCarthy, Lyndon Johnson all the way to Ronald Reagan.

    •   The Post (2017) and The Pentagon Papers (2003).  Both are dramas about the publication of the Pentagon Paper released by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study.  The papers were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of The New York Times starting Sunday, June 13th, 1971.  The Washington Post began publishing its own series of articles based upon the Pentagon Papers on June 18, 1971.
    •    All The President’s Men (1976).  About the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal.  The Watergate scandal began with the incident with which “The Post” ends: On June 17, 1972, security guard Frank Wills at the Watergate complex finds a door's bolt taped over so that it will not lock.
    •    Frost/Nixon (2008). Based on the David Frost interviews of Richard Nixon recorded and broadcast on television in four programs in 1977 in which Nixon climatically admitted his wrongdoing.
    •    Kill The Messenger (2014).   Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, the film takes place in the mid-1990s. Webb uncovered the CIA's role in importing cocaine into the U.S. to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels through the manufacture and sale of drugs in the U.S.  Pressure to drop pursuit of his story Webb published his evidence in the series "Dark Alliance."  He then experienced a vicious smear campaign fueled by the CIA, during which he found himself defending his integrity, his career, his family, ending in his unfortunate death.  (This film somewhat oddly does not show up as readily when googling these subjects as the others do.)

    •    The Insider (1999).  About whistle-blower Jeffrey S. Wigand who became famous for his appearance in 1996 on the CBS news program 60 Minutes to reveal that the Brown & Williamson tobacco industry company had intentionally manipulated its tobacco blend with chemicals to increase the addictive effect of nicotine in cigarettes.  The film is about how CBS, with business motivations driving it, was suppressing the story while a smear campaign was conducted against Wigand, and about the ultimate involvement of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in getting the story out.  Afterwards, in real life, the producer of the Wigand segment, Lowell Bergman, portrayed in the film by Al Pacino, went on to work for the New York Times, including working on collaborations with “Frontline.”
    •    Shattered Glass (2003).  A film about the embarrassment of how for three years until 1998 many of the humorous and entertaining articles that Stephen Glass wrote for the liberal magazine “The New Republic” were cobbled together from his multiple inventive fictions.

    •    Spotlight (2015).   It is based on a series of stories by the "Spotlight" team about the Catholic Church's concealment of its priests' sexual abuse of children that earned The Boston Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. (With news stories appearing from January 6, 2002 to December 14, 2002).
     •    “Shock and Awe” (2018).  “Shock and Awe,” which starts with references to the events of 9/11 in 2001, takes place mostly during the 2003 run up to the Iraq War.  It focuses on journalists working for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain, particularly Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, and then  Joe Galloway working under Washington bureau chief John Walcott, and how they were able to figure out that the George W. Bush administration was ginning up and manufacturing bogus reasons to go to war with Iraq.  Although they were able to see and accurately report with well founded documentation that the Bush administration was lying and cherry picking intelligence, together with the fact that going to war in Iraq would be extremely costly and counterproductive, the film is also about the way mainstream media works.  Which is to say that no other mainstream media picked up or reporting the news they published.  Instead, as the film makes the point, in the wake of 9/11 the New York Times, Washington Post and other mainstream media essentially acted as stenographers for the Bush administration’s propaganda.  In fact, one of the things the film sadly depicts is how the Philadelphia Inquirer, one newspaper in their chain, defected refusing to publish the accurately skeptical Knight Ridder stories about the administration and replaced them with the stories by Judith Miller for which the New York Times ultimately had to apologize because of the were false.

    •    Truth (2015).  This film is another about the CBS news program 60 Minutes.  It takes place in the months leading into the US 2004 presidential election (Bush v. Kerry) and tells the story about how CBS News anchor Dan Rather and others working for the CBS program were subject to criticism and lost their jobs for alleged liberal bias in reporting a basically true story about preferential treatment of George W. Bush in the National Guard (1968 to 1973 during which time Bush did not show up for a medical exam and stopped fulfilling his flying commitments) when it turned out that documents with which the newspeople had been supplied to support their story were likely faked in whole or in part by somebody.

    •    The Fifth Estate (2013), Underground: The Julian Assange Story (2012) We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013) Mediastan (2013) All of these films deal with Julian Asssange, the founding of Wikileaks (in 2006) and related events through 2010.  “Underground” covers the earliest period of Assange's life (the 1980s and 1990's pre-1997).

    •    Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)  It deals with Times coverage of many things mostly during the time it was made, such as the 2008 bankruptcy of Tribune Media and The Afghan War documents leak, also called the Afghan War Diary, published by WikiLeaks in July 2010.

     •    “Risk” (2016).  The film, another documentary about Julian Asssange, by Laura Poitras, the release of which unfolded in more than one iteration involves events she filmed from 2006 to 2016 ending with the election of Donald Trump.  As such it includes events that overlap with Edward Snowden’s emergence blowing the whistle about illegal surveillance by the United States intelligence agencies.  There is a lot of back story about the connections that the film does not go into in any depth.

