Friday, June 3, 2016

Voting With Your Middle Finger

Democracy is the worship of jackals by jackasses. ~ H.L. Mencken

Like many people, I have a non-clinical schizophrenic side to my nature. On the one hand, my rural roots and working class background tell me I'm close to "the people," just another regular guy. But on the other hand, I am an overeducated professional class denizen with a passion for PBS documentaries and microbrews. This split personality plays out in my political views as well. I'll measure the worth of a candidate for public office by my father's dictum: "Has s/he ever had to take a lunch bucket to work?" But then I want to scrutinize their résumé for education and achievements. Will I vote for a candidate because they're "someone I'd like to have a beer with?" Or, because they have a solid platform of ideas with the brains to back it up? While folks opt for one or the other, or maybe even a combination of both, put me squarely in the corner of a solid platform backed by brains.
Which gets me to Donald Trump. For the life of me, I cannot fathom how any thinking citizen can throw their lot in with that bombastic buffoon. Irrespective of how justifiably pissed they are at our clearly screwed up political establishment, how can they entertain blowing the whole system up by electing an American Juan Peron to the White House? Are people that stupid? Not necessarily, but they are desperate as well as angry. Some, like Congressman Paul Ryan, can see the fool that Trump is, but are politically meretricious. But many others are acting out of nihilistic motives. These folks have thrown reason out the window. They are voting with their middle finger.
In The Dumbass Vote: A Modest Proposal to Repeal Universal Suffrage, I cite historian Akim Reinhardt's observation that "Many of the founders believed that, generally speaking, the mass of citizens are corruptible and easily swayed. This makes them susceptible to charismatic leaders, or even chaotic mob rule. So if you let the people decide what to do, it won’t be long before they either hand the reins of government over to some charming rapscallion who will quickly establish himself as a brutal despot, or the whole thing will simply devolve into anarchy and bloodshed." This explains the Grand Guignol Republican primaries of 2012 and this year which have seen, inter alia, a witch, a pizza magnate with a penchant for sexual assault, a surgeon who denies evolution and a relentlessly mendacious real estate wheeler dealer vie for their party's presidential nomination. And in This Isn't My Father's Republican Party, I lament the Republicans' purging their party of centrists and veering off into fringe territory with public debates about "legitimate rape," eliminating the minimum wage and carpet bombing the deserts of the Middle East.
A lot research has gone into this popular anger recently. Like oil and water separating, the top fifth in income is disengaging from the rest of the population. The percentage of families living in very affluent neighborhoods more than doubled between 1970 and 2012, from 6.6 percent to 15.7 percent while the percentage of families living in traditional middle class neighborhoods fell from 64.7 percent in 1970 to 40.5 percent, according to one recent study. "This self-segregation of a privileged fifth of the population is changing the American social order and the American political system, creating a self-perpetuating class at the top, which is ever more difficult to break into," states Thomas Edsall of the New York Times. And the lower 80 percent are resentful. That newspaper's principal center-right columnist, David Brooks, confessed, "I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own." This goes for most of us, myself included. And yet -- the statistics reveal that Trump supporters' median income of $71,000 exceeds that of Clinton and Sanders backers by over ten grand. So, go figure.
But the stakes are too high in this election. Whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton, her foreign policy speech in which she accurately identifies Trump as "dangerously incoherent" hits the mark. I elaborated on this in Donald Trump’s Farcical Foreign Policy: "He not only lacks a worldview, but also the foundation upon which to form one."
As we struggle to find explanations for the surge in support for Trump, I nod and say, "Ah yes. I see," but still remain puzzled and continue to ask myself, "Are people really that gullible and stupid?" Sometimes, history moves according to unexplained forces and that refrain from the movie Casablanca echoes in my head: "The devil has the people by the throat."

Monday, April 11, 2016

Cuban Prisoners? What Prisoners?

Damas de Blanco hauled away on eve of  Obama's arrival in Havana

 My article on Cuban political prisoners appeared in the Washington Monthly, April 11, 2016:

 “Did you ask if we had political prisoners?” asked a flustered Raúl Castro. “Give me the list of political prisoners and I will release them immediately. Just mention a list. What political prisoners? Give me a name or names. After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners. And if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before nightfall.”

On the verge of apoplexy at being sandbagged by a reporter during his joint press appearance with Barack Obama, the Cuban president chose the Captain Renault approach to addressing the journalist’s question. Shocked, shocked, he was, that political oppression might be going on inside his country. Meanwhile, hours before the U.S. president’s arrival, the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) had rounded up some fifty mostly middle aged women who, as they do every Sunday, were peacefully protesting the continued detention of their loved ones, political prisoners in Castro’s Cuba. Western reporters caught on pixels and flashed across the globe photos of the Ladies in White being dragged kicking and screaming into police vans. It was not an auspicious start to the first official visit to Cuba by a U.S. president in eighty-eight years.

