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MACHIAVELLI: SOME HELPFUL ADVICE FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA–PART TWO

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on June 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm

From: Niccolo Machiavelli
To: President Barack Obama

In my last letter to you, Mr. President, I noted that Columnist Jonathan Berr advised you to “really crank up your energy level” in criticizing those responsible for the BP oil spill.

I do not share Berr’s opinion that losing your temper in public would prove helpful. On the contrary, as I stated in my book, The Discourses, which outlines how to preserve liberty within a republic:

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.

On the other hand, your countrymen are long overdue for a White House history lesson–conducted directly from the Oval Office–on who is truly responsible for the current crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

Consider the following examples:

While Hurricane Katrina–to which the BP crisis has been repeatedly compared–was created by Nature, the BP disaster was created by the secret bureaucratic maneuvers of the Bush administration.

• Halliburton–a market leader in the energy sector–gave its former CEO, Dick Cheney, a check for $34 million after he was nominated as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate in 2000. Had this happened in any other country, the American media would have denounced it as a bribe to influence public policy.

• Soon after Cheney took office as Vice President, Minerals Management Service (MMS), the division of the Department of the Interior responsible for ensuring safety in oil-drilling operations, got two new high-ranking appointees. Both turned out to have a history of working for Halliburton. Their job: To oversee their own “former” employer.

• MMS declined to mandate certain safety devices required on offshore rigs in other countries and gave BP “a categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act in 2009. This allowed BP to drill in 5,000 feet of water without requiring a detailed environmental impact analysis. BP’s exploration plan called the prospect of an oil spill “unlikely.”

• As if that weren’t bad enough, in 2008, Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney found that MMS employees in the division that gathers fees had sex with and accepted gifts from industry contacts while failing to collect almost $200 million due from energy companies.

• In addition, Vice President Cheney created an “energy task force” whose members consisted entirely of representatives of the oil, gas and nuclear energy industries. No environmental-protection groups were invited to attend. And no members of the media were allowed to monitor these secret meetings. Energy regulations were drafted by the very companies the government was supposed to be regulating.

• The Cheney policies of environmental pillage recieved strong and widespread support from influential Republicans, such as Columnist Ann Coulter, who said: “The lower species are here for our use. God said so: ‘Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet–it’s yours.’ That’s our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars–that’s the Biblical view.”

• And Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin gave her own blessing to oil drilling–off-shore and on-shore–when she coined the now-infamous war-cry, “Drill, baby, drill!” It was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser at Republican rallies. For some reason, however, it has now completely vanished from Republican political events.

In presenting this history, Mr. President, you should boldly place blame on where–and whom–it lies. Your predacessor, Bill Clinton, had such an opportunity in 1994, at the funeral of his predacessor, Richard Nixon. And he blew it.

He could have reminded his countrymen how lucky they were that this hypocritical arch-criminal had been forced to resign from office. He could have spoken of the triumph of a free press and judiciary and Congress over a power-crazed felon.

Instead, Clinton’s eulogy resembled one that might have been given for Adolf Hitler–had he died of natural causes 20 years after the Third Reich collapsed. Imagine Hitler’s surviving henchmen gathered at his gravesite and calling up fond memories of “the Fuhrer’s great heart” and speaking reverently of what he “meant to do” instead of the infamy and death and suffering he left as his legacy.

Finally–for now–Mr. President, you must take heed of the warning I gave you in my earlier book, The Prince:

“Men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince, and a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on what is in the power of others.”

In short, Mr. President, you must abandon your instinctive trait of turning the other cheek when attacked by arrogant and ruthless enemies. As I have earlier advised you:

“A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good. And therefore it is necessary for a [leader], who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.”

A CURE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 4, 2010 at 1:33 pm

“The U.S. now has two deficits to overcome on the road to economic health,” writes Joseph Lazarro, economics and markets columnist. “A budget deficit and a jobs deficit.”

Lazarro cites a May jobs report by the Labor Department as “dismal” in its economic outlook.

The economy added 431,000 jobs in May–far less than the 540,000 Bloomberg survey estimate. Excluding the 411,000 U.S. Census workers hired, private sector payrools rose by only 20,000.

Yet the fortunes of qualified, willing-to-work Americans can be sharply turned around.

An Employers Responsibility Act would address the terrible economic waste and moral unfairness of the current job-search climate.

In this, job-seekers are legally obligated to acquire the education and experience, and demonstrate the ability and integrity that employers demand.

Yet employers are under no legal or even moral obligation to demonstrate any respect for such achievements—such as the respect shown by offering worthwhile jobs instead of worthless excuses for refusing to hire.

The result? Countless highly-qualified and highly-motivated job-seekers daily face an “I win/You lose” situation—where the winner is always the employer.

