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Posts Tagged ‘CIVIL WAR’

EGO AS THE ROAD TO DISASTER

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 14, 2019 at 12:37 am

It’s commonplace to read about the role sex plays in motivating behavior. But the power of ego to determine history is often ignored.

Consider the role that ego played in igniting the American Civil War (1861 – 1865).

According to The Destructive War, by Charles Royster, it wasn’t the cause of “states’ rights” that led 13 Southern states to withdraw from the Union in 1960-61. It was their demand for “respect,” which, in reality, translates into “e-g-o.”

“The respect Southerners demanded did not consist simply of the states’ sovereignty or of the equal rights of Northern and Southern citizens, including slaveholders’ right to take their chattels into Northern territory.

“It entailed, too, respect for their assertion of the moral superiority of slaveholding society over free society,” writes Royster.

It was not enough for Southerners to claim equal standing with Northerners; Northerners must acknowledge it. But this was something that the North was less and less willing to do. 

Finally, its citizens dared to elect Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

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

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln and his new Republican party damned slavery—and slaveholders—as morally evil, obsolete and ultimately doomed. And they were determined to prevent slavery from spreading any further throughout the country.

Southerners found all of this intolerable.

The British author, Anthony Trollope, explained to his readers: “It is no light thing to be told daily, by our fellow citizens…that you are guilty of the one damning sin that cannot be forgiven.

“All this [Southerners] could partly moderate, partly rebuke and partly bear as long as political power remained in their hands. But they have gradually felt that this was going, and were prepared to cut the rope and run as soon as it was gone.”

Only 10% of Southerners owned slaves. The other 90% of the population “had no dog in this fight,” as Southerners liked to say.

Yet they so admired and aspired to be like their “gentleman betters” that they threw in their lot with them.

There were some Southerners who could see what was coming—and vainly warned their fellow citizens against it.

One of these was Sam Houston, the man who had won Texas independence at the 1836 battle of San Jacinto and later served as that state’s governor.

Sam Houston

On April 19, 1860, addressing a crowd in Galveston, he said: “Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you.

“But I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states’ rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates.

“But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

Four years later, on April 9, 1865, Houston’s warning became history.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.

Huge sections of the South had been laid waste by Union troops and more than 258,000 Southerners had been killed.

And slavery, the mainstay of Southern plantation life, had been ended forever.

The South had paid an expensive price for its fixation on ego.

Even more proved at risk a century later, when President John F. Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy.png

John F. Kennedy

In April, Kennedy had been humiliated at the Bay of Pigs when a CIA-sponsored invasion failed to overthrow the Cuba’s Fidel Castro. So he was already on the defensive when he and Khrushchev met in Vienna.Khrushchev pressed his advantage, threatening Kennedy with nuclear war unless the Americans abandoned their protection of West Berlin.

That August, faced with the embarrassment of East Berliners fleeing by the thousands into West Germany, the Soviet leader backed off from his threat.In its place, he erected the infamous Berlin Wall, sealing off East and West Berlin.

Kennedy’s reaction: “That son of a bitch won’t pay any attention to words. He has to see you move.”

Then, most ominously: “If Khrushchev wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it’s all over.”

In short: Kennedy was prepared to incinerate the planet if he felt his almighty ego was about to get smacked.

Nuclear missile in silo

What has proved true for states and nations proves equally true for those leading every other type of institution.

Although most people like to believe they are guided by rationality and morality, all-too-often, what truly decides the course of events is their ego.

For pre-Civil War Southerners, it meant demanding that “Yankees” show respect for slave-owning society.  Otherwise, they would leave the Union.

For Kennedy, it meant playing a game of “chicken,” backed up with nuclear missiles, to show Khrushchev who Numero Uno really was. And during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October, 1962, humankind almost disappeared as Kennedy set out to make Khrushchev “blink.”

It is well to keep these lessons from history in mind when making our own major decisions.