    •    Citizenfour (2014) and Snowden (2016). Respectively, first the film that won the Academy Award for best documentary (like "Risk," also directed by by Laura Poitras) and the subsequent Oliver Stone directed bio-pic that both cover Edward Snowden’s leaks to journalists of classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 concerning the extensive and illegal spying of the US government on U.S. citizens and on others around the world after the 9/11 attacks.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Notes On Reliability of Coerced Confessions, Plus How That Relates To The Woman Appointed to Head The CIA

Gina Haspel, on left coming in to Senate hearing with respect to her nomination
According to the Innocence Project, of all the people whom DNA evidence later exonerates as wrongfully convicted, more than 1 out of 4 made a false confession or incriminating statement.

That’s why the Innocence Project recommends mandatory recording of interrogations.  Recording of interrogations can reveal whether police are communicating facts, elements and information about a crime to suspects which suspects later communicate back to them as somehow proof of their involvement in the crime and the way it unfolded.  It enables suspects to repeat back to the police essentially what the police have predetermined they want to hear.  To be absolutely blunt, at that point, the interrogated suspect is essentially collaborating with the interrogators to recast falsehoods as documented fact. Suspects may be inclined to do so particularly if they feel helpless to do anything else and especially if they are under duress and being coerced.  In the United States (since at least the 1936 ruling in Brown v. Mississippi) physically brutal torture to achieve a confession is, quite sensibly, a clear denial of due process.

Recorded interrogations are more reliable and can point back to what is more likely true when coercion causes the confessions to veer from the production of truth to falsehood.  Recordings have value, including retroactively, to  seek out and establish truth.

In the great grand scheme of what justice is and should be, it is not just the determination of the guilt or innocence of the particular suspect that is in issue.  And it is not just a question of who should be charged for a crime instead given that every conviction of an innocent man probably means guilty parties remain free.–   Yes, false confessions can help the actual perpetrators of crime avoid detection.–  Recordings can also point back to improper bias, and perhaps point back, perhaps in even incriminating ways, to improper goals and agenda on the part of the interrogators.  For instance, the interrogators may want to make themselves look good (like Det. "I've done nothing wrong" Louis Scarcella) through the easy convenience of finding a quick scapegoat (as in the 1989 Central Park Jogger case); they may also be indifferent or worse to the suffering of the already marginalized and persecuted minority individuals they target for such convenient scapegoating.

Therefore recordings take on a very special importance if there is any possibility of questionable motives on the part of the interrogation team.  They also help uproot and exorcise flaws that make the failure of justice systematic.

All of the above is probably intuitively clear to the reader without my writing it.  But I am starting with the basics to come in the back door to talk about something else, a bigger topic.  It’s something that no one else seems to have talked about in the mainstream media or even most of its fringes even as we whirled through an event that otherwise got a huge amount of media attention: Our nomination of Gina Haspel to head to become the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

It’s our country’s latest affront and embarrassing communication to the world that we feel that we and our allies are above and immune to such laws as the Geneva Convention and Nuremberg Principles.

Gina Haspel, “Bloody Gina” as many of her detractors refer to her, was quickly confirmed by the senate to head the CIA.  She shouldn’t have been.  Although outrage over her nomination was dutifully expressed in various quarters, not much was done to effectively prevent her from assuming the office.  What was done did not discourage six Democrats from joining with Republicans to produce an approval vote of 54 to 45.  The vote would have been lopsidedly the other way had the Democrats not switched given that three Republican senators were opposing the nomination.
The expressions of why Ms. Haspel was unacceptable to head the CIA were superficial . . . as if nothing extra needed to be expressed in opposition.  They mostly amounted to the reasons a New York Times editorial opposing her confirmation expressed; that she should not be confirmed because of:
    •    “her role at the center of one of . .  a brutal interrogation regime that used torture against terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks.”

    •    Her taking the lead in advocating for and drafting instructions to order the destruction of tapes documenting torture interrogations for which she was responsible.
Furthermore, it was far from absolutely clear at the Senate hearing that Ms. Haspel would not do or let such similar things happen again, even though she gestured at checking the box of sounding like she would not do it again with a collection of statements:
    •    “I would not put C.I.A. officers at risk by asking them to undertake risky, controversial activity again.”

    •    “My moral compass is strong. I would not allow C.I.A. to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even if it was technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it.”

    •    “what I believe, sitting here today [today?], is that I support the higher moral standard we [who?] have [now?] decided to hold ourselves to.”
Asked whether she thought the CIA program of torture interrogation was immoral, Haspel refused to say that it was immoral, which is essentially to say that her strong “moral compass” would permit it in the future.  Further her hint that she interprets the law to be even less restrictive makes it sounds like she would view it as legal as well.  Therefore, what would hold her back right now is her assessment that the practice  is “controversial” (only if it is known about), and perhaps not presently a good “risk,” (weighed against others?) plus, lastly, that she supports “the higher moral standard we have” we have now “decided to hold ourselves to”— The thing is though that Haspel will be serving under a president who says that torture “absolutely works” and publicly communicated great enthusiasm about using it.  (Haspel, incongruously argued she did not expect the enthusiastic Trump to implement such a practices again.— There was also a fair amount floated in various reports that the reason Haspel earned the sobriquet Bloody Gina is because people suspect that she, herself, actually liked the cruelty.)
   
