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ANCIENT ROME COMES TO AMERICAN POLITICS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 5, 2022 at 12:10 am

The 1960 Kirk Douglas epic, Spartacus, has proven to be more than great entertainment. It has turned out to be a prophecy of the end of the American Republic.

In the movie, Spartacus (Douglas), a Roman slave, entertains Marcus Crassus (Laurence Oliver) the richest man in Rome. He does so by fighting to the death as a gladiator.

Poster for Spartacus

While Spartacus and his fellow gladiator/friend, Draba (Woody Strode), slash and stab at each other in the arena, Crassus idly chats with his crony, Marcus Glabrus (Jon Dall).

Crassus has just secured Glabrus’ appointment as commander of the garrison of Rome. Glabrus is grateful, but curious as to how he did it.

After all, Gaius Gracchus (Charles Laughton), the leader of the Roman Senate, hates Crassus, and vigorously opposes his every move.

“I fought fire with oil,” says Crassus. “I purchased the Senate behind his back.”  

Just as Crassus bought the Roman Senate in Spartacus, billionaires similarly bought the 2016 Presidential election.

In 2016, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, ran as the pet candidate of casino billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson.

Since 2007, Adelson had spent millions in support of Gingrich and his causes.

Newt Gingrich

Adelson put up seed money and, ultimately, $7.7 million between 2006 and 2010 for a nonprofit group that served as a precursor to Gingrich’s presidential campaign.

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Sheldon Adelson

Such a contribution is beyond the means of the average American. But Adelson is listed by Forbes as the eighth-wealthiest American, with a net worth of $21.5 billion.

Adelson denied any selfish motives for giving millions to a candidate for the most powerful office in the world:

“My motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that my wife Miriam and I hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney also relied heavily on a small group of millionaires and billionaires for support.

By February, 2012, a quarter of the money amassed by Romney’s campaign came from just 41 people. Each contributor gave more than $100,000, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure data. Nearly a dozen of the donors had contributed $1 million or more.

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Some of Romney’s biggest supporters included executives at Bain Capital, his former firm; bankers at Goldman Sachs; and a hedge fund mogul who made billions betting on the housing crash.

Four years later, in May, 2016, Adelson met privately with Republican Presidential nominee-in-waiting Donald Trump. 

Adelson promised to contribute more to secure Trump’s election than he had contributed to any previous campaign—up to and exceeding $100 million.  

Meanwhile, Trump bragged that he was “not beholden” to any “special interests” because “I’m really rich.”  This falsehood proved a main reason for his popularity as a candidate.

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Donald Trump

Fast forward another three years—and a December 4, 2019 story in Fortune: “2020 Presidential Campaign Fundraising (and Spending) Are on Track to Smash Records.”

By then, Trump had raised $165.3 million.

But Democrats altogether had outstripped him with $475.6 million raised.

Among the largest Democratic money-raisers (in millions):

  • Bernie Sanders: $74.5
  • Elizabeth Warren: $60.3
  • Pete Buttigieg: $51.5
  • Tom Steyer: $49.6
  • Joe Biden: $37.8 

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg entered the race on November 24, 2019. Within a week he paid $57 million for TV ads.

His fellow billionaire Tom Steyer spent over $60 million since July, 2019.

The 2020 Presidential election proved the most expensive in American history—so far.

Joe Biden raised $1.06 billion. Donald Trump raised $0.80 billion.

All of this can be directly traced to the 2010 “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that ended limits in corporate contributions to political campaigns. The decision is so named for the group that successfully sued over federal campaign finance laws.

The 5-4 decision led to the rise of Super PACs—outside groups affiliated with candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidate. The overwhelming majority of this money goes for negative ads—that slander opponents without saying anything about what a candidate proposes to do.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia brushed aside criticism of the corrupting role money played in politics: Change the channel or turn off the TV.

“I don’t care who is doing the speech—the more the merrier,” Scalia said. “People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”

On the contrary: A fundamental principle of propaganda holds that most people are stupid—or can be made to behave stupidly. If they are ceaselessly bombarded with mind-numbing lies, they will eventually substitute these for reality.  

During the early 1960s a series of movies about the Roman Empire—like Spartacus and Cleopatra—hit the big screen. In these, rich criminals like Marcus Crassus openly bought the favors of ambitious politicians like Julius Caesar.

No doubt millions of moviegoers thought, “Boy, I’m glad that couldn’t happen here.”

