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PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED AND THE IGNORED: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 28, 2021 at 12:13 am

American Presidents—like politicians everywhere–strive to be loved. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, even the vilest dictators want to believe they are virtuous—and that their goodness is rewarded by the love of their subjects.

Second, it’s universally recognized that a leader who’s beloved has greater clout than one who isn’t. 

PERCEIVED WEAKNESS INVITES CONTEMPT

But those—like Barack Obama—who strive to avoid conflict often get treated with contempt and hostility by their adversaries.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling.

Barack Obama

In Renegade: The Making of a President, Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s successful 2008 bid for the White House. Among his revelations:

Obama, a believer in rationality and decency, felt more comfortable in responding to attacks on his character than in attacking the character of his enemies.

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama was one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.

Yet he failed to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science:

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.

This explains why Obama found most of his legislative agenda stymied by Republicans.

For example: In 2014, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY.) sought to block David Barron, Obama’s nominee to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rand Paul

Paul objected to Barron’s authoring memos that justified the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011.

The target was Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric notorious on the Internet for encouraging Muslims to attack the United States.

Paul demanded that the Justice Department release the memos Barron crafted justifying the drone policy.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Imagine how Republicans would depict Paul—or any Democratic Senator—who did the same with a Republican President: “Rand Paul: A traitor who supports terrorists. He sides with America’s sworn enemies against its own lawfully elected President.”

But Obama did nothing of the kind.

(On May 22, 2014, the Senate voted 53–45 to confirm Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.)

USING TOO MUCH FEAR CAN BACKFIRE

But Presidents—like Donald Trump—who seek to rule primarily by fear can encounter their own limitations. 

During a 2016 interview, he told legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward: “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.”

As both a Presidential candidate and President, Trump repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him.

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Donald Trump

The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

As President, he aimed outright hatred at President Obama. He spent much of his Presidency trying to destroy Obama’s signature legislative achievement: The Affordable Care Act, which provides access to medical care to millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

Trump also refused to reach beyond the narrow base of white, racist, ignorant, hate-filled, largely rural voters who had elected him.

And he bullied and insulted even White House officials and his own handpicked Cabinet officers. Trump:

  • Waged a Twitter-laced feud against Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General. Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • Repeatedly humiliated Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, 2017, Priebus resigned.
  • Tongue-lashed Priebus’ replacement, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. Trump was reportedly angered by Kelly’s efforts to limit the number of advisers who had unrestricted access to him. Kelly told colleagues he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of military service—and would not tolerate it again.

If Trump ever read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, he had clearly forgotten this passage:

“Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time….Whoever acts otherwise….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.”

And this one:

“Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred.”

On that point alone, Trump proved an absolute failure. He not only committed outrages, he boasted about them. He aroused both fear and hatred.

Or, as Cambridge Professor of Divinity William Ralph Inge put it: “A man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he can’t sit on it.”

Trump nevertheless tried—and paid the price for it. On November 3, 2020, 81,255,933 fed-up voters evicted him for former Vice President Joe Biden.

And despite committing a series of illegal actions to remain in office, he stayed evicted.

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED AND THE IGNORED: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 27, 2021 at 12:05 am

Is it better to be loved or feared?

That was the question Florentine statesman Niccolo Machiavelli raised more than 500 years ago.

Presidents have struggled to answer this question—and have come to different conclusions.

LOVE ME, FEAR MY BROTHER

Most people felt irresistibly drawn to John F. Kennedy (1961-63). Even his political foe, Henry Luce, the conservative publisher of Time, once said, “He makes me feel like a whore.”

But JFK could afford to bask in the love of others—because his younger brother, Robert, was the one who inspired fear.

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

He had done so as Chief Counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee (1957-59), grilling Mafia bosses and corrupt union officials—most notably Teamsters President James Hoffa.

Appointed Attorney General by JFK, he unleashed the FBI and the IRS on the Mafia. When the steel companies colluded in an inflationary rise in the price of steel in 1962, Bobby sicced the FBI on them.

In 1963, JFK’s cavorting with Ellen Rometsh threatened to destroy his Presidency. Rometsch, a Washington, D.C. call girl, was suspected by the FBI of being an East German spy.

