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Posts Tagged ‘JOE BIDEN’

OBAMA AND TRUMP: DUELING LEGACIES IN FICTION

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 10, 2019 at 12:08 am

Presidential legacies live on in unexpected ways.  

Right now, the legacies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump are vying for the attention of—fiction readers.

In Hope Never Dies: An Obama-Biden Mystery, author Andrew Shaffer has fashioned a novel that is half-mystery, half-bromance.   

Vice President Joe Biden has just left the Obama White House and doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Then Finn Donnelly, his favorite railroad conductor, dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues.

To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” calls on the skills of his former boss: The 44th President of the United States. Together they scour biker bars, cheap motels and other memorable haunts throughout Delaware.Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery (Obama Biden Mysteries)

Then Biden unearths a disturbing truth about his longtime—and now dead—friend. This, in turn, leads Biden and Obama to uncover the sinister forces behind America’s opioid epidemic.

The book is pure fantasy fun, as evidenced from this review by Alexandra Alter in The New York Times

“[Hope Never Dies is] a roughly 300-page work of political fanfiction, an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes. But it’s also at times a surprisingly earnest story about estranged friends who are reunited under strange circumstances.”

A reader named Casey, reviewing the novel for Goodreads, writes: “While Shaffer could have leaned into nostalgia alone, he’s written a solid mystery with the characters fleshed out as more than just cliches.

“The reader really feels Biden’s longing to be helpful and his anguish over seeing 44’s legacy undone so quickly by an individual who shall remain nameless. (The presidential zings in this book are incredible, truly.)

“The tension between the two rings as true as it did when they were in office….By all means, this book shouldn’t work as well as it does. For a few hours, I got to enjoy the company of politicians who behaved like adults (mostly). It sure was nice.”

Contrasting with the relatively lighthearted fictional image of Barack Obama is the immensely darker one of Donald Trump.

Don Winslow offers Trump an extended cameo appearance in The Border, his massive, 736-page novel about America’s war on drugs—and the horrific violence it has spawned in Mexico. It’s the third of a trilogy of novels vividly portraying the violent costs of an unwinnable conflict. 

The Border: A Novel (Power of the Dog Book 3)

Art Keller is a dedicated agent of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For over 40 years, he has waged all-out war on Adán Barrera, the godfather of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Appointed director of the DEA, Keller now faces a series of deadly enemies:

  • A heroin epidemic surging across America; 
  • Hitmen who want to kill him;
  • Politicians who want to sabotage his agenda; and
  • An incoming administration that’s allied with the very drug traffickers he’s trying to destroy.

And heading this administration is John Dennison—Donald Trump in all but name—who:

  • Gratuitously insults people on Twitter;
  • Fires a Special Counsel;
  • Gets blackmailed by a woman he once bedded; and
  • Colludes with drug traffickers for a multi-million dollar loan to finance his Presidential campaign.

Whereas the reviews for Hope Never Dies were as upbeat as the book itself, those of The Border reflect the novel’s mercilessly grim take on a war that can’t be won. 

Los Angeles Times:The Border is intricate, mean and swift, a sprawling canvass of characters including narco kingpins, a Guatemalan stowaway, a Staten Island heroin addict, a kinky hit woman, a barely veiled Donald Trump and DEA agent Art Keller, who….has been noble and merciless, a conflicted wanderer who makes America face the transgressions committed in its name.”

Rolling Stone: “Clocking in at over 700 pages, it is his most overtly political installment yet. He takes on the Trump administration directly, creating a fictional candidate, then president, who stokes racist fears of Mexicans, campaigns on ‘building the wall’ and, along with his venal son-in-law, gets caught up in a shady real estate deal involving Cartel money.”

NPR:The Border becomes a book for our times. Like Shakespeare, it makes a three-act drama of our modern moment. Like Shakespeare’s plays, it shows us a world that is our own, a history that is our own, a burden that is our own, rendered out into the rhythm of scenes and arcs, chapters and parts.”

The signature slogan of Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign was: “Yes, We Can!” The slogan of Trump’s 2016 effort could have been: “No, You Can’t.” 

Obama concentrated the full force of his attention on reforming American healthcare—by making it available to millions whose insurance refused to provide coverage.

