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Posts Tagged ‘NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI’

BENEDICT ARNOLD–CAPITALIST HERO: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 28, 2015 at 12:28 am

On May 15, 2012, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. citizenship.

Born in Brazil, the 30-year-old Saverin became a U.S. citizen in 1998 but had lived in Singapore since 2009.

Eduardo Saverin 

Giving up his citizenship allowed him to avoid paying taxes on billions of dollars on capital gains when Facebook launched its IPO on May 18, 2012.  Singapore does not have a capital gains tax.

And America’s fascist Right couldn’t have been happier.

Take Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing talk-show host.  The Rush Limbaugh Show airs throughout the U.S. on over 400 stations and is the highest-rated talk-radio program in the United States.

When Limbaugh speaks, his “dittohead” audience listens—and acts as he decrees.

Rush Limbaugh

“So if it’s a more favorable tax haven that you can find elsewhere and you go there,” asked Limbaugh, “why is it automatically that you are unpatriotic?

“Why is it automatically that you are a coward, that you are not paying your fair share? It’s this whole class envy thing rearing its head again.”

For Limbaugh, the villain isn’t a billionaire who turns his back on the country that gave him the opportunity to become one.  No, the villain lies in those who believe that even wealthy businessmen should behave like patriots–instead of parasites.

“But [Barack Obama is] out there demonizing successful people every day,” said Limbaugh, “targeting successful people every day, running a presidential campaign based on class warfare, trying to get the 99% of the country who are not in the top 1% to hate the 1%, to literally despise ’em.”

Consider the implications of this:

On November 1, 2011, Forbes magazine reported that, in 2007, the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%.

Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.

According to Limbaugh’s philosophy, the bottom 80% of the popularion owning 15% of the country’s wealth should pay homage to the top 20% of Americans who own 85% of the country’s wealth.

In short, they should “know their place” and not expect the moneyed few to pay their fair share of taxes.

Of course, this is to be expected of Limbaughwhose own wealth makes him a multi-millionaireIn 2001, U.S. News & World Report noted that Limbaugh had an eight-year contract, with Clear Channel Communications, for $31.25 million a year.

And according to a July 2, 2008, Matt Drudge column, Limbaugh signed a contract extension through 2016 that is worth over $400 million.

And Limbaugh wasn’t alone in his praise for Saverin.

Another right-winger who defends those who run out on their country is anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

On May 7, 2012, two Democratic Senators—Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania—introduced legislation designed to tax expatriates even after they have left the country.

Their “Ex-PATRIOT Act” would impose a mandatory 30% tax on American investments for those who renounce their citizenship and would also prohibit individuals like Saverin from re-entering the country.

“Saverin has turned his back from the country that welcomed him, kept him safe, educated him and helped him become a billionaire,” Schumer said at a press conference. He added that it was time to “de-friend” the Facebook co-founder.

Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATF) said the targeting people that turn in their passports reminded him of regimes that had driven people out of the country, only to confiscate their wealth at the door.

Grover Norquist

“I think Schumer can probably find the legislation to do this,” said Norquist. “It existed in Germany in the 1930s and Rhodesia in the ’70s and in South Africa as well. He probably just plagiarized it and translated it from the original German.”

On the floor of the Senate, Schumer denounced Norquist in return:

“I know a thing or two about what the Nazis did. Some of my relatives were killed by them.

“Saying that a person who made their fortune specifically because of the positive elements in American society, in turn, has a responsibility to do right by America is not even on the same planet as comparing to what Nazis did to Jews.”

Chuck Schumer

Schumer added that he found it troubling that conservatives would lionize someone like Saverin, who was called “an American hero” by Forbes magazine.

On May 13, 2012, Forbes–which describes itself as “The Capitalist Tool”–had run an Op-Ed piece under the headline: “For De-Friending The U.S., Facebook’s Eduardo Saverin Is an American Hero.”

“Can you believe it?” asked Schumer.  “An American hero? Renouncing your citizenship now qualifies as heroic for the hard right-wing?”

“This has gone so far, this idolatry they have taken to such an extreme end, they make Eduardo Saverin into their patron saint.  In the name of low taxes for the wealthy, they have lionized an inherently unpatriotic person.”

“SCARFACE” REVISITED

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 19, 2015 at 2:55 pm

It’s a scene familiar to anyone who’s seen Scarface, the 1983 classic starring Al Pacino as a Cuban drug dealer who makes it big in the cocaine business.