With Republican Senators preparing to investigate the rumors, Bobby ordered Rometsch—a German citizen—deported immediately.

BEING LOVED AND FEARED

In the 1993 movie, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) asks his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri): “Is it better to be loved or feared?”

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Sonny gives advice to his adopted son, Calogero

Sonny says if he had to choose, he would rather be feared. But he adds a warning straight out of Machiavelli: “The trick is not being hated. That’s why I treat my men good, but not too good.

“I give too much, then they don’t need me. I give them just enough where they need me, but they don’t hate me.”

Machiavelli, writing in The Prince, went further:

“Still a Prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred, for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together.”

Many who quote Machiavelli in defense of being feared overlook this vital point: It’s essential to avoid becoming hated.

To establish a fearful reputation, a leader must act decisively and ruthlessly when the interests of the organization are threatened. Punitive action must be taken promptly and confidently.

One or two such actions can inspire more fear than a reign of terror.

In fact, it’s actually dangerous to constantly employ cruelties or punishments. Whoever does so, warns Machiavelli, “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.”

The 20th century President who came closest to realizing Machiavelli’s “loved and feared” prince in himself was Ronald Reagan (1981-1989).

Always smiling, quick with a one-liner (especially at press conferences), seemingly unflappable, he projected a constantly optimistic view of his country and its citizens.

Ronald Reagan

In his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention he declared: “[The Democrats] say that the United States…has passed its zenith. My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.”

But there was a steely, ruthless side to Reagan that appeared when he felt crossed.

On August 3, 1981, nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers walked out after contract talks with the Federal Aviation Administration collapsed. As a result, some 7,000 flights across the country were canceled on that day at the peak of the summer travel season.

Reagan branded the strike illegal. He threatened to fire any controller who failed to return to work within 48 hours.

On August 5, Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who hadn’t returned to work. The mass firing slowed commercial air travel, but it did not cripple the system as the strikers had forecast.

Reagan’s action stunned the American labor movement. Reagan was the only American President to have belonged to a union, the Screen Actors Guild. He had even been president of this—from 1947 to 1954.

There were no more strikes by Federal workers during Reagan’s tenure in office.

Similarly, Libya’s dictator, Moammar Kadaffi, learned that Reagan was not a man to cross.

On April 5, 1986, Libyan agents bombed a nightclub in West Berlin, killing three people, one a U.S. serviceman. The United States quickly learned that Libyan agents in East Germany were behind the attack.

On April 15, acting on Reagan’s orders, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps bombers struck at several sites in Tripoli and Benghazi. Reportedly, Kaddafi himself narrowly missed becoming a casualty.

There were no more acts of Libyan terrorism against Americans for the rest of Reagan’s term.

PERCEIVED WEAKNESS INVITES CONTEMPT

American Presidents—like politicians everywhere–strive to be loved. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, even the vilest dictators want to believe they are good people—and that their goodness is rewarded by the love of their subjects.

Second, it’s universally recognized that a leader who’s beloved has greater clout than one who isn’t. 

But those—like Barack Obama—who strive to avoid conflict often get treated with contempt and hostility by their adversaries.

PRESIDENTS: THE LOVED, THE FEARED AND THE IGNORED: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 26, 2021 at 12:25 am

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, wrote his infamous book, The Prince. This may well be its most-quoted part:

“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….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. For the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service. 

“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.”

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

So—which is better: To be feared or loved?

In the 1993 film, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) poses that question to his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri).

“That’s a good question,” Sonny replies. “It’s nice to be both, but it’s very difficult. But if I had my choice, I would rather be feared.

“Fear lasts longer than love. Friendships that are bought with money mean nothing. You see how it is around here. I make a joke, everybody laughs. I know I’m funny, but I’m not that funny. It’s fear that keeps them loyal to me.”

Presidents face the same dilemma as Mafia capos—and resolve it in their own ways.

LOVE ME BECAUSE I NEED TO BE LOVED

Bill Clinton (1993-2001) believed that he could win over his self-appointed Republican enemies through his sheer charm.

Part of this lay in self-confidence: He had won the 1992 and 1996 elections by convincing voters that “I feel your pain.”