Trump’s top priority is to separate the United States from Mexico with an impenetrable wall—and he has even diverted $3.6 billion from Pentagon funding to pay for it. 

Like John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama will likely be positively remembered as much for what he tried to do as what he succeeded at doing.

Like Richard M. Nixon, Donald Trump will likely be remembered as a menacing stain on American history. 

“YEAH, IT’S TOO BAD YOU WERE SHOT. NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT ME”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 15, 2019 at 12:04 am

On the morning of August 3, 2019, a lone gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others in El Paso, Texas. 

On August 7, President Donald Trump flew to El Paso—allegedly to comfort the surviving victims of that massacre.

But what was officially intended to be a day of comforting the afflicted became one of Presidential egomania.

Trump initially praised the medical staff of the University Medical Center at El Paso: “The job you’ve done is incredible. They’re talking about you all over the world.”

But then he quickly pivoted to praise himself.

He said that he and his Democratic Presidential rival, Beto O’Rourke, had staged political rallies in El Paso earlier in February. And he mocked the relatively small size of the crowd that had attended the one by O’Rourke:

“I was here three months ago, we made a speech. That place was packed. …That was some crowd. And we had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot, they said his crowd was wonderful.” 

Trump did not boast that he has still not paid the $569,204.63 his campaign owes to El Paso for police and public safety fees from that rally.

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After mocking Beto O’Rourke, Trump referred to his earlier visit that day to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

Three days earlier, on the morning of August 4, another gun massacre had rocked Dayton. Ten people were killed, including the gunman, and 27 others were injured.

But empathy for the victims—dead and living—was far from Trump’s mind as he spoke with medical staffers in El Paso: 

“We had an amazing day. As you know, we left Ohio. And the love and the respect for the office of the presidency, it was—I wish you could have been in there to see it. I wish you could have been in there.”

John Olilver, an English comedian, political commentator and television host, offered a scathing review of Trump’s behavior: “Look, we all know how much Trump struggles to do the bare minimum of being a president, but it’s still genuinely shocking just how much he struggles to do the bare minimum of being a fucking person.

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John Oliver

“Just consider the thought process that happened there: He visited a hospital filled with victims of a mass shooting and thought to himself: ‘Remember that other time when I was the center of attention and it was better?’ And then he thought: ‘Do you think anyone else remembers that?’ Then he thought: ‘I should remind them, right?!’ Then he thought: ‘Great idea!'”

From the outset of his Presidency, Trump has routinely made himself the center of attention on what should have been a somber occasion.

The first time this happened was on January 21, 2017—the day after his inauguration.

He visited the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia, to pay tribute to the men and women who discover—and counter—the deadly plots of America’s sworn enemies. 

Now Trump stood before what, to CIA employees, was the agency’s most sacred site: The star-studded memorial wall honoring the 117 CIA officers who had fallen in the line of duty.

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Donald Trump at the CIA

So Trump talked about—himself. 

Here are the some excerpts:

….You know, when I was young and when I was—of course, I feel young. I feel like I’m 30, 35, 39. Somebody said, are you young? I said, I think I’m young. You know, I was stopping— when we were in the final month of that campaign, four stops, five stops, seven stops. Speeches, speeches, in front of 25,000, 30,000 people, 15,000, 19,000 from stop to stop. I feel young…. 

* * * * *

And I was explaining about the numbers. We did a thing yesterday at the speech. Did everybody like the speech?  I’ve been given good reviews. But we had a massive field of people. You saw them. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. 

I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was—it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there.

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Crowds at Obama (left) and Trump (right) Inaugurals

And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well. I said, it was almost raining, the rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech. 

* * * * *

So a reporter for Time magazine—and I have been on their cover, like, 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine. Like, if Tom Brady is on the cover, it’s one time, because he won the Super Bowl or something, right?

I’ve been on it for 15 times this year. I don’t think that’s a record….that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think? 

* * * * *

Former CIA director John Brennan thought Trump’s remarks were “despicable.”

That word is now widely being used to describe the man who, tweeted Beto O’Rourke, “helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible.”

AMERICA’S “SOCIOPATH-IN-CHIEF”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 14, 2019 at 12:05 am

August 7 was supposed to be a day of mourning and comforting.

