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FORTUNE’S FOOL: OBAMA AND THE MID-TERMS: PART TWO (END)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on November 12, 2014 at 12:21 am

Barack Obama has proven extremely lucky in his past political competition.

In his 2004 race for United States Senator from Illinois, a scandal forced his chief opponent. Jack Ryan,  to withdraw from the race.

In his 2008 race for President, his opponent, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain, chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.  Her laughable ignorance persuaded millions of voters they didn’t want her “a heartbeat away” from the Presidency.

Four years later, on August 11, 2012, Mitt Romney, the expected Republican nominee for President, gave Obama another unexpected gift: He chose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee.

Paul Ryan

In 2011, as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan released “The Path to Prosperity,” a 2012 budget resolution that he claimed would end “uncontrolled  government spending” and “crushing levels of taxes.”

According to economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich:

“More than any other politician today, Paul Ryan exemplifies the social Darwinism at the core of today’s Republican Party: Reward the rich, penalize the poor, let everyone else fend for themselves. Dog eat dog.”

On March 12, 2012, details of Ryan’s 2013 House Budget Committee proposal were released.  Among these:

  • Repeal the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010.
  • Turn Medicare into a private health insurance system.
  • Slash funding for Medicaid, which ensures medical care for the poor, forcing states to drop coverage for 14 to 28 million low-income people, according to the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • Reduce food stamps for poor families by 17%–$135 billion–over the decade, leading to a significant increase in hunger, especially among children.

In addition, his “H.R. 212: Sanctity of Human Life Act” would give fetuses full personhood rights from the moment of fertilization.

This would:

  • Outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest; and
  • Ban certain methods of birth control, such as IUDs and spermicides.

Unsurprisingly, Obama found it easy to turn Ryan’s Right-wing extremism against him–and Romney.

Fast forward to 2904–and the mid-term Congressional elections.

The 2010 mid-terms had given control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans.  For Obama and Democrats generally, it was vitally important that their party retain control of the Senate.

But throughout 2014, a series of unexpected problems arose to plague the Obama administration.

Among these:

  • Tens of thousands of women and children flooded into the United States from Central America.  Many of the children came unaccompanied by their parents.
  • The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started blitzing Iraq, routing the American-trained Iraqi army.
  • The Secret Service allowed a White House fence jumper to penetrate the East Room through an unlocked door.  Luckily, Obama and his family had just left for Camp David.
  • Unknown to the Secret Service, an armed–and several times arrested–security guard rode in the same elevator as President Barack Obama.
  • An Ebola-infected man flew from Liberia to Dallas to visit family.  Admitted to a hospital, he died on October 8–after infecting two nurses, making them the first American victims of this deadly disease.

None of these actions was Obama’s fault:

  • The flood of illegal alien children resulted from a change in legislation during the Presidency of George W. Bush.
  • ISIS would have tried to establish an Islamic empire no matter who was President.
  • The series of foul-ups at the Secret Service were a product of longstanding neglect within the agency.
  • The series of foul-ups at the Dallas hospital were entirely a local matter, beyond the control of the White House.

Still, taken together, they convinced millions of Americans that the Federal Government was too inept or corrupt to efficiently address domestic and foreign crises.

Fortune had turned for–and on–Obama.

As Niccolo Machiavelli explained in The Prince:

If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful.  But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of his procedure.

No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him.  Or else because having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it.

And therefore the cautious man, when it is time to act suddenly, does not know how to do so and is consequently ruined.  

Another reason for Obama’s change in fortune: Given to making inspiring speeches, he has proven consistently timid in advancing his agenda.

As Machiavelli puts it:

I certainly think that it is better to be impetuous than cautious.  For fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force. 

And it can be seen that she lets herself be overcome by the bold, rather than by those who proceed coldly.  And therefore, like a woman, she is always a friend to the young, who are less cautious, fiercer, and master her with greater audacity.

With little more than two years left in office, Obama must act decisively–and ruthlessly–if he is to secure a legacy beyond being America’s first black President.

Whether he can bring himself to do so is entirely another matter.

FORTUNE’S FOOL: OBAMA AND THE MID-TERMS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on November 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm

For most Americans, history is a collection of names, dates and places they were forced to memorize in high school.  Then, after passing their history test, they quickly forget everything they had supposedly learned.

But for those who care to understand the world they live in, history serves as an invaluable road map.

It won’t tell you precisely where you are going.  But it will tell you where others have gone, and which routes have proven the most effective–or the most ruinous.

This was the view of Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science.  And, luckily for those generations who came after him, he left a detailed and insightful record of what he had learned from his own study of history.

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Niccolo Machiavelli

A major theme running through Machiavelli’s works–most notably The Prince and The Discourses–is the role that Fortune plays in the lives of men.

In Chapter 25 of The Prince he offers the following description of its fickleness:

I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the other half or thereabouts to be governed by us

I would compare her to an impetuous river that, when turbulent, inundates the plains, casts down trees and buildings, removes earth from this side and places it on the other; every one flees before it, and everything yields to its fury without being able to oppose it. 

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Still, when it is quiet, men can make provisions against it by dykes and banks, so that when it follows it will either go into a canal or its rush will not be so wild and dangerous. 

So it is with fortune, which shows her power where no measures have been taken to resist her, and directs her fury where she knows that no dykes or barriers have been made to hold her.