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Bill Clinton

And part of it lay in his need to be loved. He once said that if he were in a room with 100 people and 99 of them liked him but one didn’t, he would spend all his time with that one person, trying to win him over.

But while he could charm voters, he could not bring himself to retaliate against his sworn Republican enemies.

On April 19, 1995, Right-wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh drove a truck–packed with 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and nitromethane–to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The explosion killed 168 people, including 19 children in the day care center on the second floor, and injured 684 others.

Suddenly, Republicans were frightened. Since the end of World War II, they had vilified the very Federal Government they belonged to. They had deliberately courted the Right-wing militia groups responsible for the bombing.

So Republicans feared Clinton would now turn their decades of hate against them.

They need not have worried. On April 23, Clinton presided over a memorial service for the victims of the bombing. He gave a moving eulogy—without condemning the hate-filled Republican rhetoric that had at least indirectly led to the slaughter.

Clinton further sought to endear himself to Republicans by:

  • Adopting NAFTA—the Republican-sponsored North American Free Trade Act, which later proved so devastating to American workers;
  • Siding with Republicans against poor Americans on welfare; and
  • Championing the gutting of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, which barred investment banks from commercial banking activities.

The result: Republicans believed Clinton was weak—and could be rolled.

In 1998, House Republicans moved to impeach him over a sex scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But his Presidency survived when the Senate refused to convict.

LOVE ME BECAUSE I’LL HURT YOU IF YOU DON’T

Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969) wanted desperately to be loved.

Once, he complained to Dean Acheson, the former Secretary of State under Harry S. Truman, about the ingratitude of American voters. He had passed far more legislation than his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, and yet Kennedy remained beloved, while he, Johnson, was not.

Why was that? Johnson demanded.

“You are not a very likable man,” said Acheson truthfully.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson tried to force his subordinates love him. He would humiliate a man, then give him an expensive gift—such a Cadillac. It was his way of binding the man to him.

He was on a first-name basis with J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI. He didn’t hesitate to request—and get—raw FBI files on his political opponents.

On at least one occasion, he told members of his Cabinet: No one would dare walk out on his administration—because if they did, two men would follow their ass to the end of the earth: Mr. J. Edgar Hoover and the head of the Internal Revenue Service.

THE SIX DEADLY FLAWS IN “OBAMACARE”: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on March 2, 2017 at 12:11 am

President Barack Obama was often accused of playing ruthless “Chicago politics” by his Republican enemies. But Obama’s biggest mistake lay not in cynicism but misplaced idealism.

Obama Mistake No. 5: Believing that public and private employers would voluntarily comply with the law.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers to provide insurance for part-time employees who work more than 30 hours per week. Yet many employers claimed–without having to offer proof–that they couldn’t afford it.

So they limited part-time workers’ hours to 29 per week instead.

Obama was clearly surprised at this. But he shouldn’t have been.

Greed-fueled businessmen always try to avoid complying with the law–or achieve minimum compliance with it.

The Act doesn’t penalize companies for not providing health insurance coverage for part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours.

Predictably, employers:

  • Moved fulltime workers into part-time positions;
  • Refused to provide their employees with medical insurance; and
  • Avoided fines for non-compliance with the law.

Some employers openly showed their contempt for President Obama–and the idea that employers have any obligation to those who make their profits a reality.

One was John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, who said:

  • The prices of his pizzas would go up–by 11 to 14 cents per pizza, or 15 to 20 cents per order; and
  • He would pass along these costs to his customers.

 John Schnatter

“If Obamacare is in fact not repealed,” he told Politico, “we will find tactics to shallow out any Obamacare costs and core strategies to pass that cost onto consumers in order to protect our shareholders’ best interests.”

Thus, President Obama should have required all employers to provide insurance coverage for all of their employees, regardless of their fulltime or part-time status.  

This would have produced two substantial benefits:

  1. All employees would have been able to obtain medical coverage; and
  2. Employers would have been encouraged to provide fulltime positions rather than part-time ones.

Employers would thus feel: “I’m paying for fulltime insurance coverage, so I should be getting fulltime work in return.”

If Obama considered this option, he decided against pressing for it.