Mourning—for the 32 gun massacre victims slaughtered on August 3 and 4 in, respectively, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. And comforting—by President Donald Trump, who planned to visit the hospitalized survivors of those shootings.

The day turned out to be one of vitriol by and self-aggrandizement for Trump. 

In El Paso, none of the patients being treated at University Medical Center agreed to meet with Trump. 

Although reporters were barred from covering Trump’s visit, a photo posted on Twitter by Melania Trump captured perhaps the most incendiary moment of his day.

It showed Trump flashing a thumb’s-up while posing with the two-month-old son of Andre and Jordan Anchondo—both of whom had been shot by the El Paso gunman, Patrick Wood Crusius. 

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Donald and Melania Trump posing with orphaned baby

From the smiles on the Trumps’ faces, a viewer might think the boy belonged to them.

Outrage erupted almost immediately on Twitter:

Greg Pinelo: “This is a photo of Trump grinning while Melania holds a baby orphaned by the shooting. A baby who was taken from home and forced to serve as a prop at a photo-op for the very monster whose hate killed her/his parents. I would need 280,000 characters to say how furious I am.”

Bryan William Jones: “I am genuinely confused and horrified by this image. Am I taking this the wrong way? Why is Trump and Melania posing, GRINNING, and giving a thumbs up with the infant who’s parents were murdered by the shooter in El Paso. Seriously… WTH is going on?”

What was going on was this: The orphaned child, named Paul, had been injured during the shooting, breaking his fingers when his mother, Jordan, fell on him. She died trying to protect him. Her husband, Andre, died trying to shield her from the bullets.

The baby’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, had brought Paul back to the hospital—reportedly at the request of the White House—for a photo-op with Trump.

Anchondo stands next to Donald Trump in the photo. Tito is a strong supporter of Trump.

According to him, so was his brother, Andre: “I think people are misconstruing President Trump’s ideas. My brother was very supportive of Trump.”

And so, ironically enough, so was the killer—Patrick Wood Crusius—whose victims were mostly Hispanics.

Just 27 minutes before the massacre, Crusius had posted an online manifesto warning about a “Hispanic invasion.”

Its language was similar to that used by Trump: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought about by an invasion….

“In short, America is rotting from the inside out, and peaceful means to try to stop this seem to be nearly impossible.”

Another viewer of the photo who was thoroughly outraged by it was David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times. 

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

Appearing on the August 9 edition of The PBS Newshour, Brooks said: “Well, there’s a photo, a still from that visit where he’s with the orphan baby and two family members, with his wife.

“And Melania is holding the child. And he’s got this grin and the thumb up. And when I looked at that photo, I thought, the Democrats are having a debate: Is he a racist? Is he a white supremacist? And I look at that photo, I think, well, he’s a sociopath.

“He’s incapable of experiencing or showing empathy. And, politically, it’s helpful for him to target that lack of empathy and fellow feeling toward people of color. But how much have we seen him show empathy for anybody?

“And so I look at that as someone who is unloved and made himself unlovable and whose subject is himself, is his own competitive greatness. And so he doesn’t do the consoler in chief just because he doesn’t do that emotional range.” 

This wasn’t the first time that Brooks had commented on Trump’s apparent incapacity for empathy.

On March 25, 2016, Brooks, again on The PBS Newshour, said: “The odd thing about [Trump’s] whole career and his whole language, his whole world view is there is no room for love in it. You get a sense of a man who received no love, can give no love, so his relationship with women, it has no love in it. It’s trophy.

“And [Trump’s] relationship toward the world is one of competition and beating, and as if he’s going to win by competition what other people get by love.

“And so you really are seeing someone who just has an odd psychology unleavened by kindness and charity, but where it’s all winners and losers, beating and being beat. And that’s part of the authoritarian personality, but it comes out in his attitude toward women.”

Brooks may be the first conservative columnist to describe a Republican President as a “sociopath.” Given Trump’s behavior on what was supposed to be a day of national mourning, it isn’t likely to be the last time Brooks uses that word. 

AMERICA’S “SOCIOPATH-IN-CHIEF”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 13, 2019 at 12:14 am

Since 2006, 1,714 people have been killed in 311 mass shootings within the United States. This works out to about one incident per every two weeks.