But it has happened here—and it’s happening right now.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN: PART TWO (END)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on July 1, 2022 at 5:09 pm

In The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, author Susan Bordo indicts a wide range of groups for Clinton’s failure to win the 2016 election.

Yet she refuses to put any blame on Clinton herself for a series of self-inflicted wounds. Four of these have already been mentioned.

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Among the others:

#5 Democrats and liberals fell prey to hubris.

They dismissed Donald Trump as a bad joke: Surely voters would reject a bombastic, thrice-married “reality show” host who had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times.

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Many liberals believed Clinton would bury him at the polls: Blacks, women, youth and Hispanics will turn out huge for her. Democrats will retake the Senate, and maybe even retake the House.

They didn’t.

#6 The coalition that twice elected Barack Obama deserted Hillary Clinton.

Clinton did worse-than-expected among all the groups she was counting on to support her: Blacks, women, youth and Hispanics.

  • In 2012, Obama got 93% of the black vote; in 2016, Clinton got 88%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 55% of the women’s vote; in 2016, Clinton won 54%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 60% of the vote of those under 30; in 2016, Clinton got 54%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 71% of the Hispanic vote; in 2016, Clinton got 65%.

Clinton proved less popular even among whites than Obama: In 2012, Obama won 39% of their votes; in 2016, Clinton won 37%.

#7 Trump, adopting the role of a populist, appealed to blue-collar voters. Clinton offered a “love-your-CEO” economic plan—and suffered for it.

Trump visited “Rustbelt” states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and vowed to “bring back” jobs that had been lost to China, such as those in coal mining and manufacturing. Clinton didn’t deign to show up, assuming she had those states “locked up.”

Most economists agree that, in a globalized economy, such jobs are not coming back, no matter who becomes President.

Even so, voters backed the man who came to promise them a better future, and shunned the woman who didn’t come to promise them any future at all.

In May, Democratic pollster CeLinda Lake had warned Clinton to revamp her economic platform. Clinton ignored the advice.

“Democrats simply have to come up with a more robust economic frame and message,” Lake said after the election. “We’re never going to win those white, blue-collar voters if we’re not better on the economy. And 27 policy papers and a list of positions is not a frame. We can laugh about it all we want, but Trump had one.”

#8 Hillary Clinton gave only one memorable speech during the campaign.

This was the “basket of deplorables” speech, delivered at a New York fundraiser on September 9. It was the only Clinton speech to be widely quoted by Democrats and Republicans.

She divided Donald Trump’s supporters into two groups. The first group were the “deplorables,” for whom she showed open contempt:

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic–you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.

“He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people—now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”  

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Hillary Clinton (Gage Skidmore photo)

But the second group, she said, consisted of poor, alienated Americans who rightly felt abandoned by their employers and their government:

“But….that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from.

“They don’t buy everything [Trump] says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.” 

#9 After giving this speech, Clinton threw away the good it might well have done her. 

First, the day after making the speech, she apologized for it: “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half—that was wrong.” 

Many of Trump’s followers were racists, sexists and xenophobes—who deserved condemnation, not apologies. By apologizing, she looked weak, indecisive, even cowardly.  

Second, having eloquently reached out to many of the men and women who were a prime constituency for Trump, she failed to offer an economic package to quickly and effectively address their vital needs for jobs and medical care.

The reason: She had failed to put one together long ago.

All she had to offer was boilerplate rhetoric, such as: “Education is the answer.”

Worst of all, Trump turned her speech against her, tweeting: “Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!”

It did.

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The United States barely survivid a Right-wing coup attempt in 2021. Democrats can’t risk losing the 2024 election to another Right-wing Republican. Hillary Clinton is not the future; she represents an increasingly irrelevant past. 

THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on June 30, 2022 at 12:10 am

On June 28, CNN’s political analyst, Chris Cillizza, offered this suggestion:

“In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s monumental decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, conservative writer John Ellis took to the internet to make a provocative case: It was time for Hillary Clinton to make a(nother) political comeback….

“Ellis’ argument is centered on the ideas that 1) President Joe Biden, who will be 82 shortly after the 2024 election, is simply too old to run again (Ellis is far from the only person making that case) and 2) The Democratic bench is not terribly strong.”

Ellis has apparently forgotten—or chooses to ignore—that in 2016 she was an uninspiring candidate who ran a self-destructive campaign.

Unable to face the blunt realities of these truths, her defenders have blamed everyone but Clinton for her failing to “crack the glass ceiling” and become the first female President of the United States.

