bureaucracybusters

TYRANTS AND EMPATHY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 19, 2017 at 12:21 pm

On October 4, four American Special Forces soldiers were ambushed and slain on the border of Niger and Mali. Their killers were members of an ISIS-affiliated guerrilla group.

The next day, President Donald Trump attacked one of his favorite targets—the free press—as “fake news.”

Over the weekend of October 7-8, Trump went golfing. Then he took to Twitter and let his venom flow.  His victims included:

  • The National Football League;
  • Puerto Rico;
  • North Korea;
  • Bob Corker, Republican United States Senator from Tennessee and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

For 12 days after the tragedy, Trump said nothing.

Then, during an October 16 press conference in the White House Rose Garden, a reporter asked him about his silence.

So Trump claimed—falsely—that earlier Presidents—including Barack Obama—had  never or rarely called or written family members of soldiers who died on duty.

But it was his call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, that ignited a firestorm.

According to Florida Democratic Representative Frederica Wilson, Trump’s condolence call was brutally insensitive.  Wilson was riding in a limousine with Johnson and heard the conversation on speakerphone.

“He knew what was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway,” Wilson quoted Trump as telling the grieving widow.

Cowanda Jones-Johnson, a family member who raised Johnson, told CNN that Wilson’s account of the call was “very accurate.”

Veterans such as Arizona United States Senator John McCain have expressed their outrage at Trump’s callousness. But this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.

On January 21, Donald Trump—on his first full day as President—visited CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Officially, he was there to pay tribute to the men and women who dedicate their lives to discovering when and where America’s enemies are planning to strike.  And to countering those threats.

Image result for Images of CIA seal

And now Trump was appearing before what, to CIA employees, was the agency’s most sacred site: The star-studded memorial wall honoring the 117 CIA officers who had fallen in the line of duty.

So Trump spent much of his time talking about himself.

Among the worst examples:  

  • Somebody said, are you young?  I said, I think I’m young.  You know, I was stopping—when we were in the final months of that campaign, four stops, five stops, seven stops. Speeches, speeches, in front of 25,000, 30,000 people, 15,000, 19,000 from stop to stop. I feel young….
  • And I was explaining about the numbers. We did a thing yesterday at the speech. Did everybody like the speech? I’ve been given good reviews. But we had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field….
  • And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well. I said, it was almost raining, the rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech…..
  • So a reporter for Time magazine—and I have been on their cover, like, 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.  

File:Inauguration crowd size comparison between Trump 2017 and Obama 2009.jpg

Crowds at Trump and Obama Inaugurals

In February, Trump approved and ordered a Special Forces raid in Yemen on an Al-Qaeda stronghold.

The assault resulted in the death of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens.

Disavowing any responsibility for the failure, Trump said:

“This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they wanted to do. They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do—the generals—who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”

* * * * *

Seventy-four years before Donald Trump took office as President of the United States, Adolf Hitler suffered a blow from which he never recovered: The surrender of his once-powerful Sixth Army at Stalingrad.

For five months, 330,000 of the German army’s finest troops had fought to capture that city on the Volga River. Then they had been surrounded by even larger Russian armies and became the besieged. 

Finally, on February 2, 1943, their commanding general, Friedrich Paulus, surrendered.

Adolf Hitler flew into a rage.

  • Not at the loss of 150,000 Germans who had been killed.
  • Not at the agonies of the tens of thousands of others wounded.
  • Not at the suffering of the 91,000 men taken prisoner.

No, what infuriated Hitler was the refusal of General Friedrich Paulus to commit suicide rather than surrender.

Knowing that no German field marshal had ever allowed himself to be taken prisoner, Hitler had, by wireless, promoted Paulus—shortly before he chose to do so.

“When the nerves break down, there is nothing left but to admit that one can’t handle the situation and to shoot oneself,” screamed Hitler.

“This hurts me so much because the heroism of so many soldiers is nullified by one single characterless weakling.”

In April, 1945, with Russian troops about to capture Berlin, Hitler, 50 feet below ground in a fortified bunker, blamed his defeat on the Germans who had given him their unconditional loyalty for 12 years. 