Like Machiavelli, President Barack Obama also understands the importance of luck.  He, more than most politicians, has been extremely lucky in his competition.

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Barack Obama

Consider his 2004 race for United States Senator from Illinois.

In the general election, Obama faced Republican Jack Ryan.  Ryan seemed a true Golden Boy:  He was handsome,  popular and a  wealthy former Goldman-Sachs partner.

Jack Ryan

And although he was now divorced, he had been married–from 1991 to 1999–to Jeri Ryan.  The actress who was/is best-known for her role as the catsuited Borg “Seven-of-Nine” in “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Jeri Ryan as “Seven-of-Nine”

Obama’s candidacy looked doomed.  And then the unexpected happened.

The Chicago Tribune and WLS-TV, the local ABC affiliate, filed suit to have the Ryans’ divorce and child custody records released.  And they were.

In the custody files, his then-wife, Jeri, charged that Jack had pressured her to perform sexual acts with him at swinger’s clubs in New York, New Orleans, and Paris while other patrons watched.

Jeri described one as “a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling.”  And she had steadfastly refused to let Jack assimilate her in so public a setting.

Jack confirmed the trips with the actress but described them simply as “romantic getaways,” denying her claims that he sought public sex.

Ryan had been running against Obama as a clean-cut, “family values” candidate.  Suddenly, he found that image fatally tainted.

Days after the release, Ryan withdrew from the race.  As his replacement, the Republicans chose Alan Keyes, a black right-winger whom even George W. Bush found to be “a piece of work.”

Obama easily won election with 73% of the votes.

In 2008, Obama ran for President.

For starters, the incumbent holder of the White House–George W. Bush–was by then the most unpopular President since Harry S. Truman in 1953.

For those who wanted a complete change from the Bush legacy, Obama–black, young, highly educated, articulate–offered the embodiment of freshness.

His nominated opponent was Arizona’s Republican United States Senator John McCain. And, once again, Obama got electoral help from the Republican party.

McCain chose Sarah Palin, a two-year Governor of Alaska who roused the GOP’s Right-wing base–but outraged liberals and moderates.  Even worse for McCain, Palin’s moronic statements quickly became a target for parody–especially that of “Saturday Night Live” comic Tina Fey.

Obama won the election with 53% of the vote, amassing 365 electoral votes to McCain’s 173.

And then, on August 11, 2012,  Mitt Romney, the all-but-anointed Republican nominee for President, gave Obama another Ryan to run against: Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Elected at 28 to Congress in 1998, over the next 12 years he built a reputation as a firm social and budgetary conservative.

And so Romney–thoroughly distrusted by the Rightists in the Republican party–picked Ryan to be his Vice Presidential running mate.

It would prove to be a fateful–and fatal–choice.

 

THE COMING IMPEACHMENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on November 11, 2014 at 12:48 am

Some Republicans–like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah–want their new majorities in the House and Senate to make “producing legislation” a top priority.

But others will soon make the impeachment of President Barack Obama their top priority.

Here’s how it will happen.

“We now have the votes and we have the ability to call the agenda, so stop name-calling and let’s actually produce some legislation that helps jobs and the economy and moves our country forward,” Chaffetz said in an interview after Republicans captured the U.S. Senate on November 4.

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Rep. Jason Chaffetz

“I think the country has figured that out, and they’ve given us the mandate to do it, and we better produce, or they’ll kick us out too.”

Obama has vowed to act unilaterally before year’s end to reduce the number of deportations and grant work permits to millions of illegal aliens living in the United States.

After promising to take executive action on immigration by the end of the summer, Obama delayed his plans until after the elections.  Democrats–especially Senators from conservative states–had warned him that such administrative moves could threaten their reelection.

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Illegal aliens crossing American borders by the millions

But on November 4, most of those Democrats lost anyway, leaving immigration advocates–and their millions of illegal alien constituents–feeling that the delay was needless.

“What I’m not going to do is just wait,” the president said as immigration legislation that the Senate passed in June 2013 remained stalled in the House.

Kentucky’s U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell–who will become Senate Majority Leader in January–has warned that this would be an in-your-face affront to the new majority GOP:

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Mitch McConnell

“I think the president choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration would be a big mistake,” McConnell said. “It’s an issue that most of my members want to address legislatively and it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own.’ …

“I hope he won’t do that because I do think it poisons the well for the opportunity to address a very important domestic issue.”

To which Obama responded: “I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take.

“Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill.”

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Barack Obama

Republicans could use spending bills to restrict or stop such executive action, by cutting appropriations to those agencies that would be tasked with carrying out Obama’s directives on immigration.

Several Republicans hold the deep-seated view that Obama already has been abusing his constitutional authority.

“Abuse of power” is an impeachable offense under the United States Constitution.  So making this assertion would provide Republicans with the weapon they’ve long sought to drive Obama from the White House.

Republicans, in fact, have a tainted history of using impeachment to remove a President who dared to thwart their agenda.

After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, Republican President Andrew Johnson tried to carry out Lincoln’s humane policies to reunify the nation after the Civil War.

He issued a series of proclamations directing the former Confederate states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. In response, Southern states returned many of their old leaders, and passed Black Codes to deprive freed slaves of many civil liberties.

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Andrew Johnson

Congress refused to seat legislators from those states and advanced legislation to overrule the Southern actions.  Johnson vetoed their bills, and Congress overrode him, setting a pattern until he left the White House in 1869.