Among those who come in for blame: WikiLeaks; Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders; younger women; and even Monica Lewinsky.

According to Clinton’s defenders, it was

  • Bernie Sanders’ fault for daring to challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination—and refusing to accept that it was “Hillary’s turn” to become President.
  • WikiLeaks’ fault for publishing emails sent by members of the Democratic National Committee—which proved the supposedly impartial DNC was working to secure the nomination for Clinton.
  • Younger women’s fault for not identifying with a woman old enough to be their grandmother—and who has lived an extraordinarily privileged life since she became First Lady in 1993.
  • Monica Lewinsky’s fault for being a reminder to voters that Hillary’s husband had disgraced the Presidency in an oral sex scandal.

All of these factors certainly played a part in why Clinton lost the White House for the second time in eight years.  But they are not all the factors behind her loss.

Among these:

#1 Hillary Clinton was an uninspiring candidate.

When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008, NBC Anchor Tom Brokaw compared his rallies to Hannah Montana concerts. Audiences were excited by his charisma, eloquence, relative youth (47) and optimism (“Yes We Can!”).

Clinton radiated none of these qualities. She was 67 when she declared her candidacy for President—and looked it. Her speaking voice grated like the proverbial fingernail on a blackboard.

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Hillary Clinton

She seemed to have been around forever—as First Lady (1993-2001), as Senator from New York (2001-2009) and as Secretary of State (2009-2013). Those born after 2000 thought of the Clinton Presidency as ancient history. She was offering a resume—and voters wanted an inspiration.

#2 Clinton brought a lot of baggage with her.

In contrast to Obama, whose Presidency had been scandal-free, Clinton—rightly or wrongly—has always been dogged by charges of corruption.

During the Clinton Presidency, a failed land deal—Whitewater—while Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas triggered a seven-year investigation by a Republican special prosecutor. No criminality was uncovered, and no charge was brought against either Clinton.

After leaving the White House, she and her husband set up the Clinton Foundation, a public charity to bring government, businesses and social groups together to solve problems “faster, better, at lower cost.”

As Secretary of State, more than half of Clinton’s meetings with people outside government were with donors to the Clinton Foundation. If a “pay-to play” system wasn’t at work, one certainly seemed to be.

She cast further suspicion on herself by her unauthorized use of a private email server. This wasn’t revealed until March, 2015—after she was no longer Secretary of State.

She claimed she had used it to avoid carrying two cell-phones. But, as Secretary of State, she traveled with a huge entourage who carried everything she needed. Her critics believed she used a private email system to hide a “pay-for-pay” relationship with Clinton Foundation donors.

#3 As a candidate for President, she “secretly” worked with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, to ensure that she would get the nomination.

As DNC chair, Wasserman-Schultz was expected to be impartial toward all Democratic candidates seeking the prize. This included Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s chief competitor.

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Bernie Sanders

So Sanders and his supporters were outraged when, on July 22, WikiLeaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the DNC.

The emails revealed a clear bias for Clinton and against Sanders. In one email, Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the DNC, suggested that Sanders, who is Jewish, could be portrayed as an atheist.

#4 The Obamas’ support proved a plus/minus for Clinton.

Understandably, President Obama wanted to see his legacies continued—and she was the only candidate who could do it.

So he—and his wife, Michelle—stormed the country, giving eloquent, passionate speeches and firing up crowds on Clinton’s behalf.

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President Barack Obama

So long as either Obama stood before a crowd, the magic lasted. But once the event was over, the excitement vanished. Hillary simply didn’t arouse enough passion to keep it going.

Obama’s supporters found Clinton wanting—in attractiveness, grace, eloquence, trustworthiness and the ability to inspire.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 29, 2022 at 12:11 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

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Niccolo Machiavelli

“It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

“For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise. 

“The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

“This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.”

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

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Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Scheidel gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

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“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich….

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73 – 71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

For millions of struggling, impoverished Americans, that day cannot come soon enough.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 28, 2022 at 12:31 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. And sometimes devastating for the candidate.

On June 18, 2019, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joseph Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. 

The former Vice President believed that his message would comfort his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

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Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

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“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden had talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he had also taken a moderate stance when it came to taxation.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March, 2019.

Instead, he proposed expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, took a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.Related image

Among the epochs it covered: The civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

Amazon.com: Robert Payne: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Robert Payne

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.”

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth. They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

THE ROTTEN DAUGHTER DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE ROTTEN FATHER: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on January 13, 2022 at 12:15 am

Mylan Pharmaceuticals CEO Heather Manchin-Bresch is on a roll.  

