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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The David H. Petraeus Scandal: Bring in the Spin Doctors, Celebrity Lawyers, and Media Hired-Guns

     In today's America, fame is power, and unless you're someone like Jerry Sandusky, it generally doesn't matter if you acquired it by hitting home runs, with musical talent, or having your sex-tape go public. Fame can also be fleeting, and can turn into a curse. According to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of the 1920s aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, "Fame is a kind of death because it arrests life around the person in the public eye. If one is recognized everywhere, one begins to feel like Medusa. People stop their normal life and actions and freeze into staring mannequins."

     Anne Lindbergh, a private person who did not want to be famous (her father Dwight Morrow was a wealthy and well-known banker) lived before the age of television and the dawn of America's celebrity culture. While fame made Charles Lindbergh rich and powerful, it led to the kidnap and murder of his first child. Today, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean is remembered by many as a Nazi sympathizer who cheated on his wife. (The latter is true.) Charles Lindbergh's fame did not fade, but it did become a nightmare for him and his wife. He died in 1974 harboring an intense hatred of the media.

     In Charles and Anne Lindbergh's day, there weren't many famous people. Today, there are thousands of celebrities. There are so-called A-list stars down to D-list personalities. Many of these people pop onto the public stage, make a big splash, then just as suddenly, pass into obscurity. For people who crave public attention, the loss of fame is their own form of death.  Film actors, successful athletes, and TV personalities, in an effort to gain some control over their reputations and images, hire public relations professionals who help them create favorable personas and manipulate the media. Knowing a celebrity through the media is like knowing a cartoon character. Charles Lindbergh might have benefited by hiding behind a fictitious persona created by a public relations expert. But in those days, media consultants and news manipulators didn't exist for people who weren't movie stars.  

     Today, even for people who want to become famous, overnight fame brought on by public scandal is not the best way to achieve celebrityhood. For these folks, the question becomes, how can I turn bad publicity into an asset? In other words, how can I create a phony but positive persona, and most important of all, hold onto my fame? This is where the professional scandal lawyers, spin masters, and public relations specialists enter the picture to manage the publicity fallout.

     The current sex/political/national security scandal involving ex-CIA Director David H. Petraeus, his former mistress Paula Broadwell, and Jill Kelley, the Tampa area social-climber who received Broadwell's threatening emails and contacted the FBI, illustrates how the second phase of a national political scandal unfolds. The Petraeus scandal is now being managed, from the inside, by four well-known media management hired-guns who have been brought in for damage control, image rehabilitation, and fame exploitation that could include lucrative book deals, movie rights, and television gigs. The fact professional media spin doctors, legal advisors, and news manipulators exist reflects the celebrity-obsessed nature of our popular culture. Simply being represented by one of these high-profile media experts confers celebrity status on the scandalized client.

     David Petraeus, the scandal's central figure, is being represented by Robert B. Barnett, a Washington, D.C. super-lawyer who has represented our last three presidents. Barnett is also known for negotiating big money book deals for his clients. The fact Petraeus' career came to a premature end as a result of a sex scandal will accrue to his monetary benefit when it comes time to negotiate the advance for his future memoir. The average reader is much more interested in illicit sex that the war in Afghanistan.

     Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' ego-stroking, opportunistic mistress, is being handled by Dee Dee Myers, the former Clinton White House press secretary. Since her time with Bill Clinton (a public relations handful) Myers has kept up her public profile as a cable TV talking-head. (These people prefer to be called television pundits.) Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer and former lover, has made it known to  her friends and acquaintances that important people have been encouraging her to run for the U.S. Senate. This notion sounds absurd until you realize that it doesn't take much to do the job of a senator. Really. You accept special interest money and cast votes, usually without any idea of what you're voting for. We may have, one day, if Dee Dee Myers has anything to do with it, a Senator Broadwell.