The round-up wasn’t limited to the Ladies in White. The police had their hands full. Besides arresting the grandmothers and homekeepers of the Ladies in White, they also hauled off over a dozen other pro-democracy activists who carry out protests under the banner, “Todos Marchamos” (“We’re All Marching”). The latter carried signs proclaiming, “Obama’s trip to Cuba isn’t for fun. No to violations of human rights,” and “Obama, we have a dream: a Cuba without Castros.” Meanwhile, in another part of town, several male dissidents who had interrupted an ESPN live broadcast, shouting “Freedom for political prisoners!” and “Down with Castro!” were roughed up, thrown into police vehicles and taken away.

Clearly, all is not well in the socialist state of Cuba. In fact, a recently released report by the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation finds that there were more than 1,400 arbitrary political arrests during March, including nearly 500 during Obama’s visit to Cuba last month.

Human rights groups, including the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, gladly obliged President Castro by promptly providing the prisoner lists he demanded during his press conference with Obama. There are, however, no hard and fast figures on political prisoners in Cuba for a variety of reasons. For one, the Cuban authorities now seldom pass multi-year sentences on political activists. They resort instead to frequent arrests and short-term detentions in order to harass dissidents rather than turn them into martyrs. Often, police will hold detainees for a few hours or days, then release them far from their homes. Another reason for the fuzziness of the numbers around political detainees is that some individuals charged under the infamous legal rubric, “potential dangerousness,” either fall into a gray area or are actually recidivist, usually petty, criminals.

Of the 8,600 politically motivated detentions counted by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation in 2015 and the several hundred arrests so far this year, almost all went through Castro’s catch and release system. Of fifty-three prisoners the Cuban government agreed to release in the lead-up to the Obama visit, half were rearrested and four exiled abroad. A leading anti-regime group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, claimed more than 260 of its members were taken into custody on the eve of President Obama’s arrival in Havana - almost all have been released. The fifty-odd members of the Ladies in White were also released, including leader Berta Soler, just in time to join other dissidents for a meeting with Obama at the U.S. embassy. The fact checking organization PolitiFact can only conclude that there is at least a “handful” of political prisoners. Most experts believe Cuba’s steady prisoner of conscience population numbers in the fifty-to-sixty range.

One of these longer term prisoners, journalist Adolfo Fernández Sainz, described to me the game of wits and coercion that goes on between non-criminal inmates and their jailers. One of 75 writers and librarians swept up in the “Black Spring” crackdown of 2003, Fernández spent half of a fifteen-year sentence in the Castros’ prisons. They were Amnesty International prisoners of conscience. Initially, he was beaten, fed bad food, kept with hardened criminals and denied familial visitations. He and other political prisoners, however, soon learned how to apply leverage over the authorities. Hunger strikes usually got Cuban officials to back down. Fernández carried out five himself, severely affecting his health. They also refused to engage in “re-education through labor,” insisting they did not need to be “re-educated.” Finally, they learned how to parlay the attention they received from foreign governments and human rights organizations to their advantage. Whenever maltreatment leaked out to the world, the Cuban government incurred foreign pressure, compelling it to ease up on the prisoners. Fernández’s wife and daughter agitated for his release as founding members of the Ladies in White. “It was a constant chess game of willpower. And we won,” he said.

The game of wits is ongoing but has evolved on both sides. For example, social media now empower the dissidents. A flood of tweets and Facebook postings with photos goes out to the world the instant police raid demonstrators, according to Cuban-American activist Maurico Claver-Carone. “Then the bloggers join in.” That the government is now always under a social media looking glass has compelled it to resort to harassment over extended imprisonment, he said. “This, in turn, has emboldened regime opponents. As a result, numbers of demonstrators are on the rise.” Claver-Carone’s Cuba-based sources tell him that there is an ongoing tension between the street-level PNR cops and their hard core Ministry of Interior masters. The cops dislike having to haul the gentle Ladies in White and others into custody. Sometimes they tip off the demonstrators in advance of a planned raid, thus giving them time to flee before the police arrive.

When he first heard that President Obama would visit Cuba, Adolfo Fernández Sainz scoffed at American naïveté. He has since changed his mind. Now working with the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, Fernández told me the Cuban people have been uplifted by the president’s visit. Feedback from his contacts in Cuba’s activist community is “overwhelmingly positive.”

Accompanying the Obama delegation, Baruch College professor and Cuba expert Ted Henken echoed Fernández’s sentiments. “The air feels different for many Cubans,” he told me shortly after his return from Havana. “Morale is up.” Henken predicts that Obama’s message of the Cuban people’s “capacity to speak and assemble and vote for their leaders” hit a chord with Cubans. He senses that they will be “pushing the envelope more,” challenging the government by joining demonstrations in greater numbers. But more Cubans will prefer to take advantage of growing space that will come with Raúl Castro’s easing of government control over parts of the economy and the opening up of American trade and investment, particularly after the embargo is lifted. The Cuban government nonetheless will undoubtedly not let up on its strategy of keeping pro-democracy activists off guard through regular raids and short-term incarcerations. But the bottom line in this visit is that “Obama hit a home run,” according to Henken. And it will pay dividends.

