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LEARNING FROM THE MUNICH DISASTER: PART FOUR (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 31, 2019 at 12:07 am

Billionaire Wilbur Ross—the Trump administration’s Secretary of Commerce—had a suggestion for the 800,000 Federal employees made destitute by the government shutdown: Take out a loan.

“So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it, and we’ve seen a number of ads of financial institutions doing that. 

“True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest. But the idea that it’s ‘paycheck or zero’ is not a really valid idea.” 

Wilbur Ross Official Portrait.jpg

Wilbur Ross

It was a remark worthy of Marie Antoinette’s reported (but inaccurate) dismissal of the miseries of impoverished French citizens: “Let them eat cake.” 

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives had undergone a massive sea-change in membership. Ending two years of Republican rule, Democrats had won 27 seats in that body during the November, 2018, elections.  

And Nancy Pelosi had gone from being House Minority Leader to wielding the Speaker’s gavel as House Majority Leader on January 3.

Now she blasted Ross’ attitude during a press briefing: 

“Is this the ‘Let them eat cake,’ kind of attitude? Or ‘Call your father for money?’ Or ’This is character-building for you; it’s all going to end up very well—just as long as you don’t get your paychecks?’” 

Nancy Pelosi

Thirty-five days passed, with each one bringing increasing stress and fear to the lives of 800,000 Federal employees—those forced to not work and those forced to work for no pay.

Pelosi, meanwhile, did what many of her Democratic colleagues had long refused to do: She dared to stand up against Republicans’ “my-way-or-else” demands.

“The impression you get from the president is he would like to not only close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress, so the only voice that mattered was his own,” Pelosi said in an interview on “CBS Sunday Morning.” 

Pelosi, unlike many Democrats, realized this was America’s version of the Munich Conference: Democrats must hold firm against a tyrant’s extortionate demands. Otherwise, every time Trump didn’t get his way, there would be no end to such shutdowns in the future.

From the start, Pelosi insisted that Democrats would not cooperate with threats to shut down the government if Trump didn’t get the $5.6 billion he wanted for a border wall. And Democrats held firm, refusing to make concessions on the wall.

Second, Pelosi publicly stated that she would not let Trump make his annual State of the Union speech in the House of Representatives until the government was re-opened.

Since both the House and Senate must jointly issue an invitation to the President to make such an address, Pelosi’s veto effectively scotched Trump’s appearance. 

For the publicity-addicted Trump, who revels in pontificating to adoring crowds, this was a major blow.

Trump refused to take “No” for an answer and dared Pelosi to deny him access. 

She took him up on his dare and issued a statement saying that the speech was off—until the government re-opened. 

Soon afterward, Trump agreed that the State of the Union address would have to be postponed.

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Donald Trump giving State of the Union address in 2018

As CNN political analyst Chris Cillizza saw it: “What Pelosi seems to understand better than past Trump political opponents is that giving ANY ground is a mistake. You have to not only stand firm, but be willing to go beyond all political norms—like canceling the SOTU—to win.” 

And Julian Zelitzer, another CNN political analyst, agreed: “Pelosi did not hesitate to use her political power aggressively. From the start of this process, she has remained steadfast in her insistence that closing the government was not a legitimate way to make demands for new forms of spending. 

“While sometimes Democrats become leery about seeming too partisan and not being civil enough, Pelosi and the Democrats stood their ground. She drew a line in the sand and stuck by it.”

As Pelosi and the Democrats held firm, Republicans began getting desperate.

  • They were being depicted in the news as extortionists while 800,000 of their fellow Americans suffered.
  • Those businesses that served Federal employees—such as grocery stores and auto repair shops—were being starved of revenue.
  • There was legitimate fear that the entire airline industry might have to shut down for lack of enough air traffic controllers to regulate air traffic. 
  • Worst of all for Republicans, chaos at airports threatened the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people traveling to and from the upcoming Super Bowl. Most Americans might not know the name of their Senator, but they take their sports fetish seriously.

By January 25, the 35th day of the shutdown, an ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 53% of Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown. His popularity had fallen to a historic low of 37%. And 60% disapproved of how he was handling negotiations to re-open the government. 

So, on that same date, Trump did what his Hispanic-hating base thought was impossible: He caved. 

He walked into the White House Rose Garden and said he would sign a bill to re-open the government for three weeks. 

LEARNING FROM THE MUNICH DISASTER: PART THREE (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 30, 2019 at 12:08 am

“If we do not have these negotiations over border security with an open government, this president will continue to use this tool. And if we give in, if we pay the ransom now, what will happen the next time there’s a disagreement with this president and Congress?”

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass.

Republican leaders in Congress didn’t want to be blamed for shutting down the government. They seemed to persuade President Donald Trump to back away from his threat to do so if he didn’t get funding for his border wall.

The Senate passed a short-term funding measure without his wall money. 