     Jill Kelley, the bankrupt Florida party hostess whose complaint to the FBI ignited the Petraeus scandal, is being represented by Abbe D. Lowell, the top Washington, D.C. lawyer who got John Edwards, the disgraced ex-senator and presidential candidate, off the hook. (Edwards was accused of using campaign money to keep his mistress and the mother of his "love child" in comfort and hiding while he ran for president.) Edwards is not in the White House, but thanks to attorney Lowell, he's not in prison. Who knows, we may see Mr. Edwards back on the campaign trail.

     Even Natalie Khawam, Jill Kelley's twin sister who had prevailed upon Mr. Petraeus and General John R. Allen to write letters on her behalf in a messy child custody case, has armed herself with celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred. The famous "wronged-woman" attorney has already held a news conference at Washington's Ritz-Carlton Hotel aimed at correcting "misconceptions" about her client.

     Media hired-gun Dee Dee Myers, in speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, laid out her Paula Broadwell mission statement as follows: " To help Paula and her legal team (wow, she now has a legal team), navigate a crowded media environment, manage incoming requests, and ensure that her story is accurately told." (These people have "stories," us ordinary folks merely have daily routines.)  Dee Dee went on to say, "It's really impossible for anyone in Paula's situation to manage the daily avalanche of interview requests, let alone rebut rumors, correct supposed misconceptions and put the client's story in a sympathetic light." Who better to make a person like Paula Broadwell "sympathetic" than Dee Dee Myers, one of Bill Clinton's former bimbo-erruption spin doctors. All of this is enough to make you sick.

UPDATE

     According to reports, David Petraeus has been offered teaching positions at four universities. He is also weighing book offers from several publishers, and is contemplating various positions as a television commentator. This is a former general who has no intention of fading away. This guy is on a mission to become even more famous. Big surprise. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

General Jeffrey Sinclair: Above the Law?

     In 1985, after graduating from West Virginia University, Jeffrey Allen Sinclair began his career in the U.S. Army as an officer and a paratrooper. He served at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Overseas, Sinclair was stationed in Germany and in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. As he rose in rank, Sinclair served two tours in Iraq and was deployed to Afghanistan three times. This high-profile, highly decorated officer rose to the rank of Brigadier General. In July 2010, General Sinclair became the Deputy Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

     In May 2012, the 50-year-old One-Star General was removed from his command in southern Afghanistan and sent home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he was named Special Assistant to Lieutenant General Daniel Allyn, the Commanding General of the 18th Airborne Corps. General Sinclair's transfer from a position of leadership in Afghanistan to a desk job in the states raised eyebrows and inquiries from the media. The Army, however, refused comment on the reason behind the general's sudden removal from command.

     The reason behind the Army's action against General Sinclair became public on September 26, 2012 with the announcement that criminal charges had been filed against the general, and that an Article 32 hearing had been scheduled to determine if Army prosecutors had enough evidence to move the case forward to a full court-marital trial before a military judge and jury. (An Article 32 hearing is the military version of the civilian grand jury.)

     The Army, at this point in the case, refused to provide detailed information regarding the nature of the charges against the general except to reveal that the most serious charges were sexual offenses. Although court-martial cases against high-ranking officers are extremely rare, the media didn't pay much attention to this story.

     General Sinclair's Article 32 hearing, held at Fort Bragg, the Fayetteville, North Carolina home to the 82nd Airborne Division, got underway on Monday, November 5, 2012 before hearing officer Major General Perry L. Wiggins. For the first time, the specific allegations against the general became a matter of public record. The most serious accusations involved forcible sodomy committed on five women--four military subordinates and one civilian--in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Fort Hood, and Fort Bragg between 2007 and 2012.

     Lesser charges against General Sinclair included possession of pornography; use of alcohol while deployed; engaging in inappropriate relationships; misuse of government travel charge cards; and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. According to court documents, the General is also accused of trying to silence a victim by threatening her career and life, and the lives of her relatives.