Summing up this employer-as-God attitude, Calvin Coolidge still speaks for the overwhelming majority of employers and their paid lackeys in government: “The man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there.”

We, as a Nation, can finally put an end to this arrogant and wasteful attitude. And an Employers Responsibility Act can be the catalyst for this long-overdue change.

EMPLOYERS RESPONSIBILITY ACT

A nationwide Employers Responsibility Act would ensure full-time, productive employment for millions of capable, job-seeking American. And it would achieve this goal without raising taxes or creating controversial government “make work” programs.

If passed by Congress and vigorously enforced by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor, such legislation would legally require employers to demonstrate as much initiative for hiring as job-seekers are now expected to show in searching for work. Its provisions would include—but not be limited to—the following:

(1) American companies that close plants in the United States and open others abroad would be forbidden to sell products made in those foreign plants within the United States.

This would protect both American and foreign workers from employers seeking to profit at their expense. American workers would be ensured of continued employment. And foreign laborers would be protected against substandard wages and working conditions.

Companies found violating this provision would be subject to Federal criminal prosecution. Guilty verdicts would result in heavy fines and lengthy imprisonment for their owners and top managers.

(2) Large companies (those employing more than 100 persons) would be required to create entry-level training programs for new, future employees.

These would be modeled on programs now existing for public employees, such as firefighters, police officers and members of the armed services. Such programs would remove the employer excuse, “I’m sorry, but we can’t hire you because you’ve never had any experience in this line of work.” After all, the Air Force has never rejected an applicant because, “I’m sorry, but you’ve never flown a plane before.”

This Nation has greatly benefited from the humane and professional efforts of the men and women who have graduated from public-sector training programs. There is no reason for the private sector to shun programs that have succeeded so brilliantly for the public sector.

(3) Employers would receive tax credits for creating professional, well-paying, full-time jobs.

This would encourage the creation of better than the menial, dead-end, low-paying and often part-time jobs which exist in the service industry. Employers found using such tax credits for any other purpose would be prosecuted for tax fraud.

(4) A company that acquired another—through a merger or buyout—would be forbidden to fire en masse the career employees of that acquired company.

This would be comparable to the protection existing for career civil service employees. Such a ban would prevent a return to the predatory “corporate raiding” practices of the 1980s, which left so much human and economic wreckage in their wake.

The wholesale firing of employees would trigger the prosecution of the company’s new owners. Employees could still be fired, but only for provable just cause, and only on a case-by-case basis.

(5) Employers would be required to provide full medical and pension benefits for all employees, regardless of their full-time or part-time status.

Increasingly, employers are replacing full-time workers with part-time ones—solely to avoid paying medical and pension benefits. Requiring employers to act humanely and responsibly toward all their employees would encourage them to provide full-time positions—and hasten the death of this greed-based practice.

(6) Employers of part-time workers would be required to comply with all federal labor laws.

Under current law, part-time employees are not protected against such abuses as discrimination, sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions. Closing this loophole would immediately create two positive results:

(a) Untold numbers of currently-exploited workers would be protected from the abuses of predatory employers; and
(b) Even predatorily-inclined employers would be encouraged to offer permanent, fulltime jobs rather than only part-time ones—since a major incentive for offering part-time jobs would now be eliminated.

(7) Employers would be encouraged to hire to their widest possible limits, through a combination of financial incentives and legal sanctions. Among those incentives: Employers demonstrating a willingness to hire would receive substantial Federal tax credits, based on the number of new, permanent employees hired per year.

Employers claiming eligibility for such credits would be required to make their financial records available to Federal investigators. Employers found making false claims would be prosecuted for perjury and tax fraud, and face heavy fines and imprisonment if convicted.

(8) Among those sanctions: Employers refusing to hire could be required to prove, in court:

(a) their economic inability to hire further employees, and/or
(b) the unfitness of the specific, rejected applicant.

Companies found guilty of unjustifiably refusing to hire would face the same penalties as now applying in cases of discrimination on the basis of age, race, sex and disability. Employers would thus fund it easier to hire than to refuse to do so. Job-seekers would no longer be prevented from even being considered for employment because of arbitrary and interminable “hiring freezes.”

(9) Employers refusing to hire would be required to pay an additional “crime tax.”

Sociologists and criminologists agree that “the best cure for crime is a job.” Thus, employers who refuse to hire contribute to a growing crime rate in this Nation. Such non-hiring employers would be required to pay an additional tax, which would be earmarked for agencies of the criminal justice system at State and Federal levels.

(10) The seeking of “economic incentives” by companies in return for moving to or remaining in cities/states would be strictly forbidden. Such “economic incentives” usually:

(a) allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting employees from unsafe working conditions;
(b) allow employers to ignore existing laws protecting the environment;
(c) allow employers to pay their employees the lowest acceptable wages, in return for the “privilege” of working at these companies; and/or
(d) allow employers to pay little or no business taxes, at the expense of communities who are required to make up for lost tax revenues.