Washington has learned that opening of relations with authoritarian regimes does not magically bring democratic freedoms. China continues to oppress dissidence four decades on with normalized relations with the U.S. The same goes for Vietnam after two decades of full relations with Washington. Politicians who insist on withholding diplomatic relations until “all political prisoners are released” and/or “democratic freedoms are adopted” are purposely disingenuous. Theirs is a short-term personal political agenda for the most part. A longer term, historical focus is what is needed. Growing engagement over a period of years brings with it greater prosperity in countries like China and Vietnam with consequent growing middle classes who, over time, begin to agitate for more say in how their societies are run. We saw this in South Korea, Taiwan and Latin American countries as military regimes gradually gave way to functioning democracies.

When President Obama met with Cuban dissidents at the U.S. embassy, he praised them for their “extraordinary courage.” In his keynote speech, the president appealed to universal freedoms, including “that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.” But he also talked of “an evolution taking place inside of Cuba, a generational change.” After so many decades of dictatorship, it will take a generation, if not more, for Cuba to catch up with a post-cold war world.

[The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent official positions of the United States Government.]

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Donald Trump’s Farcical Foreign Policy: He is Less a Commander-in-Chief than an Emperor With No Clothes

Following is my article in Washington Monthly on Donald Trump's ridiculous and rambling musings on foreign policy:

The “Trump Doctrine” - Is there one? What is the leading Republican contender’s worldview? What would be his national security strategy if elected president? What do his foreign policy advisors say about ISIS, the Western alliance, military doctrine, intelligence collection, trade policies? This ex-diplomat took a romp into Trumpland in search of these mysteries and came out dazed and confused.

Where to begin?

Let’s start with Establishment Republicans. As on Trump’s domestic agenda, they are tearing their hair out over The Donald’s national security stances.

Former 9/11 Commission executive director and State Department counselor Philip Zelikow bemoaned Trump’s foreign policy ideas as “a waste of time for outsiders to think about.” He told me that “Trump’s appeal is social and cultural. It is not ideological. So positions on ‘issues’ are just vehicles for communicating an attitude.” Zelikow asserted that “there is actually no way of knowing what Trump would really do about any particular issue as president. He doesn’t know himself.”

Eliot Cohen, a senior official at the State Department and the Pentagon in two Republican administrations, recently circulated an open letter among Republican national security luminaries declaring, “We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.” He described Trump’s worldview as “chaotic, uninformed and populist.” He lamented to me, however, that he doubted the letter, now with over 120 signatories, would have much of an impact on the campaign. But it “represents the sentiment of a broad spectrum among Republicans.”

And Trump’s bull-in-a-china-shop musings on the world are not being looked upon favorably overseas either. In an op-ed, China’s Global Times, which reflects the views of the PRC leadership, stated, “The rise of a racist in the U.S. political arena worries the whole world.” Germany’s Der Spiegel wrote, “Nothing would be more harmful to the idea of the West and world peace than if Donald Trump were to be elected president.” After debating over three hours on whether to slap an entry ban on Trump, Britain’s House of Commons settled on denouncing him as a “buffoon, demagogue and wazzock.” Trump, in turn, threatened to withhold investment in Scotland, his mother’s birthplace.

Why all the hue and cry? Following is a sampling of Mr. Trump’s recent statements on foreign policy:

NATO, Trump told the New York Times, is an “obsolete” and costly alliance from which the U.S. should consider withdrawing. Such an act would send to the dust bin of history the lynchpin of Western security since World War II. NATO has kept Moscow’s geopolitical ambitions in check during four decades of the Cold War and now in the post-Soviet period. In an earlier interview with other journalists, Trump described Vladimir Putin to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough as “a strong leader,” one he would “get along very well with.” Putin, in turn, said Trump was “an outstanding and talented personality.” Trump’s cozying up to Putin is a logical follow-on for encouraging Russian aggression.

“We need unpredictability,” Trump touted when asked about when the U.S. should use military force. But he was clear on one scenario: using American troops to seize Iraqi oil fields and “keep the oil.” (“Many very smart scholars and military scholars said that’d be a great thing to do,” Trump said.) “Unpredictability” as a hallmark on defense policy invites potential for chaos. And grabbing another country’s natural resources through force is a throwback to 19th century European imperialism.

Trump has called for using interrogation techniques that are “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” He has also said that American troops would not disobey him if he issued them illegal orders, an assertion from which he has since walked back.

Trump would throw nuclear nonproliferation out the window, stating that Japan’s and South Korea’s gaining nuclear weapons would be okay with him. The “Japanese are going to want to have that anyway,” he said to the New York Times. Trump stated he would yank American forces from Japan and South Korea if they failed to cough up more money to support U.S. troop presence. He seemed taken aback when informed that Japan and South Korea already foot fifty percent of the bill. He then countered that it should be 100 percent. “Our country’s a poor country” is a recurrent refrain in his interviews. “I have great relationships with South Korea. I have buildings in South Korea,” he said.