     Major General James Higgins, the defendant's commanding officer, testified that he launched an investigation after a female captain accused General Sinclair of forcing her to have sex with him over a period of three years. According to accounts of this testimony as reported in the Fayetteville Observer, the general's sexual encounters with several women occurred "in a parking lot, in his office in Afghanistan with the door open, on an exposed balcony at a hotel, and on a plane where he allegedly groped a woman." (One of these encounters involved an accusation of rape.) When subordinates confronted the general with his out-of-control behavior with women, he reportedly said, "I'm a general, I'll do whatever the [expletive] I want."

     On Tuesday, November 6, the second day of the Article 32 hearing, the female Army captain took the stand and testified that the defendant had initiated their three-year sexual affair in 2008 while they were stationed at a forward operations base in Iraq. In Afghanistan, he threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their relationship. On two occasions, the Brigadier General, following a conversation in which the captain tried to end the relationship, exposed himself, then forced her to perform oral sex. In Afghanistan, Sinclair was so controlling, he told the captain how much water she could drink as well as where and when she could use the bathroom.

     On several occasions, during the captain's testimony, she broke down in tears. Seated at the defendant's table, the general rolled his eyes, sighed audibly, and glared at his former aide. The witness avoided eye contact with the general. "I was extremely intimidated by him," she said. "Everyone in the brigade spoke about him like he was a god." The witness said she had taken his threats seriously because of his Ranger training and his reputation of fearlessness in battle. The captain reported the general after finding messages from another woman in his email account.

     On cross-examination, the general's attorney tried to portray this witness as a jilted lover seeking revenge. The defense attorney also pointed out that his client had passed a polygraph test in which he denied forcing the captain into oral sex. The cross-examining lawyer also introduced explicit test messages the captain had sent to the general in which she referred to him as "Mr. Sexy Pants." The witness had also expressed her love and admiration for General Sinclair, comparing him, in a birthday card inscription, to General Washington, a man he admired. In response to the cross-examiner's questions, the captain, at one point said, "In a (expletive)-up way, I still love him. I don't want him to be mad at me."

     The next day, prosecutors put a second woman on the stand who testified that she first met the general when she was a staff sergeant serving in Afghanistan. They did not have a sexual relationship, but over the years stayed in touch. In 2011, when the witness was married and a captain, the general asked her to send him nude photographs of herself. (They hadn't seen each other in years.) After several of these requests, the captain downloaded photographs from a porn site, cropped the head of a model onto a woman posing nude, and sent the photographs to Sinclair. The general didn't realize the images where not of the captain. For her participation in this bizarre exercise, the Army had issued this officer a letter of reprimand.  

     Another female officer took the stand and testified that in 2010 she sent the general photographs of her breasts. At the time they were both stationed at Fort Bragg. The major, a company commander under Sinclair, has been disciplined in this matter for so-called "indecent acts."

     On November 8, in her closing argument, defense attorney Major Elizabeth Ramsey, painted the general's primary accuser as a scorned lover who was trying to ruin the life of an outstanding warrior and patriot. "Her lies are her fury, and these charges are Jeff Sinclair's hell," she said.

     The prosecutor, Lieutenant-Colonel William Helixon, in his closing presentation, drew a different picture of the defendant by stating that, "General Sinclair has engaged in a deliberate, degrading course of conduct where he targets his subordinates to satisfy his abhorrent desires."

     Under the military system of justice, there are no minimum sentencing guidelines. This means that even if the case goes to trial and the general is convicted of all charges, he could avoid punishment. The judge could demote him, allow him to retire, dismiss him from the Army, or send him to prison for life. Experts on military justice who are following this case do not think the general, if convicted, will be sent to prison.

     On November 15, 2012, about a week after the close of the four-day Article 32 hearing (the hearing officer has not yet made his ruling regarding whether the case will proceed to court-martial), General Sinclair's wife Rebecca, in an 800-word opinion column for the Washington Post, blamed her husband's infidelity on "the stress of war." Mrs. Sinclair said she is certain the sex offense charges against the general will be dropped. So, if we are to take the general's wife seriously, he wasn't a horny control freak abusing his power. He was merely a man under stress.