Tony Montana (Pacino) is holding curt in his Florida estate.  His visitor is a WASP-ish banker.

Bankers as a rule don’t make house calls. But Tony is no ordinary customer–his men literally haul bags full of bills into the bank when making deposits.

Except that now the banker has some unpleasant news for Tony:

We’re not a wholesale operation.  We’re a legitimate bank.  The more cash you give me……the harder it is for me to rinse.

“The fact is I can’t take any more of your money unless I raise the rates on you.”

TONY: You gonna raise…

BANKER: I gotta do it.

BANKER: The IRS is coming…

TONY:  Don’t give me that shit! Let’s talk.  I’m talking.  I go low, you go high.  I know the game.  This is business talk.

BANKER:  Let me explain something.  The IRS is coming down heavy on South Florida.  There was a Time magazine story that didn’t help. 

There’s a recession. I got stockholders I got to be responsible for.  I got to do it, Tony.

Tony Montana’s personal banker gives him some bad news

TONY: We’ll go somewhere else.  That’s it.   

BANKER:  There’s no place else to go.

TONY: Fuck you, man! Fuck you! I’ll fly the cash myself to the Bahamas.

BANKER: Once maybe. Then what?  You’ll trust some monkey in a Bahamian bank with millions of your hard-earned dollars? 

Come on, Tony. Don’t be a schmuck. Who else can you trust? That’s why you pay us what you do. You trust us.

Stay with us. You’re a well-liked customer. You’re in good hands with us.

(At this point, movie audiences burst into laughter.  The line, “You’re in good hands with us” seemed directly lifted from the slogan used by Allstate Insurance: “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”)

Now, fast forward to 2014.

A Reuters news story dated May 21, 2014 noted that investigators from the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) were probing Charles Schwab and Bank of America Corporations Merrill Lynch brokerage.

The SEC wants to determine if these brokerages violated anti-money laundering rules that require financial institutions to know their customers.

Broker-dealers are required to establish, document and identify customers and verify their identities in compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act.

In 2012, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, ordered regulators to guarantee that financial institutions are identifying the true beneficial owners of their accounts.

The reason: Drug cartels and terrorist groups have become highly creative in hiding and transferring their illegal funds.

According to sources close to the investigation, Charles Schwab and Merrill accepted shell companies and persons with phony addresses as clients.

In both cases, some of the accounts were eventually linked to drug cartels.  Some of those accounts held hundreds of thousands of dollars; others held millions.

A Texas rancher and Charles Schwab client transferred money to a holding company that was actually a shell company.

Most of the Schwab clients being investigated lived near the Mexican border. Some were linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Click here: Exclusive: SEC probes Schwab, Merrill, for anti-money laundering violations – sources | Reuters

No further stories could be found on the Internet to update the progress of these investigations.

In fact, the government should have assumed long ago that brokerage companies were engaging in such behavior.

As Niccolo Machiavelli warned in The Discourses, his landmark book on how to preserve freedom within a republic:

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. 

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself. 

But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Whenever the creating of wealth becomes an end in itself, all other ends are sacrificed to this.

Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain. A neurotransmitter called dopamine fuels our greed. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the greater the pleasure we experience.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

Federal investigators need to view large concentrations of wealth as sources for at least potential corruption.

And they should ruthlessly–and routinely–investigate those sources, whether in the vaults of the Mafia or of major financial institutions.

FEAR WORKS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 21, 2015 at 12:43 am

Ralph bought a computer security program from SUX.  But then he found he couldn’t download it.

So he contacted the company—whose customer service representative told him: You’ll have to buy another of our products to make the first one you bought work properly.

At that point, Ralph had had enough.

He sent SUX an email via its own website, outlining his problem and asking that the $60 charge on his credit card be removed.

Six days later, Ralph called his credit card company, to see if SUX was still charging him for an item he hadn’t received.

It was.

It was time to play Machiavellian hardball.

Ralph once again dialed SUX to speak to one of its customer service reps.

Calmly–but firmly–Ralph identified himself, then quickly summarized the problem he was having with the company.

Then he said:

“I suggest you contact someone in management and tell them this: I want this charge off my credit card in 24 hours.  If it isn’t, here’s what’s going to happen:

“One: I’m going to file a criminal complaint with the local office of the United States Attorney [Federal prosecutor] for fraud against your company.