As the conflict grew between the executive and legislative branches of government, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson in firing Cabinet officials.  Johnson then tried to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton–with whom he had an antagonistic relationship.

An enraged Congress impeached Johnson in the House of Representatives.  He avoided conviction and removal from office in the Senate–by one vote.

If President Obama tries to end-run Congress on immigration policy, history will likely repeat itself with another round of impeachment hearings.

It was Mitch McConnell who infamously vowed–immediately after Obama’s election in 2008–to make him “a one-term President.”

Moreover, there is actually no reason for Obama to risk his Presidency by granting the privileges of American citizenship to millions of illegal aliens.

Democrats–and especially Obama–had counted on millions of illegal aliens to retain Democratic control of the Senate.  But those masses of Hispanic voters never showed up at the polls, thus giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress.

If Obama practiced ruthless “Chicago politics” as charged by his enemies, his response would be: “You [illegal aliens] didn’t live up to your end.  Therefore, I have no further responsibility to you.”

Unfortunately for the President, he seems unable to break with his past of backing unpopular causes for little in return.

 

RIDE ON AND KILL ON

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 3, 2014 at 1:32 am

San Bruno resident Sutchi Hui, 71, was visiting San Francisco when Death found him-–just before 8 a.m. on March 29, 2012.

No doubt he felt safe before he died.  After all, he was walking through a crosswalk in the affluent Castro District, one of the city’s safest areas.

And it was there that bicyclist Chris Bucchere plowed into him.

Bucchere, a software engineer, was also hospitalized for injuries in the crash. Later that day, he posted his thoughts about the accident to the Mission Cycling AM Riders Google group.

“I was already way too committed to stop.  The light turned red as I was cruising through the middle of the intersection and then, almost instantly, the southern crosswalk on Market and Castro filled up with people coming from both directions….so, in a nutshell, blammo.

“I couldn’t see a line through the crowd and I couldn’t stop, so I laid it down and just plowed through the crowded crosswalk in the least-populated place I could find.”

Bucchere said he lost consciousness and awoke five minutes later.  Someone told him that a 71-year-old injured pedestrian had been taken to the hospital.

“I remember seeing a RIVER of blood on the asphalt, but it wasn’t mine,” Bucchere wrote. “I really hope he ends up OK.”

Bucchere dedicated the post to his helmet, which “died in heroic fashion today as my head slammed into the tarmac…. May she die knowing that because she committed the ultimate sacrifice, her rider can live on and ride on. Can I get an amen? Amen.”

An “amen” would also be in order for the cause of justice.

Although prosecuted by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, what Bucchere got was the following sentence: Three years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.  He would not serve any jail time.

He might as well have posted that because his helmet made “the ultimate sacrifice, her rider can live on and ride on–and kill on.”

The District Attorney’s office–which has one of the worst conviction records in the country–lost no time in congratulating itself.

“Our goal is to send a message to cyclists about safety,” D.A. George Gascon said. “Just because you are riding a bicycle doesn’t mean all bets are off.  All of the rules of the road that apply to everyone else apply to you, too.”

Gascon said Hui’s family did not want to see Bucchere imprisoned.  Since prosecutors didn’t expect a judge to  sentence him to jail, they offered probation and community service in the plea deal.

That’s what the life of a pedestrian is worth in San Francisco.

In July, 2011, bicyclist Randolph Ang, 23, ran a red light on the Embarcadero–and slammed into 68-year-old Dionette Cherney. She later died of her injuries.

In March, 2012, Ang pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter, as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

Ang faced up to a year in county jail, but a judge sentenced him to three years’ probation and 500 hours of community service, and ordered him to pay $15,375 in restitution to the Cherney family.

According to the website of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition:

“Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way. In the crosswalk or not, bike riders and drivers are required to yield to pedestrians.”

“Stay on the Streets.  It’s illegal and unsafe to ride on the sidewalk if you are over the age of 13.”

So much for the official version.

In reality, pedestrians risk their lives whenever they use the sidewalk–especially on tourist-crowded Market Street.

And what role do police play in enforcing the bike laws?  None.

At best, a San Francisco cop might stop an law-breaking bicyclist and give him a citation. This amounts to a bicycle traffic ticket. The bike isn’t confiscated.

Most cops patrol in patrol cars. If they see a bicyclist whizzing down a sidewalk, they aren’t going to cut him off and slap handcuffs on him.

If police show no interest in protecting pedestrians, it’s largely because the Mayor and Board of Supervisors clearly favor the rights of law-breaking bicyclists over those of law-abiding pedestrians and drivers.

The greatest proof of this comes on the last Friday of every month. It’s called Critical Mass.

In this event, hundreds of bicyclists deliberately–at the height of evening rush hour–overwhelm the streets of downtown San Francisco, bringing vehicular and pedestrian traffic to a halt.

Founded in 1992 in San Francisco, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formally stated but nevertheless clear: To protest against those who use cars and public transit–and intimidate their riders and pedestrians alike.

Critical Mass riders often use a tactic known as “corking” to maintain the cohesion of the group: A few riders block traffic from side roads so that the mass can race through red lights without interruption.

Cars, buses and pedestrians are expected to wait patiently for however long these self-indulgent thugs-on-bikes flood the streets.

In March, 2010, reports in local media claimed that then-Police Chief George Gascon was considering shutting down Critical Mass.