     The Sinclair case didn't generate much media interest until the sex-scandals regarding Generals David H. Petraeus and John R. Allen became news. Even though General Sinclair has been charged with crimes that could put him away for life, the scandals involving David Petraeus, Paula Broadwell, and Jill Kelley have dominated the news. That's because Petraeus was Director of the CIA and a key player in the Benghazi massacre.

     

Saturday, November 17, 2012

David Petraeus and the Disgraced Celebrity Sociopath Syndrome

       In a celebrity-obsessed nation under the leadership of sociopaths who play by their own rules, sex scandals are predictable and common. This is particularly true in a country under constant government surveillance. The current political/sex scandal involving ex-CIA Director David H. Petraeus; Marine General John R. Allen; and their power and influence groupies, Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, should not surprise anyone.

     Sociopaths exist in all walks of life. They populate prisons, halls of government, television studios, movie sets, police departments, corporations, sports arenas, churches, and military bases. When these highly intelligent, super-ambitious, amoral narcissists find themselves in positions of power and authority, they often behave as though the rules of society and the laws of the land do not apply to them. They stupidly believe they can get away with reckless, outlandish, and often puerile behavior that eventually brings them down.

     People who aren't sociopaths have a difficult time understanding why a former top general and Director of the CIA would risk his marriage, career, reputation, and the nation's national security on a 40-year-old ego-stroking opportunist like Paula Broadwell. The same question has been asked about President Bill Clinton. Why did the leader of the free world risk his marriage, career, and the dignity of his office by engaging in White House sex with an intern? How could Marine General John R. Allen allow himself to get tied-up with an aspiring influence peddler and social climber known for lavish parties and crushing personal debt? What could possibly explain why these high-level government officials would let themselves get involved with a pair of reality television types? These men are not alcoholics, on drugs, or insane. And they surely aren't stupid.

     The only explanation for this kind of reckless behavior that makes any sense is sociopathy. The generals did these things because sociopaths feel entitled, and immune from scrutiny and criticism. These powerful men knew better, but sociopathy is a personality disorder that overrides the ability to restrain oneself.

     Someone once said that old generals don't die, they just fade away. While that may be true for some, for hard-core sociopaths like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, fading away is not an option. Look at Larry King. The poor guy looks like he has a week to live, but refuses to slip into obscurity. He can't. They will have to carry the former talk show host off the stage. A sociopath who gets a taste of fame is like a vampire getting its first taste of blood. They are hooked for life.

     Disgraced celebrity sociopaths are a sad but interesting story. They almost always find a way to get back into the limelight. Following the obligatory apology tour, the disgraced sociopath often resurfaces as the promotor of a ghost-written memoir bearing his name. Take ex-congressman Anthony Wiener. It's just a matter of time before we will see this disgraced politician on television talking about his memoir, My Package (or something like that.) Sociopaths who became well-known because they possess some kind of expertise, often end up as cable television commentators. Regular people who publicly embarrass themselves feel too ashamed to leave the house. Not so for sociopaths who are born without a sense of shame. When it comes to embarrassment, they are bullet-proof.

     The disgraced, celebrity sociopath can't live without attention, and because he has a personality disorder rather than a curable illness, change is out of the question. It's my guess that former general and ex-CIA director David Petraeus will not fade away. As for Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, expect to see these sociopaths on a reality television series featuring married women who become mistresses and/or confidants of powerful men.

     

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Principal Lyn Vijayendran and the Educator's Duty to Report Pedophiia

     On October 2011, a mother and her 8-year-old daughter met with the principal of the girl's elementary school regarding the behavior of a teacher named Craig Chandler. The 35-year-old taught second grade at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School in San Jose, California. According to principal Lyn Vijayendran's notes of the meeting, the student--identified as Jane Doe--was summoned from recess to Chandler's empty classroom. Pursuant to a lesson plan he called "The Helen Keller Unit," Chandler blindfolded the student and instructed her to lie down on the floor and part her legs. After the teacher removed the girl's shoes, she sensed something "gooey" on her feet that felt like his tongue. Chandler placed something into the student's mouth, and with his hands moved her head back and forth. The girl tasted something salty that dripped onto her jacket. Before Jane Doe left Chandler's classroom, he put a piece of hard candy into her mouth.

