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PURGE-TIME IN STALIN’S RUSSIA AND TRUMP’S AMERICA: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 26, 2017 at 12:29 am

One summer night in 1923, during a booze-fueled dinner, Joseph Stalin opened his hear to his two fellow diners.

One of these was Felix Dzerzhinsky, then  the chief of the Cheka, the dreaded Soviet secret police (and precursor to the KGB).  The other was Lev Kamenev, a member of the powerful Central Committee of the Communist party. 

Kamenev asked his companions: “What is your greatest pleasure?” 

And Stalin is reported to have said: “To choose one’s victim, to prepare one’s plans minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance and then to go to bed.  There is nothing sweeter in the world.”  

Thirteen years later, in August, 1936, Kamenev would be forced to confess to forming a terrorist organization.  Its alleged purpose: To assassinate Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet government. 

On August 25, 1936, Kamenev was executed in the notorious Lubyanka prison.

Donald Trump may not have read Stalin’s notorious quote about finding pleasure in vengeance. But he has given his own variation of it.

While addressing the National Achievers Conference in Sidney, Australia, in 2011, he offered this advice on how to achieve success: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”

Throughout his business career, Trump strictly practiced what he preached—becoming a plaintiff or a defendant in no fewer than 3,500 lawsuits. 

Since January 20, he has carried this “get even” philosophy into the Presidency.

The result has been unprecedented White House infighting, turmoil—and departures.  Among the casualties:

  • Steve Bannon – Chief strategist and senior counselor:  On August 17, 2016, Bannon was appointed chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign.  On August 18, 211 days into his tenure, he was fired.  A major reason: Trump was angered by the news media’s—and even many comedians’—depiction of Bannon as the real power in the White House.
  • Anthony Scaramucci – White House communications director: To celebrate his new job, he gave an insult-ridden interview to The New Yorker.  Among his targets: Then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (“a fucking paranoid schizophrenic”) and Steve Bannon (““I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock”).  Scaramucci’s career ended in just six days—on July 31.
  • Reince Priebus – White House Chief of Staff:  After repeatedly being humiliated by Trump—who at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about—Priebus resigned on July 28, 190 days into his tenure.
  • Jeff Sessions – Attorney General: Trump made him the target of a Twitter-laced feud.  Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from any decisions involving investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign. Trump publicly said that if he had known Sessions would recuse himself—because of his own past contacts with Russian officials—he would have picked someone else for Attorney General.
  • Sean Spicer – Press Secretary:  Resigned on July 21, 183 days into his tenure. The reason: Trump kept him in the dark about events Spicer needed to know—such as an interview that Trump arranged with the New York Times—and which ended disastrously for Trump.
  • James Comey – FBI Director:  Comey did not work for the Trump Presidential campaign.  But many political analysts believe he played perhaps the decisive role in electing the reality TV mogul. Comey’s announcement—11 days before Election Day—that he was re-opening the Hillary Clinton email server case convinced millions of voters that she had committed a crime. If, as some believed, Comey did so to curry favor with Trump, he proved mistaken.  Trump summoned Comey to the White House and, in a private meeting, demanded a pledge of personal loyalty.  Comey refused to give this—or to drop the FBI’s investigation into collaboration between Russian Intelligence agents and Trump campaign officials. On May 9, Trump sent his longtime private bodyguard and chief henchman, Keith Schiller, to the FBI with a letter announcing Comey’s firing. (FBI directors do not have Civil Service protection and can be fired at any time by the President.)
  • Mike Flynn – National Security Advisor: After resigning from the Defense Intelligence Agency, he vigorously supported Trump at rallies and events—including at the Republican National Convention.  As a reward, he was appointed National Security Advisor.  But he was forced to resign just 25 days into his tenure. The reason: The media revealed that he hadmisled Vice President Mike Pence about his multiple meetings with Sergey Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to the United States, before Trump’s inauguration.

As if such turmoil wasn’t enough, even worse may be to come. According to PoliticoMany White House staffers are starting to look for the exits, even though the one-year mark of Trump’s first term is still months away.

“There is no joy in Trumpworld right now,” one source told Politico. “Working in the White House is supposed to be the peak of your career, but everyone is unhappy, and everyone is fighting everyone else.”

A mass exodus would cause even greater difficulties for the Trump administration, which has not filled hundreds of  available positions because many people don’t want to join. 

The Trump administration is hiring at a slower pace than the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—including nominations and confirmations.

Fewer positions filled means less effective enforcement of the Trump agenda. For those who oppose it, this is something to celebrate.