MAJOR DUNDEE: A LESSON FOR OUR TIME

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 2, 2018 at 12:06 am

Major Dundee is a 1965 Sam Peckinpah Western focusing on a Union cavalry officer (Charlton Heston) who leads a motley troop of soldiers into Mexico to rescue three children kidnapped by Apaches.

Along the way they liberate Mexican villagers and clash with French lancers trying to establish Mexico as a French colony under would-be emperor Archduke Maximilian 1.

The Wild Bunch is universally recognized as Peckinpah’s greatest achievement. It has certainly had a far greater impact on audiences and critics than Major Dundee. According to Heston, this was really the movie Peckinpah wanted to make while making Dundee, but he couldn’t quite get his mind around it.

As a result, Dundee’s virtues have been tragically overlooked. It has a larger cast of major characters than Bunch, and these are men an audience can truly like and identify with:

  • The charm of Benjamin Tyreen (Richard Harris), a Confederate lieutenant forced into Union service;
  • The steady courage of Sergeant Gomez;
  • The quiet dignity of Aesop (Brock Peters), a black soldier;
  • The quest for maturity in young, untried bugler Tim Ryan (Michael Anderson, Jr.);
  • The on-the-job training experience of impetuous Lt. Graham (Jim Hutton); and
  • The stoic endurance of Indian scout Sam Potts (James Coburn).

These men are charged with a dangerous and dirty mission, and do it as well as they can, but you wouldn’t fear inviting them to meet your family.

,Major Dundee

Major Dundee (Charlton Heston)

That was definitely not the case with The Wild Bunch, four hardened killers prepared to rip off anyone, anytime, and leave a trail of bodies in their wake. The only place where you would have felt safe seeing them, in real-life, was behind prison bars.

The Wild Bunch

Dundee is an odyssey movie, in the same vein as Saving Private Ryan. Both films start with a battle, followed by the disappearance of characters who need to be searched for and brought back to safety.

Just as Dundee assembles a small force to go into Mexico, so, too, does Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) do the same, with his hunting ground being France.

Dundee’s men retrieve the kidnapped children and survive a near-fatal battle with Indians. Miller’s men twice clash with the Germans before finding their quarry, James Ryan.

Before Dundee can return to the United States, he must face and defeat a corps of French soldiers. Before Miller can haul Ryan back to safety, he must repulse a German assault.

Both groups of soldiers—Dundee’s and Miller’s—are transformed by their experiences in ways neither group could possibly articulate. (Miller, being a highly literate schoolteacher, would surely do a better job of this than the tight-jawed Dundee.)

Dundee’s soldiers return to a United States that’s just ended its Civil War with a Union victory—and the death of slavery. Miller’s soldiers return to a nation that is now a global superpower.

Of course, Ryan was fortunate in having Steven Spielberg as its director.  With his clout, there was no question that Ryan would emerge as the film he wanted.

Peckinpah lacked such clout. And he fought with everyone, including the producer, Jerry Bressler, who ultimately held the power to destroy his film. This guaranteed that his movie would emerge far differently than he had envisioned.

Sam Peckinpah.jpg

Sam Peckinpah

In 2005, an extended version of Dundee was released, featuring 12 minutes of restored footage. (Much of the original footage was lost after severe cuts to the movie.)

In this new version, we fully see how unsympathetic a character the martinet Dundee really is. Owing to Heston’s career of playing heroes—such as Moses and El Cid—it’s easy to overlook Dundee’s arrogance and lethal fanaticism and automatically view him as a hero.

If he is indeed that, he is a hero with serious flaws.

And his self-imposed mission poses questions for us today:

  • Where is the line between professional duty and personal fanaticism?
  • How do we balance the success of a mission against its potential costs—especially if they prove appalling?
  • At what point—if any—does personal conscience override professional obligations?

Whether intentionally or not, in Major Dundee, Peckinpah laid out a microcosm of the American history that would immediately follow the Civil War.

Former Confederates and Unionists would forego their regional animosities and fight against a recognized mutual enemy—the Indians. This would prove a dirty and drawn-out war, stripped of the glory and (later) treasured memories of the Civil War.