When it comes to the central question of whether it is wrong or right to torture people your nation holds captive, many will stop at the simple answer that it is, always without question, morally wrong.  Others, will go another step, invoking a more “hard-nosed” standard either proving their tough practicality either to themselves or the satisfaction of others: They will conclude that since torture doesn’t work there is nothing that can make it right.

We’ve known for hundreds of years that torture doesn’t work, because, at best, the tortured, to make the torture stop, will simply tell the torturer whatever they want to hear, which may or may not have any basis in truth.  As such, when asked about this at the senate hearing, Ms. Haspel did not make a risible, goofball statement directly refuting such wisdom from the ages.  Instead, this was how the exchange in question began:
“The president has asserted that torture works,” Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, said. “Do you agree with that statement?”

“Senator, I — I don’t believe that torture works,” Ms. Haspel said.
But then Haspel played cat and mouse with some `wink, wink, nudge, nudge,’ dog whistle type evasions suggesting that maybe torture does work . . .  and hence that torture is “moral,” for those who compliment themselves as being superior for basing their standards on hardnosed pragmatism:
GINA HASPEL: [continuing]. . .  I believe that in the CIA’s program—and I’m not attributing this to enhanced interrogation techniques—I believe, as many people, directors, who have sat in this chair before me, that valuable information was obtained from senior al-Qaeda operatives, that allowed us to defend this country and prevent another attack.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Is that a yes?

GINA HASPEL: No, it’s not a yes. We got valuable information from debriefing of al-Qaeda detainees. And I don’t—I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.
If you will, this hedging on Haspel’s part must be viewed as laying out nearly the only road by which Haspel can avoid conceding that torture is immoral.

A somewhat misleading headline from National Public Radio: Did this kind of inexactitude help Haspel get nominated?
The Times editorial, and others, offered one other last point of objection to confirming Haspel, which was that with her record at the CIA remaining secret and was being vetted by essentially nobody else. It was essentially being vetted by just Haspel herself serving as acting CIA Director during the process.  The editorial commented:
We are constrained in assessing Ms. Haspel because much about her record is not public. Ms. Haspel controls what of her record can be declassified, and most details released so far have been flattering. She should recuse herself and allow Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, to make the call on declassifying more of her record.
Ignoring that the notion that so many details of Haspel’s career and qualifications are unknown and that only flattering details were selectively released, the Times editorial nevertheless offered an insanely appeasing assessment of Ms. Haspel venturing that “Gina Haspel has shown she has all the qualities to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency” and that she was a “shoo-in for the top job.”  That kind of double-talk is certainly shoots yourself in the foot if your goal is to write a damning indictment to stop a confirmation of a nomination.  This kind of language is also the kind of thing that makes it easy for Democrats to cross the aisle to vote to approve a torturer to head the CIA.
Now to move on to what is most important to discuss.  There are other reasons to consider why Haspel’s known actions make her a very bad choice to head the CIA and they involve the destruction of the torture tapes; this is from a standpoint we will now address that went undiscussed by nearly everybody.

The destruction of the torture tapes is probably most often simply viewed as a coverup compounding the original wrongdoing of the torturing while reconfirming with emphasis how horrible the wrongdoing must have been given these efforts to hide it.  Haspel herself and those she was working with her offered a probably the less believed explanation and excuse for destroying the tapes.  That excuse was that she sought to destroy the tapes because their release would pose a security risk (or “potential security risk”) to the officers involved or that it would put agents in the field at risk.  It’s very hard to believe that the CIA can’t keep things secret enough and its agents secure without actually destroying the tapes.  Plus, as an intelligence gathering agency, it’s surprising to think that the CIA is ever inclined to zoom any information into a black hole from which it cannot retrieved in the future if it later wants it again for its own purposes.

Our most skilled horror film makers know that the best approach to keeping their audience on the edge of their seats is to avoid showing the flick’s monster; let the audience’s imagination do the work of conjuring up what is awful and their imagination will surely come up with something far more terrifying than the monster you can actually depict by supplying more information and images.  So, on its face, it might seem that destruction of the torture tapes is thus an obvious tactical mistake for those who would like to whitewash their torture sins.  Indeed, maybe it is, but what if, through misdirection, what gets imagined is not the worst that actually happened?

What’s that possible misdirection?: It’s routinely been suggested, typically in passing asides dropping references to natural assumptions, that even if the torture interrogators were making errant, troublesome and cruel decisions that the they were part of valiant efforts to discover the truth about 9/11 in a fraught time so as to protect the country against future attacks.  But should that be so quickly assumed?