Vice President Mike Pence told lawmakers that Trump was open to approving it 

Then the Fox News Network stepped in

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“I think a lot of people who voted for President Trump counted on him on this particular issue,” Fox & Friends host Jedediah Bila said.

“I think their feet were to the fire. And you see a lot of people around the country saying: ‘Hold on a second. You told us that you weren’t afraid to shut down the government, that’s why we like you. What happened? You just gave in right away?’”

And Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter said: “Trump will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people, amused the populists for a while, but he’ll have no legacy whatsoever.

“Trump will very likely not finish his term and definitely not be elected to a second term.”

For a man who had “joked” that having a “President-for-Life” would be “great,” Coulter’s words were a nightmare.

On December 22, 2018, Trump shut down the government.

An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

And Trump told Congressional leaders the shutdown could last months or even years.

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Donald Trump

For Trump, “the wall” was absolutely necessary—but not to keep illegal aliens out. They would go over, under or around it.

The real intent of the wall was to keep Trump in—the White House. 

Trump’s fanatical base believed that a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border would stop all illegal immigration. And he knew that if he didn’t build it, they wouldn’t re-elect him.

Like Adolf Hitler, who ordered the complete destruction of Germany when he realized his dreams of conquest were over, Trump’s attitude was: “If I can’t rule America, there won’t be an America.”

Among the agencies directly affected by the shutdown: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—whose employees included Secret Service agents.

In short: The men and women guarding Trump were facing financial ruin—along with their families—because Trump didn’t get his way

The effects of the shutdown quickly became evident:  

  • For weeks, hundreds of thousands of government workers missed paychecks.
  • Smithsonian museums closed their doors.
  • Trash piled up in national parks. 
  • Increasing numbers of employees of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)—which provides security against airline terrorism—began refusing to come to work, claiming to be sick.
  • At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) many air traffic controllers called in “sick.” Those who showed up to work without pay grew increasingly frazzled as they feared being evicted for being unable to make rent or house payments. 
  • Due to the shortage of air traffic controllers, many planes weren’t able to land safely at places like New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
  • Many Federal employees—such as FBI agents—were forced to rely on soup kitchens to feed their families.
  • Celebrity chef Jose Andres launched ChefsForFeds, which offered free hot meals for government employees and their families at restaurants across the country. 
  • Many workers tried to bring in money by babysitting or driving for Uber, 

Those employed by the government could at least expect to receive reimbursement for missed pay once the shutdown ended.

The question was: Would they be evicted, need medical care or be unable to pay for food before that happened? 

For Federal contractors, the situation was far worse. 

During the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney pushed to “outsource” many federal responsibilities to private contractors. This was hugely supported by Republicans and even many Democrats.

Now, in the wake of the shutdown, these employees faced a cruel reality: Since they were not Federal employees, they would not be reimbursed for the time they were forced to not work.

Adding insult to injury were the callous remarks of two Trump administration officials.  

“A huge share of government workers were going to take vacation days, say, between Christmas and New Year’s,” said Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

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Kevin Hassett

“And then we have a shutdown, and so they can’t go to work, and so then they have the vacation, but they don’t have to use their vacation days. And then they come back, and then they get their back pay. Then they’re—in some sense, they’re better off.”

Another equally contemptuous remark was offered by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross—a billionaire. Asked on CNBC if he knew that many Federal employees had been reduced to going to food banks, Ross said yes, but he didn’t understand why.

His suggestion: They could just take out a loan.   

LEARNING FROM THE MUNICH DISASTER: PART TWO (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 29, 2019 at 12:51 am

After selling out Czechoslovakia, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to England a hero. Holding aloft a copy of the worthless agreement he had signed with Germany’s dictator, Adolf Hitler, he told cheering crowds in London: “I believe it is peace for our time.”

Neville Chamberlain

Winston Churchill knew better, predicting: “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”

Hitler—still planning more conquests—also knew better. Speaking of the British and French leaders he had intimidated at Munich, he later asserted: “Our enemies are little worms. I saw them at Munich.”

In March, 1939, the German army occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Chamberlain would soon be seen as a naive weakling—even before bombs started falling on London.

Hitler next turned his attention—and demands—to Poland. But, this time, France and Britain refused to be intimidated—and pledged to go to war if Hitler invaded Poland.

Adolf Hitler and his generals

Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939—unintentionally triggering World War II.

In time, historians and statesmen would regard Munich as an object lesson in the futility—and danger—in appeasing evil and aggression.

But for the postwar Republican party, Hitler’s my-way-or-else “negotiating” methods would become standard operating procedure.

President Donald J. Trump used precisely the same “negotiating” style during his December 11, 2018 Oval Office meeting with then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY). 

And, true to his love of publicity, Trump made sure the meeting was televised live.

