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PRESIDENTS: WHY SOME ARE LOVED, SOME HATED, SOME FORGOTTEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 18, 2019 at 12:54 am

Why are some Presidents remembered with affection, while others are detested—or forgotten altogether?

Generally, Presidents who are warmly remembered are seen as making positive contributions to the lives of their fellow Americans and being “people-oriented.”

Among these:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy

Among the reasons they are held in such high regard:

  • Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and restored the Union. Although he ruthlessly prosecuted the Civil War, his humanity remains engraved in stories such as his pardoning a soldier condemned to be shot for cowardice: “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Theodore Roosevelt championed an era of reform, such as creating the Food and Drug Administration and five National Parks. Popularly known as “Teddy,” he even had a toy bear—the teddy bear—named after him.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully led America through the Great Depression and World War II. He was the first President to insist that government existed to directly better the lives of its citizens: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • John F. Kennedy supported civil rights and called for an end to the Cold War. He challenged Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” and made government service respectable, even chic. His youth, charisma, intelligence and handsomeness led millions to mourn for “what might have been” had he lived to win a second term.

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John F. Kennedy

Presidents who remain unpopular among Americans are seen as unlikable and responsible (directly or not) for mass suffering.

Among these:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Richard M. Nixon

Among the reasons they are held in such low regard:

  • Herbert Hoover is still blamed for the 1929 Great Depression. He didn’t create it, but his conservative, “small-government” philosophy led him to refuse to aid its victims. An engineer by profession, he saw the Depression as a machine that needed repair, not as a catastrophe for human beings. This lack of “emotional intelligence” cost him heavily with voters.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson is still blamed as the President “who got us into Vietnam.” John F. Kennedy had laid the groundwork by placing 16,000 American troops there by the time he died in 1963. But it was Johnson who greatly expanded the war in 1965 and kept it going—with hugely expanding casualties—for the next three years. Unlike Kennedy, whom he followed, he looked and sounded terrible on TV. Voters compared JFK’s wit and good looks with LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety—and found him wanting.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Richard M. Nixon will be remembered foremost as the President who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment and removal from office. Like Herbert Hoover, he was not a “people person” and seemed remote to even his closest associates.  Although he took office on a pledge to “bring us together” and end the Vietnam war, he attacked war protesters as traitors and kept the war going another four years. His paranoid fears of losing the 1972 election led to his creating an illegal “Plumbers” unit which bugged the Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel. And his attempted cover-up of their illegal actions led to his being forced to resign from office in disgrace.

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Richard M. Nixon

Which brings us to the question: How is Donald J. Trump likely to be remembered?

Historian Joachim C. Fest offers an unintended answer to this question in his 1973 bestselling biography Hitler:

“The phenomenon of the great man is primarily aesthetic, very rarely moral in nature; and even if we were prepared to make allowances in the latter realm, in the former we could not.

“An ancient tenet of aesthetics holds that one who for all his remarkable traits is a repulsive human being, is unfit to be a hero.”

Among the reasons for Hitler’s being “a repulsive human being,” Fest cites the Fuhrer’s

  • “intolerance and vindictiveness”;
  • “lack of generosity”; and
  • “banal and naked materialism—power was the only motive he would recognize.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump: Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

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Donald Trump

Since taking office two years ago, he has:

  • Viciously attacked the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Publicly attacked Federal judges whose rulings displeased him. 
  • Attacked the FBI and CIA for accurately reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had intervened in the 2016 Presidential election to ensure Trump’s victory. 
  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for pursuing an investigation into Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.  
  • Shut down the Federal Government for 35 days because Democrats refused to fund his “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Trump joining that select number of Presidents Americans remember with awe and reverence.

ACCOMPLICES TO OUR OWN DESTRUCTION: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 13, 2019 at 12:10 am

On December 22, 2018, President Donald Trump shut down the Federal Government.  The reason: Democrats refused to fund his “border wall” between Mexico and the United States. 

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

An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay. Trump told Congressional leaders the shutdown could last months or even years

Thirty-five days passed, with each one bringing increasing stress and fear to the lives of those 800,000 Federal employees.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats held firm. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even cancelled Trump’s scheduled State of the Union address at the House of Representatives until the shutdown ended.

Finally, on January 25, 2019, Trump walked into the White House Rose Garden and said he would sign a bill to re-open the government for three weeks:

  • Lawmakers would have until February 15 to negotiate a compromise on border security.
  • Otherwise, the government would shut down again.

As the February deadline loomed ever closer, on February 11, 2019, CNN published a story under the headline: “Washington on the brink as new shutdown looms”:

The story bluntly laid out the stakes involved: “If no deal is reached and no stop-gap spending measure emerges, a new government shutdown could be triggered, again subjecting 800,000 federal workers who could be furloughed or asked to work without pay.”