So far, it’s only in a low-Googling article in Consortium News that have I been able to find writing that suggests another possibility that seems obvious to me and one that responsible people considering Haspel’s nomination should have been considering:
It’s been widely assumed the tapes were destroyed because of the potentially graphic nature of the abuse, or to hide the identity of those doing the torture. But there’s another distinct possibility: That they were destroyed because of the questions they document being asked. Do the torturers ask: “Is there another terrorist attack?” Or do they compel: “Tell us that Iraq and Al-Qaeda are working together”? The video evidence to answer that question has been destroyed by order of Haspel — with barely anyone raising the possibility of that being the reason.

See: Torture is Not Only Immoral, but a Tool for War, By Sam Husseini, May 8, 2018
Mr. Husseini’s article also helpfully supplied a beginning list of questions that ought to have been asked of Ms. Haspel during her nomination.  (They weren’t asked.)

What could a review of the tapes reveal about the agenda of the torturers and Haspel?  It is far from a fantasy to believe that those involved might have been involved in the efforts to build up false facts in order to lead the United States into war with Iraq, something the Bush administration wanted almost immediately and prior to collecting any reasons.  We know that this was going on in the United State government and intelligence community on a widespread basis.  As for whether these coercive interrogators actually wanted to track down what truly happened with respect to 9/11 and who was involved, we know that were many clear trails to be investigated that pointed toward Saudi Arabian involvement in bringing about the 9/11 events.  They were apparently were not earnestly pursued by our government.  In fact, on Democracy Now this past fall there was coverage of the thinking that the coercive interrogations were conducted for the purpose of supporting a “concocted” story about 9/11.

With the torture tapes assumed to be destroyed it does unleash our imaginations to imagine the worst.  In fact, as citizens of this country looking to be properly governed as well as responsible for our own government, we probably have a duty to engage in such speculative imaginings and follow up on their implications. The worst that can be imagined isn’t the inhumanity or brutal cruelty of the torture; it is that such inhumane and brutal practices might have been pursued to tell us and the rest of the world lies, not truth. . .

If that is something that Ms. Haspel believes can be a proper and moral objective of the CIA, then maybe that is the road by which she reaches her conclusion that torture is not necessarily immoral.  (CIA goals do include misinforming the public.)  Is that what Haspel actually thinks is moral?  We are in a difficult position when trying to guess: The story is that the tapes are destroyed and nobody asked Ms. Haspel to answer this question of what she thinks.  In fact, when the senate had a chance, there was a dearth of clamor to insist that Ms. Haspel answer such hard and difficult questions.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The “Criminal Mind” When It Comes to Income Tax Fraud, Political Crimes and Voting

Meshing headlines about tax fraud and influencing elections
Let’s talk about the kind of frightfully improper influence and interference with our political system and process the criminally minded might be inclined to wield, that we may need to fend off, including actions by those lawbreakers willing to commit tax fraud.  A warning however: This discussion is ultimately headed toward what you may find to be an unlikely turn.

First, we are forever bedeviled by Trump headlines in an increasingly Trump-centric media universe?  Let’s just surrender to the trend and general convention these days by starting with one . . .

There’s a new set of headlines burbling recent days, including in the New York Times, about Mr. Trump and his family being engaged in tax fraud.  The New York State Attorney General is suing Trump’s “charity,” essentially Trump himself together with family members involved, for, as we said, tax fraud.  Mixed into the stew of asserted misuses and self dealing to benefit Trump (using the charity to “settle legal claims against” Trump’s “various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs”) is the abuse of the charity to politically benefit Trump, to “curry political favor” giving control over the charity funds it raised to senior Trump campaign staff, who decided how to use them.  Among other things there was a disguised illegal campaign contribution to Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi.  Not mentioned by the Times in its article is that this was at the same time that Bondi’s office, like the New State Attorney General, was to consider investigating Trump’s sham university.

According to the Times:
The petition notes that Mr. Trump himself signed annual I.R.S. filings, under penalty of perjury, in which he attested that the foundation did not engage in political activity. “This statutory prohibition is absolute.”
The Times accompanied the story reporting the facts with an editorial run the same day drubbing Trump’s so-called charity with its “gifts to himself” calling it “just another of his grifts” and saying that from its pretenses of being “in the public interest” the charity is not “remotely what it purports to be.”

The main Times article includes, with an insert in its web version, an opportunity to read the lawsuit itself, but, as harshly as the Times express its sentiments about Trump grifting, it does not pick up the fraud language itself in those formally stated charges, that the Trump charity has conducted itself in a “persistently fraudulent and illegal manner.”  MSNBC did pick that up however, spicing up its coverage with a worthwhile interview with Trump biographer David Cay Johnston:  New York A.G. files fraud lawsuit against Trump family, foundation.

Johnston remarks that Trump has had two previous income tax fraud trials.