Obama Mistake No. 6: Failing to closely study his proposed legislation.

Throughout his campaign to win support for the ACA, Obama had repeatedly promised: “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.”

But the 906 pages of the law held a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.

The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans–so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law.

If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain coverage that did.

But many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.

Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare–charged and ridiculed as a liar.

Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show,” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise.

Jon Stewart

The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor. Since we can’t, you must be a liar.

All of which points to a final warning offered by Niccolo Machiavelli: Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil….  

Former Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said that, if she were elected, she would seek incremental changes in the ACA. That possibility became moot when she lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, wants a single-payer plan.

A single-payer plan would prove simpler and more comprehensive than the ACA. But the chances of its passing a Republican-dominated Congress are absolutely zero.

The election of Donald Trump seems to have finally doomed the ACA–except for one thing: Since it became law, in 2010, 22 million Americans who had never before obtained healthcare insurance now have it.

This includes even Republicans who voted for Trump–without realizing they would be losing their only tie to medical care.  And now many of them are finally realizing this truth.

Thus, Republicans in the House and Senate now find themselves besieged by angry constituents at town hall meetings.

These Republicans care nothing for Americans who would be left without medical care. But they do care about their own futures–as members of Congress.

This has led to three schisms among Republicans:

  • Those who still demand the complete repeal of “Obamacare.”
  • Those who want the Act repealed and then replaced with an entirely different healthcare plan–which Republicans have yet to agree on. Developing this could literally take years–during which time former ACA members would have no insurance.
  • Those who want Republicans to first create an alternative healthcare plan, win its Congressional approval, and then repeal the Act.

Republicans expect Democrats to sign on with their “Obamacare replacement plan.” But Democrats have made it clear: “You repeal it, you’re on your own in replacing it.”

Republicans spent eight years demanding the repeal of “Obamacare.” But now they fear that its repeal will lead to the repeal of their own political ambitions.

THE SIX DEADLY FLAWS IN “OBAMACARE”: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on March 1, 2017 at 12:26 am

President Barack Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans.

But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction. At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and re-read what Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:

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

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.

Finally, warns Machiavelli, a leader should not allow a threat to go unchecked. The motive for this is usually the hope of avoiding conflict  And the result is usually catastrophe.

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.

For Obama, such a moment came in 2011, when House Republicans threatened to to destroy the credit rating of the United States unless the President agreed to scrap Obamacare.

Obama, a former attorney, heatedly denounced House Republicans for “extortion” and “blackmail.”

Unless he was exaggerating, both of these are felony offenses that are punishable under the 2001 USA Patriot Act and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970.

Among the crimes that can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys under RICO: Extortion.  

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”  

And if President Obama didn’t believe that RICO was sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have ordered the Justice Department to cite the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11.

In Section 802, among the behaviors that are defined as domestic terrorism: “Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

Activities such as threatening to destroy the financial stability of the United States.

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place. President Obama could have directed the Justice Department to apply them.

If violations had been discovered, indictments could have quickly followed–and then prosecutions. The results of such action could be easily predicted:

  • Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would have first had to lawyer-up.
  • This would have imposed huge monetary costs on them, since good criminal attorneys don’t come cheap.
  • Obsessed with their personal survival, they would have had little time to engage in more of the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted. In fact, doing so would have only made their convictions more likely.
  • Those Republicans who hadn’t (yet) been indicted would have feared; “I could be next.” This would have produced a chilling effect on their willingness to engage in further acts of subversion and extortion.
  • The effect on Right-wing Republicans would have been the same as that of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers: “You cross me and threaten the security of this nation at your own peril.”

It would no doubt have been a long time before Republicans dared to engage in such behavior–at least, while Obama held office.

So: Why didn’t President Obama act to punish such criminal conduct?

Obama Mistake No. 4: He allowed himself to be cowed by his enemies.

In The Prince, Machiavelli laid out the qualities that a successful ruler should avoid–

He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute–which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger….  

–and possess: 

As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.

Niccolo Machiavelli

On July 2, 2013, the Treasury Department announced a major change in the application of the Affordable Care Act:

“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively…We have listened to your feedback.  And we are taking action.