     Instead of passing this information on to the police for further investigation, Vijayendran questioned Craig Chandler herself. The teacher explained that he had been doing his Helen Keller (a deaf and blind woman who rose to fame as an early twentieth century author) lesson plan for years. He said his "instructional goal" was to deprive students of sight so they could experience what it's like to be blind. The gooey sensation felt by the student on her feet had been caused by a wet  sponge, and the taste in her mouth from a bottle of salt water. The teacher offered to meet personally with the girl's parents to clean up any misunderstanding.

     Satisfied with Chandler's explanation, the principal told him to discontinue the Helen Keller business, transferred the student to another class, and reported the incident to the Evergreen School District's human resources department. Someone from that department also questioned Chandler, and the matter, institutionally, went no further than that. Craig Chandler continued teaching at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School.

     Although principal Vijayendran had closed the book on the case, parents of other girls in his class were going straight to the police with complaints about Chandler's Helen Keller ploy. Following an investigation by detectives with the San Jose Police Department, a Santa Clara County prosecutor, on January 10, 2012, charged Chandler with the crime of lewd and lascivious acts performed on a child under fourteen. Seven months later, additional charges were filed against the teacher involving four other students who were, between the period August 2010 and May 2011, exposed to Chandler's Helen Keller experiment.

     Incarcerated in the Santa Clara County Jail, Chandler faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted of these crimes. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     On October 19, 2012, with Chandler still in custody awaiting his trial, Jane Doe's parents filed a civil suit against the Evergreen School District, the O.B.Whaley Elementary School, and principal Vijayendran.

     Santa Clara County prosecutor Alison Filo, in July 2012, charged principal Vijayendran under a relatively new California law that makes the failure of an educator to report the suspected sexual abuse of a student a crime. If convicted of the misdemeanor, a judge could sentence the principal up to six months in jail.

     The Vijayendran trial got underway on October 31, 2012. Prosecutor Filo, in her opening statement to the jury said that any reasonable person under the circumstances of this case would have suspected sexual abuse on the part of this teacher. Defense attorney Eric Geffon argued that his client had no reason to suspect foul play on Mr. Chandler's part. Geffon described the teacher's Helen Keller cover as "a detailed, devious, well thought out, well prepared story he concocted that explained everything."

     On November 2, Lyn Vijayendran took the stand on her own behalf in an effort to convince the jury that there was nothing in the student's story or her demeanor that suggested sexual impropriety on the part of the teacher. Referring to the 8-year-old girl, Vijayendran said, "She had a big smile on her face. She was her normal self, very talkative...." The witness said that at no point in the meeting with the student and her mother did the subject of sexual abuse come up.

     On cross-examination, the defendant admitted that when she learned that Mr. Chandler had asked the student to "open her two legs," the idea of sexual impropriety crossed her mind. Prosecutor Filo asked, "If someone said that to you in a grocery story line, you'd slap him, wouldn't you?" (In today's society, I wouldn't recommend that.)

     "You'd have to be crazy not to think it was sexual," the defendant answered.

     On November 5, 2012, the jury found Lyn Vijayendran guilty of failing to report Craig Chandler's sexually suspicious behavior to the police. Judge Deborah Ryan sentenced the principal to two years probation, $602 in fines, and 100 hours of community service.

     It's a shame that educators, to protect the children under their care, have to be induced to do the right thing by making it a crime not to. In a perfect society, there should be no need for crimes of omission.

     Craig Chandler, the elementary school teacher principal Vijayendran has been found guilty of not reporting, has himself not been found guilty of anything. His trial is forthcoming. It is my guess that his jury will not be receptive to his Helen Keller explanation.