For egomaniacal tyrants, blame always falls on others.

AOL: WORKING HARD TO COMMIT SUICIDE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Social commentary on October 18, 2017 at 12:06 am

When the movie, You’ve Got Mail appeared in 1998, no one needed to be told that America Online (AOL) would be prominently featured.

It was through AOL that the two main characters in this romantic comedy—Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan—found offline happiness through an online romance.

You've Got Mail.jpg

The film was aptly timed to boost AOL’s popularity. By 1997, about half of all American homes with Internet access had it through AOL.

Founded in 1983, AOL began  began as a short-lived venture called Control Video Corporation (or CVC). Its sole product was an online service called GameLine for the Atari 2600 video game console.

Subscribers bought a modem from the company for $50 and paid a one-time $15 setup fee.

On May 24, 1985, Quantum Computer Services, an online services company, was founded by Jim Kimsey from the remnants of Control Video.

Kimsey changed the company’s strategy, and in 1985, launched a dedicated online service.

During the early 1990s, the average subscription lasted for about 25 months and accounted for $350 in total revenue.  AOL greatly expanded its customer rolls by distributing free AOL trial disks through companies like The Good Guys and Circuit City. At one point, 50% of the CDs produced worldwide had an AOL logo.

By 1997, about half of all U.S. homes with Internet access had it through AOL.  

AOL’s Silicon Valley branch office

Over the next several years, AOL launched services with the a wide range of educational organizations, including:

  • The National Education Association
  • NPR
  • The American Federation of Teachers
  • National Geographic
  • The Library of Congress.

A big draw for AOL customers was its “Instant Messenger” service. Launched in 1997, it allowed AOL members to “chat” with each other. No other online service had anything like it, and AOL refused to share the technology that made this possible.

(Eventually, an anti-monopoly lawsuit by the Justice Department forced AOL to share its “Instant Messenger” technology with its online rivals.)  

By 1998, anyone with an Internet-connected computer could access AOL for free.  Its revenues were now driven by ads companies eagerly paid to showcase their services or products.

In January 2000, AOL and Time Warner announced plans to merge, forming AOL Time Warner, Inc.  AOL shareholders would own 55% of the new, combined company. The deal closed on January 11, 2001.

At the time, it seemed a merger made in heaven.  It would supposedly allow Time Warner to digitise its content and reach out to a new online audience.  And AOL would gain access to Time Warner’s cable systems, innovative broadband capability and additional content to provide to its 27 million customers.

Yet by 2002 the merger resulted in a net loss of $99 billion, the largest loss ever reported by a company.  By 2009, the merger-marriage was over. Time Warner Chief Jeff Bawkes called it “the biggest mistake in corporate history.”

In June, 2017, AOL warned its customers that, starting in August, they would have to pay about $5 a month to access its services. The company was switching to a “new, improved” version called AOL Gold.

As usually happens when new software is launched, there were bugs all around in it. A complainant to the Pissed Consumer website wrote:

“If I have to pay I don’t want to see ads all over my mail, reading or when I’m writing. Send to later folder is all messed up. It seems to crash more & runs slower….

“I read an email & clicked on ‘mark unread’ when I tried to pull it back up I only got the heading but NOT the info. Trying to send email to a group of friends & being told there is a problem, but no idea what is wrong.  I always used this group in my 9.8 desktop with no problems.”

And another customer wrote: “Aol gold sucks.90% of the time I get error to load account.”

A third customer: “Spent 4.5 hours waiting for aol gold to import my old pfc [Private Filing Cabinet–where emails are stored] only to find it imported the wrong version of my favorites…. Then spent 3.5 hours on a remote tech call where he repeatedly uninstalled and reinstalled gold with the same results.”

Other problems include:

  • AOL shutting off immediately after sending an email
  • The lack of a “Clear Toolbar History” function (as was available on the “old” AOL)
  • The inability to transfer an image from the Internet (such as a beautiful seascape) to the desktop (another feature that was also available previously)

Customers who call AOL’ at (888) 265-3733 and press “1” for “support on your existing AOL account” automatically get transferred to the billing department.  So anyone seeking technical help needs to press “2”.