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Nancy Pelosi

Trump opened with on a positive note: “We’ve actually worked very hard on a couple of things that are happening. Criminal justice reform…[Republican Kentucky U.S. Senator] Mitch McConnell and the group, we’re going to be putting it up for a vote. We have great Democrat support, great Republican support.”

But he soon moved to the matter he truly cared about: Demanding $5.6 billion to create a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border: “And one way or the other, it’s going to get built. I’d like not to see a government closing, a shutdown. We will see what happens over the next short period of time.”

“One way or the other”—“so doer so”—was a favorite phrase of Adolf Hitler’s, meaning: If he couldn’t bully his opponents into surrendering, he would use violence.

PELOSI: “I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown. You have the Senate. You have the House of Representatives. You have the votes. You should pass it right now.”

Trump claimed he could get “Wall” legislation passed in the House but admitted he didn’t have the 60 votes he needed in the Senate.

PELOSI:  “Well, the fact is you can get it started that way.”

Trump then contradicted himself:  “The House we can get passed very easily, and we do.”

PELOSI: “Okay, then do it.”

Trump kept insisting that “the House would give me the vote if I wanted it.” 

PELOSI: “Well, let’s take the vote and we’ll find out.”

SCHUMER: “We do not want to shut down the government. You have called 20 times to shut down the government….We want to come to an agreement. If we can’t come to an agreement, we have solutions that will pass the House and Senate right now, and will not shut down the government. And that’s what we’re urging you to do. Not threaten to shut down the government because you can’t get your way.”

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Charles Schumer

TRUMP:  “We need border security. And I think we all agree that we need border security.”

SCHUMER: “Yes, we do.”

TRUMP: “The wall is a part of border security. You can’t have very good border security without the wall.”

PELOSI: “That’s simply not true. That is a political promise. Border security is a way to effectively honor our responsibilities.”

By “political promise,” Pelosi meant this is was an appeal Trump had made to his hardcore base. which he expected to re-elect him.

SCHUMER: “And the experts say you can do border security without a wall, which is wasteful and doesn’t solve the problem.”

TRUMP: “It totally solves the problem.”

Schumer then goaded Trump into taking responsibility for closing down the government if he didn’t get funding for his border wall.

TRUMP: “I’ll take it. You know what I’ll say: Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other…I will shut down the government. Absolutely.”

Thus, Schumer guaranteed that any government shutdown during the Christmas season would be blamed on Trump.

But Republican leaders in Congress didn’t want to be blamed for shutting down the government. They seemed to persuade him to back away from his threat. The Senate passed a short-term funding measure without Trump’s wall money. 

Vice President Mike Pence told lawmakers that Trump was open to approving it 

Then the Fox News Network stepped in. 

LEARNING FROM THE MUNICH DISASTER: PART ONE (OF FIVE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 28, 2019 at 1:03 am

Robert Payne, author of the bestselling biography, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (1973), described Hitler’s “negotiating” style thus: 

“Although Hitler prized his own talents as a negotiator, a man always capable of striking a good bargain, he was totally lacking in finesse. 

“He was incapable of bargaining.  He was like a man who goes up to a fruit peddler and threatens to blow his brains out if he does not sell his applies at the lowest possible price.” 

By studying Hitler’s mindset and “negotiating” methods, we can learn much about the mindset and “negotiating” style of today’s Republican party.

A classic example of Hitler’s “negotiating style” came in September, 1938, when he focused his rage and aggression on Czechoslovakia. 

Seven months earlier, he had absorbed Austria. He had done so by inviting its Chancellor, Kurt Shuschnigg, to Berlin. Then Hitler threatened Austria with invasion if Shuschnigg did not immediately agree to make his country a vassal-state of Germany.

This time, his threats were aimed at Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Great Britain, and Eduoard Deladier, the prime minister of France. Both countries had pledged to support Czechoslovakia against Hitler’s aggression.

Once again, he opened “negotiations” with a lie: The Czechoslovak government was trying to exterminate 3.5 million Germans living in the “Sudetenland.”

This consisted of the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

Then he followed this up with the threat of war: Germany would protect its citizens and halt such “oppression.”

For British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the thought of another European war erupting less than 20 years after the end of World War I was simply unthinkable.

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The Cenotaph, in London, honoring the unknown British dead of World War 1

Something had to be done to prevent it.  And he believed himself to be just the man to do it.

He quickly sent Hitler a telegram, offering to help resolve the crisis: “I could come to you by air and am ready to leave tomorrow. Please inform me of earliest time you can receive me, and tell me the place of the meeting.  I should be grateful for a very early reply.”

Once again, another head-of-state was prepared to meet Hitler on his home ground. Again, Hitler took this concession as a sign of weakness. And Chamberlain’s use of such words as “please” and “grateful” only further convinced Hitler of another impending triumph.

Chamberlain was determined to grant his every demand—so long as this meant avoiding a second world war.

The two European leaders met in Berchtesgaden, Germany, on September 15, 1938.