Just as Dundee’s final battle with French lancers ended with an American victory won at great cost, so, too, would America’s forays into the Spanish-American War and World Wars 1 and 11 prove the same.

Ben Tyreen’s commentary on the barbarism of French troops (“Never underestimate the value of a European education”) would be echoed by twentieth-century Americans uncovering the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald.

And America would learn to project its formidable military power at great cost. Toward the end of the movie, Teresa Santiago (Senta Berger), the ex-patriot Austrian widow, would ask Dundee: “But who do you answer to?

It is a question that still vividly expresses the view of the international community as this superpower colossus hurtles from one often-disastrous conflict to the next.

WHY FASCISTS WIN AND LIBERALS LOSE

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

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

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

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John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

The Kennedy-Nixon Debate

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

Kick him in the balls, Jack.

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

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

The Obama-Romney Debate

But, surprisingly, Obama:  

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

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

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

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

But it did not have to be that way.

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

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Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

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

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

And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared.

For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose.

But fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.

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

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

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

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

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

And Republicans would have behaved accordingly.

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

General William Texumseh Sherman

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

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

OUR MOST-LOVED–AND MOST-HATED–PRESIDENTS

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 28, 2017 at 12:06 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.”

FDR 1944 Color Portrait.tif

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.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy.png

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 LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety with JFK’s wit and good looks—and found him wanting.

37 Lyndon Johnson 3x4.jpg

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.

Richard M. Nixon, ca. 1935 - 1982 - NARA - 530679.jpg

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.”

Fest then quotes German chancellor Otto von Bismark on what constitutes greatness: “Impressiveness in this world is always akin to the fallen angel who is beautiful but without peace, great in his plans and efforts, but without success, proud but sad.”

And Fest concludes: “If this is true greatness, Hitler’s distance from it is immeasurable.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump.

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Donald Trump

Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

He has:

  • Boasted about the politicians he’s bought and the women he’s bedded—and forced himself on.
  • Threatened his Democratic opponent—Hillary Clinton—with prosecution if he were elected.
  • Slandered entire segments of Americans—blacks, Hispanics, women, journalists, Asians, the disabled, the Gold Star parents of a fallen soldier.
  • Slandered President Barack Obama for five years as a non-citizen, finally admitting the truth only to win black votes.
  • 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. 

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

WHAT MAKES A PRESIDENT GREAT?

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 27, 2017 at 4:43 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.”

FDR 1944 Color Portrait.tif

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.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy.png

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.

37 Lyndon Johnson 3x4.jpg

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.

Richard M. Nixon, ca. 1935 - 1982 - NARA - 530679.jpg

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.”

Fest then quotes German chancellor Otto von Bismark on what constitutes greatness: “Impressiveness in this world is always akin to the fallen angel who is beautiful but without peace, great in his plans and efforts, but without success, proud but sad.”

And Fest concludes: “If this is true greatness, Hitler’s distance from it is immeasurable.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump.

Related image

Donald Trump

Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

He has:

  • Boasted about the politicians he’s bought and the women he’s bedded–and forced himself on.
  • Threatened his Democratic opponent–Hillary Clinton–with prosecution if he were elected.
  • Slandered entire segments of Americans–blacks, Hispanics, women, journalists, Asians, the disabled, the Gold Star parents of a fallen soldier.
  • Slandered President Barack Obama for five years as a non-citizen, finally admitting the truth only to win black votes.
  • 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. 

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

OBAMA’S AGONY: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 22, 2016 at 12:01 am

A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances. And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

For President Barack Obama, the last two months of his eight-year Presidency will be an agony.

Perhaps only his wife, Michelle, truly knows the torments he will so stoically endure.

For stoicism–enduring pain or hardship without complaint or showing emotions–has long been central to Obama’s character.  

In 2011, two years into his Presidency, he faced an accusation never before leveled against an American President: That he was not an American citizen–and thus not entitled to hold the office he held.  