“When a company does business in more than one state, that brings it under Federal jurisdiction.  And there are Federal penalties for charging people for products they didn’t receive.

“Two, I’m going to make this situation very well known on social media sites.  That’s going to cost you bigtime on future customers.

“Again, I’ll wait 24 hours.  Pass this on to your management.”

Then he hung up.

Slightly more than 24 hours later, Ralph got this email from SUX:

“Thank you for ordering from SUX.  At your request a return has been initiated.”

In short: The charge would be removed from his credit card.

There are several important lessons to be learned here.

First, before you call to complain, make sure the product isn’t working.

Read the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.

If you can’t understand the instructions, or if you feel you do and the product still isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, call the company.

Second, when you reach the customer service rep, be patient and polite.

At best, getting angry and offensive wastes valuable time which could be better spent outlining the problem you’re having.

At worst, the tech might hang up on you, which means you’ll have to go through the whole telephone-tree exercise again.

Third, explain precisely what has gone wrong.  If the tech gives you instructions on how to resolve the problem, follow them to the letter.

Fourth, if you’re sure you want to return the product, say so.

Find out the company’s preferred way to do this.

Fifth, if you’ve paid for it by credit card, state that you want the charge removed from your bill.

You may have to wait until the company receives the product before they take the charge off your bill.  To make sure they get it, send it signed-receipt-requested.

Sixth, wait five to ten days to see if your credit card has been charged. 

Ralph waited six, which is a reasonable number.

Seventh, if the problem hasn’t been resolved, call the company again and ask to speak to someone on its corporate headquarters—the higher up, the better.

You can often find out the names of the top executives of a company by checking its website.  Or by going to a business-rating website, such as that of Standard and Poor’s.

Eighth, be polite but businesslike as you outline your problem.

If you can’t outline it in one or two minutes, ask for an email address where you can send a detailed email.

Ninth, state clearly what you want the company to do for you.

Often, people get so angry at the frustration they’ve endured that they forget to say what action they want the company to take.

Tenth, if the company rep makes it clear they won’t take back the product, give you a substitute, or refund your purchase, it’s time to play hardball.

Eleventh, if you believe the law has been broken, say so. 

And say which agencies you intend to contact—such as the local District Attorney’s Office, Federal Trade Commission, United States Attorney or Federal Communications Commission.

Twelth, have at least one or two consumer complaint websites ready to cite—and contact.

A

Among these:

Businesses fear bad consumer reviews–especially on Yelp! and Facebook.

When I once visited a local animal shelter, a receptionist told me: “If you have a problem with something, please see me.  Don’t go home and post it on Yelp!

Thirteenth, tell the company official what action you intend to take unless your demands are met. 

Offer a deadline by when you expect that action to be taken.

Fourteenth, if that doesn’t prove enough, consider filing a private lawsuit.

FEAR WORKS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 20, 2015 at 12:13 am

So you’ve just bought something online, with a credit card–and the item never arrives–or proves defective.

Even worse, the online company insists on charging your credit card for the item.

What to do?

Here’s what a friend of mine–Ralph–recently did when he faced just that problem.

One night, while surfing the Internet, he saw an ad for a new computer security product.  For him, its biggest selling point was: “Make yourself invisible to the bad guys with just one click.”

An even stronger selling point for him: The product was being offered by SUX, the company whose anti-virus software he had subscribed to for the last three years.

And, so far, he had never had any trouble with the company.

SUX offered several options for subscription:

  • One month
  • One year
  • Two years

Ralph decided that one month was too short, and two years were too long.  He chose a one-year subscription, intending to renew at the end of the year if he liked it.

He typed in his credit card number and clicked on “Download.”

Soon afterward, he received an Order Confirmation email from the company, outlining the product he had just purchased and the amount he had just paid for it.

He then got into the anti-virus security item on his desk.  A few clicks later a new screen popped up–and the message: “Disconnected.”

Even worse, the screen warned: “Your license has expired.  Renew now.”

The product he had just paid $60 to download hadn’t downloaded.

So Ralph called SUX–and explained to a technician what had happened.

And the tech responded: “We don’t offer phone support for that product.”

Nothing Ralph said could elicit the help he needed.  Furious at the man’s arrogance, Ralph hung up.

To avoid accidentally reaching the same worthless technician, Ralph decided to wait several hours before again calling SUX.