From January 1 to August 5, 2019—216 days into the year—the United States has had 112 people killed in gun massacres. That comes to about one death every other day, according to an analysis by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

On the morning of August 3, 2019, a lone gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others in El Paso, Texas. The killer—Patrick Wood Crusius—reportedly targeted Latinos.

Then, on the morning of August 4, another gun massacre occurred—in Dayton, Ohio. Ten people were killed, including the gunman, and 27 others were injured. 

On August 7, President Donald Trump flew first to Dayton and then to El Paso—allegedly to comfort the surviving victims of those massacres.

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Donald Trump

So what was officially intended to be a day of comforting the afflicted became one of Presidential egomania, venom and self-pity.

On the night of August 6, Trump tweeted an attack on Democratic Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke:

“Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O’Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!”

The tone was that of an all-powerful dictator addressing a rebellious subject.

O’Rourke quickly replied on Twitter: “22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I.”

Beto O'Rourke, Official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg

Beto O’Rourke

Then Trump attacked The New York Times for changing its “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism” headline: “After 3 years I almost got a good headline from the Times!”

Trump next tried to tie the Dayton shooter to Democrats, no doubt because Republicans have been the party resisting gun control legislation: “Meanwhile, the Dayton, Ohio, shooter had a history of supporting political figures like [Senator] Bernie Sanders, [Senator] Elizabeth Warren, and ANTIFA.” @OANN I hope other news outlets will report this as opposed to Fake News. Thank you!”

Dayton’s mayor, Nan Whaley, and Ohio’s United States Senator, Sherrod Brown, reacted positively to Trump’s visit to Miami Valley Hospital: “They were hurting. He was comforting. He did the right things. Melania did the right things,” Brown said. “And it’s his job in part to comfort people. I’m glad he did it in those hospital rooms.”

Whaley added: “I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton.”

Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton, Ohio USA.jpg

Nan Whaley

Daniel E. Cleary [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

This did not, however, prevent Trump from attacking both of them on Twitter: “Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with the Victims & families, Law Enforcement, Medical Staff & First Responders. It was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love.

“Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally….misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with. They were all amazing!” 

White House Press Secretary Stephan Grisham tweeted: “President @realDonaldTrump graciously asked Sen Brown & Mayor Whaley to join as he and the First Lady visited victims, medical staff & first responders. It is genuinely sad to see them immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics.” 

White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino tweeted: “Very SAD to see Ohio Senator Brown, & Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley – LYING & completely mischaracterizing what took place w/ the President’s visit to Miami Valley Hospital today. They are disgraceful politicians, doing nothing but politicizing a mass shooting, at every turn they can.”

“The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video. They all loved seeing their great President!”

Responding to Trump’s attacks, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley tweeted: “Not sure what the President thinks @SenSherrodBrown and I misrepresented. As we said, the victims and first responders were comforted by his presence. Let’s hope he’s not one of these all talk, no action politicians and actually does something on gun control. #DoSomething.” 

From Dayton it was on to El Paso—and more personal attacks via Twitter.

First target: Former Vice President and now Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden: “Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring! The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks with this guy. It will be over for them, not to mention the fact that our Country will do poorly with him. It will be one big crash, but at least China will be happy!”

Then he blasted Shepard Smith, one of the few anchors on Right-wing Fox News Network who’s willing to criticize him: “Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews. Actually, whenever possible, I turn to @OANN!” 

From Dayton, it was on to El Paso—and a photo-op that would provoke national outrage.

THE “PROGRESSIVE PROSECUTOR” WHO IGNORED THE LAW

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 4, 2019 at 12:08 am

Kamala Harris spent seven years (2004 – 2011) as District Attorney of San Francisco and another six years (2011 – 2017) as California Attorney General. Then, in 2016, she won election to the United States Senate.

Now she wants to be the first black woman President of the United States. And to tout her candidacy, she’s published her memoirs: The Truths We HoldIn these, she describes herself as a “progressive prosecutor.”  

Harris knows that law enforcement issues are a lightning rod for both liberal and conservative voters. So she’s trying to portray herself as appealing to both.

“It’s a presidential campaign, and every aspect of a candidate’s record is going to be scrutinized and they’re going to have to answer for it,” said Mo Elleithee, a longtime Democratic operative who leads Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden chaired the Senate’s Judiciary Committee when he backed the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This created stricter penalties for drug offenders and funneled billions of dollars toward more police and new prisons. Now he’s being accused of helping create an era of mass incarceration among blacks.