“The Administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin.”  

And the Republican response?

On July 30, 2013, House Republicans voted to sue the President for failing to enforce the Affordable Care Act–which they had voted 54 times to repeal, delay or change.

As Machiavelli warned: Timidity invites contempt–and aggression.

THE SIX DEADLY FLAWS IN “OBAMACARE”: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 28, 2017 at 12:13 am

Barack Obama was easily one of the most highly educated Presidents in United States history. He is a graduate of Columbia University (B.A. in political science in 1983).

In 1988, he entered Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude–“with great honor”–in 1991.

He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, and president of the journal in his second year.

President Barack Obama

He then taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years–as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004.

Yet, his signature plan to give every American access to healthcare, the Affordable Care Act–universally known as “Obamacare”–remains stricken with dangerous flaws.

So where did he go wrong?

Several ways–in all, at least six.

Obama Mistake No. 1: Putting off what people wanted while concentrating on what they didn’t.

Obama started off well when he took office. Americans had high expectations of him. This was partly due to his being the first black to be elected President.

And it was partly due to the disastrous legacies of needless war and financial catastrophe left by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama entered office intending to reform the American healthcare system, to make medical care available to all citizens, and not just the richest.  But that was not what the vast majority of Americans wanted him to concentrate his energies on.

With the lost of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, Americans wanted Obama to find new ways to create jobs. This was especially true for the 11.1 million unemployed, or those employed only part-time.

Jonathan Alter, who writes sympathetically about the President in The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, candidly states this.

But Obama chose to spend most of his first year as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which would soon become known as Obamacare–through Congress.

The results were:

  • Those desperately seeking employment felt the President didn’t care about them.
  • The reform effort became a lightning rod for Right-wing groups like the Koch-brothers-financed Tea Party.
  • In 2010, a massive Rightist turnout cost the Democrats the House of Representatives, and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.

Obama Mistake No. 2: He underestimated the amount of opposition he would face to the ACA.

For all of Obama’s academic brilliance and supposed ruthlessness as a “Chicago politician,” he displayed an incredible naivety in dealing with his political opposition.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Florentine statesman and father of modern politics, could have warned him of the consequences of this–through the pages ofThe Prince, his infamous treatise on the realities of politics.

Niccolo Machiavelli

And either Obama skipped those chapters or ignored their timeless advice for political leaders.

He should have started with Chapter Six: “Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One’s Own Arms and Ability”:

…There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.  

For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.  

This proved exactly the case with the proposed Affordable Care Act.

Its supporters–even when they comprised a majority of the Congress–have always shown far less fervor than its opponents.

This was true before the Act became effective on March 23, 2010. And it has remained true since, with House Republicans voting more than 60 times to repeal, delay or revise the law.

So before President Obama launched his signature effort to reform the American medical system, he should have taken this truism into account.

Obama Mistake No. 3: Failing to consider–and punish–the venom of his political enemies.  

The ancient Greeks used to say: “A man’s character is his fate.”  It was Obama’s character–and America’s fate–that he was by nature a man of conciliation, not conflict.

Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s winning of the White House in his 2009 book, Renegade: The Making of a President. He noted that Obama was always more comfortable when responding to Republican attacks on his character than he was in making attacks on his enemies.

President Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans.

But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction. At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and re-read what Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:

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

SCRAPPING–OR REVISING–OBAMACARE: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 9, 2016 at 12:04 am

Barack Obama is one of one of the most highly educated Presidents to occupy the White House.

When he took office, he intended to make healthcare available to all Americans–and not just the wealthiest 1%.

President Barack Obama

But he made a series of deadly mistakes:

  • In crafting the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare);
  • In building public support for it; In underestimating the venom and opposition of his Right-wing enemies;
  • In underestimating the opposition of the business community in complying with the law; and
  • In allowing himself to be cowed by his political enemies.

Obama is by nature a supreme rationalist and conciliator–not a rough-and-tumble street fighter.  

And his career before becoming President in 2008–or even the United States Senator from Illinois in 2004–greatly strengthened this predisposition.  

From 1985 to 1988, Obama worked as a community organizer, setting up a job-training program, a college preparatory tutoring program and a tenants’ rights organization.  