Headlines this last March reported that Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner was engaged in illegal activities in his real estate business, regularly falsifying filings for work permits by declaring “that the company had no rent-regulated tenants in the buildings, when in fact they had hundreds.”  This allowed Kushner to gentrify the buildings more quickly and likely subjected tenants to harassment as they tried to live with quiet enjoyment of their premises amidst construction work.  At the time, a lawyer friend of mine (actually a Trump-loathing Democrat) who does a great deal of work for another major developer in New York worried about possible unfairness if Trump’s son-in-law were to be selectively prosecuted for activities engaged that are actually part of a pattern widespread abuse across the city by many, many people in the real estate industry. 

Indeed, amongst the powerful, Trump is surely brazen and perhaps sometimes more extreme, but he does many of the same things that other powerful and wealthy people do that should be stopped when they do them too.  If you have read Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” you know that the Koch brothers and those in their club of billionaires exerting heavy influence on our national politics using charitable organizations to do so whenever they can.  In New York City where Trump hails from, charities are heavily intertwined with politics and were used by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who has hoped to be a Republican nominee for president) to secure a third term as Mayor.  Forest City Ratner, a real estate developer, created New York charities for the purpose of developing its Atlantic Yards project and then used one of its charities to run a candidate (Ms. Delia Hunley-Adossa) against the local city council member opposing the project.

The point is that far too many of the wealthiest and most powerful do engage in such abuses.  In fact, they probably often also do cross the line where there should be prosecution and consequences.  Still, how often do we ever see them suffering such consequences?
   
As for such prevalence of abuse, try this for another taste, a very likely tax fraud by Trump where  “the available evidence suggests” that Donald Trump illegally sidestepped paying gift tax by “selling” two Manhattan condominiums to his son at what was apparently barely half their true value in order to masquerade a gift as a business transaction.  According to the Washington Post article reporting it, the “fraudulent failure to file” a gift tax return by Trump if it involves any “overt act of evasion” would make this a serious felony on his part normally entailing the possibility of serious fines and prison.  See: This Trump real estate deal looks awfully like criminal tax fraud, - Two tax lawyers break down the president’s sale of two condos to his son.  By David Herzig and Bridget Crawford August 4, 2017.

Most people reading this probably already have a pretty good grasp that there is much to be troubled by of this nature going on in the world.  But I am headed with somewhere different from what you expect.  I think it is terrible when the wealthy shamelessly cheat on their income taxes.  And it is awful when they change the laws to legalize what should be illegal cheating.  Worse still is the unequal political power and influence wielded by the wealthy by virtue of their retained and accumulated wealth. The so-called charities for which the wealthy take self-serving deductions although they are not true charities are abominable.

Part of what needs to be done is to cut the wealthy down to political size and strip them of some of this out-sized power. . . .  In fact, one of the things that the New York State State Attorney General lawsuit seeks as a remedy in its Trump Foundation tax fraud lawsuit is a court declaration that Mr. Trump’s three eldest children be banned from the boards of nonprofits based or operating in New York or operate in New York.

Nevertheless, in the unlikely case that Donald Trump or any of his minions are convicted of felonies and jailed for such abuses, including as the case may be, unfairly influencing the political system for their own benefit, there is one thing that I would not want to take away from them: Their right to vote.  While I may worry and be concerned about the disproportionate influence their wealth has in the political system,  I am not afraid of their right to express themselves politically by exercising their right to vote as individual citizens. . . . That is something that I would never take away from them, no matter how much their bad actions have connected them to abuse of the political system.   

The idea that Trump might be convicted of a felony may seem like an academic question to muse about, fanciful given that Trump has expressed a willingness to pardon himself for federal crimes, and given that he may actually be able to do so because he is president.  On the other hand, Trump’s violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause (just another aspect of his self-serving, cheating-the-public brazenness) are surely, among other things, grounds for impeachment and removal from office if ever there is ever a congress willing to do so. At that point he wouldn’t be president with pardon power.  Also, his pardon power does not extend to state and local crimes.

All such speculation notwithstanding, this discussion is not really intended to be about Trump himself.  It has been perspicaciously observed that (sorry Bobby De Niro), `Trump negativity,’ facile and in isolation, does not, amount to any kind of coherent world view.  So rather than have this particular discussion be about Trump, it was intended only that Trump provide an easy to identify stand-in reference for what is going on more broadly in our culture and how extreme and flagrant it’s gotten.

With the forgoing as the juxtapatory context it was meant to provide, now let’s move on to what was meant to the key point of this little disquisition in most in need of attention. . . .

. . .  It also concerns someone charged with tax fraud.  It also involves efforts to proscribe as out-of-bounds and illegal that same someone’s attempted participatory influencing of the political system. . .  That effort at political influence is being severely punished.