Today, with millions of illegal aliens from Central and Latin America flooding into the United States, the spotlight has shifted from the incarceration of blacks to that of Hispanics.

Illegal immigration—and what to do about it—is now the hottest political issue in the country.  And it may well undo Harris’ chances to become President.

For liberals of the Democratic party, “open borders” appears to be the solution to illegal immigration. Yet the vast majority of Americans reject this. They support legal immigration—but oppose illegal immigration.

Moreover, Donald Trump has ignited a white-hot fury against illegal aliens from Central and Latin America.

And Kamala Harris’ record as San Francisco District Attorney is hardly reassuring on this issue.  

Among the truths she holds secret: When she served as District Attorney for San Francisco, she set up a secret unit to keep even convicted illegal alien felons out of prison—and in the United States.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris

Her program, called Back on Track, trained them for jobs they could not legally hold. This was a flagrant violation of Federal immigration law.  Completion led to the expunging of a felony conviction, making it highly popular among convicted criminals.

One such alumnus was Alexander Izaguirre, an illegal alien who had been arrested twice within eight months—for purse-snatching and selling cocaine.

In July, 2008, four months after pleading guilty to selling cocaine, Izaguirre assaulted Amanda Kiefer, a legal San Francisco resident.

Snatching her purse, he jumped into an SUV, then tried to run Kiefer down. Terrified, she leaped onto the hood and saw Izaguirre and a driver laughing.

The driver slammed on the brakes, sending Kiefer flying onto the pavement and fracturing her skull.

The program, Back on Track, became a centerpiece of Harris’ campaign for state Attorney General.

Until she was questioned by the Los Angeles Times about the Izaguirre case, Harris had never publicly admitted that the program included illegal aliens.

Harris claimed she first learned that illegal aliens were training for jobs only after Izaguirre was arrested for the Kiefer assault. Apparently not one of her fellow prosecutors ever mentioned this to her.

Harris said it was a “flaw in the design” of the program to let illegal aliens into the program. “I believe we fixed it,” she told the Times.

Harris never released statistics on how many illegal aliens were included since the program started in 2005.

She said that after Izaguirre’s arrest she never asked—or learned—how many illegal aliens were in Back on Track. A strange lapse in curiosity for a prosecutor charged with enforcing the law.

When Harris learned that illegal aliens were enrolled, she allowed those who were following the rules to finish the program and have their criminal records expunged.

 

It is not the duty of local law enforcement, she said, to enforce Federal immigration laws.

So much for her oath to faithfully defend the Constitution of the United States and that of the state of California “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

From 2005 to 2009, 113 admitted drug dealers graduated from Back on Track. Another 99 were kicked off the program for failing to meet the requirements. They were sentenced under their guilty plea, the D.A.’s office claimed.

Harris told the Times that graduates of Back on Track were less likely than other offenders to commit crimes again.  But her spokeswoman refused to offer detailed statistics to back this up.

When Harris became San Francisco District Attorney, she vowed she would “never charge the death penalty.” 

Her opposition to capital punishment would be better-suited to a public defender.

Meanwhile, Amanda Kiefer left California. Interviewed by the Times, she said she could not understand why San Francisco police and prosecutors would allow convicted illegal aliens back onto the streets.

“If they’re committing crimes,” she said, “I think there’s something wrong that they’re not being deported.”

It’s a sentiment that law-abiding Americans agree with. And it should go double for those who are charged with enforcing the law.

LOVE THE RICH, IGNORE THE REST: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 25, 2019 at 12:15 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

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

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

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

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Walter Scheidel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE THE RICH, IGNORE THE REST: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 24, 2019 at 1:21 am

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

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

On June 18, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joe Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. Money is, after all, the lifeblood of all political campaigns, and Biden wanted to guarantee he got more of it than any of his 23 Democratic rivals.

So the former vice president had a message he felt sure would appeal to his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

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

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Joe Biden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

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

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

But this situation need not remain permanent.

POLITICAL INSULTS: IGNORE THEM OR RESPOND?—PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 8, 2019 at 4:01 pm

On the May 27, 2016 edition of the PBS Newshour, New York Times columnist David Brooks noted the ability of Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren to rattle Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump.