Such activities demand skills in building consensus, not confrontation.

He then taught at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years–as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, teaching Constitutional law.  

File:Medium chicagoreflection.jpg

University of Chicago Law School

Law professors spend their time in clean, civil classrooms–far removed from the rough-and tumble of criminal defense/prosecution.

If Obama had accused President George W. Bush of conspiring with Al Qaeda–as Republicans have repeatedly accused Obama–retribution would have been swift and brutal.  

(On March 10, 2003, nine days before Bush ordered the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the country music band, the Dixie Chicks, told a London concert audience: “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”  

(A Republican-approved boycott of Dixie Chicks music followed, as well as death threats  DJs refused to play their music, and President Bush refused to criticize the KGB-like tactics of his Right-wing supporters.) 

 Natalie Maines, left, of the Dixie Chicks 

But Obama could not–or would not–bring himself to attack his sworn enemies by attacking their own patriotism or invoking Federal criminal statutes against their extortionate and terrorist threats.  

In short: Obama–who believes in reason and conciliation–paid the price for allowing his sworn enemies to insult and obstruct him.

Obama Mistake No. 6: Failing to closely study his proposed legislation.

Throughout his campaign to win support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Obama had repeatedly promised: “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.  Period.”  

But, hidden in the 906 pages of the law, was a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.

The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans–so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law.

If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain coverage that did.

It soon soon turned out that many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.

Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare–charged and ridiculed as a liar. Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show,” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise. 

Jon Stewart

The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor; since we can’t, you must be a liar.  

As a result, the President found his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–shattered.  

All of which points to a final warning offered by Niccolo Machiavelli:

Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil….  

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that, if she’s elected President, she will push for incremental changes in the ACA.  

Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has called for the implementation of a single-payer plan. This, in effect, would accomplish what Republicans have spent the last seven years trying to do: Repeal “Obamacare.”  

A single-payer plan would prove simpler and more comprehensive than the ACA. But the chances of its passing a Republican-dominated Congress are absolutely zero.  

The passage of the ACA was–as the Duke of Wellington said of Waterloo–“a damned, close-run thing.”

Right-wingers like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin flat-out lied that the ACA would create “death panels.” And millions of reactionaries, furious that a black man now occupied the Oval Office, eagerly believed it.

When Democratic politicians organized town meetings for public discussion of the Act, Rightist hooligans often used violence to break them up.

Republicans remained silent while President George W. Bush lied the nation into a bloody, budget-busting war in Iraq. But they have repeatedly damned the ACA as a lethal drain on the American taxpayer.  

Thus, any changes to come in the ACA will have to come as Hillary Clinton proposes, on an incremental basis.

The only thing that can be said with certainty about the ACA is this:

If any Republican wins the Presidency in 2016, the Republican-dominated House and Senate will send him legislation decreeing the death of affordable healthcare for all Americans.  And he will of course sign it.

REVISING–OR SCRAPPING–OBAMACARE: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics on February 8, 2016 at 12:15 am

On July 2, 2013, the Treasury Department announced a major change in the application of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more popularly known as “Obamacare”:  

“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively…We have listened to your feedback.  And we are taking action.  

“The Administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin.” 

[Boldface in the original document.]  

In short: The administration allowed employers an additional year to refuse providing healthcare to their employees–or to face fines for not doing so.  

And how did Obama’s self-declared enemies react to this effort at compromise?

On July 30, 2013, House Republicans voted to proceed with a lawsuit against the President–for failing to enforce the Affordable Care Act.

“In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement.

“That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

John Boehner

Thus, Boehner intended to sue the President to enforce the law that the House had voted 54 times to repeal, delay or change.

Obama Mistake No. 5: Believing that public and private employers would voluntarily comply with the law.  

The ACA requires employers to provide insurance for part-time employees who work more than 30 hours per week. Yet many government employers claim they can’t afford it–and have thus limited part-time workers’ hours to 29 per week instead.  