When he did, he reached a technician who was willing to provide help.  The tech said that he would like to run a remote scan on Ralph’s computer to try to find out what was causing the problem.

Ralph agreed.

For the next five minutes he could see his cursor moving around his screen, as the tech checked first one file, then another.

Finally, the tech said that Ralph needed to “clean out” his computer before the SUX product he bought would work properly.

“OK, how do I do that?” asked Ralph.

“You need to buy our BS2U product,” said the tech.

Now Ralph was really steamed.

He had just spent $60 on a product he couldn’t download.  And the tech was telling him he had to spend even more money on a second product to make the first product work properly.

Ralph then said he wanted to contact someone in an executive positon at SUX.  But the rep said he would have to call outside the United States to do this.

Ralph hung up, then got back onto his computer and onto the SUX website.  He drafted a short but detailed message on the problems he was facing with one of the company’s products.

And it ended:

“Frankly:

(1) I am UNABLE to make use of the product I paid $60 for; and

(2) I am UNWILLING to pay MORE MONEY FOR ANOTHER PRODUCT in hopes that this will enable me to use the one I just purchased.

“Therefore, I am requesting that the credit card transaction I had with your company on —- be canceled.  If it is not, I will dispute this via my credit card company when I receive my next statement.

“To enable you to quickly locate this transaction in your files, I am enclosing the Order Confirmation Number:  #———-.

“I am making a copy of this email, so I can establish, if necessary, that I have notified your company that I am NOT receiving the product I paid for.

“I have already contacted my credit card company and informed them that I will contest this charge if your company does not make good on this refund.”

Six days later, Ralph called his credit card company, to see if SUX was still charging him for an item he hadn’t received.

It was.

Luckily for Ralph, he had been a longtime student of Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science.

Niccolo Mchiavelli

In The Prince, his treatise on how to gain and hold political power, Machiavelli raises the question: Is it better to be loved or feared?

And he answers as follows:

The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved….

“Men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared.  

“For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

It was time to invoke the spirit of St. Niccolo.

HOW TO BE A SMARTER EXECUTIVE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Self-Help on March 13, 2015 at 12:08 am

“The man who builds a factory,” said President Calvin Coolidge, “builds a temple.  And the man who works there worships there.”

Many American corporate executives still feel about themselves–nd their employees.  But those heady days of knee-jerk worship of CEOs and their oversize salaries and egos are over–at least, temporarily.

Americans have reluctantly learned that the robber barons who rule Wall Street arenot God’s own elect.

Even Ayn Rand disciple Allen Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman and a longtime champion of de-regulation, has admitted he totally underestimated the role greed plays in the making of financial decisions.

It’s thus time for Americans to demand wholesale reforms in the ways corporate executives are allowed to operate. And a good place to start is with the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Florentine statesman (1469-1527) wrote extensively about how bureaucracies truly work–as opposed to how people believe they do.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Consider the following from his book, The Prince, which offers instruction on how to attain and retain power:

  • IMITATE THOSE WHO HAVE ATTAINED GREATNESS: Not always being able to follow others exactly, nor attain to the excellence of those he imitates, a prudent man should always follow in the paths trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent….  If he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.
  • DON’T RELY ON LOVE:  …I conclude, therefore, with regard to being loved and feared, that men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince, and that a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on what is in the power of others, and he must only contrive to avoid incurring hatred….
  • NEED TO BE PRACTICAL:  A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.  And therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.
  • CAUTION AND BOLDNESS: A [leader]…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.  One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.  Those who wish to be only lions do not realize this.
  • SANCTIONS VS. FAVORS:  [Leaders] should let the carrying out of unfavorable duties devolve to others, and bestow favors themselves.
  • RISK AS A GIVEN: Let no [leader] believe that [he] can always follow a safe policy, rather let [he] think that all are doubtful.  This is found in the nature of things, that one never tries to avoid one difficulty without running into another, but prudence consists in being able to know the nature of the difficulties, and taking the least harmful as good.
  • A RULER’S SUBORDINATES: The first impression that one gets of a ruler and his brains is from seeing the men that he has about him.  When they are competent and loyal one can always consider him wise, as he has been able to recognize their ability and keep them faithful.
  • But when they are the reverse, one can always form an unfavorable opinion of him, because the first mistake that he makes is in making this choice.
  • EVALUATING COMPETENCE:  There are three different kinds of brains: the one understands things unassisted, the other understands things when shown by others, the third understands neither alone nor with the explanations of others.  The first kind is most excellent; the second is also excellent; but the third is useless.
  • OVERCOMING ONE’S OWN NATURE:  No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to [time and circumstances], 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.  For if one could change one’s nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change.
  • ENSURING LOYALTY:  A wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him.
  • CRUELTIES:  Well-committed may be called those…cruelties which are perpetrated once for the need of securing one’s self, and which afterward are not persisted in, but are exchanged for measures as useful to the subjects as possible.  Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time.
  • FORTUNE: 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.  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.