  • The daughter of United States Senator Joe Manchin (R-West Virginia), she has, since 2004, hiked the price of a life-saving EpiPen from $50 to $600 to $700 for a package of two.
  • Her own salary has steadily risen more than 600% to $18,509,300 a year.
  • The device now accounts for 40% of Mylan’s profits.  

But in playing greed-based games with the lives of millions of Americans, Manchin-Bresch, 52, may have put her company—and even herself—in jeopardy.    

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Heather Manchin-Bresch

EpiPens have been mandatory for public schools in at least 11 states since Congress passed the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. This occurred after Mylan spent $4 million lobbying Congress.  

When the lives of their children are threatened, adults who can stoically accept the inevitability of their own deaths can become dangerously emotional about the fates of their sons or daughters.

As national news media spread the word of Mylan’s unconscionable price increases, American consumers are making their rage increasingly known.

There are three ways this could be expressed: Political, Legal, and Illegal.  

Political: Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has called for an official investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into the price hikes:

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Senator Amy Klobuchar

“I write to request the Federal Trade Commission investigate whether Mylan Pharmaceuticals has violated the antitrust laws regarding the sale of its epinephrine auto-injector, EpiPen. Many Americans, including my own daughter, rely on this life-saving product to treat severe allergic reactions.  

“Although the antitrust laws do not prohibit price gouging, regardless of how unseemly it may be, they do prohibit the use of unreasonable restraints of trade to facilitate or protect a price increase.” 

Other Senators who have called for hearings include Iowa’s Charles Grassley, Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and former Democratic presidential contender Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. 

“I have heard from one father in Iowa who recently purchased a refill of his daughter’s EpiPen prescription. He reported that to fill the prescription, he had to pay over $500 for one EpiPen,” wrote Grassley to Manchin-Bresch. “The high cost has also caused some first responders to consider making their own kits with epinephrine vials and syringes.”

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Senator Charles Grassley

“There’s no reason an EpiPen, which costs Mylan just a few dollars to make, should cost families more than $600,” tweeted Sanders on Twitter.

A second expression of political fallout could ultimately be the adoption of a single-payer healthcare system. Under this, a “single-payer” fund, rather than private insurers, pays for healthcare costs. The healthcare delivery system can be private, public or a combination of the two.  

Legal: Individual Americans—and/or the U.S. Department of Justice—could file civil lawsuits against Mylan Pharmaceuticals under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.  

Passed by Congress in 1970 to combat the Mafia, its provisions include punishments for extortion. This 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.”  

It could be argued that, by holding a near-monopoly over a product that millions of Americans depend on for survival, and raising its price beyond the ability of most Americans to afford it, Mylan has engaged in extortionate practices.  

It would not be the first time a David-vs.-Goliath lawsuit prevailed against dismal expectations.  

In 1994, amid great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.  

Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.

The theory underlying these lawsuits: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs—amounting to millions of dollars. In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.

Illegal:  At one time, business titans like John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford lived apart from “the common herd.” Americans read about them in newspapers or heard about them on the radio, but had no way of contacting them directly.  

If you wanted to “dig up dirt” on any of them, you had to be wealthy enough to hire private detectives–who were probably employed by the same people you wanted to investigate.  

But the rise of the Internet—and especially the advent of “people-finder” websites like Instant Checkmate, Intellius and Veromi—has drastically changed all that.  

Type “Heather Manchin-Bresch” into the Intellius “Confidential People Finder” subject line, and—for a $20 month’s subscription—you can obtain “some or all of the following”:  

  • Full Name
  • Age and Date of Birth
  • Address
  • Address History
  • Phone Numbers
  • Aliases
  • Relatives
  • Neighbors
  • Email Address(es)
  • Social Networks
  • Property Records
  • Marriages & Divorces
  • Criminal Records
  • Bankruptcies
  • Liens
  • Judgments
  • Lawsuits

It doesn’t take a genius to see how the parent of an allergy-suffering child—desperate to save his son or daughter and enraged at what he believes to be the extortionately high price of EpiPens—might put such information to use.  

What is truly astonishing is that, in our publicity-saturated culture, greedy, self-destructive “celebrities” like Heather Manchin-Bresch don’t realize this.  

THE ROTTEN DAUGHTER DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE ROTTEN FATHER: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on January 12, 2022 at 12:12 am

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, delivered this sage advice in his political masterwork, The Discourses:

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

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself.  But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.  