His meandering non sequiturs on China and the Middle East leave one breathless:

“When I deal with China, you know, I have the Bank of America building, I’ve done some great deals with China. I do deals with them all the time on, you know, selling apartments.”

On a two-state Israel-Palestine solution: “What I’m going to do is, you know, I specifically don’t want to address the issue because I would love to see if a deal could be made.” Huh?

Syria: “I thought the approach of fighting Assad and ISIS simultaneously was madness, and idiocy. They’re fighting each other and yet we’re fighting both of them.” (The U.S. has not deployed force against Syrian government forces.)

Iran: The nuclear agreement is a “bad deal” and “I would never have given them back the $150 billion under any circumstances… and did you notice they’re buying (airplanes) from everybody but the United States?” (In fact, U.S. law prohibits sales of aircraft to Iran.)

Trump has also asserted that “Iran is the No. 1 trading partner of North Korea.” When informed China occupies that spot, Trump retorted, “I’ve heard that certainly, but I’ve also heard from other sources that it’s Iran.” In fact, Iran is not even among the top ten of Pyongyang’s trading partners.

Would he stop buying oil from Saudi Arabia should the latter refuse to send ground troops to combat ISIS? “The answer is, probably yes,” said Trump. Undermining Washington’s key Arab ally in such a fashion could bring about the collapse of its government, leaving that country vulnerable to a takeover by Islamic extremist groups.

On intelligence collecting, and specifically, on the U.S. having tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, Trump dissembled, making no sense at all: “Well you see, I don’t know that, you know, when I talk about unpredictability, I’m not sure that we should be talking about me - on the assumption that I’m doing well, which I am, and that I may be in that position…”

Trying to pin Trump down on his worldview, the New York Times’ David Sanger asked if he could list books or series of articles that have informed him. Again, Trump deflected and dissembled, referring vaguely to a “very big array of things from reading the media.” In earlier statements, Trump revealed that his top foreign policy adviser was himself, “because I have a very good brain, and I’ve said a lot of things.” He also said that he “watches the shows for advice.”

In adopting “America First” as his foreign policy motto, Trump appears to be oblivious to its having been the name of a pre-World War II isolationist movement with anti-Semitic overtones. If Trump has a worldview, it is the transactional one of the businessman, based on “deals” as opposed to resolutions or agreements. The globe for Donald Trump is one vast real estate market. Yet from the evidence, he not only lacks a worldview, but also the foundation upon which to form one.

Almost as an afterthought, Trump recently announced the selection of a foreign policy advisory team to help him sort out his thinking on the weighty national security issues facing the nation. “We’re going to have a very substantial council of very good people,” he declared. The eight men lean heavily toward the military with four being retired flag officers and one an ex-DOD civilian official. None is considered A-team caliber, nor even B-team. While most all seem to have solid backgrounds in their respective disciplines, ranging from a special forces commander to two energy consultants, none is of the high stature from which leading presidential contenders usually recruit.

For example, Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg is a retired Army lieutenant general who was chief operating officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, generally considered a failed venture. There is little publicly available information on military advisors Maj. Gen. Gary L. Harrell, Maj. Gen. Bert K. Mizusawa and Rear Adm. Charles R. Kubic.

Meanwhile, other advisors named by Trump have decidedly checkered records. Joseph Schmitz and Walid Phares have written dire warnings about a supposed sharia threat to America. Schmitz, son of a former head of the John Birch Society, resigned as the Pentagon’s watchdog inspector general during the Bush-II administration amid reports of ethics violations. Phares, a former Mitt Romney advisor and TV news commentator, reportedly was involved with a Christian militia responsible for massacres during the Lebanese civil war. Only Phares appears to have a significant body of published works providing a window into his thinking.

Civilian Carter Page whose background is in energy, has compared Obama’s National Security Strategy document to an 1850 one on how to manage slaves. George Papadopoulos is a London-based energy analyst and a former researcher at the Hudson Institute. Trump met with his national security team on March 31. It is not clear if he had met any of them beforehand.

I came up empty-handed in my efforts to contact any of these advisors. Either they didn’t respond to my messages or they lacked any contact info whatsoever. Other reporters have likewise come up dry. Trump’s campaign staff - senior policy advisor Sam Clovis and press spokeswoman Hope Hicks, as well as others - was likewise incommunicado. In early March, Trump announced that Alabama senator Jeff Sessions was the chairman of his national security advisory committee. Session’s office refused to comment, referring me back to the unresponsive Trump campaign.

The Trump “Make America Great Again!” campaign website is equally uninformative. There is no link to a press office. And the only foreign policy issue listed under “Positions” is “U.S.-China Trade Reform.” By contrast, the Kasich and Cruz campaign websites offer ways to connect to a media representative and offer a laundry list of each candidate’s positions on an array of national security issues.

It is hard to discern from his braggadocio and impromptu statements whether Donald Trump is even aware that he is profoundly out of his depth on foreign affairs, that he is abjectly unqualified to be commander-in-chief.