BARBARISM ISN’T GOOD P.R.

In History, Military, Politics on February 17, 2015 at 6:30 pm

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been in the news a great deal lately–and for reasons most organizations try to avoid.  Or at least cover up. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by

  • Russia
  • the United States
  • Canada
  • the European Union
  • Australia
  • Turkey
  • the United Nations
  • Indonesia
  • the United Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia
  • the United Arab Emerites
  • Egypt
  • India and
  • Malaysia

It been condemned by such well-known human rights organizations as Amnesty International.  And a major reason for this is the evidence of its brutalities that ISIS has proudly supplied. Among this evidence are its own Internet videos of

  • the beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists, and aid workers;
  • the burning of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot;
  • demands for extortionate ransoms for kidnapped Japanese and American captives;
  • the wholesale shooting of captured Iraqi soldiers; and
  • the selling of captured children.

The release on February 3 of a video showing the barbaric “execution” of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh, underscored ISIS reputation for cruelty

Al Kasaesbeh, locked in a steel cage like an animal, could only watch stoically as an ISIS member ignited a trail of flammable liquid leading directly to him.  The pilot stood upright throughout the ordeal until the flames at last consumed him.

Image result for Images of burning to death of Jordanian pilot

ISIS burning of captured Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh 

Terrorism experts believe that the elaborately-staged video was meant to weaken the morale of Jordan and other Sunni Arab members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

But it violated a fundamental rule of public relations: If you commit atrocities, do it secretly so you can deny it if the truth ever comes out.

That’s how the members of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s dreaded secret police–the N.K.V.D.–the predecsssors to the later-named KGB–operated throughout their brutal history.

In 1939, when the Soviet Union seized the eastern half of Poland, the N.K.V.D. executed 22,000 Polish army officers in the dense Katyn forest.

N.K.V.D. executioner

The government of Nazi Germany announced the discovery of mass graves in the forest in 1943.  The Soviet Union furiously denied responsibility, claiming the victims had been executed by the Germans.

The Soviets continued to deny responsibility for the massacres until 1990, when the government finally admitted its guilt.

ISIS has turned out videos of its brutalities which film experts have declared are almost up to the quality of Hollywood spectaculars.  But ISIS leaders have apparently forgotten–if they ever knew–the truth of the saying: “You can make a throne of bayonets, but you can’t sit on it.”

Niccolo Machiavelli, in his classic work, The Discourses, offered a telling example of how magnanimity can triumph over brutality.

Camillus was besieging the city of the Faliscians, and had surrounded it….A teacher charged with the education of the children of some of the noblest families of that city [to ingratiate himself] with Camillus and the Romans, led these children…into the Roman camp.

And presenting them to Camillus [the teacher] said to him, “By means of these children as hostages, you will be able to compel the city to surrender.”

Camillus not only declined the offer but had the teacher stripped and his hands tied behind his back….[Then Camillus] had a rod put into the hands of each of the children…[and] directed them to whip [the teacher] all the way back to the city.

Upon learning this fact, the citizens of Faliscia were so much touched by the humanity and integrity of Camillus, that they surrendered the place to him without any further defense.

This example shows that an act of humanity and benevolence will at all times have more influence over the minds of men than violence and ferocity. It also proves that provinces and cities which no armies…could conquer, have yielded to an act of humanity, benevolence, chastity or generosity.

What Machiavelli doesn’t say–but what history offers plenty of examples to substantiate–is this: The brutality of aggressors will be met–and sometimes overcome–with brutality by their past or intended victims.

Nowhere was this better proved than during the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Without warning, three million German soldiers–backed up by overwhelming air and tank support–attacked their “ally” on June 22, 1941.

The Wehrmacht blitzed its way across Russia–to the gates of Moscow and as far south as Stalingrad on the Volga River. In its path it left devastated cities and at least 20 million dead Russians.