Four years later, the bike-thuggies continue to tie up traffic and threaten the safety of any pedestrians stupid enough to think they have a legal right to stroll sidewalks and cross streets.

PROFILES WITHOUT COURAGE

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 31, 2014 at 1:10 am

“One man with courage,” said frontier general Andrew Jackson, “makes a majority.”

Yet it’s amazing how many “heroes” come out of the woodwork once the danger is safely past.

Joseph Stalin dominated the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953.  He held absolute power twice as long as Adolf Hitler–whose Third Reich lasted only 12 years.

Joseph Stalin

Above all, he was responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000,000 men, women and children:

  • At the hands of the executioners of the NKVD (later named the KGB).
  • In exile–usually in Siberia–in Soviet penal camps.
  • Of man-made starvation brought on by Stalin’s forced “collective-farm” policies.

Then, the unthinkable happened–Stalin finally died on March 5, 1953.

Almost three years later–on February 25, 1956–Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, shocked the 20th Party Congress of the Soviet Union with a bombshell announcement: Stalin–the “Wise Leader and Teacher”–had been a murderous despot.

Among his crimes:

  • He had created a regime based on “suspicion, fear and terror.”
  • His massive purges of the officer corps had almost destroyed the Red Army–thus inviting Hitler’s 1941 invasion, which killed at least 20 million Soviet citizens.
  • He had allied himself with Hitler in 1939 and ignored repeated warnings of the coming Nazi invasion.

Naturally, Khrushchev didn’t advertise the role he had played as one of Stalin’s most trusted and brutal henchmen.

Over the ensuing years, many of the statues and portraits of Stalin that had dotted the Soviet Union like smallpox scars were quietly taken down.  The city of Stalingrad–which Stalin had renamed from its original name of Tsaritsyn–became Volgograd.

Then, in 1961, Stalin’s corpse was removed from its prominent spot in the Lenin mausoleum and reburied in a place for lesser heroes of the Russian Revolution.

The young poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko, noted the occasion in his famous poem, “The Heirs of Stalin.”  Its gist: Stalin the tyrant was dead, but his followers still walked the earth–and lusted for a return to power.

Something similar happened in the United States around the same time.

From 1950 to 1954, Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy terrorized the nation, hurling unfounded accusations and leaving ruined careers in his wake.

Joseph McCarthy

Among those civilians and government officials he slandered as Communists were:

  • President Harry S. Truman
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow
  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall
  • Columnist Drew Pearson

Finally, in 1954, McCarthy overreached himself and accused the U.S. Army of being a hotbed of Communist traitors.  Joseph Welch, counsel for the Army, destroyed McCarthy’s credability in a now-famous exchange.

Later that year, the Senate censured McCarthy, and he rapidly declined in power and health.

Senatorial colleagues who had once courted his support now avoided him; they left the Senate when he rose to speak.  Reporters who had once fawned on him for his latest sensational slander now ignored him.

Eisenhower–who had sought McCarthy’s support during his 1952 race for President–joked that “McCarthyism” was now “McCarthywasm.”

Fast-forward to July 12, 2012–and the release of former FBI Director Louie Freeh’s report on serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky.  As the assistant football coach at Penn State University (PSU), he had used the football facilities to sexually attack numerous young boys.

Jerry Sandusky

But Sandusky was regarded as more than a second-banana.  He received Assistant Coach of the Year awards in 1986 and 1999, and authored several books about his coaching experiences.

In 1977, Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a non-profit charity serving underprivileged, at-risk youth.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh stated.

College football is a $2.6 billion-a-year business. And Penn State is one of its premiere brands, with revenue of $70 million in 2010.

PSU’s seven-month internal investigation, headed by Freeh, revealed:

  • Joe Paterno, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, was aware of a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky.
  • So was president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.
  • In 2001, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary reported to Paterno that he’d seen Sandusky attacking a boy in the shower.
  • Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz then conspired to cover up for Sandusky.
  • The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building–where Paterno had his office.
  • A janitor who had witnessed a rape in 2000 said he had feared losing his job if he told anyone about it. “It would be like going against the President of the United States,” Freeh said at a press conference.

In 2011, Sandusky was arrested and charged with sexually abusing young boys over a 15-year period.  On June 22, 2012, he was convicted on 45 of the 48 charges.  He will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

On the day the Freeh report was released, Nike–a longtime sponsor for Penn State–announced that it would remove Paterno’s name from the child care center at its world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

ADVICE FOR A DICTATOR

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on October 30, 2014 at 3:18 pm

According to an October 29 story on National Public Radio, at least 10 North Korean officials have been executed for watching South Korean soap operas.

If true, this brings to 50 the number of people murdered by North Korean dictator KIim Jong-Un for committing this “crime”.

Kim Jong-Un and his generals

Sources for Bloomberg News speculated they were likely purged for having close ties to his uncle, Jang Song Thae, who was executed in 2013.

Kim inherited control of the country after his father, Kim Jong-Il, died in 2011.  Since then, he has ruthlessly eliminated all possible opposition.

“Kim Jong Un is trying to establish absolute power and strengthen his regime with public punishments,” Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told Bloomberg. “However, frequent purges can create side effects.”

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, couldn’t have said it better.

Niccolo Machiavelli

In fact, Machiavelli did say it–in Chapter Eight of The Prince, his famous work on the realities of politics, he tackled the subject: “Of Those Who Have Attained the Position of Prince by Villany.”