PURGE-TIME IN STALIN’S RUSSIA AND TRUMP’S AMERICA: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 25, 2017 at 2:06 am

Donald Trump—as both Presidential candidate and President—has often been compared to Adolf Hitler.

Yet, in at least one sense, this comparison is inaccurate.  As Germany’s Fuhrer (1933-1945) Hitler kept on the members of his Cabinet for no less than 12 years.

Adolf Hitler

Among these:

  • Hermann Goering had repeatedly shown himself as the incompetent Reichsmarshall of the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Yet Hitler kept him on because Goering had been one of the “Old Fighters” who had supported Hitler long before the Nazis came to power.  Only in April, 1945, when Hitler falsely believed that Goering was trying to supplant him as Fuhrer, did he expel him from the party and order his arrest.
  • Rudolf Hess joined the Nazi party in 1920, and served as Deputy Fuhrer to Hitler from 1933 to 1941. That was when he flew to Scotland on a self-assigned mission to make peace with England. The British, believing him mad, locked him in the Tower of London until 1945.  Afterward, he was convicted at Nuremberg for war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop had been a champagne salesman before Hitler appointed him Foreign Minister in 1938, and held that post until the Reich’s defeat in 1945.  Although his arrogance and incompetence made him universally disliked by other high-ranking Nazi officials, Hitler never considered firing him.
  • Heinrich Himmler, appointed Reichsfuhrer-SS in 1929, held that position throughout the 12 years (1933-1945) the Third Reich lasted. It was to Himmler that Hitler entrusted the most important project of his life: The destruction of European Jewry. Only after learning—in the final days of the Reich—that Himmler had sought to make peace with the Allies did Hitler expel him from the party and order his arrest.

Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union (1928-1953) serves as a far better comparison figure for Trump.

Joseph Stalin

In 1936, Stalin ordered the first of a series of purges—from high-ranking members of the Communist party to impoverished peasants.  Among the most prominent of his victims:

  • Grigory Zimoviev, former member of the Central Committee of the Communist party. He was arrested in 1934 on trumped-up charges of “moral complicity” in the assassination of Leniningrad party boss Sergei Kirov.  He was executed in 1936.
  • Leon Trotsky, onetime second-in-command only to Vladimir Lenin, clashed with Stalin before the November 7, 1917 Russian Revolution. They remained locked in combat until Lenin’s death of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1924. Stalin drove Trotsky out of the Communist party and even out of the Soviet Union. In 1940, on Stalin’s orders, he was assassinated while living under guard in Mexico.
  • Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda served as director of the NKVD secret police (the precursor of the KGB) from 1934 to 1936. He supervised the arrest, show trial and execution of former Central Committee members Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zimoviev. Arrested in 1937, he was falsely charged with treason and conspiracy against the Soviet government. Yagoda was shot soon after the trial. His wife Ida Averbakh was also executed in 1938.
  • Nikolai Yezhov became head of the NKVD secret police  in 1936.  He oversaw what historians have since named the Great Terror until 1939. Arrested in April, he was replaced by Lavrenty Beria. In 1940, Yezhov himself was executed by the executioners he had once commanded.

Like Joseph Stalin, Donald Trump has presided over a series of purges since reaching the White House.

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Donald Trump

Like Stalin, Trump demands unconditional loyalty from those who serve in his administration. And, also like Stalin, he does not believe that loyalty is a two-way street.

Moreover, it doesn’t take much to offend Trump’s fragile ego. When “Saturday Night Live” started doing skits showcasing his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as a Rasputin-like figure who manipulated Trump, Bannon’s days were clearly numbered.

The same proved true for Anthony Scaramucci, who was to become White House communications director.  All that it took to secure his dismissal was an expletive-ridden phone interview with The New Yorker‘s Ryan Lizza. It didn’t help Scaramucci that he bragged about purging the entire White House communications staff and even siccing the FBI on leakers.

Others have left the White House owing to its increasingly paranoid atmosphere. Reports have surfaced of staffers being ordered to turn over their cell phones for inspection. The reason: To ensure they weren’t communicating with reporters by text message or through encrypted apps.

Then there is the very real—and justified—fear of being caught up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s ever-widening investigation into collusion between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

One of those who has reportedly hired top-notch legal talent is Hope Hicks, interim White House communications director. According to Politico, the 28-year-old has retained the services of veteran criminal defense lawyer Robert Trout, who once worked for the Justice Department.

Even if a White House staffer is not ultimately indicted and convicted, the costs of hiring top-flight legal talent can prove ruinous.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump claimed a $9 billion fortune: “I’m really rich!”  But he has shown no willingness to spend any of it defending those officials he has hired.

And for an administration already plagued with a shortage of desperately-needed talent, even worse may soon be to come.

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