His accuser-in-chief: Donald Trump, an egomaniacal,  thrice-married “reality-TV” host and real estate mogul who had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times.

At first Obama ignored the accusation, assuming it was so ridiculous no one could believe it. But, promoted by Right-wing Fox News and Republican leaders, millions of Fascistic Americans thought it actually might be true.

So, on April 27, 2011, the President  called a press conference–where he released the long-form version of his Hawaii birth certificate.  

President Obama’s birth certificate

“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” said Obama, speaking as a father might to a roomful of spiteful children. “We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve. 

“We are not going to be able to do it if we are distracted, if we spend time vilifying each other, if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts.”

Image result for photos of president obama's birth certificate press conference

And on May 1, the President announced the solving of one of those “big problems”: Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, had been tracked down and shot dead by elite U.S. Navy SEALS in Pakistan.

To understand Obama’s agony as he ends his term, imagine the following alternate history: 

On April 14, 1865, the slavery-sympathizing actor John Wilkes Booth enters Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

His mission: Assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

Armed with a knife and Derringer, he reaches the unguarded Presidential box. But just as he’s about to push open the door to his–and Lincoln’s–destiny, he halts.

He’s just thought of a more monstrous fate for the President.  

Silently, he leaves the theater–and the world never learns how close Lincoln came to death at the hands of an assassin.  

Instead, Booth waits out the next four years–until the election of 1868, when Lincoln’s second term is up.

Lincoln has chosen Andrew Johnson, his Vice President, to succeed him.

For the outgoing President, it’s more than a matter of politics. A Johnson victory will secure the legacies Lincoln has created during the last eight years:  

  • The Thirteenth Amendment, which bans slavery.
  • The stationing of Union troops in the South, to ensure that blacks are not re-enslaved. 
  • The granting of the vote to blacks.    

But Johnson is a lackluster candidate, and, after eight years of war and Reconstruction, Americans are eager for “change.”

Suddenly, an unexpected challenger steps forward: The celebrated Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth!  

Booth promises that, if elected, he will overturn everything Lincoln has done–most especially the Thirteenth Amendment.

He’ll tear up the surrender treaty that officially ended the Civil War and let the Southern states restore the Confederacy.

His campaign slogan: “Let America Enslave Again.”

He calls the President an ape, a buffoon, a dictator with the blood of countless Americans on his hands.  

Newspaper reporters covering Johnson often fall asleep during his speeches. Booth whips up his audiences without even trying.  

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John Wilkes Booth

On November 4, 1868, John Wilkes Booth becomes the seventeenth President of the United States. 

It won’t be until 1933 that Presidents begin taking the Oath of Office on January 20. So Abraham Lincoln will remain President until March 4, 1869.  

Meanwhile, John Wilkes Booth has never held public office. He needs to pick a cabinet and learn the basics of what it means to be President.

And only one man is qualified to teach him–the man who now holds that office.  

Lincoln knows that, in only a matter of months, everything he has worked for will be ruthlessly overturned. Like a beautiful garment pulled apart, thread by thread, until nothing is left but a pile of rubbish on the floor.  

But he is a patriot, and a believer in destiny. Fate–or God–has thrust him into the Presidency. And he will carry out the duties that go with that role, however tormenting they now are, right to the end.  

He hopes that Divine Providence will bestow a bright future on his beloved country, however bleak its present now looks.  

* * * * *

When Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009, he couldn’t imagine spending his last two months in office tutoring the man who had reviled him throughout his Presidency.

It will be his last gift as President to a nation that has often proved ungrateful for his dedicated service.

OBAMA’S AGONY: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

Barack Obama has known ecstasy such as few other men have known it.

In 1989, he met the love of his life, Michelle Robinson, an attorney at the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin.

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Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House

Although she declined his initial requests to date, she finally yielded to his persuasive charm. They were married on October 3, 1992, and have since had two daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha.  