German soldiers moving into a burning Russian village

Russian women were gang-raped, then shot, or blown up with hand grenades. Tens of thousands of captured Russian soldiers were allowed to die of hunger, sickness and freezing cold behind barbed wire.  Other captured POWs were brutally beaten, tortured and/or shot.

But then the tide of war turned and the Russians launched their own offensives in 1943.  And they kept going–all the way to Berlin.

Russians raped tens of thousands of German women–and nailed others to barn doors.  Cossacks cut off the raised hands of Germans trying to surrender.  Tanks crushed retreating German soldiers and civilians unlucky enough to be in their path.

Thus do those who practice barbarism often find themselves being repaid with it–usually ten-fold.

MACHIAVELLI WAS RIGHT: DISTRUST THE RICH

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 16, 2015 at 2:04 am

As Americans vacation their way through yet another observance of Presidents’ Day, it’s well to remember the man whose name defines modern politics.

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman who has been called the father of modern political science, published his best-known work: The Prince.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Among the issues he confronted was how to preserve liberty within a republic.  And key to this was mediating the eternal struggle between the wealthy and the poor and middle class.

Machiavelli deeply distrusted the nobility because they stood above the law.  He saw them as a major source of corruption because they could buy influence through patronage, favors or nepotism.

Successful political leaders must attain the support of the nobility or general populace.  But since these groups have conflicting interests, the safest course is to choose the latter.

….He who becomes prince by help of the [wealthy] has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace.  He is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is thus unable to direct or command as he pleases. 

But one who is raised to leadership by popular favor finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him.   [And] it is impossible to satisfy the [wealthy] by fair dealing and without inflicting injury upon others, whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way. 

For the aim of the people is more honest than that of the [wealthy], the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid oppression.  [And] the prince can never insure himself against a hostile population on account of their numbers, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few.

The worst that a prince has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles he has to fear not only desertion but their active opposition.  And as they are more far seeing and more cunning, they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer. 

The prince is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without the same nobility, being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or deprive them of it as he pleases.

Unfortunately, political leaders throughout the world–including the United States–have ignored this sage advice.

The results of this wholesale favoring of the wealth and powerful have been brilliantly documented in a recent investigation of tax evasion by the world’s rich.

In 2012, Tax Justice Network, which campaigns to abolish tax havens, commissioned a study of their effect on the world’s economy.

The study was entitled, “The Price of Offshore Revisited: New Estimates for ‘Missing’ Global Private Wealth, Income, Inequality and Lost Taxes.”

http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_120722.pdf

The research was carried out by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.  Among its findings:

  • By 2010, at least $21 to $32 trillion of the world’s private financial wealth had been invested virtually tax-­free through more than 80 offshore secrecy jurisdictions.
  • Since the 1970s, with eager (and often aggressive and illegal) assistance from the international private banking industry, private elites in 139 countries had accumulated $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of unrecorded offshore wealth by 2010.
  • This happened while many of those countries’ public sectors were borrowing themselves into bankruptcy, suffering painful adjustment and low growth, and holding fire sales of public assets.
  • The assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments.
  • The offshore industry is protected by pivate bankers, lawyers and accountants, who get paid handsomely to hide their clients’ assets and identities.
  • Bank regulators and central banks of most countries allow the world’s top tax havens and banks to hide the origins and ownership of assets under their supervision.
  • Although multilateral institutions like the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and the World Bank are supposedly insulated from politics, they have been highly compromised by the collective interests of Wall Street.
  • These regulatory bodies have never required financial institutions to fully report their cross-­border customer liabilities, deposits, customer assets under management or under custody.
  • Less than 100,000 people, .001% of the world’s population, now control over 30% of the world’s financial wealth.
  • Assuming that global offshore financial wealth of $21 trillion earns a total return of just 3% a year, and would have been taxed an average of 30% in the home country, this unrecorded wealth might have generated tax revenues of $189 billion per year.

Summing up this situation, the report notes: “We are up against one of society’s most well-­entrenched interest groups. After all, there’s no interest group more rich and powerful than the rich and powerful.”

Fortunately, Machiavelli has supplied a timeless remedy to this increasingly dangerous situation:

  • Assume evil among men–and most especially among those who possess the greatest concentration of wealth and power.
  • Carefully monitor their activities–the way the FBI now regularly monitors those of the Mafia and major terrorist groups.
  • Ruthlessly prosecute the treasonous crimes of the rich and powerful–and, upon their conviction, impose severe punishment.