Among those states affected:

  • “Our choice was to cut the hours or give [employees] health care, and we could not afford the latter,” Dennis Hanwell, the Republican mayor of Medina, Ohio, said in an interview with The New York Times.  
  • Lawrence County, in western Pennsylvania, reduced the limit for part-time employees to 28 hours a week, from 32.  
  • In Virginia, part-time state employees are generally not allowed to work more than 29 hours a week on average over a 12-month period.  

President Obama and those who crafted the Act may have been surprised at what happened.  But they shouldn’t have been.

Greed-addicted officials will always seek ways to avoid complying with the law–or achieve minimum compliance with it. And what goes for public employers goes for private ones, too.

The Act doesn’t penalize a company for failing to provide health insurance coverage for part-time employees who work fewer than 30 hours.  

The result was predictable. And its consequences are daily becoming more clear:

  • Increasing numbers of employers are moving fulltime workers into part-time positions; 
  • Refusing to provide their employees with medical insurance; and
  • Avoiding fines for non-compliance with the law.

Some employers have openly shown their contempt for President Obama–and the idea that employers have an obligation to those who make their profits a reality.

One of these is John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, who has been quoted as saying:

  • The prices of his pizzas will go up–by 11 to 14 cents per pizza, or 15 to 20 cents per order; and
  • He will pass along these costs to his customers.  

 John Schnatter

“If Obamacare is in fact not repealed,” he told Politico, “we will find tactics to shallow out any Obamacare costs and core strategies to pass that cost onto consumers in order to protect our shareholders’ best interests.”  

If President Obama were truly a student of Realpolitick, he would have predicted that most businesses would try to avoid compliance with the ACA.  

And the remedy would have been simple: Require all employers to provide insurance coverage for all of their employees, regardless of their fulltime or part-time status.  

This, in turn, would have produced two substantial benefits:

  1. All employees would have been able to obtain medical coverage; and
  2. Employers would have been encouraged to provide fulltime positions rather than part-time ones.  

The reason: Employers would feel: “Since I’m paying for fulltime insurance coverage, I should be getting fulltime work in return.”  

If the President ever considered the merits of this, he decided against pressing for such a requirement.

Obama is one of the most rational and educated men to occupy the White House. So why did he fail to expect the worst in people–especially his self-declared enemies–and arrange to counter it?

Niccolo Machiavelli provides a shrewd insight into the repeated failures of the Obama Presidency.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Writing in The Prince, his classic work on the realities of politics, Machiavelli states:

…He is happy whose mode of procedure accords with the needs of the times, and similarly, he is unfortunate whose mode of procedure is opposed to the times….

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

Put another way: A conciliator will prosper so long as he works with others willing to compromise. But facing uncompromising fanatics, he will be defeated–unless he can exchange conciliation for confrontation. 

REVISING–OR SCRAPPING–OBAMACARE: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 5, 2016 at 12:08 am

President Barack Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans.  

But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction. At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and re-read what Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:

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

Moreover, Machiavelli warns that even a well-intentioned leader can unintentionally bring on catastrophe.

This usually happens when, hoping to avoid conflict, he allows a threat to go unchecked.  Thus:

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.

For Obama, such a moment came in 2011, when House Republicans threatened to to destroy the credit rating of the United States unless the President agreed to scrap Obamacare.  

Obama, a former attorney, heatedly denounced House Republicans for “extortion” and “blackmail.”  

Unless he was exaggerating, both of these are felony offenses that are punishable under the 2001 USA Patriot Act and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970.

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion. 

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.” 

The RICO Act defines “a pattern of racketeering activity” as “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years…after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.” 

And if President Obama believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11. 

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal: 

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” 

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place.  President Obama could have directed the Justice Department to apply them.

If violations had been discovered, indictments could have quickly followed–and then prosecutions. The results of such action could be easily predicted:

  • Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would have first had to lawyer-up.
  • This would have imposed huge monetary costs on them, since good criminal attorneys don’t come cheap.  
  • Obsessed with their personal survival, they would have had little time to engage in more of the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted. In fact, doing so would have only made their convictions more likely.
  • Those Republicans who hadn’t (yet) been indicted would have feared; “I could be next.” This would have produced a chilling effect on their willingness to engage in further acts of subversion and extortion.  
  • The effect on Right-wing Republicans would have been the same as that of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers: “You cross me and threaten the security of this nation at your own peril.”