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler

During their talks, Chamberlain said he had come to discuss German grievances. But, he added, it was necessary in all circumstances to exclude the use of force.

Hitler appeared to be shocked that he could be accused of such intentions: “Force? Who speaks of force?“

Then, without warning, he switched to an aggressive mode. He accused the Czechs of having mobilized their army in May. They had mobilized—in response to the mobilization of the German army.

“I shall not put up with this any longer,” shouted Hitler. “I shall settle this question in one way or another. I shall take matters in my own hands!”

Suddenly, Chamberlain seemed alarmed—and possibly angry: “If I understood you right, you are determined to proceed against Czechoslovakia in any case. If this is so, why did you let me come to Berchtesgaden?

“In the circumstances, it is best for me to return at once. Anything else now seems pointless.”

Hitler was taken aback by the unexpected show of defiance. He realized he was about to lose his chance to bully the British into accepting his latest demands.

So he softened his tone and said they should consider the Sudetenland according to the principle of self-determination.

Chamberlain said he must immediately return to England to consult with his colleagues.

Hitler appeared uneasy. But then the German translator finished the sentence: “…and then meet you again.”

Hitler realized he still had a chance to attain victory without going to war.

Chamberlain agreed to the cession of the Sudetenland. Three days later, French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier did the same. No Czechoslovak representative was invited to these discussions.

Chamberlain met Hitler again in Godesberg, Germany, on September 22 to confirm the agreements. But Hitler aimed to use the crisis as a pretext for war.

He now demanded not only the annexation of the Sudetenland but the immediate military occupation of the territories. This would give the Czechoslovak army no time to adapt their defense measures to the new borders.

To achieve a solution, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini suggested a conference of the major powers in Munich.

On September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain met and agreed to Mussolini’s proposal. They signed the Munich Agreement, which accepted the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland.

The Czechoslovak government had not been a party to the talks. Nevertheless, it promised to abide by the agreement on September 30.

It actually had no choice. It faced the threat of an immediate German invasion after being deserted by its pledged allies: Britain, France and the Soviet Union. 

FIGHTING FASCISM: A VETERAN SPEAKS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 25, 2019 at 12:08 am

“We must not make the error of thinking that all those who eat the bread of dictatorship are evil from the first, but they must necessarily become evil….One of the vital lessons we must learn from the German disaster is the ease with which a people can be sucked down into the morass of inaction.”

Thus warns Hans Bernd Gisevius—one of the few survivors of the July 20, 1944 bomb attempt on Adolf Hitler.

A covert opponent of the Nazi regime, he served as a liaison in Zurich between the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and German resistance forces in Germany. 

In 1946, he published his autobiography, To the Bitter End, sharply indicting the Reich and its leaders—many of whom Gisevius had known personally. He also condemned the German people, charging that they pretended ignorance of the atrocities being committed.

Hans Bernd Gisevius at Nuremberg

In his introduction, Gisevius notes: “This book is not intended as a history of the Third Reich. The author has selected a few prominent incidents out of the confusion of contemporaneous events and has attempted to use these as points through which to trace the broad curves of the historical process.”

Almost 75 years after the fall of the Third Reich, Gisevius offers invaluable insights into America’s own foray into Fascistic government under President Donald J. Trump.

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Donald Trump

Even more important, he offers concrete suggestions for successfully resisting a Fascist regime.

Ability to Retain Support:  “We have learned that in the political realm abuses are all ultimately punished. But it takes extraordinarily long for the breach to become apparent. As long as dictatorships can produce ‘successes’ and conceal abuses they remain armored against opposition. The masses will not desert them.” 

Attractiveness of Simplicity: “A favorite name for Hitler was ‘the great simplifier.’ This was apt; in spite of the verbosity and clumsiness of his language, he really possessed an astonishing flair for summarizing complicated matters into brief formulas.” 

Corruption of Spirituality: “The Nazis wanted to lock Christianity into a ghetto, and many Christians believed it was their duty to accept this isolation gladly. [Pastor Martin] Niemoeller knew that it must not be accepted.”

Inefficiency a Hallmark of Dictatorships: “Incredible as it sounds, even the chief of the Wehrmacht was not aware of all the contracts that had been let. He obtained virtually no information from the air force or the navy, and the army provided him with only fragmentary information….

“Hitler approved of this procedure. He did not want any coordinating authority to be able to survey the total situation. He preferred conflicts and rivalries because he thought they would speed the tempo of rearmament.”

Responsibility of the Military: “Undoubtedly a small group of generals were at heart earnestly troubled. These men were conscious of a tremendous responsibility: they felt that no command from above, however unequivocal, could erase their responsibility. In fact there was only a minute group of army officers who were, ‘in principle,’ co-conspirators to the Nazi Terror. Most of the officer corps remained ‘neutral,’ both inwardly and outwardly.