Here’s how it was reported in the day’s headlines for Democracy Now (emphasis and bracketed insertion are mine):   
In Texas, a black woman sentenced to five years in prison for voter fraud has lost her bid for a new trial. Crystal Mason was convicted of illegal voting in March, after she cast a provisional ballot [A provisional ballot is used to record a vote when there are questions about a given voter's eligibility, and so that whether a provisional ballot is counted is contingent upon the planned verification of the voter's eligibility] in the 2016 presidential election despite having a past felony conviction for tax fraud that prevented her from voting. Mason says she did not know that she wasn’t allowed to vote in Texas due to her criminal record. According to a 2016 report by The Sentencing Project, policies restricting the voting rights of convicted felons disenfranchise more than 6 million people. Crystal Mason’s supporters are demanding charges be dropped, arguing that her conviction was racially biased. This follows a voter fraud conviction in Iowa, where Terri Lynn Rote—a white woman—was convicted of the same crime, after she tried to vote for President Trump twice. Rote was sentenced to two years’ probation and fined $750.
(According to what I have been reading and researching, this article that you are reading will Google higher if I include a link to the New York Times version of the story rather than only giving you the Democracy Now link that Google’s algorithm ranks lower.)

Whatever may happen to the likes of Trump, the Koch brothers, or those of their ilk who have good lawyers and connections if they ever get charged for income tax fraud in the first place, Crystal Mason, convicted of tax fraud, served three years in prison and was still serving out the rest of an even longer sentence on probation when “at the behest of her mother, she went to her local church to vote in the 2016 presidential election.”  Now she is being sent to prison for five more years for wanting to vote.

Within the Democracy Now headline telling of the story the far less serious consequence (in effect just a $750 fine) for the white woman consciously doing a far more execrable thing by voting twice for Trump makes this obviously a racial justice issue.  But with nationwide mass incarceration with arrests, prosecutions and convictions all disproportionately targeting and penalizing people of color across the board for the same or similar crimes, the entire criminal justice system is one giant racial justice issue.  And if race is inherently also politics, which it is, then it is also important to understand this population from a political prisoner standpoint.  That makes it all the more nefarious that these people who have been convicted should be deprived of their votes, and also thus voting power of people of color diminished overall. . . 

 . . . The flip side, of course (see the Ava DuVernay Documentary 13th), is to understand the political thirst of many to take these voting rights away: Arguably, without disenfranchisement of convicted felons, Florida would always be a blue state in national presidential elections.

It needn't be this way.  Allowing prisoners and convicted felons to vote could easily be the rule: Maine and Vermont permit prisoners to vote, and that’s the general rule followed by most countries in the world.  In Europe most countries respect the European Court of Human Rights ruling that automatic disenfranchisements resulting from convictions are against human rights, that a presumption of universal suffrage should obtain unless the government can specifically rebut it.  The United States is an outlier in placing the most voting restrictions on those convicted of crimes.

The logic is very thin for saying that loss of voting rights should be an automatic consequence of felony crime convictions.  The basic argument is usually: “If you aren't willing to follow the law, you can't claim the right to make the law for everyone else.”  That sort of side-steps the big-picture parallel that in a system that’s ever more rigged, when the privileged elite of our country “aren't willing to follow the law,” they do change the law with dismaying consequences “for everyone else.”

Conversely, those who do not see this as a basis to strip voting right point out the lack or proportion or relationship:
The argument rests on collapsing “the law” into a single entity: Because I violated a law, I am no longer allowed to affect any law, even if the law I violated was relatively trivial and the law I’d like to oppose is, say, a repeal of the First Amendment.
And what about unjust laws, laws that so arguably ought to be broken as a matter of conscience by whistle-blowers like Pvt. Manning or Edward Snowden, those who protested the Trump inauguration, or laws that are civilly disobeyed as Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested because they were in need of the repeal that only the visibility of civil disobedience would bring.  And how many of us have follow all laws strictly every day of our lives never erring?

That then is the juxtaposition offered. .   Tax fraud?  Criminally convicted?  Wanting to do something frightful to influence elections? . .  I am very afraid when Trump, the Kochs and the rest of their club manipulate our electoral systems, including when that manipulation extends to such things as income tax fraud concerning foundations and charities deployed for such purposes, but I would never seek to deprive them of their right to vote as individuals if they ever get convicted for such exploits. And I don’t fear their votes!  Conversely, Crystal Mason’s persecution for “voting while Black” will likely send a discouraging message to other potential voters of color and is part of an overall pattern of racially discriminatory voter suppression. . .  Why is that being allowed to happen?: Because the individual vote of Crystal Mason and the 6 million other United States citizens who might rise and vote along with her if duly re-enfranchised are feared by those in power seeking to prevent our elections from more democratic outcomes

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Setting Back Any Setbacks, The NRA Once More Succeeds In Further Advancing Its Policies In The Wake of The Parkland Student-Led Protests (or Mr. Novak Gets His Gun!)

Just as the NRA wanted it: Mr. Novak gets his gun
Things looked bad for the NRA (National Rifle Association) after the Parkland Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings: 17 people in six minutes of AR-15 assault rifle gunfire mayhem, the majority, 14 of them, students between the ages of 14 and 18.