On November 2, 2004, Obama joined one of the most exclusive clubs in the world: The United States Senate. With 70% of the vote, he was elected United States Senator from Illinois. He served from 2005 to November 16, 2008, when an even greater event forced him to resign.  

That event was his election as the 44th–and first black–President of the United States. On November 4, 2008, he received 52.9% of the votes. He delivered his victory speech before hundreds of thousands of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park.

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President Barack Obama

Then, on November 6, 2012, Obama was re-elected to a second four-year term, becoming the first Democratic President since Franklin D. Roosevelt to twice win the majority of the popular vote. 

But now those eight years are rapidly coming to an end. And just as they opened with the euphoria of joy, they are closing with an agony more horrific for the President than anyone can imagine.  

The agony of serving as tutor to Donald Trump, the man who will succeed him. Trump has personally reviled him throughout his Presidency–and intends to destroy as much of Obama’s legacy as possible.

For more than a year, Trump has boasted that he would make a far better President than Obama. But now that he’s won the 2016 election, it turns out he has at best a schoolboy’s knowledge of how government works.

Imagine a similar fate befalling another President whom Barack Obama deeply admires.

Imagine, in an alternate history universe, it’s April 14, 1865.  

The four years of carnage known as the Civil War are finally over.

Five days ago, on April 9, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General of the Armies Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.  

Across the nation, 620,000 Americans lie dead–of wounds or disease. Untold thousands more are coming home as invalids, uncertain how they will care for themselves without limbs or eyes or the ability to walk.  

For Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth President of the United States, it is time to ponder the work of rebuilding a shattered nation. He wants a just peace, not vengeance: “Let ’em up easy,” is the way he puts it.  

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Abraham Lincoln

But, tonight, he needs to put aside his cares and seek a much-deserved respite at Ford’s Theater for a performance of the comedy, Our American Cousin.

At the theater, unknown to Lincoln, the Southern-sympathizing actor, John Wilkes Booth, awaits. For months he’s planned to kidnap Lincoln and hold him for ransom, to force the increasingly victorious Union armies to withdraw from the South.  

But now there’s no point in that.  

The Confederacy and slavery are dead. Lincoln has even spoken about giving the accursed blacks the right to vote.

Booth has never picked up a rifle to fight for the South, never faced death on a battlefield. Yet he will prove to the South that he is its greatest champion–by killing Lincoln.   

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John Wilkes Booth

He has already made his preparations.  

At around noon that day–April 14–he had visited Ford’s Theater, where he had a permanent mailbox. There he learned from the brother of John Ford, the owner, that the President and General Grant would be attending the theater to see Our American Cousin.  

He knows the theater well–he’s performed there as an actor. And there’s no doubt he’ll have access to it tonight–he’s a celebrity.

That evening, Abraham Lincoln arrives at Ford’s Theater with his wife, Mary. They are accompanied by Union Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris. The four settle into the Presidential Box, which overlooks the stage. 

Unlike 21st century Presidents, there are no Secret Service bodyguards for Lincoln. Presidents won’t be assigned such protection until 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt takes office. 

Tonight, only one man has been assigned to guard Lincoln–a policeman named John Frederick Parker. And during the intermission, Parker decides he needs a drink.

So he slips off to a nearby tavern with Lincoln’s footman and coachman.

Booth arrives at the theater at about 10:25 p.m. Under his coat he’s armed with a knife and an eight-ounce, single-shot Derringer.

Booth walks up the staircase leading to the first of two doors to the President’s box. At the first door he finds Lincoln’s valet, Charles Forbes.

They chat briefly, and then Booth passes through the first door and closes it behind him. 

Booth looks through the tiny peep-hole he had carved in the second door (which grants entry to the Presidential Box) earlier that day.  

All he has to do is push open the door, aim at the back of Lincoln’s head, and fire. And that’s exactly what he intends to do.  

Then–suddenly–he changes his mind.  

He has an even more monstrous fate in store for the President.

MARCHING THROUGH TREASON–AGAIN: PART TWO: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 27, 2016 at 12:09 am

When Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837, was close to death, he asked his doctor: “What act of my administration will be most severely condemned by future Americans?”