JAMES BOND GONE WRONG

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 12, 2015 at 12:23 am

James Bond, the legendary creation of novelist Ian Fleming, routinely bedded femme fatales–and sometimes killed them. But he never faced indictment for romancing them.

That’s the difference between Bond and David Petraeus, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Movie poster for Thunderball (1965)

The Justice Department is deciding whether to bring criminal charges against Petraeus.  The FBI  alleges that, as CIA director, he shared classified information with his then-mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

FBI agents found classified information on a personal computer Broadwell used–and determined that Petraeus had supplied it.

As an Army General, Petraeus had successfully led U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and was thought to be a potential candidate for president.

In 2011, he won appointment to CIA director–which ended abruptly in 2012 with the revelation of his extramarital affair with Broadwell.

Petraeus is one of the most highly educated men in the United States:

  • Alumnus of the United States Military Academy at West Point–graduating among the top 5% of his 1974 class.
  • General George C. Marshall Award winner as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College class of 1983.
  • Earned an M.P.A. in 1985 and a Ph.D. in International Relations in 1987 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
  • Served as Assistant Professor of International Relations at the United States Military Academy

David Petraeus

And Paula Broadwell is one of the most highly educated women in the United States:

  • Graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1995, majoring in political geography.
  • Earned a master’s degree in international security from the University of Denver’s Joseph Korbel School of International Studies in 2006.
  • Earned a Master of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2008.
  • A Research Associate in the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership Fellows.

Paula Broadwell

In addition, Petraeus, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, knew the importance of secrecy in keeping clandestine affairs (military and personal) out of sight.

So did Broadwell, having earned a reputation as an expert on counterterrorism.

Yet they both violated the most basic rules of security.

They exchanged emails using a cyber trick known to both terrorists and teenagers: Sharing a private email account, or “dropbox.”

In this they composed drafts to each other in order not to directly transmit messages to one another.  Each could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there.

By doing so, they flagrantly left a cyber-trail of their infidelities. (Broadwell was also married.)

It was Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, who warned: If you don’t want it known, don’t write it down.

More than 500 years ago, in his masterwork, The Discourses, he warned:

Niccolo Machiavelli

I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the “Yes” of one man is worth as much as the “No” of another. 

And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting….

You may escape, then, from the accusation of a single individual, unless you are convicted by some writing or other pledge, which you should be careful never to give.

Nor were Petraeus and Broadwell the only ones guilty of thumbing their noses at this most basic of precautions.

General John Allen, the top American commander in Afghanistan, exchanged thousands of emails  with Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite.

Although charged with directing American military efforts against the Taliban, Allen found time to exchange 20,000 to 30,000 pages’ worth of emails with Kelley between 2010 and 2012.

The scandal began when Kelley began receiving harassing emails from an unidentified woman.  So she complained to the FBI.

The emails allegedly came from Broadwell, who thought that Kelley was trying to move in on “her man”–Petraeus.  Apparently, Broadwell didn’t feel similarly threatened by Holly, Petraeus’ wife.)

The FBI investigation ultimately led to the discovery of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair.

There are several lessons to be learned from this behavior by Petraeus, Broadwell, Allen and Kelley:

  • They believed they were so privileged–by education, status and/or wealth–that conventional rules of morality didn’t apply to them.
  • They believed they were so clever they could violate the most basic rule of security and common sense–and get away with  it.
  • They were so caught up in their illicit passions that they threw caution to the winds.
  • David Petraeus, a highly disciplined man, clearly expected Paula Broadwell to behave in a similarly disciplined manner–and do nothing to compromise their lives.
  • Petraeus felt so confident about the secrecy of his affair he had his wife and mistress present when he appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2011 to become CIA director.

General David Petraeus’ CIA confirmation hearings. His wife, Holly (in white) and mistress, Paula Broadwell (in black).

  • Petraeus didn’t imagine that Broadwell suspected another of his admirers–Jill Kelley–of having romantic designs on him.
  • And he was utterly surprised when her harassing emails to Kelley led the FBI to uncover his illicit relationship.

Thus does hubris meet its punishment in Nemesis.

WHY KIM JONG-UN SHOULD BE AFRAID

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Military, Politics on December 30, 2014 at 12:02 am

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 Kim Jong-Un for committing this “crime”.