“…In taking a state, the conqueror must arrange to commit all his cruelties at once, so as not to have to recur to them very day, and so as to be able, by not making fresh changes, to reassure people and win them over by benefiting them.  

Whoever acts otherwise, either through timidity or bad counsels, is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him.”

Another Communist dictator–Joseph Stalin–may have paid the price for violating this counsel.

Joseph Stalin

Throughout his 30-year reign over the Soviet Union, Stalin was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 million men, women and children.

These deaths resulted from executions, a man-made famine through the forced collectivation of harvests,  deportations and imprisonment in Gulag camps.

Robert Payne, the British historian, vividly portrayed the crimes of this murderous tyrant in his brilliant 1965 biography, The Rise and Fall of Stalin.

According to Payne, Stalin–who died on March 5, 1953–was planning yet another purge during the last weeks of his life.  This would be “a holocaust greater than any he had planned before.

“The chistka [purge] had become a ritual like a ceremonial cleansing of a temple performed every three or four years according to ancient laws.

“The first chistka had taken place during the early months of the [Russian] revolution.  It had proved so salutory that periodical bloodbaths were incorporated in the unwritten laws of the state.

“This time there would be a chistka to end all chistkas, a purging of the entire body of the state from top to bottom.  No one, not even the highest officials, was to be spared.

“…The men who had been his closest companions and most willing executioners, would be the first to fall, followed by the leaders of the second rank, then of the third and fourth…until there was no one in the entire country who had not felt the touch of the healing knife.”

Then, on January 13, 1953, the Soviet Union’s two government-controlled newspapers–Pravda (“Truth”) and Izvestiya (“News”)–announced that a siniser plot by Jewish doctors had been uncovered.

Its alleged object: No less than the murder of Joseph Stalin himself.

Nine doctors, said Pravda, had so far been arrested.

Stalin’s closest associates–veteran observers of past purges–quickly realized that another was about to descend.  And there could be no doubt who its chief victims would be.

Yet Stalin did nothing to calm their fears. He often summoned his “comrades” to the Kremlin for late-night drinking bouts, where he freely humiliated them.

“What would you do without Stalin?” he asked one night.  “You’d be like blind kittens.”

Then, on March 4, 1953, Moscow Radio announced “the misfortune which has overtaken our Party and the people–the serious illness of Comrade J.V. Stalin.

“During the night of March 1-2, while in his Moscow apartment, Comrade Stalin suffered a cerebral hemorrhage affecting vital areas of the brain.”

Death came to Stalin on March 5. Officially, the cause was ruled a cerebral hemorrhage.  Stalin was 73 and in poor health from a lifetime of smoking and little exercise.

So it’s possible he died of natural causes.

But it’s equally possible that he died of unnatural ones.

In the 2004 book, Stalin’s Last Crime, Vladimir P. Naumov, a Russian historian, and Jonathan Brent, a Yale University Soviet scholar, assert that he might have been poisoned.

If this happened, the occasion was during a final dinner with four members of the Politburo:  Lavrenti P. Beria, chief of the secret police; Georgi M. Malenkov, Stalin’s immediate successor; Nikita S. Khrushchev, who eventually rose to the top spot; and Nikolai Bulganin.

The authors believe that, if Stalin was poisoned, the most likely suspect was Beria. And the method: Slipping warfarin, a tasteless and colorless blood thinner also used as a rat killer, into his glass of wine.

Lavrenti P. Peria

In Khrushchev’s 1970 memoirs, he quotes Beria as telling Vyacheslav M. Molotov, another Polituro member, two months after Stalin’s death: “I did him in! I saved all of you.”

Kim Jong Un had better hope that Communist history doesn’t repeat itself.

HALLOWEEN–PC STYLE

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 29, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Halloween isn’t just for kids anymore.

In 2014, about 70% of Americans will participate in Halloween, and will spend $7.4 billion.  Yes, that’s with a “b”.

This huge avalanche of funds will go on such items as candy, costumes and decorations.

Halloween candy alone has run up a $2 billion tab every Halloween for the past three years.

And $350 million will go for pet Halloween costumes.

Spending on Halloween has risen by more than 55% since 2005.

Here’s how those expenses break down:

Costumes – 38%

Cards – 5%

Decorations – 27%

Candy – 27%

Click here: Wait, Americans Spend How Much on Halloween? – The Atlantic

Those putting out this avalanche of money will, of course, be adults.  And a lot of those costumes will be worn by adults at parties across the nation.

This will be especially true in San Francisco.

In 1979, Halloween in its Castro District shifted from being a children’s event to a celebration among homosexuals.

The massive crowds quickly overwhelmed the streets, mass transit and due to the Castro’s location along two major transport corridors, disrupting traffic flow well outside the neighborhood.

In 2002, 500,000 people celebrated Halloween in the Castro and four people were stabbed.

It continued to grow into a massive annual street party until 2006, when a shooting wounded nine people and prompted the city to call off the event.

In 2007, 600 police were deployed in the Castro on Halloween By 2010, San Francisco had banned the event in the Castro, directing celebrants to various balls and parties elsewhere.

But there’s another force working to suppress Halloween joy among its participants: Political Correctness.

A recent article in Anaswers.com offers Politically Correct advice on how to enjoy Halloween–without hurting the Politically Correct sensitivities of almost every group imaginable.