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Niccolo Machiavelli

Unfortunately, it’s advice that members of the United States Congress have blissfully chosen to ignore. By doing so, they have condemned millions of Americans to suffering and death at the hands of greed-based, predatory corporations.  

One of these corporations is Mylan Pharmaceuticals.  

In 2007, Mylan acquired the patent for the EpiPen, a lifesaving device for anyone allergic to common foods like peanuts, shellfish and eggs. Millions of people with life-threatening allergies depend on the EpiPen for survival.  

During an allergy attack, the EpiPen injects an emergency dosage of epinephrine to the user, preventing a possibly fatal reaction, known as anaphylaxis, from occurring. 

Between 2007 and 2015, the wholesale price of an EpiPen skyrocketed from $56.64 to $300 to $645 for an EpiPen 2-Pak—an increase of 461%.

It costs about $8 to make such a pack.

According to NBC News, compensation for Mylan CEO Heather Bresch similarly skyrocketed during the same period: From $2,453,456 in 2007 to $18,931,068 in 2015—a 671% raise in eight years.

Bresch is the daughter of West Virginia United States Senator Joe Manchin—who recently killed the chance for passage of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill. Among its benefits: 

  • Universal preschool
  • Free community college
  • Lower prescription drug costs
  • Expanded Medicare and Medicaid services 
  • Requiring utility companies to phase in renewable energy to replace fossil fuels.

Manchin—who owns a yacht and drives a Maserati—suggested that parents would use Child Tax Credits to buy drugs.

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Manchin-Bresch wasn’t the only one to profit at the expense of the most vulnerable. 

Between 2007 and 2015, Mylan’s stock price tripled, going from $13.29 per share in 2007 to a high of $47.59 in 2016. By late August, 2016, Mylan’s stock was hovering around $45.68 per share on the NASDAQ index.

Bloomberg states that the EpiPen now accounts for about 40% of Mylan’s profits. 

Ironically, Sheldon Kaplan, the man who invented the now-famous device, never made a dime off it, and died in obscurity.  

After working at NASA, Kaplan worked for Survival Technology, Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland. 

In 1973, the Defense Department asked him to design a device that could quickly inject an antidote for nerve gas.

Kaplan’s design perfectly fitted this need: When a victim plunged a needle into his thigh, a spring-loaded mechanism shot a needle containing life-saving medicine into his bloodstream. 

Kaplan’s invention became known as the ComboPen, and was initially used by the Pentagon before becoming available for use by the general public several years later as the EpiPen. 

Kaplan left Survival Technology shortly after creating the ComboPen to become a biochemical engineer. He didn’t follow the success of his invention—and didn’t reap any of the huge financial rewards that it has produced.  

That has certainly not been true for Mylan Pharmaceuticals.

After cornering the patent on the EpiPen in 2007, the company has made billions on the life-saving device. 

According to Bloomberg, a package of two EpiPens costs $415 in the United States after insurance discounts. The same package in France–which has price controls under socialized medicine–costs $85.  

The chief beneficiary of this legalized price-gouging has been Mylan’s CEO, Heather Manchini-Bresch.

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Heather Manchin-Bresch

She joined Mylan in 1992 and held various positions within the company.  Among these: Its chief lobbyist before Congress.  

It was in that capacity that she persuaded Congress to enact a bill requiring all public schools to carry EpiPens for students with food allergies. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama in November, 2013.

Over the next three years, schools nationwide bought EpiPens by the truckload. And Mylan jacked up its prices for the EpiPen every other quarter. 

On January 1, 2012, Heather Manchin-Bresch became Mylan’s CEO.

But it wasn’t enough to have a monopoly on a device millions of men, women and children desperately needed. In 2014, true to its “profits-at-any-price” philosophy, Mylan reincorporated in the Netherlands to lower its effective tax rate.

It did so through a corporate accounting trick known as a tax inversion, and thus claiming the status of a foreign-owned corporation although its headquarters remained in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

Even her own father, U..S. Senator Joseph Manchin, condemned Mylan’s use of the inversion scheme and said it should be illegal.  

But Manchin-Bresch fiercely defended it in an interview with the New York Times: “You can’t maintain competitiveness by staying at a competitive disadvantage. I mean you just can’t.”

No doubt, with her CEO salary of $18,509,300 a year and moneyed ties to high-powered attorneys and influential members of Congress, Bresch thinks herself invulnerable.

But all that could quickly change—if even a small number of her victims become angry enough.  