In his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump wrote, “You can’t con people, at least not for long…You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you can’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.” By contrast, the great Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu, wrote in The Art of War, “A good commander is benevolent and unconcerned with fame.” The question is, when will the voters catch on?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Terrorism: We’ve Been Down this Road Before – and Won

The terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris bring to the fore yet again just how vulnerable we are to such danger and the need to react – but not overreact.

“When groups of men here and there in American cities adopt the theory that their function is to scatter through society firebrands, arrows, and death, with no other purpose than that society shall be overthrown, there is simply nothing to do but to turn on these people and crush them. Society must not harbor its own avowed destroyers; it must stamp them out.”

No, this is not Trump or Carson or Cruz bellowing a call to arms to wipe out domestic jihadi terrorists. Nor is it a sense of the Congress resolution fired off by the Freedom Caucus. It appeared in 1901 in a popular magazine, one of many such editorials following the assassination of President William McKinley and years-long acts of indiscriminate political violence throughout the country and in Europe. The perpetrators: anarchists.

It is now beyond living memory, but in the decades of the late 19th century through the post-World War I era militant anarchists held much of the western world in the grip of fear and anxiety as they bombed and shot their way across the map in pursuit of a radical ideology. To achieve their vision of a society free of government control, many anarchists carried out “propaganda of the deed,” that is, spreading their principles through actions as well as words. These acts centered on violence.

Between 1881 and 1921, anarchists managed to kill ten heads of state or government, a success rate of 50 percent. Victims included the kings of Italy, Belgium, Portugal and Greece; three Spanish prime ministers; the presidents of the United States, France and Russia; an Austrian empress; and a Russian tsar and prime minister. There were no fewer than three failed assassination attempts against Russian monarchs during these years. An anarchist bomb set off in the Barcelona Opera House in 1893 killed over twenty and injured fifty others. “It would seem at times as if the whole world is one madhouse,” declared the New York Call after anarchists bombed Wall Street in 1920.

France particularly became a hot bed of anarchist violence. Shouting “Death to bourgeois society and long live anarchy!” the anarchist Auguste Vaillant hurled a nail bomb into the French National Assembly in late 1893. While no one was killed, Vaillant was dispatched to the guillotine following a quick trial. Avenging his comrade’s execution, fellow anarchist Émile Henry exploded a bomb near the Gare Saint-Lazare train station in Paris, killing one and injuring twenty. When asked at his trial why he aimed to harm so many innocent people, Henry proclaimed, “There is no innocent bourgeois.” He followed his friend to the guillotine, shouting , “We who hand out death know how to take it.” Then in mid-1894, Italian anarchist Sante Caserio, seeking revenge for Vaillant and Henry, fatally stabbed French president Sadi Carnot. The guillotine also greeted Caserio. These men were inspired by an earlier anarchist, Louise Michel, known popularly as the “Red Virgin.” Given to wearing men’s military uniforms, she was an ardent, diehard anarcho-feminist. Michel got off with a lighter sentence: exile to New Caledonia where she got involved in a native uprising against French colonial rule. The anarchist movement welcomed many women into its fold.

To finance their operations, some anarchists turned to brigandry. The most notorious was the Bonnot Gang. Teetotaling vegetarians who ruthlessly gunned down cashiers, chauffeurs and policemen in a crime spree across France and Belgium during 1911-1912, they pioneered the car getaway. Their m.o. was to inflict as much violence as they could and when cornered, be shot or blow their own brains out rather than be captured. They kept the French capital in a state of terror for half a year. The gang’s head, Jules Bonnot, held off some 500 policemen and soldiers from a house in a suburb of Paris until the authorities dynamited it. Bonnot survived by wrapping himself between mattresses. In the ensuing gun battle, it took ten rounds to bring the anarchist down – though it took another day until he died. Weeks later, law enforcement tracked down the gang’s co-leader, Octave Garnier, and an accomplice in another Paris suburb. The pair held off over a thousand security personnel in an intense gun battle until, at 2:00am and exasperated, the police chief blew up the building in which the two were holed up. Garnier was killed instantly, but the accomplice survived the blast, shooting at the police until taken down in a flurry of bullets.

French authorities methodically took down the gang, member-by-member, but not without collateral damage. Surviving Bonnot operatives received punishment ranging from imprisonment to the guillotine. Those who faced Le Rasoir National went defiantly, belting out curses like “Damn the masters, damn the slaves, and damn me!”

Gang members came from the working class. Their wanton violence turned off many of the movement’s educated theoreticians. One of the latter commented, “I saw the whole of the movement…dragged into the scum of society by a kind of madness. And nobody could do anything about it, least of all myself… It was like a collective suicide.”

While anarchist violence in the U.S. was not on the same scale as in Europe, it was nonetheless significant to the point that it triggered severe government countermeasures as well as tightening up on immigration.