“They were part of that irresponsible group of human beings who always seek a secure life without cares and are allured by the prospect of a career. By their excess of passivity our generals, willy-nilly, consciously or unconsciously, became profiteering participants in the Nazi Revolution.”

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Soldiers saluting Adolf Hitler

The Danger of Accommodating Evil: “Let…individuals fall prey to over-cleverness, opportunism or cowardice and they are irrevokably lost. Passive acceptance, intellectual subservience, or, in religious terms, failure to pray against the evil, may constitute a kind of silent support for authoritarian rule.”

Corruptions of Power: “Within a few weeks, the Party leaders and sub-leaders found themselves in positions of power beyond their wildest dreams….They had no professional training. They knew nothing about law. They did not trust the professional officialdom who worked under them. What could they do but extemporize? They simply dictated, in the firm conviction that their subjects would obey.”

Collective Responsibility: “Once that system [of authoritarian rule] has been installed….there is only one course remaining to each individual and to all individuals collectively: To fight the terrorists with the same courage and tenacity, with the same willingness to take risks, that they employ in wartime under ‘orders’ when they fight the ‘enemy.'” 

* * * * * 

In the classic 1969 Western, The Wild Bunch, there’s a scene where Pike Bishop, the leader of the outlaw gang, and his close friend, Dutch Engstrom, face off.

They’re being chased by a posse led by Deke Thornton, a former gang member—who’s threatened with prison if he doesn’t kill them all. 

“Damn that Deke Thornton to Hell!” shouts Engstrom. 

“What would you do in his place?” replies Bishop. “He gave his word!”

“He gave his word to a railroad!”

“It’s his word!”

“That ain’t what counts,” says Engstrom. “It’s who you give it to!”   

“It’s who you give it to.” Those words must constantly be remembered when making a commitment. The person/cause you serve must be worthy of that service.

Otherwise, such virtues as loyalty and courage become meaningless perversions in service to evil.

THE “NEW NORMAL” AND “THE HAPPY TIME”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 24, 2019 at 12:17 am

On January 16, newly-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) gave her maiden speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. 

“It is not normal to hold 800,000 workers’ paychecks hostage. It is not normal to shut down the government when we don’t get what we want,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “And it is certainly not normal to starve the people we serve for a proposal that is wildly unpopular among the American people.”

She was referring to the partial shutdown of the Federal Government ordered by President Donald Trump. Since December 22, an estimated 380,000 government employees have been furloughed and another 420,000 ordered to work without pay.  

The reason: Trump is demanding $5.6 billion to erect a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. And the newly-elected Democratic House of Representatives is refusing to provide it.

And Ocasio-Cortez is right: It isn’t normal behavior for a President to behave like a Mafia extortionist. 

Until, that is, Donald Trump assumed the office.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez standing

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

But, then, Donald Trump warned, during the 2016 Presidential campaign, that “I’m not like other people.”

Once again attacking the nation’s free press, he vowed that, as President, he would “open up those libel laws” so that when the New York Times or the Washington Post “write a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected. 

“With me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people, but I’m not taking money, I’m not taking their money.” 

On August 23, 2018, Trump, as President, offered additional evidence that he’s “not like other people.” He did so by giving an unprecedented reason why he shouldn’t be impeached. 

Appearing on “Fox and Friends,” he said: “I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.”

He didn’t say: “I shouldn’t be impeached because I’m innocent. I didn’t collude with Russian Intelligence to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.” 

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Donald Trump

Instead, he appealed to the greed and fear of his voting base—and no doubt hoped to reach beyond it: “Keep me in power or you’ll all suffer for it.” 

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubtless spoke for millions of Trump supporters when she said, on June 4, 2018:

“Since taking office, the President has strengthened American leadership, security, prosperity, and accountability. And as we saw from Friday’s jobs report, our economy is stronger, Americans are optimistic, and business is booming.”

Many Congressional Republicans have echoed this: The American people care only about the economy—and how well-off they are

For eight years, Nazi Germany underwent such an epoch. Germans called it “The Happy Time.”

It began on January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor—and lasted until June 22, 1941. Germans knew about the Nazis’ cruelty to the Jews, the mass arrests and concentration camps. They didn’t care.

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 Frenzied Germans greet Adolf Hitler

The Gestapo didn’t have to watch everyone: German “patriots” gladly reported their fellow citizens—especially Jews—to the secret police.

As far as everyday Germans were concerned:

  • The streets were clean and peaceful.
  • Employment was high.
  • The trouble-making unions were gone.
  • Germany was once again “taking its rightful place” among ruling nations, after its catastrophic defeat in World War 1.

The height of “The Happy Time” came in June, 1940. In just six weeks, the Wehrmacht  accomplished what the German army hadn’t in four years during World War 1: The total defeat of its longtime enemy, France.

Suddenly, French clothes, perfumes, delicacies, paintings and other “fortunes of war” came pouring into the Fatherland.  