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 21, 2021 at 12:11 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

“It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

“For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise.    

“The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

“This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.”

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

Walter Scheidel - Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2012.jpg

Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Scheidel gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: “Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

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“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich….

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73 – 71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

For millions of struggling, impoverished Americans, that day cannot come soon enough.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on December 20, 2021 at 12:19 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. 

On June 18, 2019, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joseph Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. 

The former Vice President believed that his message would comfort his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

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Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

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“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden has talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he’s taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March, 2019.

Instead, he proposes expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, took a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.Related image

Among the epochs it covered: The civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

Amazon.com: Robert Payne: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Robert Payne

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth. They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

NEEDED: A GEORGE PATTON FOR DEMOCRATS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 2, 2021 at 1:13 am

Most Americans believe that Nazi Germany was defeated because “we were the Good Guys and they were the Bad Guys.”

Not so.  

The United States—and its allies, Great Britain and the Soviet Union—won the war for reasons that had nothing to do with the righteousness of their cause.  These included:

  • Nazi Germany—–i.e, its Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler—made a series of disastrous decisions. Chief among these: Attacking its ally, the Soviet Union, and declaring war on the United States;
  • The greater material resources of the Soviet Union and the United States; and
  • The Allies waged war as brutally as the Germans.

On this last point:

  • From D-Day to the fall of Berlin, captured Waffen-SS soldiers were often shot out of hand.
  • When American troops came under fire in the German city of Aachen, Lt. Col. Derrill Daniel brought in a self-propelled 155mm artillery piece and opened up on a theater housing German soldiers. After the city surrendered, a German colonel labeled the use of the 155 “barbarous” and demanded that it be outlawed.

German soldiers at Stalingrad

  • During the battle of Stalingrad in 1942, Wilhelm Hoffman, a young German soldier and diarist, was appalled that the Russians refused to surrender. He wrote: “You don’t see them at all, they have established themselves in houses and cellars and are firing on all sides, including from our rear—barbarians, they use gangster methods….”

In short: The Allies won because they dared to meet the brutality of a Heinz Guderian with that of a George S. Patton.

This is a lesson long ignored by the liberals of the Democratic Party.  

As a result, even though Joe Biden now holds the Presidency, Republicans hold enough seats in the House and Senate to block his legislative agenda.

An example of Democratic naiveté occurred on March 25, 2018. 

On CBS’ “Sunday Morning,” former President Jimmy Carter said that even if Special Counsel Robert Mueller found evidence that President Donald Trump had broken the law, “my own preference would be that he not be impeached.” 

Instead, Carter would want Trump to “be able to serve out his term, because I think he wants to do a good job. And I’m willing to help him, if I can help him, and give him the benefit of the doubt.

“You know, I have confidence in the American system of government. I think ultimately the restraints on a president from the Congress and from the Supreme Court will be adequate to protect our nation, if he serves a full term.”   

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Jimmy Carter

Since becoming President on January 20, 2017, Trump had, by that date:

  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for refusing to pledge his personal loyalty—and for investigating documented ties between Russian Intelligence agents and the 2016 Trump Presidential campaign.  
  • Threatened to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was assigned to take over that investigation after the Comey firing.
  • Repeatedly attacked the nation’s press as “fake news” and “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Contemptuously dismissed the warnings of American Intelligence agencies that Russia tried to subvert the 2016 Presidential campaign.
  • Repeatedly praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin—and refused to enforce Congressionally-mandated sanctions against Russia for its attempted subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

Trump, in short, was not going to be “helped” by the humility of a Jimmy Carter.

Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter, believes in rationality and decency. Like Carter, he feels more comfortable responding to attacks on his character than attacking the character of his enemies. 

As a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama was one of the most academically gifted Presidents in American history.

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

In The Prince, Machiavelli warns:

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….

And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Obama’s failure to recognize the truth of Machiavelli’s lesson allowed Republicans to thwart many of his Presidential ambitions—such as picking a replacement for deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Throughout 2016, liberals celebrated on Facebook and Twitter the “certain” Presidency of Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders or former First Lady Hillary Clinton. 

They fully expected to win the White House again, and thought they might retake the Senate—and maybe even the House of Representatives. 

But Donald Trump had a different plan—to subvert the 2016 election by Russian Intelligence agents and millions of Russian trolls flooding the Internet with legitimately fake news.  

For Democrats to win elective victories and enact their agenda, they must find their own George Pattons to take on the Waffen-SS generals among Republican ranks. 

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