A leading anarchist, Luigi Galleani, an Italian immigrant in New Jersey, published the recipe for making nitroglycerine in a bomb-making manual in 1905. This, and the ready availability of dynamite provided the instruments of ill for the anarchists’ will to destroy national institutions. The movement’s star bomb maker, Mario Buda, is alleged to have caused the deaths of dozens, including nine police officers, and injuries of hundreds in the U.S. Buda died peacefully under an alias at 78 in his native Italy, never having been brought to trial for his misdeeds.

In 1892, an anarchist tried to kill industrialist and union buster Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead strikes. Anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated President McKinley in Buffalo in 1901. In 1910, anarchists blew up the Los Angeles Times building, killing 21. In October and November, 1914, Galleanists exploded bombs in New York City. In 1916, ten persons were killed and 40 injured by a suitcase bomb at San Francisco’s Preparedness Day parade, the worst act of terrorism in that city’s history. Nine policemen and a bystander were killed in Milwaukee in 1917 reputedly by a Mario Buda-made time bomb left at a Catholic church. In April 1919, authorities uncovered an anarchist plot to mail 36 letter bombs to prominent Americans, including J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.

In June, 1919 bombs went off in Paterson, NJ, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. The explosion in the capital damaged the homes of Assistant Navy Secretary Franklin Roosevelt and Attorney General Palmer, who, in response, launched the infamous “Palmer Raids” during the first “Red Scare” in the aftermath of World War I. Thousands were arrested and hundreds deported often with scant attention to due process of law.

At noon on Sept. 16, 1920, a horse cart loaded with 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron weights was set off by remote control on Wall St., killing 38 and maiming hundreds more. It was the worst terrorist bombing in the United States until the Oklahoma City attack in 1995 and the worst in New York until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The Washington Post denounced the Wall St. bombing as an “act of war.” Later in that decade, anarchists bombed the U.S. embassy and two U.S.-owned banks in Bueno Aires.

Ongoing urban terrorism spanning over four decades stoked a fear that fed into a surging nativist sentiment. Anarchist ranks were heavily populated with immigrants from Italy and Central Europe. The Ku Klux Klan experienced a growth spurt during these years, attracting new members with its anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic message. Working class rural white males were particularly receptive. Politicians and the press responded to this growing nativism. “The bomb outrage in New York emphasizes the extent to which the alien scum from the cesspools and sewers of the Old World has polluted the clear spring of American democracy,” wrote The Washington Post. President Wilson denounced hyphenated Americans who he said had “poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life.” The respected Albany Law Review referred to immigrants as “long-haired, wild-eyed, bad smelling, atheistic, reckless foreign wretches.”

A spate of restrictive immigration legislation ensued. Bills passed in 1903 and 1918 explicitly barred anarchists from entering the United States. Legislation in 1921 and 1924 greatly reduced the numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.

Domestic measures, however, overreached. Spurred by the first Red Scare, the Sedition Act of 1918 curbed freedom of speech and expression, specifically certain criticism of the government. The mass arrests and deportations of the Palmer Raids of 1919-1921 were subsequently seen as being unconstitutional. Anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for their beliefs rather than criminal actions. With its own lois scélérates (“villainous laws”), France broadly curbed freedom of expression as well. Subsequent popular reaction against central government over-reaction in both countries eventually led to retraction of the measures. Derision against Attorney General Palmer cost him a shot at the 1920 presidential election.

Parallels between that era’s events and those of today are striking: A diffuse terrorist movement whose hard core killers steadfastly pursue an insane ideology involving merciless attacks against ordinary citizens for shock value. France and the U.S. top their target list. Operatives ensconce themselves in immigrant communities whose peaceful members are stigmatized as “The Other” by an increasingly xenophobic public. And politicians pander to the fears.

In attacking the West, ISIL, as with the anarchists of a century ago, appears increasingly to rely on ideologically driven home grown cells as well as lone wolves to terrorize, mobilize, polarize: terrorize to cow civilians and force their governments “to make rash decisions that they otherwise would not choose.” Mobilize followers through shock and awe tactics as in the November 2015 Paris attacks. Polarize by alienating citizens from those who govern them. Both movements pursued a strategy of instigating a cycle of protests-repression-protests-insurrection.

The anarchists eventually failed, victims of vigorous governmental suppression, loss of their support base, and their own internal contradictions, ideological as well strategic. But the movement wreaked havoc and death for a good four decades before it fizzled out.

It may require equally as long to defeat Islamist terrorism. It will take patience, persistence and resistance to fear. A lesson to be learned from the anarchist-active years is for governments to resist over-reacting by curbing civil freedoms and immigration. Such measures eventually trigger public reaction and sully the nation’s image before the world.

The United States risks veering toward over-reaction to the ISIL threat by blocking Syrian refugees, engendering distrust toward Muslim citizens and residents, militarizing its foreign policy and engaging in political demagoguery – among presidential candidates, but increasingly members of Congress as well. Lack of bold, principled leadership enables this to happen. The Brussels and Paris attacks nonetheless underscore the need to be vigilant and to act forcefully.