Just as Germans did nothing to stop Adolf Hitler’s inexorable march toward war—and the destruction of millions of lives and Germany itself—so, too, do Americans seem paralyzed to put an end to the equally self-destructive reign of the man often dubbed “Carrot Caligula.”

Gaius Caligula was “the mad emperor” of ancient Rome. Like Trump, he lived by a philosophy of “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”

He ruled as the most powerful man of his time—three years, ten months and eight days. And all but the first six months of his reign were drenched in slaughter and debauchery.

The nickname “Carrot Caligula” was stuck on Trump owing to his strange orange skin color.  

So how can America’s continued slide into tyranny and destruction be stopped? 

There are basically three ways:

First, Congressional Republicans could revolt against Trump’s authority and/or agenda. They could, for example, make clear they will not accept another disastrous government shutdown.

In December, the Republican-dominated Senate unanimously passed bills to keep the government open and temporarily provide funding without Trump’s wall money. 

Then Trump said he would not sign the bills.  

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could have reopened the government by re-introducing the same funding bill that the Senate had already passed. He refused.

The odds of Republicans revolting against Trump are nearly impossible. They fear that if he is removed or rendered impotent, voters will turn on them in 2020—and end their comfortable reign of power and privileges.

Second, invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This allows the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to recommend the removal of the President in cases where he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It also allows the House and Senate to confirm the recommendation over the President’s objection by two-thirds vote. 

The Vice President then takes over as President. 

There are ample grounds for this—such as the continuing revelations that Trump has decades-long secret ties to Russian oligarchs linked to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

This solution is also extremely unlikely. Most of Trump’s cabinet rightly fears him. He fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and publicly humiliated his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for more than a year until firing him in 2018. 

Third, the “Caligula solution.” Like Trump, Caligula delighted in humiliating others. His fatal mistake was taunting Cassius Chaerea, a member of his own bodyguard. Caligula considered Chaerea effeminate because of a weak voice and mocked him with names like “Priapus” and “Venus.”

On January 22 41 A.D. Chaerea and several other bodyguards hacked Caligula to death with swords before other guards could save him.

Gaius Caligula

Among the potential enemies Trump has enraged are members of the United States Secret Service.

Among the agencies directly affected by the Trump-ordered government shutdown: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its employees include the Secret Service agents who protect Trump.

In short: The men and women guarding Trump—along with their families—faced economic ruin because Trump didn’t get his way on “The Wall.” 

And now they may face those dangers once again—for the same reason.

Besides the Secret Service, a great many Federal employees—such as FBI agents and members of the military—are armed and in close proximity of the President.

Even more ominous for Trump: By the end of the shutdown, his popularity had fallen to a historic low of 37%.

As Niccolo Machiavelli warns in The Discourses“When a prince becomes universally hated, it is likely that he’s harmed some individuals—who thus seek revenge. This desire is increased by seeing that the prince is widely loathed.”

ACCOMPLICES TO OUR OWN DESTRUCTION: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on February 12, 2019 at 12:15 am

“Why are we letting one man systematically destroy our nation before our eyes?” 

It’s a question millions of Americans have no doubt been asking themselves since Donald Trump took office as President of the United States.

And no doubt it’s the question that millions of Germans asked themselves throughout the six years of World War II.

In September, 1938, as Adolf Hitler threatened to go to war against France and England over Czechoslovakia, most Germans feared he would. They knew that Germany was not ready for war, despite all of their Fuhrer’s boasts about how invincible the Third Reich was.

A group of high-ranking German army officers was prepared to overthrow Hitler—provided that England and France held firm and handed him a major diplomatic reverse.

But then the unexpected happened: England and France—though more powerful than Germany—flinched at the thought of war.

They surrendered to Hitler’s demands that he be given the “Sudetenland”—the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

Hitler’s popularity among Germans soared. He had expanded the territories of the Reich by absorbing Austria and Czechoslovakia—without a shot being fired!

The plotters in the German high command, realizing that public opinion stood overwhelmingly against them, abandoned their plans for a coup. They decided to wait for a more favorable time.

It never came.

Adolf Hitler and his generals

Less than one year after the infamous “Munich conference,” England and France were at war—and fighting for the lives of their peoples.

France would fall to Hitler’s legions in June, 1940.  England would fight on alone—until, in December, 1941, the United States finally declared war on Nazi Germany.

As for the Germans: Most of them blindly followed their Fuhrer right to the end—believing his lies (or at least wanting to believe them), serving in his legions, defending his rampant criminality.