But AOL apparently doesn’t have enough techs trained in its new Gold technology.  So there is usually a long wait before one of them comes on the phone.  This means that if you’re calling on a cell phone, you can easily run out of battery time before your problem is resolved.

Then, in early October, AOL announced that, on December 15, it would shut down its Instant Messenger service.

The reason: Competing “chat” systems—such as texting, Gchat and Facebook—have replaced Instant Messenger as go-to forms of communication.

Nor does AOL plan to replace its Instant Messenger service.

Perhaps only the movie business can rival AOL for sheer self-destructiveness. Once “the big dog on the block,” AOL now risks the fate of dogs sent to the pound.

WHY FASCISTS WIN AND LIBERALS LOSE

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 16, 2017 at 10:32 pm

It was September 26, 1960. The date of the first—and now legendary—Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.

Robert F. Kennedy, who was managing his brother’s campaign, offered some blunt but effective debate-prep advice: “Kick him in the balls, Jack.”

John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy

As a result, Kennedy came out fighting—and stayed on the offensive throughout the debate. At one point, he said flat-out that the United States should overthrow the year-old Cuban regime of Fidel Castro.

Nixon knew there was a secret CIA plan under way to do just that, but couldn’t afford to say so in public. So he came out hard against such a proposal, saying it would alienate American allies throughout the Caribbean.

Nixon had been warned by Henry Cabot Lodge, his Vice Presidential running mate, to tone down his “assassin image.”

During the 1950s, as a colleague of Red-baiting Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Nixon had made himself immune from the damning charge of “soft on Communism.”

And yet, pitted against a surprisingly aggressive Kennedy, he came off as decidedly second-best in standing up to the successor of Joseph Stalin.

The Kennedy-Nixon Debate

Commentators generally agreed that Nixon lost that first debate—the most-watched of the four. And it may have proved fatal to his electoral chances that year.  

Kick him in the balls, Jack.

It’s advice that someone should have given to President Barack Obama. Not just before his October 3, 2012 debate with Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, but at the start of his Presidency.

Romney came on strong from the outset and never let up.  He attacked the President relentlessly. And he repeatedly ignored calls by the alleged moderator, Jim Lehrer, to stop because he had exceeded his time-limit.

The Obama-Romney Debate

But, surprisingly, Obama:  

  • Never called out Romney on any of the lies he had aimed at the President throughout more than a year’s worth of campaigning.  
  • Never demanded that Romney produce specifics about the programs he would cut.
  • Never mentioned Bain Capitol, Romney’s private equity firm, as a job-killing corporate predator.  
  • Never attacked Romney for having personal assets in Swiss bank accounts.
  • Never mentioned the infamous “47%” videotape in which Romney contemptuously wrote off almost half of the electorate.

Obama was a supremely decent and rational man. He seemed to believe that if he was decent and reasonable toward his sworn enemies, they, in turn, would treat him the same way.

They didn’t. And Obama repeatedly failed to learn the only possible lesson from it.

As a result, he endured relentless personal insults and the stonewalling of his legislation by Republicans in the House and Senate.

But it did not have to be that way.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine patriot and statesman, offered this advice in The Prince, his primer on political science:

Niccolo Machiavelli

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. 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.  

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. As long as you benefit them they are entirely yours.  

They offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote. But when it approaches, they revolt.

And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined….

And 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.

Obama should have put this truth into practice at the start of his administration, through the example of South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson. 

It was Wilson who yelled “You lie!” at the President during his September 9, 2009 health care speech to Congress.

Wilson later apologized, and Rahm Emannuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, accepted the apology on the President’s behalf.

Instead, Obama could—and should—have sent this directive to all Federal agencies: “If you have to make cutbacks, make them first in the Congressional district of Joe Wilson.” 

When military bases and hospitals and highway projects started disappearing from Wilson’s district, word would have quickly gotten around: Don’t screw with Obama. 

And Republicans would have behaved accordingly.

During the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman said of his Confederate enemies: “They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.”

General William Texumseh Sherman

Obama won the election. But, for all his brilliance as a Harvard graduate, he failed to learn and apply this most essential lesson.  

And that failure haunted him throughout his eight-year term.

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