It would no doubt have been a long time before Republicans dared to engage in such behavior–at least, while Obama held office.  

So: Why didn’t President Obama act to punish such criminal conduct?

Obama Mistake No. 4: He allowed himself to be cowed by his enemies.

In The Prince, Machiavelli laid out the qualities that a successful ruler must possess. There were some to be cultivated, and others to be avoided at all costs. For example:

Niccolo Machiavelli

He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute–which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger….  

[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude. As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.  

So how has Obama fared by this standard?

REVISING–OR SCRAPPING–OBAMACARE: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on February 4, 2016 at 12:10 am

One of the major differences between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton lies in their views about what should be the future of “Obamacare.”  

Sanders, the longtime independent Senator from Vermont, wants to scrap The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with a single-payer plan.  

Clinton, the former Secretary of State, wants to make “incremental” changes in the Act.  

The Sanders plan promises greater simplicity and comprehensiveness in providing benefits to those millions of Americans who previously could not obtain medical insurance.  

The Clinton approach promises to keep the best features of “Obamacare” and improve those that need changing.  

But neither Sanders nor Clinton has directly addressed certain unpalatable truths about the ACA.  

These stem not from any intended evil on the part of its chief sponsor, President Barack Obama. Instead, they spring from his idealistic belief that reasonable men could always reach a compromise.  

As a result, much of the Act remains seriously flawed. Here are the six reasons why.  

Barack Obama is easily one of the most highly educated Presidents in United States history. He is a graduate of Columbia University (B.A. in political science in 1983).  

In 1988, he entered Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude–“with great honor”–in 1991.  

He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, and president of the journal in his second year.

President Barack Obama

He then taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for 12 years–as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004.  

So where did he go wrong? Several ways:

Obama Mistake No. 1: Putting off what people wanted while concentrating on what they didn’t.

Obama started off well when he took office. Americans had high expectations of him. This was partly due to his being the first black to be elected President.

And it was partly due to the disastrous legacies of needless war and financial catastrophe left by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama entered office intending to reform the American healthcare system, to make medical care available to all citizens, and not just the richest.  But that was not what the vast majority of Americans wanted him to concentrate his energies on.  

With the lost of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, Americans wanted Obama to find new ways to create jobs. This was especially true for the 11.1 million unemployed, or those employed only part-time.  

Jonathan Alter, who writes sympathetically about the President in The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, candidly states this.  

But Obama chose to spend most of his first year as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which would soon become known as Obamacare–through Congress.  

The results were:

  • Those desperately seeking employment felt the President didn’t care about them.  
  • The reform effort became a lightning rod for Right-wing groups like the Koch-brothers-financed Tea Party.  
  • In 2010, a massive Rightist turnout cost the Democrats the House of Representatives, and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.  

Obama Mistake No. 2: He underestimated the amount of opposition he would face to the ACA.

For all of Obama’s academic brilliance and supposed ruthlessness as a “Chicago politician,” he displayed an incredible naivety in dealing with his political opposition.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Florentine statesman and father of modern politics, could have warned him of the consequences of this–through the pages of The Prince, his infamous treatise on the realities of politics.

Niccolo Machiavelli

And either Obama skipped those chapters or ignored their timeless advice for political leaders.

He should have started with Chapter Six: “Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One’s Own Arms and Ability”:

…There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.  

For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.  

This proved exactly the case with the proposed Affordable Care Act.

Its supporters–even when they comprised a majority of the Congress–have always shown far less fervor than its opponents.  

This was true before the Act became effective on March 23, 2010. And it has remained true since, with House Republicans voting more than 60 times to repeal, delay or revise the law.  

So before President Obama launched his signature effort to reform the American medical system, he should have taken this truism into account.  

Obama Mistake No. 3: Failing to consider–and punish–the venom of his political enemies.  

The ancient Greeks used to say: “A man’s character is his fate.”  It is Obama’s character–and America’s fate–that he is by nature a man of conciliation, not conflict.  

Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s winning of the White House in his 2009 book, Renegade: The Making of a President. He noted that Obama was always more comfortable when responding to Republican attacks on his character than he was in making attacks on his enemies.

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