Click here: Top 15 Major Halloween No-No’s – Answers.com

For example:

Adolf Hitler:  “There should be no need to explain why a Hitler costume is wrong. It’s offensive and upsetting to many people, especially those who survived the Holocaust and those who lost family members to it.”

Homeless Persons:  “Dressing kids up as hobos used to be cute, but now it is a no-no. It is rude to the growing homeless population in America, which includes people of all walks of life and all economic profiles.”

Illegal Alien: “Making light of the issues America faces with the constant deluge of illegal immigrants crossing the borders is not politically correct, and it’s disrespectful to the people attempting to cross the borders, or even those who immigrated legally.”

Terrorist: “With terrorism hitting the news 24/7, it is never okay to dress as a terrorist. Even worse, some parents allow their kids to dress this way.”

Others on the list of groups that Answers.com believes it’s Politically Incorrect to dress up as include:

  • Blacks (if you’re white)
  • Plane crash victims
  • Michael Brown (the thug whose shooting by a Ferguson, Missouri cop has touched off race riots)
  • “Dirty Mexicans” (features a picture of a woman wearing a mariachi outfit and a man sporting a sombrero, serape and drooping moustache)
  • Dead Steve Irwin (the publicity-hungry “Crocodile Hunter” who died when he got too close to a manta ray and it put a stinger through his chest)
  • Christopher Reeve (the “Superman” actor who was paralyzed from a horse fall, wearing a large white neck brace)
  • Pimp (“Glamorizing this type of person is offensive to all the women who get stuck in that vicious world”)
  • Naughty Priest/Nun (“It is offensive to anyone stuck in the middle of all the church scandals that became big news in the ’90s and 2000s”)

If you follow the guidelines of this article, you might as well skip Halloween altogether.

So, if you subtract all the costumes that Politically Correct mavens say you shouldn’t wear, here’s what you end up with:

DON’T DRESS UP AS:

  • Hobos, because it will hurt the feelings of bums who won’t be attending Halloween parties anyway.
  • Adolf Hitler, because you’ll offend anyone who survived the Holocaust.  (The same could be said for any actor who portrays Hitler in a movie, such as Downfall or The Bunker.)
  • Terrorists, because you might upset Islamics, who make up the vast majority of the world’s terrorists.
  • Illegal aliens, because it’s not nice to spotlight people who constantly violate the immigration laws of the United States.
  • Naughty priests, because it’s offensive to mock religious hypocrites who violate the bodies of children.

This list is potentially endless.

Yet no one objects to children–or adults–dressing up as pirates like Blackbeard, who once terrorized the oceans as modern-day terrorists menace the world.

No one objects to those who dress up like skeletons–when almost everyone has lost a friend or family member to death.

No one objects to those who dress up as witches, who have been associated with evil for hundreds of years.

No one objects to those who dress up as Satan–the literal personification of evil for millions of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The whole idea of Halloween is to momentarily step into a character that’s utterly different from you.

So if you are a terrorist, try dressing up at Halloween as Dr. Albert Schweitzer or Florence Nightingale.

TWO LIVES, TWO LEGACIES

In History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on October 28, 2014 at 1:04 am

Benjamin C. Bradlee and Richard M. Nixon.

Both men were driven to succeed.  And both achieved fame and power in doing so.

Bradlee made his name in journalism.

Benjamin C. Bradlee

Nixon made his in politics.

Richard M. Nixon

Both served in the United States Navy in the Pacific during World War II.

Both had strong connections to John F. Kennedy.

  • Bradlee knew him as a friend and reporter during JFK’s years as a Senator and President.
  • Nixon–as a Senator and later Vice President–knew Kennedy as a Senatorial colleague and as a political adversary, unsuccessfully contesting him for the Presidency in 1960.

For both, 1948 was a pivotal year.

  • Bradlee joined The Washington Post as a reporter.
  • Nixon, as a U.S. Representative, accused Algier Hiss, a former State Department official, of having been a Communist spy.  Hiss was eventually convicted of perjury and sent to prison.

Both attained their positions of maximum power in 1968.

  • Bradlee became executive editor of The Washington Post.
  • Nixon became the 37th President of the United States.

Bradlee made it his business to dig up the truth.  Nixon made it his business to distort the truth–or to conceal it when distortion wasn’t enough.

Nixon and Bradlee had their first major clash in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers, a secret government study of how the United States became enmeshed in the Vietnam war.

  • Although the Papers concerned events that had occurred during the Presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Nixon was outraged at their release by a former Defense Department analyst named Daniel Ellsburg.
  • Nixon ordered his Attorney General, John Mitchell, to enjoin The New York Times–which had begun publishing the study–from continuing to publish its revelations.
  • Bradlee, as executive editor of The Washington Post, urged his publisher, Katherine Graham, to take over where the Times had left off.
  • The controversey ended when the Supreme Court ruled, 6–3, that the government failed to meet the burden of proof required for prior restraint of the press.

In 1972, Bradlee and Nixon squared off for their most important battle–a “third-rate burglary” of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Benjamin C. Bradlee

  • Bradlee backed two young, aggressive reporters named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, as they probed the burglary.
  • This led to their discovering a series of illegal dirty tricks the Nixon re-election campaign had aimed at various Democratic opponents.
  • The Post’s revelations led to the formation of the Senate Watergate Committee, the discovery of Nixon’s tape-recordings of his private–and criminal–conversations, and, finally, to Nixon’s own resignation in disgrace on August 9, 1974.
  • Bradlee was one of only four men who knew the identity of “Deep Throat,” Woodward and Bernstein’s famous undercover source, then-FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt.  Felt outed himself in 2005.
  • Nixon, who died in 1994, never learned the identity of the most famous whistleblower in history.