This time the school shooting was followed by students organizing themselves in eloquent protest.  The very conservative Republican Florida state legislature and governor even responded by passing some new limitations on gun ownership in the state.  On March 9, Republican Governor Rick Scott signed legislation sent to him by the legislature raising the minimum age for buying rifles in Florida to 21, establishing waiting periods and background checks, banning bump stocks and barring some potentially violent or mentally unstable people from possessing guns.  At the urging of the NRA the bill also provided for the arming of teachers with guns.

Originally the Republican legislators were working to pass legislation to require that teachers be armed in every school.  Not giving the NRA exactly what it wanted with respect to its long-standing hope to arm teachers, the bill, as passed, funded (with $67 million*) a voluntary, not a mandatory a “marshal” program that schools could opt into to equip and train certain teachers, including counselors, coaches and librarians, but not full-time classroom teachers.
(*  These funds will be rerouted from school library expenditures.)
A setback for the NRA?  The NRA doesn’t get scared in such situations; they just get their agenda advanced.  If all it takes is a few extra weeks of waiting, in the end they get what they want, and then some.
The Florida legislature is revisiting the legislation that was passed in order to eliminate the recently enacted gun restrictions while significantly beefing up and making mandatory the program to arm teachers.  As revised, almost every teacher in every Florida school will now be required to carry a firearm while on duty.

“The commotion and hubbub about these things just needed to die down a bit for people to think clearly,” said NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker.  “Those protests are now so last week,” she added.   But while the NRA was biding time waiting for things to die down, they were working to bring the press to heel, while feeding it a negative view of the opposition.

Women who speak for the NRA: Dana Loesch and Susan LaPierre
NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, like Ms. Baker, not only vilified the media for reporting the Parkland school shooting and others just for the sake of ratings, she said that the Parkland students, as young as they were, were not qualified to make anti-gun statements.  “These students are mere babies,” she said, “and when they criticize guns and the right to bear arms just because of a few dead friends, they are being cry babies.  At that age, unless you, yourself already own a gun, know how to use it and understand our interpretation of the Second Amendment, you are not qualified to speak on the subject.” 

Click to enlarge
Perhaps even more effective than portraying the opposition negatively, the NRA swung Florida legislators’ votes by unveiling a new PR campaign with which they promise to soon be flooding the airwaves.  The NRA bought the rights to the likeness of James Franciscus from the estate of the dead actor.  From 1963 to 1965 the chiseled James Franciscus made a splash (many TV Guide covers) playing the title character “Mr. Novak” in a Peabody Award-winning TV series about an idealized role model of a sensitive English teacher who “who helped his high school students with their problems.”  The new NRA campaign, “Mr. Novak Gets Armed,” will again promote the Novak character as an ideal teacher, this time slinging a gun.

Click to enlarge
Jennifer Baker said that the NRA was quite pleased to have acquired the James Franciscus rights.  “We are thinking effective time line here,” she said.  “Prior to his incarnation as the gentle Mr. Novak, Franciscus did a lot for our American culture wielding guns during the cowboy era of television on programs such as, `Gunsmoke,’ `Have Gun Will Travel,’ `Tales of Wells Fargo,’ `The Rifleman,’ `Death Valley Days,’ `Black Saddle,” `Rawhide,’ `The Deputy.’”  Said Ms. Baker, “those shows were marvelous, everybody carried a gun and justice always prevailed.”

Talk about starting out one’s career propitiously as a future NRA icon for younger minds, Franciscus was one of the featured actors in the wonderfully named 1957 film, “Four Boys and a Gun.”  And as for maximum firepower gloriously unleashed from all sides, think of WWII: Franciscus played the explosive Pfc. Charles Harris in an episode of the  “Combat!” TV series.  In a more contemporary modern dress format Franciscus was also involved in investigating detective gunplay in the “Naked City” and “The Investigators.”   He was in “The Investigators.” immediately preceding his assumption his Mr. Novak role.

“After having done so much to advance American culture and our vital understanding that you keep the bad guys, whoever they are, in check with fire power, the pencil pushing Mr. Novak, was an enormous disappointment,” explained Ms. Baker, “but owning the Franciscus image and having available all of the pictures of him with guns we now get to invert that time line.”  Obviously triumphant, she went on to say, “We get to invert the time line and take it forward to a new action-packed super attractive future where Mr. Novak will henceforth represent what an ideal teacher should be as he helps students survive tense shootouts in his school.”

Donald Trump has agreed to appear along side the gun-toting Mr. Novak of the future in an NRA web-produced reboot of the Novak character series.  How will this even be possible?  “Mr. Novak will be CGI,” said Ms. Baker and titillating tidbits leaked to Variety say that the NRA is reaching out to famed CGI character actor Andy Sirtis or, alternatively, Guy Henry to play Novak.  Henry memorably mimicked Peter Cushing in a CGI skin version of that actor playing Grand Moff Governor Tarkin in the recent last “Rogue One” Star Wars film.