But he added that this presented a dilemma for candidates who wished to retaliate against Trump’s insults with their own:

“And so the tactics…is either you do what Elizabeth Warren has done, like full-bore negativity, that kind of [get] under the skin, or try to ridicule him and use humor.” 

Humor has never been the strong point of Democrats generally. 

Tyrants are conspicuously vulnerable to ridicule. Yet Democrats have proven unable or unwilling to make use of this powerful weapon.

Donald Trump—as political candidate and President—has repeatedly assaulted the press as “fake news.” 

But no Democrat has dared to label him a “fake President.”

Similarly, Democrats have refused to capitalize on Trump’s often-publicized admiration for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin by calling him “Red Donald,” “Putin’s Puppet,” “Trumpy Traitor” or “Commissar-in-Chief.”

Had Democrats attacked him with such insults, the 2016 Presidential campaign might well have ended differently.

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Vladimir Putin

Kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D

Democrats and liberals (the two are often different) have similarly failed to produce funny anti-Trump jokes. Jokes are an effective weapon because they highlight traits that people are already familiar with—such as Trump’s dictatorial nature.

  • One day, while walking down a corridor, President Trump passes Hillary Clinton. “It’s so nice to see you,” says Trump. “I thought I had you shot.”
  • What’s the difference between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler?  Nothing—but Trump doesn’t know it.  

Or his egomania:

  • Donald Trump dies—and, to punish his blatant greed and egotism, he’s returned to Earth as a mouse. He quickly tires of raping other, mere mice—and sets his sights on something he thinks worthy of his prowess: An elephant. He spots a female elephant chewing grass at a waterhole and shimmies up her leg. Then he crawls up her backside and starts pounding away. The elephant, having eaten too much grass, gives a loud grunt. And Trump-mouse stops for a moment and says: “Did I hurt you, sweetheart?” 

Or his crudeness: 

  • Trump is so furious that he can’t send the Air Force to bomb the New York Times building, he spits on a White House carpet. A staffer promptly rebukes him: “You can’t do that—this is where Abraham Lincoln once walked.” Trump: “Yes I can. Vladimir Putin himself gave me permission. When I visited the Kremlin, I spat on the carpet there, too. And Putin said: ‘You can do whatever you want in the White House, but you can’t do that here.'”   

Incredibly for this YouTube-obsessed age, Democrats have never assailed Trump with barrages of satirical musical videos.

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Donald Trump

Trump’s notorious “bromance” with Vladimir Putin could be satirized by converting the Beatles’ hit, “With a Little Help From My Friends” into “With a Little Help From My Vlad”:

What do I do when the bank calls me in?
(Does it worry you to be in debt?)
How do I feel when I need rubles fast?
(Do you worry Vlad might say “Nyet”?)

No, I get by with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, I can lie with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, you’re gonna fry with a little help from my Vlad.

In the hands of a creative writer, the classic, “Love and Marriage,” could be turned into a searing attack on Trump’s infamous affair with porn “star” Stormy Daniels:  

Trump and Stormy
Trump and Stormy
When his wife’s away, Trump thinks, “Why worry?
Sex with sluts is kinky.
And they don’t mind I’m really stinky.”

Pay, pay, pay the porn star’s bill off
It’s a deduction.
Pay, pay, pay it off because for you
This is seduction.

Many Americans have wondered how so many millions of their fellow citizens could have voted for Trump.

“Springtime for Hitler,” the signature tune of the hit play and movie, The Producers, could become “Springtime for Trumpland”—and help mightily in clearing up that mystery:

America was having trouble
What a sad, sad story.
Needed a new leader
To restore its former glory.

Where oh where was he?
Who could that man be?
We looked around and then we found
The man for you and me.

And now it’s… 

Springtime for Trump goons and bigotry—
Winter for Reason and Light.
Springtime for Trumpland and infamy—
Come on, Trumpsters, let’s go pick a fight. 

Parody song-writers could easily attack the obvious racism of Trump’s hardcore base. Consider these revised lyrics for the classic folk song, “Little Boxes”:

And some go off to lynchings
Where they hang their black neighbors high.
And they all have stupid children
And the children flunk at school.
And the children go to Nazi sites
And learn their perversity.
Then they turn out like their parents
And they’re all scum just the same. 