And then, in April, 1945, with Russian armies pouring into Berlin, it was too late for conspiracies against the man who had led them to total destruction. 

Berliners paid the price for their loyalty to a murderous dictator—through countless rapes, murders and the wholesale destruction of their city. And from 1945 to 1989, Germans living in the eastern part of their country paid the price as slaves to the Soviet Union. 

Have Americans learned anything from this this warning from history about subservience to a madman? 

Apparently not.

In 2016, almost 63 million Americans elected Donald Trump—a racist, serial adulterer and longtime fraudster—as President. 

Whereas Barack Obama, in 2008, had run for President on the slogan, “Yes, We Can!” Trump ran on the themes of fear and vindictiveness. He threatened violence not only against Democrats but even his fellow Republicans.

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Donald Trump

Upon taking office in January, 2017, Trump began undermining one public or private institution after another.

  • He repeatedly and viciously attacked the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • When American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—unanimously agreed that Russia had interfered with the 2016 Presidential election, Trump disagreed. Then he publicly sided with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin against those men and women charged with protecting the security of the United States.   
  • When FBI Director James Comey refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump—and when he continued to investigate Russian subversion of the 2016 election—Trump fired him.  
  • Trump repeatedly attacked his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for not “protecting” him from agents pursuing the Russia investigation. On November 7, 2018, the day after Democrats won a majority of House seats, Trump fired him. 
  • Trump has repeatedly attacked Seattle U.S. District Judge James Robart, who halted Trump’s first anti-Muslim travel ban.

And on December 22, 2018, Trump shut down the Federal Government because Democrats refused to fund his “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

As a result:

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

Nancy Pelosi, the newly-elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, summed up Trump thus: “The impression you get from the President is he would like to not only close government, build a wall, but also abolish Congress, so the only voice that mattered was his own.”

NANCY PELOSI: THE LION AND THE FOX: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 7, 2019 at 12:07 am

Donald Trump couldn’t believe that Nancy Pelosi meant it when she politely refused to let him give his State of the Union address in the House of Representatives until he reopened the Federal Government.

He dared her to say plainly that she would deny him access. 

THE LION

So she did—issuing a statement saying that the speech was off—until the government reopened. 

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

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Donald Trump

THE FOX:

Pelosi didn’t let herself be drawn into any Twitter slugfests with a semi-literate dictator. She could well afford to sit out the shutdown, since only the Fascistic Right truly believed she was responsible for it. 

And she capitalized on the unexpected help she received from one of Trump’s highest-ranking officials: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Asked on CNBC if he knew that many Federal employees had been reduced to going to food banks, Ross—a billionaire—said yes, but he didn’t understand why.

His suggestion: They could just take out a loan.   

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

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

Wilbur Ross Official Portrait.jpg

Wilbur Ross

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

And Pelosi didn’t hesitate to point it out:

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

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

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

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

When Republicans claim that Democrats aren’t being “civil,” they mean: “They’re not doing exactly as we tell them to do.”

And of course Republicans tried to convince voters that Trump had not threatened to shut down the government—and then had done so. Republicans like Texas United States Senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz repeatedly railed against the “Pelosi-Schumer shutdown.”

But the vast majority of voters weren’t having it. They had seen the original broadcast where Trump made his threat. And if they had missed the original, there were plenty of re-broadcasts of that moment on news networks to alert them.

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

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

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

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

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

And, for Pelosi, the sweetest moment was yet to come. 

Nancy Pelosi

True, Trump had said he would not give the State of the Union address on his originally scheduled date of January 29th. But eventually he would.

And when this happened, Pelosi would be sitting directly behind him—along with Vice President Mike Pence—the whole time!

Unlike Trump, who revels in bragging about how powerful and brilliant he is, she wouldn’t have to.

Simply sitting behind him, no doubt trying hard to suppress a smile of glee, she would nevertheless remind the audience that she was the one who taught this failed businessman “the art of the deal.”

NANCY PELOSI: THE LION AND THE FOX: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 6, 2019 at 12:12 am

It’s one of the most famous passages in The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli’s classic work on Realpolitik.

A prince…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those who wish to be only lions do not realize this.”

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

As House Minority Leader and then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi proved she was both.

THE FOX: 

On December 11, 2018, Pelosi—then House Minority Leader—and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

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

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Nancy Pelosi

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

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

PELOSI: I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown. You have the White House—

TRUMP: Did you say Trump—

PELOSI: A Trump shutdown. You have the White House— 

TRUMP: I was going to call it a Pelosi shutdown. 

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Charles Schumer

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

PELOSI: That’s simply not true. That is a political promise. 