Bradlee became an advocate for education and the study of history.

Nixon entered history as the only American President forced to resign from office.

 Richard Nixon saying farewell at the White House

Bradlee became a media celebrity.  Nixon became a media target.

  • Bradlee was portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor Jason Robarbs in the hit 1976 film, All the President’s Men.
  • Nixon was portrayed–in Oliver Stone’s 1995 drama, Nixon–by Anthony Hopkins.

Bradlee and Nixon each published a series of books.

  • Bradlee’s: That Special Grace and Conversations With Kennedy focused on his longtime friendship with John F. Kennedy.  A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures was Bradlee’s memoirs.
  • Nixon’s:  Among his 11 titles: Six Crises; RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon; The Real War; Leaders; Real Peace; No More Vietnams; Beyond Peace.

After leaving the White House, Nixon worked hard behind-the-scenes to refashion himself into an elder statesman of the Republican Party.

  • Throughout the 1980s, he traveled the lecture circuit, wrote books, and met with many foreign leaders, especially those of Third World countries.
  • He supported Ronald Reagan for president in 1980, making television appearances portraying himself as the senior statesman above the fray. 
  • For the rest of his life, he fought ferociously through the courts to prevent the release of most of the infamous “Watergate tapes” that chronicled his crimes as President.
  • Only since his death have many of these been made public.

Nixon died on April 22, 1994.

  • Eulogists at his funeral included President Bill Clinton and former Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, California Governor Pete Wilson and the Reverend Billy Graham.
  • Despite his efforts to portray himself as an elder statesman, Nixon could never erase his infamy as the only President to resign in disgrace.
  • To this day, he remains a nonperson within the Republican Party.  While numerous Republican Presidential candidates quote and identify themselves with Ronald Reagan, none has done the same with Nixon.

Bradlee remained executive editor of The Washington Post until retiring in 1991.  But he continued to serve as vice president-at-large until his death on October 21, 2014.

  • In 2007, he received the French Legion of Honor, the highest award given by the French government, at a ceremony in Paris.
  • In 2013, he was named as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.  He was presented the medal at a White House ceremony on November 20, 2013.

OUTLAWING THE WORD, NOT THE ACTIVITY

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 27, 2014 at 12:00 am

Illegal Pete’s is a Colorado burrito chain with locations in Denver and Boulder–and a problem with Hispanics.

On October 22,  about 30 people gathered in Fort Collins to ask its owner, Pete Turner, to change the name of the chain, which will soon open an outlet there.

The reason: Apologists for illegal immigration believe that “illegal” has become the new “I-word.”

They believe that referring to someone as an “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” is dehumanizing.

But Turner didn’t have anything like that in mind when he named his burrito chain.

Peter Turner

Turner responded to critics by saying “Illegal” is a reference to a novel he read in college, and “Pete’s” refers to his own name and that of his father.

He added that he had helped pay for some employees to become citizens.

But those at a meeting in Fort Collins compared the name to a racial slur used against blacks or hanging a Confederate flag in the restaurant’s window.

“We have been getting emails comparing me to the KKK,” said Turner, who opened Illegal Pete’s in 1995.

The meeting ended on an ominous note, with its moderator, Kim Medina warning: “Let us know whether we should be there to protest or celebrate [the opening of the Fort Collins restaurant] on Nov. 13.”

“Social context is hugely important,” said Medina, a Fort Collins immigration attorney. “We’ll never get to big issues, such as immigration reform, until we can solve these smaller issues of language.”

Which goes directly to the heart of Politically Correct speech.

In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated there were 11.4 million illegal aliens living in the United States.

Their top countries of origin are:

  • Mexico (59%)
  • El Salvador (6%)
  • Guatemala (5%)
  • Honduras (3%)
  • Philippines (3%)

In 2012,  643,474 illegal aliens were arrested. More than 69% were from Mexico.

In 2012, 419,384 illegal aliens were deported from the United States. Approximately 47% of these had prior criminal convictions.

  • Deported to Mexico (73%)
  • Deported to Guatemala (9%)
  • Deported to Honduras (7%)
  • Deported to El Salvador (4%)

That’s according to DHS.  But the truth is that with so many millions of illegal aliens invading the United States on a daily basis–and doing their best to remain uncaught–nobody really knows how many there are.

Current estimates based on national surveys place their numbers from 7 to 20 million.

Then there are the costs such unending waves of illegal immigration imposes on legitimate American citizens.

According to a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation:

  • The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that in 2010, 5.5 million children and illegal alien parents lived in the U.S.
  • About 1 million of these were born abroad and were brought into the U.S. unlawfully; the remaining 4.5 million were born in the U.S. and are treated under law as U.S. citizens.
  • Overall, some 8% of the children born in the U.S. each year have illegal alien parents.
  • The fiscal cost of illegal immigration must include the costs associated with these children, since these inevitably result from the illegal immigration of their parents.
  • The average earnings per worker are dramatically lower in illegal alien households.
  • Illegal aliens are far more likely to be poor.
  • Over one-third of such households have incomes below the federal poverty level, compared to 18.8% of legal immigrants and 13.6% of U.S. citizens.
  • Poorly educated men and women make up a disproportionate share of the illegal alien population. They tend to have low wages and pay comparatively little in taxes.
  • Households headed by an illegal alien received an average of $24,721 per household in direct benefits, means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services in FY 2010.