For any of this to happen, Democrats would need to acquire two qualities they have all-too-often lacked: Creativity and courage. 

Fortunately for Trump, Democrats continue to lack both.

POLITICAL INSULTS: IGNORE THEM OR RESPOND?—PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 7, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Former Vice President Joe Biden has stepped into the nickname wars.

Since Biden launched his bid in late April, President Donald Trump has relentlessly insulted him, often referring to him as “Sleepy Joe.”

At a private fundraiser in Columbia, South Carolina, a supporter asked Biden if he would return Trump’s insults.

“There’s so many nicknames I’m inclined to give this guy,” Biden said to laughter in the room. “You can just start with clown.” 

Biden said he would respond to Trump if directly attacked. But he added that he believed it was part of Trump’s strategy to avoid dealing with serious issues.

“On every single issue and on every demeaning thing he says about other people, I have no problem responding directly,” Biden said. “What I’m not going to do is get into what he wants me to do. He wants this to be a mud wrestling match.” 

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Joe Biden 

The blunt truth is that neither Democrats nor Republicans have even tried to match—let alone top—Trump’s penchant for insulting his political opponents.

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks have noted this aspect of Trump’s character

On May 27, 2016, Shields—a liberal, and Brooks, a conservative—appeared on the PBS Newshour to review the week’s major political events.

With the business magnate having won the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, both columnists appeared increasingly dismayed. 

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

MARK SHIELDS: “Donald Trump gratuitously slandered Ted Cruz’s wife. He libeled Ted Cruz’s father for being potentially part of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of the president of the United States, suggesting that he was somehow a fellow traveler in that.  

“This is a libel. You don’t get over it….  

“I cannot figure out any possible advantage to Donald Trump when he’s got a problem with Latinos and with women to go into New Mexico, where the nation’s only Latina woman Republican governor sits, who has not said anything negative about him, who endorsed one of his opponents, but has not been an attack dog on Donald Trump, and absolutely goes after her and is abusive to her.  

“And I’m just saying to myself, what is the advantage to this?

“…I think this man may be addicted to the roar of the grease paint and the sound of the crowd, or however it goes, smell of the crowd.

“And those rallies bring out something in him, and he just feels that he has to—and it’s all personal….I mean, it’s not a philosophical difference. It’s not a political difference. It’s all personal.”

DAVID BROOKS: “Trump, for all his moral flaws, is a marketing genius. And you look at what he does. He just picks a word and he attaches it to a person. Little Marco [Rubio], Lyin’ Ted [Cruz], Crooked Hillary [Clinton].

“And that’s a word.  And that’s how marketing works.  It’s a simple, blunt message, but it gets under.

“It sticks, and it diminishes.  And so it has been super effective for him, because he knows how to do that.  And she [Hillary Clinton] just comes with, ‘Oh, he’s divisive.’

“These are words that are not exciting people. And her campaign style has gotten, if anything…a little more stagnant and more flat.”  

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Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only Presidential candidate who proved unable to cope with Trump’s gifts for insult. His targets—and insults—included: 

  • Former Texas Governor Rick Perry: “Wears glasses to seem smart.”
  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: “Low Energy Jeb.”
  • Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders: “Crazy Bernie.”
  • Ohio Governor John Kasich: “Mathematically dead and totally desperate.”

Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tried to out-insult Trump at the Republican Presidential candidates’ debate on March 3, 2016.

“I call him Little Marco. Little Marco. Hello, Marco,” said Trump.

And so Rubio retaliated with “Big Donald.”

Since Americans generally believe that “bigger is better,” this was a poor choice of insult.

So far, only one opponent has managed to verbally stand up to Trump: Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom Trump has called “goofy” and “Pocahontas.”  

On the May 27, 2016 edition of the PBS Newshour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields noted the ability of Elizabeth Warren to rattle Trump:

“Elizabeth Warren gets under Donald Trunp’s skin. And I think she’s been the most effective adversary. I think she’s done more to unite the Democratic party than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

“I mean, she obviously—he can’t stay away from her. He is tweeting about her.” 

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Elizabeth Warren

JUDY WOODRUFF (moderator): “But whether it’s Elizabeth Warren or not, doesn’t Hillary Clinton need to come up with some approach that works, that is as effective comeback?”