“Perhaps the removal of the bank deposits,” said the doctor–referring to Jackson’s withdrawal of U.S. Government monies from the first Bank of the United States.

That act had destroyed the bank, which Jackson had believed was a source of political corruption.

“Oh, no!” said Jackson.

“Then maybe the specie circular,” said the doctor. He was referring to an 1836 executive order Jackson had issued, requiring payment for government land to be in gold and silver.

“Not at all!” said Jackson.

Then, his eyes blazing, Jackson raged: “I can tell you. Posterity will condemn me more because I was persuaded not to hang John C. Calhoun as a traitor than for any other act in my life!”

John C. Calhoun had once been Vice President under Jackson and later a United States Senator from South Carolina. His fiery rhetoric and radical theories of “nullification” played a major part in bringing on the Civil War (1861-1865).

John C. Calhoun

Calhoun was an outspoken proponent of slavery, which he declared to be a “positive good” rather than a “necessary evil.” He supported states’ rights and nullification–by which states could declare null and void federal laws they deemed unconstitutional.

Historians have not condemned Jackson for failing to hang the senator. But perhaps he was right–and perhaps he should have hanged Calhoun.

It might have prevented the Civil War–or at least delayed its coming.

Over time, Southern states’ threats of “nullification” turned to threats of “secession” from the Union.

Jackson died in 1845–16 years before the Civil War erupted.

The resulting carnage slaughtered as many as 620,000 lives. More Americans died in that war than have been killed in all the major wars fought by the United States since.

When it ended, America was reinvented as a new, unified nation–and one where slavery was now banned by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Equally important, the Federal Government had now set a precedent for using overwhelming military power to force states to remain in the Union.

But in 2012, within days of Barack Obama’s decisive winning of another four years as President, residents across the country raised the call of treason.

They did done so by filing secession petitions to the Obama administration’s “We the People” program, which is featured on the White House website.

States whose residents filed secession petitions included:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington (state), West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

The reason: Thousands–if not millions–of Americans couldn’t abide a moderately-liberal black man winning a second term as President.

Abraham Lincoln dedicated his Presidency–and sacrificed his life–to ensure the preservation of a truly United States.

And Robert E. Lee–the defeated South’s greatest general–spent the last five years of his life trying to put the Civil War behind him and persuade his fellow Southerners to accept their place in the Union.

But today avowed racists, Fascists and other champions of treason are working hard to destroy that union–and unleash a second Civil War.  

Yet no official in Washington, D.C.–from President Obama on down–has so far dared to openly confront this menace. This failure to do so has only emboldened Trump’s Fascistic supporters and dismayed those who would oppose them.

President Obama should follow Andrew Jackson’s example–before treasonous talk becomes treasonous action.  

He should make clear that if treasonous violence erupts during his last two months in office, he will act decisively to crush it, using whatever level of force is necessary.

President Obama should warn these 21st-century would-be traitors that the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service are prepared to combat any threats to national security.

And if these agencies aren’t sufficient, the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines stand ready to send modern-day counterparts of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman to wherever they are needed.  

In 1864, Sherman’s 62,000 soldiers marched more than 650 miles in less than 100 days, ravaged Georgia, burned Atlanta to the ground–and ended the Civil War.

President Obama’s attitude should be: “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”

Sherman’s March through Georgia

Similarly, Hillary Clinton–if she is elected–should issue a similar statement: That her coming administration will not tolerate the outbreak of widespread violence from any section of the population, whatever the excuse.

And she should bluntly warn that “Marching Through Georgia” is a song that can be played wherever treason dares to show its face:

So we made a thoroughfare for freedom and her train
Sixty miles of latitude, three hundred to the main.
Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain
While we were marching through Georgia.

MARCHING THROUGH TREASON–AGAIN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 26, 2016 at 12:19 am

They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.
–William Tecumseh Sherman speaking of the Southern Confederacy

If Hillary Clinton is elected President, she may soon face the same crisis that confronted Abraham Lincoln more than a century ago: Mass treason.