Most Germans believed der Krieg—“the war”—was over, and only good times lay ahead.

Then, on June 22, 1941, three million Wehrmacht soldiers slashed their way into the Soviet Union. The Third Reich was now locked in a death-struggle with a nation even more powerful than itself. 

German soldiers in the Soviet Union

And then, on December 11, 1941—four days after Germany’s ally, Japan, attacked Pearl Harbor—Hitler declared war on the United States. 

“The Happy Time” for Germans was over. Only prolonged disaster lay ahead. 

Donald Trump has spent his life appealing to the greed or fear of those around him. For example: 

  • Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates.
  • After Bondi dropped the Trump University case against Trump, he wrote her a $25,000 check for her re-election campaign. 
  • In 1999, Fred Trump, Donald’s father died. His deceased brother’s family sued Donald, arguing they were originally in the will, but Donald took advantage of his father’s dementia to cut them out of it. He withdrew medical benefits critical to his nephew’s infant son: “I was angry because they sued,” Trump later said in an interview.

The Germans made a devil’s-bargain with Adolf Hitler—and paid dearly for it. 

Millions of greedy Americans have embraced Donald Trump, another would-be tyrant, as America’s economic savior.

By supporting Trump—or at least not opposing him—they have also made a devil’s-bargain. 

And such bargains always end with the devil winning. 

REPUBLICANS: “YOUR VAGINA IS MY BUSINESS”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 23, 2019 at 12:56 am

Forty-six years ago—on January 22, 1973—the United States Supreme Court struck down most of America’s laws banning abortion.

Its decision in Roe v. Wade marked the first time American law recognized the right of a woman to choose whether she wanted to become a mother.

Fittingly, on this date in 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Reproductive Health Act that had just passed the Senate and Assembly. 

The law

  • Allows abortions after the 24-week mark to protect the mother’s health or in cases where the fetus won’t survive.
  • Protects doctors from prosecution by shifting abortion law from the state’s penal code to its health code.
  • Allows physician assistants, nurse practitioners and midwives to provide non-surgical abortion care.

The bill had been introduced to the Assembly in 2007 by Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer. But it had been blocked for 11 years in the Republican-controlled State Senate.

Then, in November, 2018, Democrats overwhelmingly gained control of the Senate.

But since 1980, starting with Ronald Reagan, every “small government” Republican President has tried to force the government into the vagina of every abortion-seeking woman. 

Several factors are responsible for all this fetus fanaticism. 

First, there is an energized constituency for politicians willing to wave this red flag. Almost every major Republican Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan has tapped into this voting bloc. And each has found plenty of votes to be gotten from it.  

Second, many fetus fanatics simply dislike women. They fear and resent the women’s movement, which has given women the right to enter the workforce and compete directly with men.

And what they hate most is the legal right of a woman to avoid becoming pregnant via birth control—or to abort the result of a male’s sperm if they do. They see this as a personal rejection.

The Right is made up overwhelmingly of white males. And many of these men would feel entirely at home with a Christianized version of the Taliban. They long for a world where women meekly cater to their every demand and believe only what their male masters approve for them to believe.

Third, many fetus fanatics are “pro-life” when it comes to fetuses, but hypocritically refuse to support the needs of children from low-income families.

Fourth, many fetus fanatics are “family values” hypocrites.  For example: Representative Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), an anti-abortion, “family values” doctor, had an affair with a patient and later pressured her to get an abortion. He also agreed that his wife should have two abortions.

Fifth, many fetus fanatics feel guilty about their own past sexual transgressions—especially if these resulted in pregnancy. And they want to prevent others from living the same life they did.

Some of these people are well-intentioned.  Even so, they usurp unto themselves a God-like right to intrude on the most intimate decisions for others—regardless of what those people may need or want.  

Sixth, many fetus fanatics embrace contradictory goals. On one hand, most of them claim they want to “get government off the backs of the people.” That usually means allowing corporations to pollute, sell dangerous products and treat their employees as slaves.

On the other hand, they want to empower State and Federal authorities to prevent women from getting an abortion—even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.  

Seventh, many leaders of the fetus fanatics movement are independently wealthy. This means that even if abortion could be outlawed for the vast majority, they could always bribe a willing doctor—-here or abroad—–to perform such an operation on their wife, daughter and/or mistress.  For them, there is always an escape clause.  

Eighth, many fetus fanatics are not truly “pro-life.”  They totally oppose abortion under most—-if not all—circumstances. But they also fully support:

  • making military-style assault weapons available to nutcases;
  • capital punishment;
  • going to war for almost any reason;
  • wholesale massacres of wildlife;
  • despoiling of the environment; and
  • even nuclear war.

And many of those who fanatically defend the right of a fetus to emerge from the womb just as fanatically oppose welfare for those who can’t support that newborn.

Ninth, many fetus fanatics believe that since their religion teaches that abortion is wrong, they have a moral duty to enforce that belief on others.