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

SCHUMER: Twenty times you have called for, “I will shut down the government if I don’t get my wall.” None of us have said—you’ve said it. 

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

Trump, determined to bully Pelosi and Schumer into bending to his will, didn’t realize he had just set himself up for disaster.

Trump shut down the government on December 22. About 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

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

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

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

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

The effects of the shutdown quickly became evident:  

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

THE LION:

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

From the start, Pelosi insisted that Democrats would not surrender to threats of a government shutdown. And Democrats held firm, refusing to make concessions on the wall.

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

She politely cited as her reason that the building would not be “secure” owing to the shutdown and the nonpayment of the men and women who would be charged with its protection.

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

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

LEARNING FROM THE MUNICH DISASTER: PART FIVE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 1, 2019 at 12:05 am

On January 25, 2019—the 35th day of the Federal Government shutdown—President Donald Trump did what no one expected. He caved.

In a White House press conference, he said:

  • Lawmakers would have until February 15 to negotiate a compromise on border security.
  • Otherwise, the government would shut down again.
  • If Democrats did not give in to his demands to fund a border wall, he might use his executive authority to command the military to build the wall instead.

Essentially, he agreed to the same deal he was offered in December, 2018—before he allowed himself to be bullied by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh into shutting down the government.

For all of Trump’s defiant words, his action was universally seen as a serious defeat—by both his opponents and supporters.

Among the latter was Right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter. Summing up the reaction of his Hispanic-hating supporters, she tweeted: “Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as president of the United States.”

On the PBS Newshour, liberal political analyst Mark Shields said: “it was a total defeat for him. And, believe me…there will not be the will among Republicans in three weeks to go back and do this again. Once it’s open, it’s going to be opened.”

His counterpart, conservative analyst David Brooks, agreed: “It is a total—a total victory for the Democrats….If Donald Trump wants bring this on again, [Democrats will be] happy.

“The Republicans are miserable. They never want to come back to where they are right now. And so the odds that we will have another shutdown strike me as low. And it would be—for Trump, it would be suicidally low to—just to try this again.”  

* * * * *

During his years as President, Bill Clinton tried to win over Republicans by supporting measures they liked—such as making it harder for the poor to get welfare via the Federal government. 

In the end, his efforts to win over Republicans convinced them that he was weak. So they tried to impeach him for getting oral sex from a White House intern.

Bill Clinton.jpg

Bill Clinton

Similarly, Barack Obama spent the first two years of his Presidency hopelessly trying to gain Republican support. This only led to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s saying that his goal was to make Obama “a one-term President.”

At least for the moment, Democrats seem to have learned that cowering before bullies only wins you their contempt. As Niccolo Machiavelli warned in The Prince, his classic work on politics:

“From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

“For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote, but when it approaches, they revolt.

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

At the time of the 1938 Munich conference, a group of highly-placed German army officers were preparing to overthrow Adolf Hitler in a military coup. They counted on France and England to stand firm against the Fuhrer, handing him a major foreign policy defeat.

The officers intended to use that as an excuse to remove him from power—before he could plunge Germany into a disastrous war it could not win.

But when Britain and France surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler, his prestige in Germany shot to unprecedented heights. Knowing that overthrowing such a popular leader would be suicidal, the army officers abandoned their plans for a coup.

Convinced of his own invincibility, Hitler recklessly plunged ahead, demanding that Britain and France agree to cede Danzig, a city in northern Poland, to him.  

This time the Allies held firm. The result was World War II.

At least for now, Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats fully understand the lesson of Munich. You must stand up to tyrants—or there will be no end to their evil demands.

The only question is: Will they continue to make use of that lesson—or once again allow themselves to be cowed by a ruthless tyrant?

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

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

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

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

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

Wilbur Ross Official Portrait.jpg

Wilbur Ross

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

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

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

Now she blasted Ross’ attitude during a press briefing: 

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

Nancy Pelosi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donald Trump giving State of the Union address in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass.

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

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

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

Then the Fox News Network stepped in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

The effects of the shutdown quickly became evident:  

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

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

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

For Federal contractors, the situation was far worse. 

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

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

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

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

Kevin Hassett official photo.jpg

Kevin Hassett

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

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

His suggestion: They could just take out a loan.   

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

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

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

Neville Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

Adolf Hitler and his generals

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Pelosi 2012.jpg

Nancy Pelosi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PELOSI: “Okay, then do it.”

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

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

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

Chuck Schumer official photo.jpg

Charles Schumer

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

SCHUMER: “Yes, we do.”

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

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

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

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

TRUMP: “It totally solves the problem.”

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

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

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

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

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

Then the Fox News Network stepped in. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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