Kim Jong-Un and his generals

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 News. “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 warned:

“…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 sinister 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, then known as the MGB (Ministry for State Security);
  • Georgi M. Malenkov, Stalin’s immediate successor;
  • Nikita S. Khrushchev, who eventually rose to the top spot;
  • and Nikolai Bulganin, then Minister of Defense.

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.

SELLING OUT AMERICA TO SPITE OBAMA: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 19, 2014 at 12:55 am

President Barack Obama has repeatedly failed to learn the lessons of history and the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli.  As a result, he has once again allowed Republicans to place the nation in mortal peril.

On December 13, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund almost the entire government through the September 30 end of the fiscal year.

But one Federal agency was pointedly exempted from full funding: The Department of Homeland  Security (DHS).

President Obama had requested $38.2 billion to fund DHS through fiscal year 2015. Republicans have ensured that its money will run out on February 27.

In 2015, Republicans will hold both the House and Senate.  And that’s when they will hold the security of the United States as a hostage–to force Obama to rescind the changes he has made in American immigration policy.

It will be Homeland Security that’s charged with implementing that policy. And Republicans intend to strip it of funding to implement that policy.

And if that means allowing DHS to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (to use a phrase made infamous by the Nixon administration) while Republicans play out their latest power-game, so be it.

This is no small matter.

With more than 240,000 employees, DHS is the third largest Cabinet department, after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The Defense Department is charged with military actions abroad.  DHS is responsible for protecting the United States inside and outside its borders.

Its goal is to prepare for, prevent and–if prevention fails–respond to man-made accidents, natural disasters and terrorism.

Among the agencies now operating under its mandate:

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA)
  • U.S. Secret Service
  • Science and Technology Directorate
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office
  • Office of Intelligence and Analysis
  • Office of Operations Coordination and Planning

Some of these agencies–like FEMA, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service–are well-known.  Others–such as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office–are not.

Click here: Department Components | Homeland Security

Yet each has a vital role to play in protecting the nation.  A nation whose security Republicans are willing to threaten to get their way on a matter of domestic policy.

Ironically, it was a Republican President–George W. Bush–who launched DHS after the catastrophic 9/11 attacks.

It’s become fashionable in both Democratic and Republican parties to bash “Washington,” as though it’s a foreign entity waging war on a helpless American populace.

But consider the implications if there is no

  • Secret Service to protect the President;
  • TSA to ensure the safety of airline passengers;
  • FEMA to respond to national emergencies (such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy);
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to prevent nuclear terrorism;
  • Coast Guard to save those in ocean peril and defend our maritime borders.

President Bush learned–the hard way–what it means to have an ineffective FEMA.  The disastrous response to the 2005 flooding of New Orleans severely crippled Bush’s popularity for the rest of his term.

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

By contrast, FEMA’s effective response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 went a long way to ensuring the re-election of President Obama.

But DHS is best-known for its mission to prevent terrorist attacks on America.  And America may well be in the crosshairs of North Korean terrorism at this very moment.

On December 17, Sony Pictures cancelled the Christmas Day premier of “The Interview” after the nation’s five largest movie chains refused to show the movie, following a terror threat posted online.

The movie chains were Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas and Cineplex Entertainment.

“The Interview” is a comedy satirizing the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by two American journalists.

Poster for “The Interview”

Since November 14, Sony Pictures has been under relentless attack by cyberterrorists, who have been tentatively linked to North Korea.

Calling themselves “Guardians of Peace,” or GOP, they shut down the company’s computer system and revealed employees’ personal information such as salaries, addresses, and Social Security Numbers.

Warning issued by “Guardians of Peace” (GOP)

Five unreleased Sony films–including Brad Pitt’s World War II epic “Fury”–hit the web on copyright-infringing hubs.

Then, on December 16, GOP released its most vivid threat yet:

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places ‘The Interview’ be shown, including the premier, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.

“…The world will be full of fear.  Remember the 11th of September 2001.

“We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.  (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)”

Interestingly, “Guardians of Peace” has appropriated the same abbreviation–GOP–used by the Republicans (for “Grand Old Party”).

If the American GOP has its way and manages to indefinitely suspend the funding for DHS, North Korea’s own GOP may well take full advantage of the situation.

And then the United States will discover that “GOP” spells “terrorist” in both English and Korean.

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