Evangelical Christians harshly condemn Muslims—such as those in Afghanistan—for segregating women, forbidding them to drive and forcing them to wear burqas—black robes covering them from head to foot.

Taliban: Islam’s version of the “Right-to-Life” movement

But while they condemn Islamics for their general intolerance of others’ religious beliefs, they lust to impose their own upon those who belong to other churches. Or who belong to no church at all.

Tenth, many fetus fanatics are just as opposed to birth control as they are to abortion. Thus, when Georgia University law student Sandra Fluke asked Congress to require insurance companies to cover birth control, Rush Limbaugh branded her a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

* * * * *

It’s time to face the blunt truth: A “Conservative Victory,” as the title of Sean Hannity’s book puts it, would impose an anti-women Taliban on America.

AMERICA IS STILL IN THE DOCK WITH GERMANY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on January 22, 2019 at 12:04 am

In his bestselling 1973 biography, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, British historian Robert Payne harshly condemned the German people for the rise of the Nazi dictator.

“[They] allowed themselves to be seduced by him and came to enjoy the experience….[They] followed him with joy and enthusiasm because he gave them license to pillage and murder to their hearts’ content. They were his servile accomplices, his willing victims….

“If he answered their suppressed desires, it was not because he shared them, but because he could make use of them. He despised the German people, for they were merely the instruments of his will.”

On November 8, 2016, millions of ignorant, hate-filled, Right-wing Americans elected Donald Trump—a man reflecting their own hate and ignorance—to the Presidency.

Yet, in some ways, Americans had fewer excuses for turning to a Fascistic style of government than the Germans did.

Adolf Hitler, joined the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party in 1919—the year after World War 1 ended.

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Adolf Hitler

In 1923, he staged a coup attempt in Bavaria—which was quickly and brutally put down by police. He was arrested and sentenced to less than a year in prison.

After that, Hitler decided that winning power through violence was no longer an option. He must win it through election—or appointment.

When the 1929 Depression struck Germany, the fortunes of Hitler’s Nazi party rose as the life savings of ordinary Germans fell. Streets echoed with bloody clashes between members of Hitler’s Nazi Stormtroopers and those of the German Communist Party.

Germans desperately looked for a leader—a Fuhrer—who could somehow deliver them from the threat of financial ruin and Communist takeover.

In early 1933, members of his own cabinet persuaded aging German president, Paul von Hindenburg, that only Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor could do this.

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Paul von Hindenburg

Hindenburg was reluctant to do so. He considered Hitler a dangerous radical. But he let himself be convinced that he could “box in” and control Hitler by putting him in the Cabinet.

So, on January 30, 1933, Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor (the equivalent of Attorney General) of Germany.

On August 2, 1934, Hindenburg died. Hitler immediately assumed the titles—and duties—of the offices of Chancellor and President. His rise to total power was complete.

It had taken him 14 years to do so.

In 2015, Donald Trump declared his candidacy for President.

Now, consider this:

  • The country was technically at war in the Middle East—but the fate of the United States was not truly threatened, as it had been during the Civil War.
  • There was no draft; if you didn’t know someone in the military, you didn’t care about the casualties taking place.
  • Nor were these conflicts—in Iraq and Afghanistan—imposing domestic shortages on Americans, as World War II had.
  • Thanks to government loans from President Barack Obama, American capitalism had been saved from its own excesses during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Employment was up. CEOs were doing extremely well.
  • In contrast to the corruption that had plagued the administration of Ronald Reagan, whom Republicans idolize, there had been no such scandals during the Obama Presidency.
  • Nor had there been any large-scale terrorist attacks on American soil—as there had on 9/11 under President George W. Bush.

Yet—not 17 months after announcing his candidacy for President—enough Americans fervently embraced Donald Trump to give him the most powerful position in the country and the world.

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Donald Trump

The message of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign had been one of hope: “Yes, We Can!”

That of Donald Trump’s campaign was one of hatred toward everyone who was not an avid Trump supporter: “No, You Can’t!”

Whites comprised the overwhelming majority of the audiences at Trump rallies. Not all were racists, but many of those who were advertised it on T-shirts: “MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN.”

Birthrates among non-whites were rising. By 2045, whites would make up less than 50 percent of the American population.

The 2008 election of the first black President had shocked whites. His 2012 re-election had deprived them of the hope that 2008 had been an accident.

Then came 2016—and the possibility that a black President might actually be followed by a woman: Hillary Clinton.

Since Trump became President, he has:

  • Fired an FBI director for investigating Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Attacked Federal judges whose rulings displeased him.
  • So tyrannized his staffers that 43% of them have abandoned him.
  • Repeatedly and enthusiastically defended Vladimir Putin, the dictator of Russia, America’s mortal enemy.
  • Attacked and alienated America’s oldest allies, such as Canada and Great Britain.
  • Spoken admiringly of Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen.
  • Been sued by a porn star.
  • Shut down the United States Government, imperiling the lives of 800,000 Federal employees, to extort money from Congress for a worthless wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • “Joked” that the United States—like China—should have a “President-for-Life.”
  • Attacked the free press as “the enemy of the people.” 
  • Used his position as President to further enrich himself, in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

All of this should be remembered the next time an American blames Germans for their embrace of Adolf Hitler.