Click here: Cost of Unlawful Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayers

So much for the fiscal costs of illegal immigration.

Other costs are not so easily measured–but can be dramatic and tragic.

Consider the recent case of Marcelo Marquez, 34, of Salt Lake City, Utah. Arrested on October 24, he is a suspect in a Northern California shooting spree that left two sheriff’s deputies dead.

Marquez and his accomplice, Janelle Marquez Monroy, 38,  are being held without bail and face multiple felony counts, including murder, attempted murder and carjacking.

According to Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Marquez is actually an alias for a man named Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte. He was deported twice from the United States.

The first deportation came in 1997 after an arrest and conviction in Arizona for narcotics possession. He was arrested and sent back to Mexico again in 2001.

Which, finally, gets back to the realities of Politically Correct speech.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli observed the differences between image and reality:

For men in general judge more by the eyes than by the hands, for every one can see, but very few have to feel.   Everyone sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are….

The viewpoint of the Hispanics taking issue with Peter Turner clearly falls into this vein: If we can ban “illegal”–as in “illegal alien”–from the language, people will forget about the hordes of illegal aliens invading the United States every day.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 24, 2014 at 12:06 am

President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised and spent millions of dollars for campaign ads. They logged thousands of miles, crisscrossing the nation, speaking to millions of Americans.

And yet, when the 2012 Presidential race finally ended on November 6, 2012, history recorded the contest was settled with a single video.

It was the infamous “47%” video of Romney speaking–for once, truthfully–at a private fundraiser:

“Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the President no matter what. All right? There are 47% who are with him.

“Who are dependent upon government. Who believe that–that they are victims. Who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them.

“Who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that’s–it’s an entitlement.

“…These are people who pay no income tax. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich.”

A great deal of speculation has centered on: Who filmed it?

And in April, 2013, history repeated itself–with another Republican caught telling the ugly truth behind closed doors.

In this case, it was Kentucky United States Senator Mitch McConnell.  A microphone (probably stationed outside his Senate office) caught him discussing how to attack Ashley Judd’s mental health if the actress decided to challenge him in 2014.

“She’s clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced,” a McConnell aide said. “I mean, it’s been documented….She’s suffered some suicidal tendencies.  She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the 90s.”

“I assume most of you have played the game Whac-A-Mole,” said McConnell.  “This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.”

McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, refused to answer reporters’ questions about whether an opponent’s mental health or religious beliefs are fair game in a political campaign.

Instead, he accused “the political left” of mounting “quite a Nixonian move.”  An ironic charge, considering that Nixon and McConnell rose to power within the same political party.

As in the case of the Mitt Romney videotape, the focus of the press quickly turned to: Who recorded it?

But this totally missed the point.

It doesn’t matter who provides vital information. What does matter is: Is that information accurate?

In Romney’s case, it opened a window into a world seldom-seen by voters: The world of big-league donors and their money-grubbing political solicitors.

In McConnell’s case, it cast light on the how entrenched politicians ruthlessly defend their turf.

It should be clear that money-grubbing politicians have two versions of campaign speaking: One for donors whose money they seek, and another for the public whose votes they seek.

Rich and greed-obsessed donors (unlike poor and ignorant voters) are too smart to be fobbed off with appeals to their fears and prejudices. They expect a tangible return for their support–namely:

  • Lower (preferably no) taxes
  • Freedom to pollute
  • Freedom to pay their employees the lowest possible wages
  • Freedom to treat their employees like serfs
  • Freedom to churn out shoddy or even dangerous goods

So what a candidate says in private, to his wealthy donors–or his campaign strategists–reflects what he really means and intends to do.

A similar frenzy of speculation centered on the identity of “Deep Throat”–the legendary source for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal. For decades, this proved a favorite guessing game for Washington reporters, politicians and government officials.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein working on Watergate

In the end, “Deep Throat” turned out to be W. Mark Felt, assistant director of the FBI.

Commentators have endlessly debated his motives for leaking crucial Watergate evidence that ultimately ended the corrupt Presidency of Richard Nixon.

And, in the end, despite all the theories, it didn’t matter.

Felt provided Washington Woodward with the evidence necessary to keep the Watergate investigations going–by both the Post and the FBI.

W. Mark Felt

Thus, the question making the rounds about the McConnell discussion shouldn’t have been: Who taped it?

It should have been: How can more private fundraisers and political strategy sessions be penetrated and recorded–so voters can learn the truth about those who would become our elected rulers?

Definitely, those who specialize in “opposition research” should be thinking hard about this.

Private investigators–who regularly unearth secrets others want to keep secret–might also take an interest in this line of work.

And news organizations should offer financial rewards to those who provide such secret information.

With the advent of billionaires trying to buy the Presidency, and the unwillingness of Congress and the Supreme Court to stop the flow of unsavory money into politics, this may be our only chance to preserve what is left of the Republic.

Anyone who’s ever turned on a light to find roaches scurrying quickly over a kitchen floor knows the truth of this.

Turn on the lights–and watch the roaches scurry away.

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