DAVID BROOKS: “Yes. Well, I think she does, not that anybody else has managed to do this….

“And so the tactics…is either you do what Elizabeth Warren has done, like full-bore negativity, that kind of [get] under the skin, or try to ridicule him and use humor. Humor is not Hillary Clinton’s strongest point.”  

But sharp-edged humor clearly works for Warren.  

OUT OF EVIL, CHAOS: PART FIVE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 18, 2018 at 1:16 am

The first year of Donald Trump’s White House has seen more firings, resignations, and reassignments of top staffers than any other first-year administration in modern history. His Cabinet turnover exceeds that of any other administration in the last 100 years. 

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The White House

With the administration rapidly approaching its halfway pint—January 20, 2019—it’s time to size up its litany of casualties. 

This listing, however, does not tell the full story. Among those who resigned from the Trump administration—and the real reasons why:

  • Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald – Resigned as director of the Center of Disease Control after Politico reported that she had bought stock in Japan Tobacco while serving as CDC director.
  • Omarosa Manigault-Newman – Met Trump as a contestant on “The Apprentice,” where he fired her on three different shows. She moved into the White House with him as Director of Communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison. She became disillusioned with him during 2017 and began taping her conversations with him and other government officials. When she learned she had been fired she reportedly had to be literally dragged from the White House.
  • Tom Price – The Secretary of Health and Human Services ran up a $1 million cost to taxpayers for private planes and military jets for travel within the United States and trips to Asia, Africa and Europe. 
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross – Trump told him: “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations….You’re past your prime.” 
  • Sean Spicer – Resigned in anger after Trump chose Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director. 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.
  • Walter Shaub – Resigned as the director of the Office of Government Ethics in July after clashing with Trump over the President’s conflicts-of-interest vis-a-vis his financial holdings.
  • Hope Hicks – White House Communications Director, resigned one day after testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. She claimed she had told “white lies” for Trump but hadn’t lied about anything important relating to the investigation of Russian subversion of the 2016 election.
  • Chief of Staff Reince Priebus – Suffered repeated humiliations by Trump—such a being ordered to kill a fly that was buzzing about.
  • On another occasion, Trump told an associate that Priebus was “like a little rat. He just scurries around.”
  • On July 28, 2017, Priebus resigned.
  • Chief of Staff John Kelly – Trump similarly ridiculed Priebus’ replacement, a former Marine Corps general. Kelly tried to limit the number of advisers who had unrestricted access to Trump—and thus bring discipline to his schedule.
  • Instead of being grateful, Trump became furious. Kelly told colleagues: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

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John Kelly

On December 8, 2018, Trump announced that: “John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year, we will be announcing who will be taking John’s place, it may be on an interim basis, in the next day or two.” 

This had been expected for months. Reportedly, Kelly and Trump were no longer on speaking terms.

Trump’s apparent first choice for Kelly’s replacement: Nick Ayers, who had served as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff for more than a year.  

Trump pushed Ayers to commit to two years, but he declined.

Ayers told Trump he had young children, and wanted to return to his home state of Georgia. He offered to temporarily serve as chief of staff, but Trump demanded a two-year commitment, and talks fell apart.

Finally, Trump found a replacement for Kelly: Mick Mulvaney, who has served as director of the Office of Management and Budget. He intends to keep his position at OMB while serving as Trump’s chief of staff.

As 2018 rapidly comes to an end, the Trump administration will come under increased pressure on two fronts:

  1. The Special Counsel’s investigation of Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election: Robert Mueller is slowly closing the net on the highest-ranking members of the Trump administration—such as Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. These will almost certainly lead to Trump himself.
  2. On January 3, the House of Representatives will become a Democratically-controlled body. Trump will face unprecedented opposition—and major investigations of his past and current actions. It’s likely that the House Intelligence Committee will go after his long-hidden tax returns—which may well prove his longstanding financial ties to Russian oligarchs.

The White House is one of the most stressful places to work. Constant deadlines keep staffers working days on end. Travel is frequent. And anyone can be dismissed in an instant, since all employees work “at the pleasure of the President.”

These events will bring increased fear and stress to those who still remain in the White House. This, in turn, will ensure increased mass firings and/or resignations from the White House.  

As aging stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) warns in All About Eve:  “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

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