The president and other American leaders would be wise to take a page, ironically, from one of anarchism’s original leading thinkers, Mikhail Bakunin: “we must spread our principles, not with words, but with deeds.”

Monday, February 29, 2016

William Bradford Bishop Murder Case: After Forty Years, Is It Time to Move On?

Henceforth I ask not good fortune; I myself am good-fortune. Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, Strong and content, I travel the open road. ~ Bradford Bishop's diary. Oct. 9, 1965

Toxic, degenerate psychoses with confabulation. Chronic, low-level maniac involutional [sic] megalomania. ~ Bradford Bishop's diary. Feb. 27, 1967

March 1, 2016

William Bradford Bishop's journey into mental illness is a fascinating one, but one about which we have precious little information. After Bishop mercilessly slaughtered his wife, mother and three young sons on this date forty years ago and absconded to who knows where, law enforcement sought out his psychotherapy records from Dr. Frank Caprio, a Washington, DC-based shrink whom Bishop had been seeing once or twice a week. But Caprio refused to cooperate, citing "doctor-patient privilege." A source working this case told me Caprio also was apparently so shaken by his patient's crime that he quit his practice. Caprio died in 1995. It's a mystery to this writer as to whether law enforcement ever subpoenaed the records and, if not, why not. If so, they should be made public. Just reading Bishop's diary provides a glimpse into his mental deterioration. Caprio's records would expand on that enormously.

Another question that intrigues me is whether the State Department's Medical Unit (MED) was even aware of Bishop (and his wife, Annette) undergoing psychiatric treatment. We now know that Bishop had been in therapy for depression at least since 1971, five years before he murdered his family. This is important because an employee experiencing mental health issues can lose his/her security clearance. This was as valid four decades ago as it is today. Some employees seek out therapy without revealing it to the Department even though all Foreign Service employees are required to have a full medical exam done by MED every five years, or prior to overseas assignment. Without a security clearance, one's career is in dire jeopardy. One loses the right to handle classified information. It's like a physician having his right to practice medicine revoked, or a pilot deprived of his pilot's license. Was this one of the pressures bearing down on Bishop?

Bishop initially was rejected for employment with the State Department. He had passed the entrance exams. He had already had a top secret clearance from his four years with Army intelligence. But he had a medical condition: a heart murmur. Undaunted, Bishop appealed the decision and won. He joined the Foreign Service in October 1965. Just over a year later, he was writing in increasingly erratic handscript about "Toxic, degenerate psychoses with confabulation," etc. And still later, "This accursed insomnia." Bishop, still in his 20s, clearly was descending into a vortex of emotional pain and irrationality.

His medical and mental issues weren't his only problems. A security evaluation dated April 1965, five months before he was hired by State, described Bishop as "weak in 1) judgment; 2) flexibility; and 3) ability to apply common sense and sound judgment." In his evaluation, the security professional concluded, "because of apparently serious weaknesses in judgment, discretion and ability to evaluate possible courses of action," he was "reluctant to recommend his (Bishop's) appointment as a Foreign Service Officer."

Lots of red flags. But Bishop nonetheless was taken on as one of a handful of individuals who are recruited annually into the highly competitive U.S. Foreign Service. But that's water under the bridge.

 Another thing that intrigues me is how long a depressive, suddenly deprived of therapy and medication, can live. A recent Veterans Administration study found that "depression was associated with significantly earlier ages at death and more years of productive life lost for all of the 13 causes of death that were examined in the study. These included accidents, cerebrovascular issues, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, homicide, influenza and pneumonia, liver disease, malignant neoplasms (cancer), nephritis (kidney disease), respiratory disease, septicemia (blood infection), and suicide. All other causes of death were included in a 14th category—and here, too, death came earlier for depressed patients... These findings highlight the importance of depression as a potential contributor to early mortality." Add this to his heart murmur and one needs to ask, "Can Bradford Bishop have reached 80 years of age?" August 1 marks his 80th birthday.

I would guess not, except for one fly in the ointment. Was Bishop actually depressed? Or was he simply a conscience-free criminal who had planned out his crime meticulously long in advance? A psychiatrist in practice for over three-and-a-half decades told me that, based on what he has seen about Bishop, it was unlikely that he was indeed clinically depressed. A person suffering from diagnosable depression experiences difficulties functioning in daily life - holding down a job and doing it capably, maintaining social relationships, etc. Bishop received good marks from his State Department superiors for his work performance. He maintained various households over the years both in DC and abroad even while under financial pressures. He was active in sports and other recreational activities. Moreover, investigators found out that Bishop had carried on several extramarital affairs over the years, something that required care and cunning. My source tells me that diagnosis of depression, as well as other mental conditions, was highly unreliable four decades ago and indeed still is. In his view, Bishop was a "high functioning criminal." His having planned out his family's murders and disposal of their bodies well in advance reveals "a highly capable individual," but one under tremendous emotional strain. Hence, he sought therapy. The medication he was taking, Serax (Oxazepam), is an anti-anxiety drug, not an anti-depressant. Bishop, this source surmises, was under tremendous strain from his marital and financial difficulties, but even more so from his plan to kill his family members. He therefore likely suffered from anxiety, not depression.