“We’d actually prefer to have Andy in the role though,” said Ms. Baker, “because of the `Planet of the Apes’ tie-in.”   (Sirtis, in CGI skin, played Ceaser, the ape revolution-leading, sometimes gun-grabbing Ceaser in the “Planet of the Apes” reboot films.  Franciscus had a central role in the original `Planet of the Apes’ series as an  astronaut arriving to rescue the earlier arriving astronaut George Taylor played by Charlton Heston.  That was in the second film of the original series with its climactic scenes in front of a destroyed NYPL 42nd Street Central Reference library ending- spoiler alert- in the human civilization destroying nuclear war of the future revealed by the previous film being topped by an even bigger Trumpian-scale nuclear planetary destruction.

“The Franciscus image thus provides a felicitous echo,” asserts Ms. Baker, because people will recall that Charlton Heston was once, himself, another iconic spokesperson for the NRA, speaking as its president when with thespian skill he viscerally infused deathly intensity into the NRA/Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms slogan “I Will Give Up My Gun When They Peel My Cold Dead Fingers From Around It.”  (Are negotiations also underway with Heston’s estate? Time may tell, but there is many a slip between the cup and the lip- The tobacco industry had also attempted to buy rights to control Franciscus’ image.)
On the precipice of nuclear planetary destruction, NRA President Charlton Heston vies with Franciscus for domination.
According to what was leaked to Variety, being talked about is a 15 minute “Mr. Novak Gets Armed” web crossover episode with Trump’s “Apprentice” where a candidate (for a national security post?) disgruntled and drawing a gun when they are fired” by President Trump while competing with Novak will be dispatched by a faster-on-the-draw Novak.

The Florida legislation requiring nearly all teachers to be armed will further require that teachers enter their class rooms with their guns drawn.   “Otherwise, students can get the drop on them,” said Ms. Baker.  The Franciscus/Novak campaign will deploy plenty of images of Novak thus entering the classroom to normalize this so students will be accustomed to such sights even before they experience them in real life.

Alex Wind, a student speaking at the junior at  March 24 Saturday student-led day \March for Our Lives
“The student protests have actually helped inspire us,” says Ms. Baker.  Here’s how.  At the March 24 Saturday student-led day of action March for Our Lives in which 800,000 took part in more than 800 protests, Alex Wind, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School made a speech in which he said:
Together, we will use our voices to make sure that our schools, churches, movie theaters and concerts, and our streets become safer, without having them feel like prisons. If teachers start packing heat, are they going to arm our pastors, ministers and rabbis? Are they going to arm the guy scanning tickets at the movie theater? Are they going to arm the person wearing the Mickey Mouse costume at Disney? This is what the National Rifle Association wants, and we will not stand for it!
Ms. Baker’s answer is simple: “Yes, we also have legislation we are ginning up to require that pastors, ministers and rabbis and the costume characters at Disney all be armed along with the ticket takers at the entrances of all entertainment venues.”
  
As Longstreet in 1971
That’s legislation for the future.  Under the legislation currently being enacted, teachers who refuse to carry guns as required or refuse to enter classrooms with guns drawn will be subject to penalties.  Persistent and flagrant ongoing violations can, according to the new legislation, even include the death penalty.

The new NRA-drafted law also contains a fix for Florida’s death penalty.  The death penalty is legal in Florida (and at one point there was a fraternal competition between two of the Bush brothers as respective governors of Florida and Texas to see which state could legally execute the most people.)   “But there have been challenges to humanness of the death penalty and the methods of execution used,” Ms. Baker, “and our legislation fixes that, requiring that all future deaths be by firing squad using absolutely assuredly lethal AR-15 assault rifles.  If our students can tolerate being killed this way, there is no way to say that it is not a humane way to kill people we think committed crimes.”
 
Quite sensibly, not all teachers will be required to carry guns and some may even be prevented. Noting that in his last significant television series Franciscus played “Longstreet,” a disabled  insurance investigator who was blind and thus didn’t carry a gun (he sometimes defended himself with Bruce Lee Jeet Kun Do or his seeing eye dog named “Pax,” i.e. “Peace”), Baker explained that teachers who are blind will not be required to carry guns if they don’t want to, but they will be allowed to.

There is another category of teacher who might not be bearing arms.  “We are not extremists,” said Ms. Baker, going on to elaborate:
Gun control legislation has some legitimate origins, and to the extent there may be something at the core in terms of common sense that needs to be recognized we ought to be flexible.  We recognize southern traditions.  Ronald Reagan tenaciously continued to oppose gun control even after he himself was shot in a presidential assassination attempt, but he started out on the other side of the fence as a governor who fought to curtail gun ownership when it was feared that guns would be used by organizing black people like the Black Panthers.
Accordingly, teachers who are black, will not be automatically required to carry guns.  To the contrary, teachers who are black will have to apply to go through a vetting process if they wish to carry guns like the other Florida teachers.  Asked about what might happen if a gun armed blind teacher encounters a black teacher without a gun and what the blind teacher might assume about that other teacher following (or not) the new law and requirements, Ms. Baker said she was sure whatever the outcome it would be colorblind.

The NRA is hoping the effective date of the new legislation will be today, April 1st.