Americans haven’t even voted yet. But, already, hard-core supporters of Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump believe a sinister international cabal has “rigged” the 2016 election for Clinton.  

There is absolutely no evidence for this–other than what Trump himself has loudly and repeatedly told them: That there is a massive conspiracy to take him down.  

At one town hall meeting where his Vice Presidential running mate, Mike Pence, appeared, a woman named Rhonda stood up and announced: “One of the things that I can tell you that a lot of us are scared of is this voter fraud.

“There’s a lot of out here saying that when we vote, we’re going to wear red. Our lives depend on this election. Our kids’ futures depend on this election.

“For me personally, if Hillary Clinton gets in, I myself am ready for a revolution.”  

In Cincinnati, a Trump supporter threatened to forcibly remove Clinton from the White House if she won the Presidential race: “I feel like Hillary needs to be taken out if she gets in the government. I’ll do everything in my power to take her out of power–which, if I have to be a patriot, I will.”

When asked if he was physically threatening Clinton, Dan Bowman, 50, told CNN: “I don’t know, is it?”

Officially, the Trump campaign claimed: “We reject violence in any form and will not allow it to be a part of our campaign.”

But on August 9, Trump told a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina that Clinton intended to abolish the Second Amendment: “If she gets to pick her judges, there’s nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people–maybe there is, I don’t know.”   

The Clinton camp instantly saw it as a “dog-whistle” solicitation for political assassination. The Trump campaign issued a statement denying that he had meant any such thing.  

On July 19, Trump clinched the Republican Presidential nomination. By early August, Roger Stone, a longtime Right-wing political consultant and now Trump strategist, was already predicting “widespread voter fraud” in the coming election.  

This despite the fact that a 2014 Washington Post analysis of 14 years of voter fraud found 31 possible incidents of in-person voter fraud, comprised of approximately 241 fraudulent ballots.  

In an interview with the Right-wing Breitbart News website, Stone said:

“The first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about [voter fraud] constantly. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.” 

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Roger Stone

Stone added that Trump should keep drumming up his supporters against the “rigged” system, and promise that the government would be shut down if Clinton was pronounced the victor in November.  

“I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath… We will not stand for it.” 

Yet no official in Washington, D.C.–from President Barack Obama on down–has so far dared to openly acknowledge–let alone confront–this menace.

If Hillary Clinton is elected President, she would do well to review how Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh President from 1829 to 1837, reacted to threats of secession.

Andrew Jackson

In 1830, South Carolina was threatening to secede from the Union. A South Carolina Congressman who was returning home visited Jackson and asked: “Do you have a message you want me to give to your friends in the state?”

Jackson questioned him about the recent mass meetings in Charleston.

The friend warned him that South Carolina’s fire-eaters believed “the Army and Navy aren’t big enough to collect a penny” of Federal taxes.

“Do they realize what their words mean?” asked Jackson.

“I’m afraid they do, General.”

“Then tell them from me that they can talk and write resolutions and print threats to their hearts’ content.

“But if one drop of blood is shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hands on engaged in such treasonable conduct, from the first tree I can reach.”

News of Jackson’s threat quickly spread throughout Washington, D.C.

Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina told his fellow Senator, Thomas Hart Benton, of Missouri, that he couldn’t believe that Jackson would send an army to invade a sovereign state.

Benton replied: “I tell you, Hayne, when Jackson starts talking about hanging, they can begin to look for the ropes.”

Jackson later issued a proclamation to the people of South Carolina and threatened to hang Hayne’s successor, Senator John C. Calhoun. He also warned that he would himself lead an army into the state to enforce Federal law.

The treasonous rumblings stopped–for the moment.

WHY THE POOR VOTE REPUBLICAN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 26, 2016 at 12:10 am

Republicans have long tried to prevent or eliminate programs that aid the poor and middle-class, including:

  • Social Security (since it began in 1935)
  • Medicare
  • National health insurance
  • Food stamps
  • WIC (Women, Infants, Children).