GOD MAY FORGIVE, BUT THE TRUTH DOESN’T

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 21, 2019 at 12:37 am

For five years, Donald Trump falsely claimed that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya—and was therefore ineligible to be President.

Now Trump finds himself haunted by something far worse than a slander: The truth.

Since taking office on January 20, 2017, Trump has been ensnared in a series of revelations about collaboration between members of his 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.

The FBI, CIA and National Security Agency have unequivocally stated that Russian Intelligence played a major role in trying to sway the election for Trump.

Trump has steadfastly denied it.

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June, 2016: Trump’s son, Donald Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, met at Trump Tower with Russian Intelligence agents. The reason for the meeting: The Russians claimed to have “dirt” to offer on Hillary Clinton.

May 9, 2017:  Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey had been leading an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump advisers and Russian officials when he was fired.

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James Comey

At first, Trump claimed that he fired Comey for mishandling the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. 

May 10, 2017: But, in a meeting at the White House, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

During that meeting, Trump gave these officials highly classified Israeli Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.

May 11, 2017: In an interview with NBC reporter Lester Holt, Trump admitted:

“And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’” 

May 17, 2017: Following the uproar over Comey’s firing, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate any links between the Russian government and Trump campaign members.

July 8, 2017: The New York Times reported that Donald Trump Junior met at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised to offer damaging information about Clinton.

Trump Junior released a statement: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”

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Donald Trump

July 12 and July 16, 2017: Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, denied that the President was involved in drafting his son’s statement about the Trump Tower meeting.

July 20, 2017: The Washington Post reported that Trump was consulting with advisers “about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection to the probe led by Mueller.

July 31, 2017: The Washington Post reported that, to conceal the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting, President Trump dictated a misleading statement for his son.  In this, the reason for the meeting was given as a discussion about the adoption of Russian children—and not to obtain damaging information on Clinton from Russian Intelligence agents.

August 1, 2017: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump was involved in drafting the false statement that Trump Junior released about the Trump Tower meeting. Sanders called the matter “of no consequence.”

August 3, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller had convened a grand jury in Washington, D.C. to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. 

October 5, 2017: George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government in 2016 concerning U.S.–Russia relations. He also agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe. Papadopoulos had been a member of Trump’s foreign policy advisory panel during the campaign. Prior to pleading guilty, he may have been wearing a hidden recorder while speaking with various Trump officials.

December 1, 2017: Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russia’s ambassador. He added that he was cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. A fervent Trump supporter throughout the campaign, his immediate superior had been Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. 

July 16, 2018: Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

There he blamed American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—instead of Putin for Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election: “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

By October, 2018, Robert Mueller had:

  • Indicted 31 people—including 26 Russian nationals and four former Trump campaign advisers.
  • Indicted three Russian companies. 
  • Obtained six guilty pleas.
  • Unveiled Russians’ determination to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton.
  • Revealed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing sanctions against Russia with then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period. 
  • Discovered that Trump associates knew about Russian outreach efforts during the campaign.

For years, Trump claimed it was only a matter of time before “the truth” revealed that Barack Obama was ineligible to be President.  That never happened.

Now it seems only a matter of time before truth reveals Trump’s own unfitness to govern.

A LOST LEGACY: GOVERNMENT BY RATIONALITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 18, 2019 at 12:17 am

Fifty-five years ago, on November 22, 1963, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that JFK left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmospheric testing—and poisoning—by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon—in 1969—Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration. For America, as for JFK, beating the Russians to the moon was the end-goal.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war. 

But there was a fourth legacy—and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War. And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

Since December 22, 2018, President Donald J. Trump shut down the Federal Government because Democrats would not agree to spending $5.6 on a symbolic “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. As a result, 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

By January 13, 2019, the shutdown had reached its 22nd day.

President Kennedy insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press. These journalistic contacts gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.” Thus he excused his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (and now Secretary of Energy) showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you—I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Court judges. And, uh, ah—

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.   

And President Donald Trump has gone even further—attacking the free press as “the enemy of America” for exposing his lies and criminality. 

His senior adviser, Kelleyanne Conway, set the tone of his administration’s approach to the truth right at the outset. Asked why then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, Conway replied: 

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving—Sean Spicer, our press secretary—gave alternative facts.” 

“Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods,” Chuck Todd, the moderator on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” properly responded.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences. Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Republicans attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resented his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump infamously chortled after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

And, that November, “the poorly educated” elected him President. He is their ideal of what a President should be.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.

It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

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