Brad Bishop was a health nut, except for his occasional smoking. He was a skier, swimmer, tennis player and nature enthusiast. At 39, he was 6'1", 180 pounds and very fit. He also had a healthful diet. Add to this his above-average IQ and intellectual interests and you have a man who had above-average odds to live into an advanced age, heart murmur notwithstanding.

There have been a number of "live sightings" of Brad Bishop over the years. A Swedish woman who knew him in Ethiopia, reported that she had spotted him twice in a Stockholm park in 1978. A former State Department colleague claimed to have encountered Bishop in a Sorrento, Italy men's room in 1979. And a former Bethesda neighbor reported seeing him on a Swiss train in 1994. There have been other, less credible sightings as well as dead bodies that resembled Bishop but were not him.

So, is he still alive?

Personally, I place little credibility in the live sightings. The former colleague's claim to having seen Bishop in Italy has been totally discredited by investigators. The theory of six degrees of separation aside, I just find it really hard to believe that a former friend in Ethiopia and an ex-Bethesda neighbor would chance upon Bishop in Sweden and Switzerland. What are those odds? Bishop's face is of a type that is not uncommon among adult Caucasian males. Following are some random photos of Bishop lookalikes and two of Bishop (in his 30s and aged enhanced):

I once encountered my own doppelganger overseas. People got us confused all the time. Trouble was, I was a U.S. diplomat and he was a Russian KGB officer. We all have doppelgangers. There are websites devoted to finding people's lookalikes.

How has law enforcement performed on this case? Doggedly. The Montgomery County, MD's sheriff's office has devoted many resources, attention and time in following up on leads. Sheriff Popkin, a very busy supervisor, personally takes tips from the public no matter how apocryphal or harebrained. And those now in retirement continue to pay close attention to the case and help out as they can. The other agencies, State Department Diplomatic Security, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals have also been persistent, though focus has waxed and waned as the years have passed.

Where has law enforcement been lacking? First of all, it must be borne in mind that Bishop had a week's head start before police were able to identify the Bishop family remains and thereby connect the dots to Brad Bishop. The cops worked assiduously, but a week's lead time gave fugitive Bishop a tremendous advantage for his getaway. I fault law enforcement in three main areas: 1) the FBI's waiting 38 years before it placed Bishop on their Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list; 2) some folks' pursuing a delusional CIA angle is not only silly but a waste of time and resources (see my blog post on this); and 3) overlooking the Bankston letter. Bishop had been carrying on correspondence with convicted bank robber A. Ken Bankston. The latter, writing from a prison cell, referred to some tantalizing clues about accomplices and locales. The letter, written in March 1976, wasn't revealed until 1992 from State Department files. How could State DS have overlooked such a piece of evidence? The FBI said it had looked into Bankston in 1976, but dismissed him as a fraud. Bankston died 1983. No one had questioned him.

We can solidly conclude that Bishop had 1) carefully planned the murders of his family members; and 2) carefully plotted his escape and vanishing from public view. I believe we cannot assume with certainty that he moved to Europe. He very well could be hiding in plain sight in the United States. "It's much easier to fade into the background of your own country without having too get fake papers in another country," according to FBI Special Agent in Charge, Steve Vogt, who was instrumental in getting Bishop placed on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. But 40 years on, the trail is very cold and very old. The FBI managed to capture Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, at age 81, after 16 years on the lam; and family annihilator, John List, at age 63, after 17 years in hiding. Bishop has been missing now for 40 years; he turns 80 this year. Of the 505 lawbreakers who have made it to the FBI's list, 474 have been caught. Brad Bishop is the oldest and on the run the longest.

The competition to get placed on that list is very high. There are a lot of bad guys out there, much younger and much more dangerous who deserve to be put on it. Is it time therefore to admit failure and give up? To chalk the Bishop murders up as an unresolvable cold case? No. Not yet. But perhaps it is time to remove Bishop from the list in favor of another case, less cold and equally deserving the public's attention. I am not a betting man, but if forced, I'd wager that Brad Bishop is dead and likely has been dead for a long time. The trail is cold, the clues that he is alive few and, if so, credible leads about Bishop's whereabouts thin to nonexistent.

In his last diary entry on Oct. 23, 1971, Bishop wrote, "Try again, much harder - one last great effort - come home."

See also --

 No Gravestone Unturned: The Search for Brad Bishop Goes On 

 Is This Dead Man William Bradford Bishop, Jr? 

Two Down... Another Fugitive Dead: Brad Bishop - Time is Running Out

One Down... CNN's "The Hunt" Leads to the Killing of A Fugitive - Brad Bishop: Pay Attention

Myths Surrounding the William Bradford Bishop Murder Case

CNN Interview on FBI Most Wanted Fugitive William Bradford Bishop, Jr.

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