So why are so many poor Americans now flocking to this party’s banner?

Two reasons: Racism and greed. There are historical parallels for both.

First, race:

In 1999, historian Victor Davis Hanson noted the huge gap in wealth between the aristocratic, slave-owning minority of the pre-Civil War South and the vast majority of poor white Southerners.

Victor Davis Hanson

“Before the war in the counties Sherman would later ruin, the top 10% of the landowners controlled 40% of the assessed wealth.”

In contrast, “more than half of those who were lucky enough to own any property at all still possessed less than 15% of the area’s valuation.”

So Hanson asked: “Why did the millions of poor whites of the Confederacy fight at all?”

He supplied the answer in his brilliant work on military history, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny.

One of those liberators was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led 62,000 Union troops in a victorious “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864.

So why did so many poor Southern whites literally lay down their lives for the wealthy planter class, which despised them?

According to Hanson: “Behind the entire social fabric of the South lay slavery.

“If slavery eroded the economic position of the poor free citizens, if slavery encouraged a society of haves and have-nots…then it alone offered one promise to the free white man–poor, ignorant and dispirited–that he was at least not black and not a slave.”

And the planter class and its allies in government easily fobbed off their poor white countrymen with cheap flattery. Said Georgia Governor Joseph Brown:

“Among us the poor white laborer is respected as an equal. His family is treated with kindness, consideration, and respect. He does not belong to the menial class. The negro is in no sense his equal. He belongs to the only true aristocracy, the race of white men.”

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Arlington House and plantation, former home of Robert E. Lee

Similarly, poor whites now flock to the Republican Party–which holds them in equal contempt– in large part to protest the 2008 election of the first black President of the United States.

According to a Pew Research Center study released on July 22, 2011: “Notably, the GOP gains have occurred only among white voters; a 2-point Republican edge among whites in 2008 (46% to 44%) has widened to a 13-point lead today (52% to 39%).”

Since the 1960s, Republicans have pursued a campaign policy of “divide and rule”–divide the nation along racial lines and reap the benefits at election time.

  • Republicans opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Republicans opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Republicans, with Richard Nixon as their Presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972, pursued what they called a “Southern strategy”: Use “code language” to stoke fear and hatred of blacks among whites.
  • Republicans have falsely identified welfare programs exclusively with non-whites. (Of the six million Americans receiving food stamps, about 42% are white, 32% are black, and 22% are Latino–with the growth fastest among whites during the recession.)

Thus, in voting Republican, many of these poor whites believe they are “striking a blow for the white race.”

And they can do so in a more socially acceptable way than joining a certified hate group such as the American Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan.  

Since 2015, openly racist groups such as the Klan and the American Nazi Party have flocked to the banner of Presidential candidate mogul Donald Trump. By enthusiastically courting their support, the real estate mogul has made it possible for Republican candidates to openly display their own racism.

Now greed:

In the hit play, 1776, on the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, there is a telling exchange between John Dickinson and John Hancock. It comes during the song, “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men.”

Dickinson, the delegate from Pennsylvania, urges Hancock, president of the Second Continental Congress, “to join us in our minuet.”

By “us” he means his fellow conservatives who fear losing their property and exalted status by supporting American independence from Great Britain.

John Dickinson

Hancock declines, saying: “Fortunately, there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy.”

To which Dickinson replies:  “Perhaps not. But don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.  And that is why they will follow us.”

Today,  poor whites generally identify with the CEOs of powerful corporations. They believe the Republican gospel that they can attain such wealth–if only the government will “get out of my way.”

They forget–or ignore–the truth that government, for all its imperfections, is sometimes all that stands between them and a wide range of predators.

In return, the CEOs despise them as the privileged have always despised their social and economic “inferiors.”

Unless the Democratic Party can find ways to directly address these bitter, Politically Incorrect truths, it will continue its decline into insignificance.

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