(11) Employers who continue to make such overtures would be prosecuted for attempted bribery or extortion:

(a) Bribery, if they offered to move to a city/state in return for “economic incentives,” or
(b) Extortion, if they threatened to move their companies from a city/state if they did not receive such “economic incentives.”

This would protect employees against artificially-depressed wages and unsafe working conditions; protect the environment in which these employees live; and protect cities/states from being pitted against one another at the expense of their economic prosperity.

(12) The U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor would regularly monitor the extent of employer compliance with the provisions of this Act.

Among these measures: Sending undercover agents, posing as highly-qualified job-seekers, to apply at companies—and then vigorously prosecuting those employers who blatantly refused to hire despite their proven economic ability to do so.

This would be comparable to the long-time and legally-validated practice of using undercover agents to determine compliance with fair-housing laws.

(13) CEOs whose companies employ illegal aliens would be held directly accountable for the actions of their subordinates. Upon conviction, the CEO would be sentenced to a mandatory prison term of at least ten years.

This would prove a more effective remedy for combating illegal immigration than stationing tens of thousands of soldiers on the U.S./Mexican border. With CEOs forced to account for their subordinates’ actions, they would take drastic steps to ensure their companies complied with Federal immigration laws. Without employers’ systematically hiring illegal aliens at a fraction of the money paid to American workers, the flood of illegal job-seekers would quickly slow to a trickle.

(14) A portion of employers’ existing Federal taxes would be set aside to create a national clearinghouse for placing unemployed but qualified job-seekers.

TAKING AND GIVING ADVICE

In Bureaucracy, Politics, Self-Help on May 26, 2010 at 12:20 am

Some people–like President Richard Nixon–like to make their decisions in private, consulting almost no one and then springing the surprise announcement on an often-shocked public.

Others, like President Bill Clinton, care more about what their enemies than their supporters think of them. As a result, they usually wind up alienating their supporters and winning at best only token support from their enemies.

But there is another way to reach decisions–that suggested by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his classic work, The Prince, he offers an approach that combines the private with the public.

Having served as Florentine ambassador to courts throughout Italy, Machiavelli well understood the temptations of power. He thus fashioned an approach that accepted as a given the power of flattery–and the need to guard oneself against it.

This danger is best illustrated in the famous joke about a corporate president asking his private pilot, “What altitude are we flying at?” and the suck-up pilot replies, “What altitude do you want it to be?”

And having met rulers both wise and foolish, Machiavelli realized how essential it was for those in power to keep a steady grip on the truth about people and events. So he offered the following advice:

There is no way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth. But when every one can tell you the truth, you lose their respect. A prudent prince must therefore take a third course, by choosing for his counsel wise men, and giving them alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else.

But he must be a great asker about everything and hear their opinions, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way, and in these counsels and with each of these men comport himself so that every one may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be acceptable. Beyond these he should listen to no one, go about the matter deliberately, and be determined in his decisions.

Whoever acts otherwise either acts precipitately through flattery or else changes often through the variety of opinions, from which it follows that he will be little esteemed.

A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes, not when others wish. On the contrary, he ought to discourage absolutely attempts to advise him unless he asks it. But he ought to be a great asker, and a patient hearer of the truth about those things of which he has inquired. Indeed, if he finds that anyone has scruples in telling him the truth he should be angry.

But what about the giving of advice? Machiavelli has some brilliant counsel on that, too. In his great work, The Discourses–which deals with how to preserve liberty within a republic–he warns:

Certainly those who counsel princes and republics are placed between two dangers. If they do not advise what seems to them for the good of the republic or the prince, regardless of the consequences to themselves, then they fail of their duty. And if they do advise it, then it is at the risk of their position and their lives, for all men are blind in this, that they judge of good or evil counsels only by the results.

In reflecting as to the means to avoid this dilemma of either disgrace or danger, I see no other course than to take things moderately, and not to undertake to advocate any enterprise with too much zeal, but to give one’s advice calmly and modestly. If either then the republic or the prince decides to follow it, they may do so, as it were, of their own will, and not as though they were drawn into it by your importunity.

In adopting this course it is not reasonable to suppose that either the prince or republic will manifest any ill will towards you on account of a resolution not taken contrary to the wishes of the many. For the danger arises when your advice has caused the many to be contravened. In that case, when the result is unfortunate, they all concur in your destruction.

And although by following the course I advise you may fail to attain that glory which is acquired by having been one against many in counseling an enterprise which success has justified, yet this is compensated for by two advantages.

The first is, you avoid all danger. And the second consists in the great credit which you will have if, after having modestly advised a certain course, your counsel is rejected, and the adoption of a different course results unfortunately.

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